Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook

By John N. King | Go to book overview

1.1 Revelation 12:1–6: The Woman
Clothed with the Sun; Revelation 17:3–6:
The Whore of Babylon

A. William Tyndale, New Testament Translation (1525–26)

William Tyndale undertook the first printed translation of the Bible in the English language. Frustrated in his effort to obtain patronage in England, he migrated to Germany where he secured publication of his New Testament at Worms in 1526. Printing had begun at Cologne during the previous year, but local authorities soon stopped it. He heeded the humanistic call to return ad fontes (“to the sources”) by working from Hebrew texts and Erasmus’s Greek New Testament (1516), whose preface (Paraclesis) advocates that humble people, including plowmen and women, be allowed access to the Bible in their native language. Erasmus influenced Tyndale’s employment of everyday colloquial diction, but the translator’s inclusion of Lutheran propaganda into prefaces and notes antagonized English authorities. He also translated a considerable part of the Old Testament by the time he was burned alive as a heretic in 1536. Tyndale’s diction provides the foundation for later Protestant translations including the Authorized Version of 1611 (the “King James Bible”).

Miles Coverdale expanded Tyndale’s translation in the Coverdale Bible (1535), the first complete Bible printed in the English language. Instead of following Tyndale in the return ad fontes, Coverdale based his version on Luther’s German New Testament, the Vulgate Bible, and other Latin texts to complete the text left unfinished by Tyndale. Although the volume was printed in Antwerp without official authorization, the title page border crafted by Hans Holbein the Younger implied the existence of royal consent by portraying Henry VIII in the act of handing the Bible to bishops kneeling before him (see Figure 1). Coverdale later used the “Matthew” Bible (John Rogers’s edition of translations by Tyndale and Coverdale) as the basis for the Great Bible (1539), an officially licensed version produced under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell. Its publication without doctrinal notes and prefaces accorded with the government’s caution concerning uncontrolled reading and interpretation of the Bible (see 6.1, 6.9, 7.5.C). See Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man (1.2.A and 2.1) and John Foxe’s life of Tyndale (6.5.A).

SOURCE: STC 2825, 2X3v, 3A1r–v

EDITION: The Bible in English (online database).

REFERENCES: Booty; Danieli; Greenblatt; King 1982; Norton.


Revelation 12:1–6

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she was with child and cried travailing in birth and pained ready to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven, for behold a great

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