The boisterous crowd fell silent. They had gathered in the summer of 1536 to witness an execution, a man burned at the stake. He was just a little over forty years old, an Oxford scholar, and a felon facing the death penalty.
So what had he done?
All eyes were on the victim. Flames snapped and crackled as the wood at his feet began to be consumed. Soon the man, too, would perish in its flames.
So what was his crime?
William Tyndale (1494-1536) had a simple ambition. He wanted to make the Bible available to the common man. You would have thought it was an innocent enough ambition, but powerful forces did not want just anybody to read the Bible.
At stake was the power and position of many clerics and churches whose practice differed too radically from Scripture. A plain reading of God’s word would reveal that these shepherds of the people had led their flocks astray. A measure of the clerics’ fear can be seen in the ruthless way they sought his life.
When one cleric objected to Tyndale’s proposals, he stood and declared:
“If God spares my life, before many years pass, I will make it possible for the boy behind the plow to know more Scripture than thou.”
Such undiplomatic language did not endear him to the powerful and the entrenched. He had to flee to Holland, where he began to translate the Bible into common, plainspoken English. Copies of this precious work began to seep back into England, and the authorities, incensed, set a bounty on his head.
In 1536 Tyndale was betrayed, and fell into the hands of the Church authorities. At his
trial he was convicted with the death penalty. As the crowd watched with the fascination of horror, the great man had something to say. His last words were a prayer:
“Lord,” his voice rang all around the courtyard, “Open the King of England’s eyes.”
Do me a favor, if you would, please. Take out your copy of the Bible, and hold it for a moment. Do you own anything more precious? There was a time when only the rich could own a Bible, so expensive was its manufacture. That changed with the invention of printing by Johann Gutenberg in 1456. Of course the first thing he printed was a German Bible.
Tyndale’s English Bible was so dangerous, so “revolutionary” that he lost his life for publishing it. But it should not escape our notice that it was so precious, so marvelous that thousands of Englishmen risked their lives in order to obtain it, and read its truths.
Have we taken something for granted? You can pick up a Bible at “Wally World” for less than five dollars. And you won’t have to smuggle it home. You can obtain a Bible “App” on your cell phone in just a few minutes. You probably own a variety of Bibles, large print, Study Bibles, various translations. The biggest danger you face by owning a Bible is…a changed life!
- Tyndale’s Bible was valuable enough to die for. Is your Bible important enough to read?
- Tyndale’s Bible was important enough to smuggle across the gray English Channel. Is it important enough for you to obey?
- Tyndale’s Bible was responsible for lifting the spirits of thousands of Englishmen – carpenters, lawyers, doctors and, yes, the boy behind the plow. Is it important enough for you to live?
No fire burned hotter, the day Tyndale died, than the fire of God’s word. Will it burn in your heart too?
When the disciples of Emmaus reflected on their encounter with Jesus, they felt a burning in their hearts: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).