William Tyndale (1494–1536) was the first person to translate the Bible directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts into English. His translation also formed the basis for the King James version, completed roughly 80 years later by multiple committees of translators. It’s been estimated that over 80% of the KJV New Testament is from Tyndale, and over 70% of the Old Testament. And since the King James Bible has been such an incomparably massive influence on the English language (almost a center of gravity since its publication) you could make the argument that no single individual has had more influence on the English language than William Tyndale. For his efforts, he was burned at the stake, as making the Bible available in the language of the common people was not a healthy occupation to be engaged in at the time. (Some may well be wondering whether it will be déjà vu all over again before very long, but that’s an altogether different kettle of fish.)
If Tyndale had set out to have an impact on the English language for centuries to come, he doubtless would have had no idea how to achieve it, and perhaps would have sat frozen at his desk, quill in hand, until his landlady threw him out on the street for being behind on his rent. No one could achieve a task so great by deliberately attempting it. The task he took on was monumental in itself, but at least specific: to put the Holy Scriptures into words that any English speaking person could understand. By performing this task to such a high standard, he simultaneously achieved things of which he couldn’t possibly have conceived.
It’s just a pity he missed out on all the royalties.
Tyndale’s original translations are available in the public domain, but the different spellings in common usage at that time make them laborious for the modern reader to get through. Fortunately, a scholar named David Daniell completed modern spelling editions of Tyndale’s Old and New Testaments some years ago, and here is a passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter twenty-four:
On the morrow after the sabbath, early in the morning, they came unto the tomb and brought the odours which they had prepared and other women with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre, and went in: but found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were amazed thereat, behold two men stood by them in shining vestures. And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said to them: why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here: but is risen. Remember how he spake unto you, when he was yet with you in Galilee, saying: that the son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the remnant. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary Jacobi, and other that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles, and their words seemed unto them feigned things, neither believed they them. Then arose Peter and ran unto the sepulchre, and stooped in and saw the linen clothes laid by themself, and departed wondering in himself at that which had happened.