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Year of the Bible

To introduce 2011 as the ‘Year of the Bible’, and to consider the origins of the Bible’s translation into English.

by Rebecca Parkinson

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To introduce 2011 as the ‘Year of the Bible’, and to consider the origins of the Bible’s translation into English.

Preparation and materials

  • A Bible – a variety of different versions would be helpful.
  • You may like to show/read some of the Bible in Latin. The following link gives John’s Gospel in Latin
  • Optional: one student to prepare a reading from the Latin text; a second student reading the same verses in an English translation.


  1. There are many reasons why 2011 may be considered special. The United Nations has designated 2011 to be the ‘International Year of Forests’ and also the ‘Year of Chemistry’. For the Chinese it is the Year of the Rabbit. In the UK many will be celebrating 2011 as the ‘Year of the Bible’.
  2. Throughout the year there will be events going on all over the country to commemorate the first official translation of the Bible into the English language.
  3. After Jesus had returned to heaven, his disciples continued to spread the news about him; and gradually Christianity started to spread throughout the world. People from many different nations began to follow the teaching of the Christian Church. At that time, however, Rome was still the great power that governed the world, and the leaders in Rome insisted that the Bible should only be read in Latin (the language of Rome). This meant that whenever the Bible was read in churches, or even in homes, the vast majority of people had no idea what was being read! You may like to read part of John’s Gospel (link above). Optional: one student to read some verses from the Latin text, followed by another student reading the same verses in an English translation.
  4. In 1494 a baby was born in Gloucestershire. He was named William Tyndale. When he grew up, he became a clergyman. As time moved on, Tyndale became more and more concerned that only well-educated people could ever hope of understanding the Bible if it remained in Latin. He believed that the Bible was God’s message to the world, and he knew that God would want ‘common’ people to hear what the Bible was saying just as much as he wanted the rich people to. Tyndale shared his thoughts with other clergymen but none of them agreed with him – in fact they labelled Tyndale a heretic who was against the Church. Some clergy even stated that it was more important to do what the Pope (based in Rome) said, rather than to do what they thought God said.

    Tyndale made this remark to church leaders, who opposed what he believed: ‘I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!’ – in other words, Tyndale would fight to make sure that even a simple peasant farmer-boy would have a better knowledge of the Bible than the leaders of the church in Rome!
  5. Tyndale was determined to translate the Bible into English and, eventually, he fled to Germany, where he hoped he could work on the translation in secret. His first English translation of the New Testament was published in 1525, and the following year the first copies of the translation were smuggled into England. The church leaders were furious, but they didn’t know where Tyndale was hiding so could do nothing to stop him in his work. Meanwhile Tyndale began to translate the Old Testament.
  6. In 1534 Tyndale was betrayed, arrested and imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle, Belgium. On 6 October 1536, he was strangled and burnt at the stake, accused of heresy. His last words, shouted from the stake ‘with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice’ were: ‘Lord open the King of England’s eyes!’
  7. Within four years of Tyndale’s death, Henry VIII had ordered four English translations of the Bible to be printed in England, all of which were based on William Tyndale’s original translation. His life had not been wasted!
  8. About 60 years later, King James I authorized that a new translation of the Bible into English should be made. This would use all the new advances in translating from Hebrew and Greek texts, and would be written in a way that was totally accessible to everyone. In 1611, 400 years ago, the ‘King James Version’ of the Bible was printed. At last the Bible was available to all people, no matter what their social standing. As Tyndale had dreamed, the Word of God was available for the ‘common people’ to hear.

Time for reflection

The Bible has now been translated into thousands of different languages and is still the best-selling book of all time. We are privileged that people like William Tyndale were willing to give up their lives to fight for our right to read and understand the Bible. Tyndale shows us the importance of standing up for what we believe to be right, even when everything seems against us. Tyndale started with the translation of the New Testament because he knew that was easier for people to understand. During this ‘Year of the Bible’, why not take the time to read the Bible for yourself and see why Tyndale was so determined that it should be available for all?


Dear God,
Thank you for people like William Tyndale, who were willing to fight for the rights of the poor and uneducated people. Please give us hearts that love people who are less fortunate than we are, and please give us the strength and courage to stand up for causes we know to be right, fair and just.


‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (Come and Praise, 51)

Publication date: January 2011   (Vol.13 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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