Burning for a Common Bible

William Tyndale, Protestant reformer and Bible translator. Portrait from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

It was a cold, wet spring day in Antwerp, in 1535 AD. A kind gentleman could be seen walking the streets looking in dark alleys and poor sections of town. He found what he was looking for. A woman and her child were searching for scraps of food so they wouldn’t starve. The man’s heart broke to see such poverty. He approached her.

“I have some money here,” he said in the Flemish tongue that natives spoke. “I give it to you so you and the child may eat.”

“Oh, thank you sir,” she said with tears in her eyes. The child’s eyes were wide as he saw the money exchanged. “I can’t repay you.”

“God gave it to me,” the man said as he stepped back a pace. “And I share it now with you with no thought of repayment. Go and feed your child.”

The woman started to leave, and then turned back to offer her gratitude again. The man nodded slightly and then went back the way he had come. This scene played out a few more times that day; stopping to talk with an elderly man, buying lunch for an invalid, visiting a large family that was barely making ends meet. Many of these people only knew him by his first name or a pseudonym because he was a wanted man. The king of his native England wanted him in prison, the Cardinal in London wanted him burned, and most of Christendom at the time, would have shied away from his company. He was a rebel reformer, and a heretic. But to those that got to know him, he was a good, honest, intelligent man. He was William Tyndale.

William spent two days a week visiting the poor, sick and elderly. Though he was English, he was fluent in French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin and Spanish. This was helpful since he now lived in one of the busiest trade ports in Europe. It was the mix of cultures, tongues and special government over site in Antwerp that kept Tyndale safe for nearly a decade.

The other five days a week were spent translating the new testament and then the old testament into English. He wasn’t the first person to translate the Bible into English, but since the Peasants Revolt in England, it was against the law to translate the Bible into English. The French had access to a French Bible, and the Germans had a Bible in their native tongue, but the English were required to depend on the Latin translation.

This wasn’t good enough for Tyndale.

Tyndale was motivated to make the Bible accessible to all Englishmen not from greed, or power, but for their benefit. His was the first English Bible after the invention of the printing press, so once his translation was finished, he had 6,000 copies made and smuggled into Europe. The people – just like the poor and sick people he helped – were anxious to receive the New Testament. Tyndale was careful about who he associated with and tried to remain hidden as much as possible, because Thomas More and others were looking for him. If he were caught, he would be sentenced to death for heresy. Tyndale was eventually caught and sent to prison for 18 months. He was given the opportunity to denounce the things he had said and published to save his life. It’s debatable whether they would have let him go, but he wasn’t about to deny the words he had made available to the common people. Just before he was executed in October 1536, Tyndale prayed that the eyes of the King of England be opened.

Nearly 80 years later, the king of England did commission an official English Bible translation, and a majority of that Bible came from Tyndale’s work.

For you:

Service is a powerful part of society. Tyndale was well-educated and could have gone along with the social norm. He could have continued in the church and gained wealth and power. He was more interested in doing good for others. He is most well-known for his translation of the Bible, but he also was a good, honest and kind man.

When he was captured, he had many merchants sending letters in his behalf to Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor and to the King of England for his release. Some of his friends risked their lives and fortunes in attempting to set him free. That doesn’t happen when you only look out for your own interests.

The man who turned in Tyndale died penniless, friendless and disowned from his family. Not because of his role in Tyndale’s capture, but because of the way he lived his life – always feeding his desires and not caring about other people.

Find a way to help someone else today or this week. By lightening their load, you may in return feel your own burden lifted.


If you are interested in learning more about this story, you can read, God’s Bestseller by Brian Moynahan. Or you can watch this documentary about the coming about of the Bible. It’s pretty interesting and uses many different denominations to paint the picture.


I started writing short stories in elementary school, starting with a short story about twin track athletes. In college, I wrote for the college newspaper and studied communications. My first job out of college was with a magazine as an assistant editor, where I started a comic strip called City Boy. My first published work, was a short essay entitled, Dream with Me, published in “The Art of Service” booklet put out by the Thayne Center for Service and Learning. I also published a three part series for families called “Family Parables – Wise Man Foolish Man.” This set is designed to be used by families to create discussion and learning as a family. I soon will publish my first novel, Love Like Alzheimer’s, a story of a family that is learning to love deeper as their beloved grandmother struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

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