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What was the impact of the Wycliffe Bible? In 1382, the English Bible translation that would later be known as the Wycliffe Bible was produced. It was still 60-years before the invention of the printing press, so it was written by hand. It soon increased in its popularity among the followers of John Wycliffe. Wandering preachers, known as the Lollards, desired to have God’s Word into the mind and heart of ordinary people, which they did as they traveled on foot from village to village throughout England. In the course of their travels, they would often read from the Wycliffe Bible to the people they came across, even leaving handwritten copies behind. The efforts of the Lollards made a huge turning point, helping the people once more to be interested in the Word of God, as the Catholic Church had kept it locked up for a thousand years.
How did the Catholic clergy react to this Wycliffe Bible and the Lollards? They had immense hatred for John Wycliffe, the Bible, and the followers of Wycliffe. The religious authorities began a persecution campaign against the Lollards, as well as against the Word of God itself, hunting down and destroying as many Wycliffe Bibles as they could get their hands on. After John Wycliffe died, the Catholic Church declared him a heretic. The irony was, it was impossible to punish Wycliffe because he was dead. Even so, for public display, they had his bones exhumed and burned them, throwing the ashes into the River Swift. Nevertheless, the horse had already left the barn, there was no stopping the momentum that John Wycliffe, the Bible, and the Lollards had begun among those who desired to read and understand it. The following centuries would see many more translations produced throughout Europe and other parts of the world for the benefit for the common people and the Catholic Church would unleash horrendous persecution.
While the Wycliffe Bible is not the first English Bible, it is the first complete English Bible. It came to us through the efforts and influence of John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384), a Catholic priest and a professor of theology at Oxford, England, called the “morning star of the Reformation” because of the religious principles that he developed through his investigation of Scripture and witnessed about, a great risk to himself. In his treatise of 1378, De Potestate Papae (“Concerning the Authority of the Pope”), Wycliffe was above all open and candid when it came to the church’s disregard in teaching the Bible, the timeless “exemplar” of the Christian religion, was the single standard of doctrine, to which no church authority might legitimately add, and that the authority of the pope was unreliable in Scripture.
Wycliffe once declared: “Would to God that every parish church in this land had a good Bible and good expositions on the gospel, and that the priests studied them well, and taught truly the gospel and God’s commands to the people!” Wycliffe viewed the Bible as the Word of God, penned to every person. Therefore, he felt personally obligated to render the Scriptures in a translation that the layperson-churchgoer would have access to its truths. Wycliffe was mindful of the mistreatments in the church, which he wrote and preached against, such as bribery in the monastic orders, papal taxation, the doctrine of transubstantiation (the claim that the bread and wine used in the Mass literally change into the body and blood of Jesus Christ), the confession, and church involvement in everyday life. Wycliffe had influential enemies who were finally able to bring him to trial for heresy. Twenty-four theses from his writings and sermons were condemned as heretical or erroneous at a synod held at Blackfriars, London, on May 21, 1382.
It is uncertain whether Wycliffe himself actually worked directly on the translation that bears his name. He died in peace on the last day of 1384 at Lutterworth. However, it is his translation, and rightfully bears his name, the Wycliffe Bible, for if it were not for his inspiration and influence, the translation would have never gotten done. To this end, Wycliffe, in the last years of his life, embarked on the task of translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, with the help of his associates, John Purvey and Nicholas of Hereford, two complete versions of the Scriptures were produced. The 1382 version was an extremely literal translation, following the Latin word for word, even violating the English word order. The 1388 version was less literal and more in line the English idiom of his time. Because the translation was made from the Latin Vulgate text, it also included the Old Testament apocryphal and deuterocanonical books.
Principles of Bible Translation
Purvey set down some principles of Bible translation:
First, it is to be known that the best translating out of Latin into English is to translate after the sentence and not only after the words, so the sentence be as open or opener, in English as in Latin, and go not far from the letter; and if the letter may not be followed in the translating, let the sentence be ever whole and open, for the words ought to serve the intent and sentence, or else the words be superfluous or false.
Some have been so bold as to use this statement, to suggest that Wycliffe and his associates supported some dynamic equivalent translation philosophy. Well, this certainly could not be further from the truth.
Furthermore, since the charge of naivete is in part an attempt to marginalize adherents of essentially literal translation as an inconsequential segment of the English translation scene, it is important to set the record straight in this regard. Even though new English translations have been dominated by dynamic equivalence, the English Bibles actually in use have been pretty evenly divided between literal and free translations. And in terms of the history of English Bible translation, dynamic equivalence is almost wholly a modern phenomenon. No major English translation was dominated by dynamic equivalence until the mid-twentieth century, and in this regard appeals to the Wycliffe translation of the fourteenth century and occasional freedoms that Tyndale took are irrelevant to the discourse. If Tyndale gave us anomalies like claiming that Paul sailed from Philippi after the Easter holidays, he also coined words like intercession and atonement in order to express the theological con-tent of the original. In terms of the history of English Bible translation, therefore, essentially literal translation is the dominant tradition, not a lightweight view held by a few ignorant people.
The Council of Constance condemned John Hus as a heretic, the Bohemian (Czech), who had been influenced by John Wycliffe. Hus refused to recant and was burned to death at the stake in 1415. The same council also ordered that the bones of Wycliffe be dug up and burned although he had been dead and buried for over 30 years! The Wycliffe Bible was condemned and burned as well. Both assistants of Wycliffe, Purvey, and Nicholas would be jailed. They were tortured until they recanted their teachings. Then, in 1428, an outlandish and appalling event occurred. Because Pope Martin V insisted, the grave of John Wycliffe was broken open in accordance with the decree of the Council of Constance made 14 years earlier. His remains were dug up and burned, and the ashes were taken down to the little river Swift a short distance away. However, as the ashes of Wycliffe were carried far and wide by the river, so too was his message throughout the next few centuries.
