I read here that the main reason Tyndale was executed by the church was because he translated the Greek bible into English.

Somewhere else I read that this is not true. Tyndale was charged with mistranslating certain biblical verses to support his heretical views, and that is why he was executed.

This reason sounds more logical to me; however, I would like to know whether this is true. I would also like to see real examples of his mistranslations or heretical views: which specific verse(s) in his bible translation did the church find offensive or heretical, and what do we know about them?

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    "Somewhere else I read ... " is a bit vague. Where exactly did you read it? As far as I'm aware, no official records of Tyndale's trial, or even his betrayal & arrest, have been discovered to date. Commented May 29, 2018 at 19:34
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    "The church" didn't execute people; the State did. When Church & State were closer, the State respected the Church's judgement of who heretics were, seeing them as a threat to civil order. (cf. this answer)
    – Geremia
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 19:52
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    @sempaiscuba that is why i'm asking, to separate the fact from fiction! What do we know and what don't we?
    – Bach
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 20:34
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    @Bach Which is exactly why we need to know your source. How can we be expected to provide anything like a comprehensive answer if we don't know the source of your claim that "Tyndale was charged with mistranslating certain biblical verses to support his heretical views". To the best of my knowledge, all we can say for certain is that he was charged with heresy. Commented May 29, 2018 at 20:47
  • While I'm on the topic of "Well actually..."s, at least one reference I looked up stated he was strangled at the stake, and the body was then burned. I guess "strangled at the stake" isn't as catchy though. Also, I'm not 100% sure I trust those sources. Burning at the stake was the typical punishment for heresy, but I have read some other instances of the victims being strangled first (as a mercy?).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 14:49

2 Answers 2


The trivial answer is he was executed for being a Protestant. The deeper answer is we aren't quite sure, but he had gained some powerful enemies.

There was a lengthy list of charges read at his trial. While I don't have access to the full list, the first 7 appear to be unrelated to the actual act of translating The Bible into English, but rather are simply a list of typical Protestant beliefs.

First, he maintains that faith alone justifies.

Second, he maintains that to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to embrace the mercy offered in the gospel, is enough for salvation.

Third, he avers that human traditions cannot bind the conscience, except where their neglect might occasion scandal.

Fourth, he denies the freedom of the will.

Fifth, he denies that there is any purgatory.

Sixth, he affirms that neither the Virgin nor the saints pray for us in their own person.

Seventh, he asserts that neither the Virgin nor the saints should be invoked by us.

The court in question was part of the governmental machinery of the Holy Roman Empire, which was officially Catholic, so being a Protestant was grounds for execution. Of course this was a "court" where the outcome was predecided, so what the judge told the gallery at the start is probably the most relevant.

He has been arrested for many great heresies; his chamber has been searched, and prohibited books have been found in great numbers; and he has himself composed many treatises containing heretical opinions, which have been widely circulated.

So the simple answer would be that he was executed for being a Protestant.

However, that answer is too simple, because the HRE at the time was in the middle of the Protestant Reformation. Likely half the empire was Protestant at the time, most of whom were not being arrested and executed, so its reasonable to ask why Tyndale got special treatment.

For this it would be useful to look at how he came to be arrested. An English agent was sent to infiltrate his circle, and that agent betrayed him to the HRE authorities for arrest.

Who hired this agent? We aren't sure, but we can make some guesses. The English clergy at the time was splitting from the Catholic Church, but was still itself quite anti-Protestant. So most historical speculation has landed on that quarter. So in this case the cause is likely to be not that he was a protestant, but that he was a vocal and influential English Protestant.

Part of their anger was certainly over the Bible Translation. There's a fun story about the English Church buying up every copy of the first edition just to burn it. The story goes on that publicly burning scripture was not a good look for the Church, while his publisher happily took their money and used part of it to finance printing a second edition.

King Henry himself is also a possibility. At first the King was a fan, after reading The Obedience of a Christian Man, which was pro-secular authority. However, Tyndale argued against Henry's divorce, which served to put him in the same political hitlist as Thomas More. There are accounts of the King sending agents to attempt to capture Tyndale, and appealing to the Emperor. So it certainly would be within character for it to have been a Crown agent organizing the job. At the absolute least, whoever did it knew they wouldn't get any pushback from the Crown over it. At most, its possible what actually got him killed was arguing against King Henry VIII.

Taking all this in, and looking back at the (according to my searches, quite common) claim that it was specifically the English Translation that got him killed, I don't think that's quite accurate. However, it isn't wholly inaccurate either, as that translation was the culmination of his life's work, and his life's work was certainly what got him killed. So if you hear someone saying it was the translation, I wouldn't bother to "well actually..." them over it.

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    @BenCrowell I saw those, but none actually appears to cite their source. It's not from Foxe, and as I said, to the best of my knowledge no official record of the trial survives. So does it originate from a contemporary source or is it another instance of something that has become 'fact' simply by virtue of repetition? Commented May 30, 2018 at 2:00
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    @sempaiscuba - The references section of the article I quoted it from reads: "Based on several sources, including the account in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe, edited by William Byron Forbush (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967); Martyrs Mirror, by van Braght; God’s Bestseller, by Brian Moynahan (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002); Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, by David Teems (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012); and Christian History and Biography 16 (October 1987)."
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 2:28
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    @T.E.D. The charges against Tyndale certainly aren't listed in Foxe. I'll need to track down the others and see if they cite their sources. Commented May 30, 2018 at 2:32
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    @Bach - I think you may have misspelled "theoretically possible".
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 14:29
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    I particularly like this answer because it realistically shows the complex political, religious, and personal issues that intertwine to make any simple historical answer inadequate. In all of history, practically nothing was done for just a single simple reason.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 1:10

According to Work of Human Hands p. 91 by Fr. Anthony Cekada, Tyndale's translation

slyly attacked Catholic teachings on the priesthood, the Church, grace, confession and the veneration of images: thus, for priest, Tyndale's translation had elder; for church, congregation; for grace, favor; for confess, acknowledge; for idols, images, and so on.31

31. Philip Hughes, The Reformation of England (New York: Macmillan 1956) 2:144.

From the article "Tyndale's Heresy," Tyndale's translation

included a prologue and notes that were so full of contempt for the Catholic Church and the clergy that no one could mistake his obvious [Protestant/anti-Catholic] agenda and prejudice. Did the Catholic Church condemn this version of the Bible? Of course it did.

The secular authorities condemned it as well. Anglicans are among the many today who laud Tyndale as the "father of the English Bible." But it was their own founder, King Henry VIII, who in 1531 declared that "the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people."


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