When William Tyndale lived there was a great deal of discussion about the heart of the Christian faith. In medieval times the Roman Catholic church taught Christians that only priests, monks and nuns had proper callings. The rest (the laity) were without proper callings as they struggled to put bread on the table, jam on spoons, nappies on babies and manure on the fields. At the very top of this hierarchy was the Pope. Then came the cardinals, the archbishops and the bishops. Next were the priest and the deacons. Beneath these church-focused callings came the laity. At the very bottom of the laity were men and women who made shoes. William Tyndale was to get into a great deal of trouble for saying nice things about cobblers!


For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10


William Tyndale was a great Christian leader in the 16th century. Little is known about his childhood. Tyndale was born in about 1494 in Gloucestershire. His family were well off and William was encouraged to read and learn. In 1515 he went to Oxford University where he began studying theology. However he was very troubled that studying the subject did not involve reading the Bible! At that time the Church neglected the Bible. Many of the clergy were very ignorant of Scripture. William Tyndale was a godly man and he began studying the Bible himself and took great care to understand the teachings of Jesus.
Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire and he got a job as a tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. Tyndale also became a popular preacher. He was passionate to teach people about the Bible and he soon found himself accused of heresy (false teaching).

William Tyndale was keen to translate the New Testament from Greek into English. (Tyndale was a brilliant linguist and he was fluent in Greek, Latin, Spanish, French and German. He later taught himself Hebrew). However Tyndale needed permission to translate it and in 1523 he went to London. While in London Tyndale continued his preaching. However he was unable to obtain permission to translate the New Testament. Eventually Tyndale realized he would never be allowed to translate it while in England so in 1524 he moved to Germany.

William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English. The new translation was printed in 1526 and copies were smuggled into England. Catholics in England were alarmed. The bishop of London banned the new translation calling it ‘that pestiferous (breeding disease) and most pernicious poison dispersed throughout our diocese of London’. In October 1526 he burned copies of the New Testament. However despite the bishop burning copies of the book it continued to circulate.

In 1538 William Tyndale published a book called The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. (Mammon is an old word meaning material wealth). It was banned in England in 1530. In 1528 Tyndale published a book called The Obedience of a Christian Man in which he attacked the corruption and superstition which was rife in the Church in England at that time. He then began translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English.

Tyndale became very unpopular with many Catholic people because he taught that:

There is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a souter (cobbler) or an apostle, all is one; to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God.

Tyndale had discovered a wonderful truth in the Bible. Ordinary people (cobblers, carpenters, cleaners etc) can serve God without becoming priests, bishops or monks. He argued that all Christians are priests and can spill the aroma of Jesus as they bake pies, make shoes and clean dirty ovens!

Sadly in May 1535 William Tyndale was betrayed by an Englishman called Henry Phillips. He was arrested and tried for heresy. Finally in October 1536 Tyndale was martyred. He was strangled then burned in the market square of Antwerp. The last words of William Tyndale were ‘Lord open the King of England’s eyes’.

Mark Roques
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Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.