Life of William Tyndale – Iain Murray (Christian biography)
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William Tyndale (1494–1536) was an English scholar who became a leading figure in Protestant reform in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his translation of the Bible into English. He was influenced by the work of Desiderius Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, and by Martin Luther. A number of partial translations had been made from the seventh century onward, but the spread of Wycliffe’s Bible resulted in a death sentence for any unlicensed possession of Scripture in English—even though translations had been accomplished and made available in all other major European languages.
Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English one to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. It was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony of both the Roman Catholic Church and the laws of England maintaining the church’s position. In 1530, Tyndale also wrote The Practyse of Prelates, opposing Henry VIII’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that it contravened Scripture.
Reuchlin’s Hebrew grammar was published in 1506. Tyndale worked in an age in which Greek was available to the European scholarly community for the first time in centuries. Erasmus compiled and edited Greek Scriptures from the Textus Receptus following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Constantinople’s fall helped to fuel the Renaissance and led to the dispersion of Greek-speaking intellectuals and texts into a Europe which previously had no access to them. A copy of The Obedience of a Christian Man fell into the hands of Henry VIII, providing the king with the rationale to break the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534.
In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde (Filford) outside Brussels for over a year. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened; this seemed to find its fulfilment just two years later with Henry’s authorisation of the Great Bible for the Church of England, which was largely Tyndale’s own work. Hence, the Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and, eventually, to the British Empire.
In 1611, the 54 scholars who produced the King James Bible drew significantly from Tyndale, as well as from translations that descended from his. One estimate suggests that the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale’s and the Old Testament 76%. His translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and became a model for subsequent English translations; in 2002, Tyndale was placed at number 26 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
Iain Hamish Murray was born (of Scottish parents) in Lancashire, England, April 19, 1931, and educated at King William’s College, Isle of Man, and the University of Durham. Prior to university he held a commission in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) who were then engaged in the suppression of an insurgency in the jungles of Malaya. Converted to Christ at the age of seventeen, after upbringing in a larger liberal denomination (the English Presbyterian Church), he became assistant minister at St John’s, Summertown, Oxford in 1955, where the Banner of Truth magazine began. The influence of this magazine (edited by him until 1987) was to be greatly enlarged when, with Jack Cullum, he founded the Banner of Truth Trust in 1957. Initially intended to supply out-of-print Reformed and Puritan authors for Britain, the Trust’s publications were soon selling in forty countries, with an office established at Carlisle in the United States in the late 1960s.
Murray remained director of the Banner publications until 1996, combining this with serving Grove Chapel, London (1961-69), and St Giles, Sydney (1981-83). Since the latter charge he has remained a minister of the Australian Presbyterian Church although living chiefly at Edinburgh (the head office of the Banner of Truth) since 1991. A turning point in his life was a call from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1956 to assist him at Westminster Chapel, London. This he did for three years and without which the Banner publications could not have begun. His closeness to Lloyd-Jones led, after the latter’s death, to the writing of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1990).