John Wycliffe (1324 - 1384) was the first to translate The Bible into English
John Wycliffe was the first person to produce a hand-written translation of The Bible from Latin into English
In 1371 as an academic Oxford cleric he gained promotion into the government service of King Edward III. Desperate for cash to pursue the never-ending war with France, Edward's chief advisor, John of Gaunt, hoped to use Wycliffe's radical preaching as a means of coercing the clergy into paying higher taxes to the state.
Wycliffe was a reformist clergyman who held the view that The Bible was the only truly religious authority, so rejecting the teachings of the Pope and the Catholic Church. He believed that it was impossible to know whose souls would ultimately be saved, and that it was entirely possible for those of the clergy and the Pope not to be among those who would be saved. The Church rejected his teachings, and he was tried for heresy in 1377. However, John of Gaunt stood by him in court, causing the trial to break up in confusion.
Yet Wycliffe's teachings had struck a dangerous chord amongst the people. During the chaotic end to the trial, the London congregation had rioted; an example of how the Commoners had become more confident in demanding their rights and an indication of the new social freedoms arising in the wake of the Black Death.
Wycliffe strongly believed that The Bible ought to be the common possession of all Christians, and needed to be made available for use in the common language of the people. National honour seemed to require this, since members of the nobility possessed The Bible in French.
Wycliffe set himself to the task. His translation of the New Testament, was smoother, clearer, and more readable than the rendering of the Old Testament by his friend Nicholas of Hereford. Wycliffe’s younger contemporary John Purvey revised the whole in 1388. Thus the mass of the people came into possession of The Bible; even as the misguided cry of Wycliffe’s opponents stated: "The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity." For this reason the Wycliffe-ites in England were often designated by their opponents as "Bible men."
Although the Wycliffe Bible was hand written rather than printed it is evident how widely it was available in the fifteenth century because in spite of the zeal with which the Church hierarchy sought to destroy it, there still exist about 150 manuscripts.
Just as Luther's version had great influence upon the German language, so Wycliffe's influenced English, by its clarity, beauty, and strength. The complete text is available on line. Google John Wycliffe’s Translation.
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