Tyndale's Prefaces


Preface of the Worms octavo edition of 1526. The text below is from Edward Arber's introduction in The First printed English New Testament: translated by William Tyndale. Photo-lithographed from the unique fragment, now in the Grenville collection, British Museum: edited by Edward Arber. London: [The Selwood printing works], 1871. I have modernized the spelling and punctuation. — M.D.M

To the Reader

Give diligence, reader (I exhort thee) that thou come with a pure mind, and, as the Scripture saith, with a single eye, unto the words of health and of eternal life, by the which (if we repent and believe them) we are born anew, created afresh, and enjoy the fruits of the blood of Christ. Which blood crieth not for vengeance, as the blood of Abel, but hath purchased life, love, favor, grace, blessing, and whatsoever is promised in the Scriptures, to them that believe and obey God, and standeth between us and wrath, vengeance, curse, and whatsoever the Scripture threateneth against the unbelievers and disobedient, which resist, and consent not in their hearts to the law of God, that it is right, holy, just, and ought so to be.

Mark the plain and manifest places of the Scriptures, and in doubtful places see thou add no interpretation contrary to them; but (as Paul saith) let all be conformable and agreeing to the faith.

Note the difference of the Law and of the Gospel. The one asketh and requireth, the other pardoneth and forgiveth. The one threateneth, the other promiseth all good things to them that set their trust in Christ only. The gospel signifieth glad tidings, and is nothing but the promises of good things. All is not gospel that is written in the gospel book: for if the law were away, thou couldest not know what the gospel meant, even as thou couldest not see pardon, favor, and grace except the law rebuked thee, and declared unto thee thy sin, misdeed, and trespass.

Repent and believe the gospel, as saith Christ in the first of Mark. Apply alway the Law to thy deeds, whether thou find lust 1 in the bottom of thine heart to the law-ward, and so shalt thou no doubt repent, and feel in thyself a certain sorrow, pain, and grief to thine heart, because thou canst not with full lust do the deeds of the law. Apply the gospel—that is to say the promises—unto the deserving of Christ, and to the mercy of God and his truth, and so shalt thou not despair, but shall feel God as a kind and a merciful father. And his spirit shall dwell in thee, and shall be strong in thee, and the promises shall be given thee at the last (though not by and by, lest thou shouldest forget thyself, and be negligent) and all threatenings shall be forgiven thee for Christ's blood's sake—to whom commit thyself altogether—without respect either of thy good deeds or of thy bad.

Them that are learned Christianly I beseech—forasmuch as I am sure, and my conscience beareth me record, that of a pure intent, singly and faithfully I have interpreted it, as far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge and understanding—that the rudeness of the work now at the first time offend them not, but that they consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was helped with English of any that had interpreted the same or such like things in the Scripture beforetime. Moreover, even very necessity and cumbrance (God is record) above strength—which I will not rehearse, lest we should seem to boast ourselves—caused that many things are lacking which necessarily are required. Count it as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to come (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out if aught be added superfluously, and add to if aught be overseen through negligence, and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used and show how the Scripture useth many words which are otherwise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavor ourselves, as it were, to seeth 2 it better, and to make it more apt for the weak stomachs; desiring them that are learned and able, to remember their duty, and to help thereunto, and to bestow unto the edifying of Christ's body (which is the congregation of them that believe) those gifts which they have received of God for the same purpose. The grace that cometh of Christ be with them that love him.

Pray for us.

1 "Lust" here is used in a good sense: eagerness to obey.

2 "Seeth" means "boil, cook."


Below is the preface to Tyndale's translation of the Pentateuch, printed in 1530. The text is taken from Appendix B of Dewey Beegle's God's Word into English (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1964). I have modernized the spelling and punctuation.

W.T. to the Reader

When I had translated the New Testament, I added a pistle unto the latter end, in which I desired them that were learned to amend if ought were found amiss. But our malicious and wily hypocrites which are so stubborn and hardhearted in their wicked abominations that it is not possible for them to amend anything at all (as we see by daily experience when their both livings and doings are rebuked with the truth) say, some of them, that it is impossible to translate the scripture into English, some that it is not lawful for the lay people to have it in their mother tongue, some that it would make them all heretics — as it would no doubt from many things which they of long time have falsely taught, and that is the whole cause wherefore they forbid it, though they other cloaks pretend. And some, or rather every one, say that it would make them rise against the King, whom they themselves (unto their damnation) never yet obeyed. And lest the temporal rulers should see their falsehood, if the scripture came to light, causeth them so to lie.

And as for my translation in which they affirm unto the lay people (as I have heard say) to be I wot not how many thousand heresies, so that it cannot be mended or corrected, they have yet taken so great pain to examine it, and to compare it unto that they would fain have it and to their own imaginations and juggling terms, and to have somewhat to rail at, and under that cloak to blaspheme the truth, that they might with as little labor (as I suppose) have translated the most part of the Bible. For they which in times past were wont to look on no more scripture than they found in their Duns or such like devilish doctrine, have yet now so narrowly looked on my translation, that there is not so much as one "i" therein, if it lack a tittle over his head, but they have noted it, and number it unto the ignorant people for an heresy. Finally in this they be all agreed, to drive you from the knowledge of the scripture, and that ye shall not have the text thereof in the mother tongue, and to keep the world still in darkness, to the intent they might sit in the consciences of the people, through vain superstition and false doctrine, to satisfy their filthy lusts, their proud ambition, and unsatiable covetousness, and to exalt their own honor above King and Emperor, yea, and above God himself.

