First Bibles in English

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) an Oxford theologian translated and published the first English version of the Bible in 1380. He hoped that ordinary people would be able read the Bible in their own language and be called back to a simple biblical faith. The few copies of Wycliffe Bible in circulation were banned by a synod of clergy in Oxford in 1408. In fact the edict was issued against any unauthorized translation of the Bible into English. William Tyndale (1494-1536) was educated at Oxford and Cambridge University where he became a strong supporter of church reform. Tyndale was aware of the dangers of embarking on the translation project but he was convinced that the common people must be able to read the Bible in order to be called back to the simple biblical faith. In one debate with a cleric, he vowed that if God spared his life, he would see to it that the plough boy would know more about Scripture than untutored priests.
In 1524, Tyndale left England for Germany with the aid of London merchants. He hoped to continue his translation work in greater safety and sought out the help of Martin Luther at Wittenberg. Just one year after his English New Testament was completed and printed in Cologne in 1525, copies were being smuggled into England – the first ever Bibles written in the English vernacular. Tyndale’s work was denounced by the church authorities and Tyndale was accused of heresy. He went into hiding and began work on a translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew into English. Later he moved to Antwerp but soon afterwards Tyndale was betrayed by his friend Henry Phillips. On 6th October 1536, Tyndale was tried and convicted of heresy and treason and put to death by being strangled and burned at the stake. By this time several thousand copies of his New Testament had been printed. It was reported that Tyndale’s last words before his death were “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Just three years later Henry VIII published his English “Great Bible” based on Tyndale’s work. Even though Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament remained unfinished at his death, his work formed the basis of all subsequent English translations of the Bible, including the ‘King James’ version of 1611.