What would you do if your business was declared illegal but you were convinced that it was good and necessary?
That was the dilemma that faced William Tyndale when his chosen trade was getting him into hot water; he wanted to print English Bibles. Amazingly, apart from a few English Bibles read secretly for fear of execution, the only Bibles in England at the time were in Latin, which hardly anyone understood. The pre-Reformation church and Henry VIII did not want people to know what this dangerous book actually said – they might realise that the church had been teaching nonsense, and that the king himself had things to answer for.
So in 1524 Tyndale fled England having declared to a hostile clergyman, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Living as a hunted exile he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English, had them printed in Antwerp and smuggled back into England where they were eagerly bought and read. Ordinary people would pay as much as a load of hay just to get a few pages, and would sit up all night hearing the Scriptures read. The authorities did all they could to seize and burn those books.
Tyndale went on to translate part of the Old Testament too but in 1535 an Englishman secretly working for the King betrayed Tyndale, he was imprisoned near Brussels for 18 months and then convicted of heresy. Tied to a stake, but before he was strangled and his body burnt, he called out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Two years later Henry VIII ordered that an English Bible be placed in every church in England. These Bibles were revised versions of the texts that Tyndale had created.
500 years on, where is the hunger for God’s Word that was so characteristic of England in Tyndale’s day, and how many of us would risk our lives to defy Bible ‘gagging orders’ or to handle smuggled Bibles? “Lord, open England’s eyes again!”