A thousand books had they lever [i.e. rather] to be put forth against their abominable doings and doctrine, than that the scripture should come to light. For as long as they may keep that down, they will so darken the right way with the mist of their sophistry, and so tangle them that either rebuke or despise their abominations with arguments of philosophy and with wordly [worldly?] similitudes and apparent reasons of natural wisdom. And with wresting the scripture unto their own purpose clean contrary unto the process, order, and meaning of the text, and so delude them in descanting upon it with allegories, and amaze them expounding it in many senses before the unlearned lay people (when it hath but one simple literal sense whose light the owls cannot abide), that though thou feel in thine heart and art sure how that all is false that they say, yet couldest thou not solve their subtle riddles.

Which thing only moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text. For else whatsoever truth is taught them, these enemies of all truth quench it again, partly with the smoke of their bottomless pit whereof thou readest Apocalypse 9 — that is, with apparent reasons of sophistry and traditions of their own making, founded without ground of scripture — and partly in juggling with the text, expounding it in such a sense as is impossible to gather of the text, if thou see the process, order and meaning thereof.

And even in the Bishop of London's house I intended to have done it. For when I was so turmoiled in the country where I was that I could no longer there dwell (the process whereof were too long here to rehearse), I this wise thought in myself: this I suffer because the priests of the country be unlearned, as God it knoweth there are a full ignorant sort which have seen no more Latin than that they read in their portesses and missals, which yet many of them can scarcely read (except it be Albertus's De secretis mulierum, in which yet, though they be never so sorrily learned, they pore day and night and make notes therein and all to teach the midwives as they say, and Lindwood, a book of constitutions to gather tithes, mortuaries, offerings, customs, and other pillage, which they call, not theirs, but God's part and the duty of holy church, to discharge their consciences withal — for they are bound that they shall not diminish, but increase all things unto the utmost of their powers), and therefore (because they are thus unlearned, thought I) when they come together to the alehouse, which is their preaching place, they affirm that my sayings are heresy. And besides that they add to of their own heads which I never spake, as the manner is to prolong the tale to shorten the time withal, and accuse me secretly to the Chancellor and other Bishop's officers. And indeed when I came before the Chancellor, he threatened me grievously, and reviled me and rated me as though I had been a dog, and laid to my charge whereof there could be none accuser brought forth (as their manner is not to bring forth the accuser), and yet all the priests of the country were that same day there. As I this thought, the Bishop of London came to my remembrance, whom Erasmus (whose tongue maketh of little gnats great elephants and lifteth up above the stars whosoever giveth him a little exhibition) praiseth exceedingly among other in his annotations on the New Testament for his great learning. Then thought I, if I might come to this man's service, I were happy. And so I gat me to London, and through acquaintance of my master came to Sir Harry Gilford the King's Grace's Controller, and brought him an oration of Isocrates which I had translated out of Greek into English, and desired him to speak unto my lord of London for me, which he also did as he showed me, and willed me to write a pistle to my lord, and to go to him myself which I also did, and delivered my pistle to a servant of his own, one William Hebilthwayte, a man of mine old acquaintance. But God which knoweth what is within hypocrites saw that I was beguiled, and that that counsel was not the next way unto my purpose. And therefore he gat me no favor in my lord's sight.

Whereupon my lord answered me, his house was full, he had more than he could well find, and advised me to seek in London, where he said I could not lack a service. And so in London I abode almost an year, and marked the course of the world, and heard our praters — I would say "our preachers" — how they boasted themselves and their high authority, and beheld the pomp of our prelates and how busied they were, as they yet are, to set peace and unity in the world (though it be not possible for them that walk in darkness to continue long in peace, for they cannot but either stumble or dash themselves at one thing or another that shall clean unquiet all together), and saw things whereof I defer to speak at this time, and understood at the last not only that there was no room in my lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England, as experience doth now openly declare.

Under what manner therefore should I now submit this book to be corrected and amended of them, which can suffer nothing to be well? Or what protestation should I make in such a matter unto our prelates, those stubborn Nimrods which so mightily fight against God and resist his holy spirit, enforcing with all craft and subtlety to quench the light of the everlasting testament, promises, and appointment made between God and us? And heaping the fierce wrath of God upon all princes and rulers, mocking them with false feigned names of hypocrisy, and serving their lusts at all points, and dispensing with them even of the very laws of God, of which Christ himself testifieth (Matthew 5) that not so much as one tittle thereof may perish or be broken. And of which the prophet sayeth (Psalm 118): Thou hast commanded thy laws to be kept "meod", that is in Hebrew "exceedingly," with all diligence, might, and power, and have made them so mad with their juggling charms and crafty persuasions that they think it full satisfaction for all their wicked living, to torment such as tell them truth, and to burn the word of their soul's health, and slay whosoever believe thereon.

Notwithstanding, yet I submit this book and all other that I have other made or translated, or shall in time to come (if it be God's will that I shall further labor in his harvest) unto all them that submit themselves unto the word of God, to be corrected of them — yea, and moreover, to be disallowed and also burnt, if it seem worthy when they have examined it with the Hebrew, so that they first put forth of their own translating another that is more correct.