The English Bible--the most familiar book in our language--is the product of a man who was exiled, vilified, betrayed, then strangled, then burnt.
William Tyndale left England in 1524 to translate the word of God into English. This was heresy, punishable by death. Sir Thomas More, hailed as a saint and a man for all seasons, considered it his divine duty to pursue Tyndale. He did so with an obsessive ferocity that, in all probability, led to Tyndale's capture and death.
The words that Tyndale wrote during his desperate exile have a beauty and familiarity that still resonate across the English-speaking world: "Death, where is thy sting?...eat, drink, and be merry...our Father which art in heaven."
His New Testament, which he translated, edited, financed, printed, and smuggled into England in 1526, passed with few changes into subsequent versions of the Bible. So did those books of the Old Testament that he lived to finish.
Brian Moynahan's lucid and meticulously researched biography illuminates Tyndale's life, from his childhood in England, to his death outside Brussels. It chronicles the birth pangs of the Reformation, the wrath of Henry VIII, the sympathy of Anne Boleyn, and the consuming malice of Thomas More. Above all, it reveals the English Bible as a labor of love, for which a man in an age more spiritual than our own willingly gave his life.
The story of William Tyndale's translation of the Bible is familiar. Caught up in the Reformation's efforts to provide ordinary readers with the Scriptures in the vernacular, Tyndale set out to produce a faithful translation of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Old and New Testament. As journalist Moynahan points out in this exhaustively detailed biography, Tyndale's desire to complete such a translation brought him into conflict with the king and his court, for the fruits of the Reformation had yet to make their way into England. Thus, Tyndale set out on a life of self-imposed exile in Germany and Amsterdam, where he translated and printed his Bible. As his work made its way into England thanks in large part to Anne Boleyn's advocacy Sir Thomas More, one of England's most active heretic hunters, attempted in every possible way to have Tyndale tried as a heretic. Moynahan recounts the oft-told story of Tyndale's subterfuge and his remarkable contribution to the history of Bible translation while recreating the political and religious intrigue of early 16th-century England. Moynahan captures well More's hatred of Tyndale, whom he called "a hellhound in the kennel of the devil," as well as Tyndale's burning desire to contribute to God's work through Bible translation, even if it meant death at the stake. As Moynahan points out, Tyndale's translation still exists in the King James Version, since his words account for 84% of its New Testament and 76% of its Old Testament.