In 1407 the synod of clergy called in Oxford, England, by Archbishop Thomas Arundel explicitly prohibited the translating of the Bible into English or any other modern tongue. In 1431, also in England, Bishop Stafford of Wells banned the translating of the Bible into English and the possessing of such translations. In spite of this misplaced religious fervor, about 180 copies of the Wycliffe Bible in whole or in part have survived, largely dating prior to 1450. Of these, there are 15 copies of the Old Testament and 18 copies of the New Testament, which are of the 1382 more literal version. Many speak of the influence that Martin Luther’s version had on the German language, yet the Wycliffe Bible had no less of an effect on the English people and the English language.
The death of John Wycliffe caused great elation amongst his adversaries. They would no longer be inundated by the difficulties that his teachings had brought about. They would be able to rebuild their grasp over the people. Wycliffe’s writings and his Bible translation into English could be destroyed and be out of sight and thus out of mind. Although that may have been their expectation, it did not happen the way that they had hoped. Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, were more resolute than ever to keep his work alive. Wycliffe’s writings and portions of the Bible were circulated all over England by a group of preachers frequently referred to as “Poor Priests” for the reason that they went about in simple clothing, barefoot, and without material belongings. They were also mockingly called Lollards, from the Middle Dutch word Lollaerd, or “one who mumbles prayers or hymns.” The survival of so many Wycliffe Bibles in the face of such opposition is evidence of the persistence and effectiveness of the courageous Bible preachers: the Lollards!
Bruce Metzger informs us in his The Bible in Translation that, “during the first half of the fifteenth century, some copies of this version were augmented by the inclusion following Colossians of the spurious Letter of Paul to the Laodicean’s. In Colossians 4:16, Paul directs the Colossians, after they have read his letter to them, to pass it on to the church of Laodicea and to see that they, in turn, have an opportunity to “read also the letter from Laodicea.” Although no such letter occurs in the New Testament, before the end of the fourth century someone forged such a composition in Paul’s name. This inauthentic letter circulated in Latin for many centuries and sometimes was included in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate.”
When Christians today think about the translation work of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, which became known as the Greek Septuagint (LXX) from 280 to about 150 B.C.E., the translation work of Jerome on the Latin Vulgate made directly from original language texts (late 4th cent.), John Wycliffe and the Wycliffe Bible (1382), William Tyndale with the first printed English translation (1526-1534), the 1611 King James Version, none of these were inspired by God in the way the originals were. The Preface to the 1611 “clearly states that the translators built upon the foundation that had been laid.” (Leland Ryken, Understanding English Bible Translation) Nevertheless, when we take the time to review the history of these translations and the dozens upon dozens of others and ponder the many translators who were persecuted, even martyred, it gives us confidence in God’s promise that the Word of God would endure. It was not miraculously preserved as some would claim but rather it was miraculously restored to its original form in our critical texts and our very good literal translations today. This certainly should strengthen our faith that all that God has promised by way of His Word will come true as well.—Joshua 23:14.
While reviewing the history of how the Bible came down to us strengthens our faith, it also deepens our love for our heavenly Father as well. Ponder for a moment, why did he give us his Word, to begin with? Moreover, why did He then give us guarantees that it would survive even though He foresaw the persecution that awaited the Bible and those who helped preserve it, not to mention 3,000 years of scribal errors (1500 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E.)? Because he loves us and he also foresaw the centuries of faith of those who would give their entire lives to preserve the Word of God, 1500 C.E. to the present. (See Isaiah 48:17-18 Therefore, Christians need to naturally respond to God’s love with the love of their own by remaining faithful to the Word of God.—1 John 4:19; 5:3.
We conclude this article with a reasonable, rational conclusion, that the reader now appreciates God’s Word even more than before he began reading, and he or she will want to benefit from the Word of God. How can you grow in your knowledge of what the Bible authors meant by what they wrote and more deeply about its history? How can you learn how to interpret it better? How can you defend it as the inspired, fully inerrant, authoritative Word of God? How can you share it with others in your evangelism work? How can you learn how to interpret it better? How can you teach what is says more accurately? The Christian Publishing House Blog, which you are reading from now has thousands of articles on seventy-plus Bible subject areas. We are adding several more each and every day. Take your time and look around.
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SCROLL THROUGH DIFFERENT CATEGORIES BELOW
BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
CHURCH ISSUES, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 Writings of the Reverend and learned John Wickliff – Page 125
 F. F. Bruce, The English Bible: A History of Translations (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961), 19–20.
 Strauss, Mark L.; Scorgie, Glen G.; Voth, Steven M.: The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World. Zondervan, p. 201.
 Grudem, Wayne; Packer, J. I.: Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation. Good News Publishers/Crossway Books, p. 63.
 The Lollard Bible and Other Medieval Biblical Versions, by Margaret Deanesly, 1920, p. 24.
 The Lollard Bible, p. 227.
 Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
 The complete Wycliffe Bible did not appear in a printed edition of until 1850, when Josiah Forshall and Frederic Madden distributed the earlier and the later versions, printed side by side in four volumes (Oxford University Press).
 Bruce Metzger. The Bible in Translation, Ancient and English Versions (p. 58).