The Bible in English

English translations of the Bible by John Wycliffe and his followers circulated widely in manuscript form, but were condemned by Archbishop Arundel in 1407. Translating the Bible into English was still illegal when William Tyndale, classical and Hebrew scholar, wished to make a new translation. In 1524, after failing to enlist episcopal support, Tyndale left England for Germany. Printing of his New Testament was completed at Worms in 1526, and copies were smuggled into England in large numbers. Here it was suppressed and burnt: only three copies survive. A revised version appeared in 1534. Tyndale’s translation of the first five Old Testament books from the Hebrew appeared in 1530. Arrested in 1535 while translating the prophets in Antwerp, Tyndale was tried for heresy and executed in 1536. Miles Coverdale, a Cambridge graduate and priest, moved towards Church reform in the late 1520s, and was forced abroad. Probably he knew Tyndale in Antwerp: he might have been Tyndale’s ‘proof-reader’. By 1534 he was certainly there, making his own translation. He modified Tyndale’s New Testament, and collated translations of the Old Testament by Tyndale and others. Published in 1535, his was the first printing of the whole Bible in English.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale, after a portrait at Hertford College, Oxford. The original painting hangs in the Anderson Room at the University Library.
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

Tyndale NT title page

The title page of Tyndale’s 1534 New Testament. BSS.201.B34.1
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society