If you have ever doubted the power of the written word, and why powerful dictators often seek to control its distribution, consider the case of John Wycliffe. He produced the first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts in the 1380′s AD when he was an Oxford professor, scholar, and theologian. Wycliffe was also an early advocate for translation of the Bible into the common language which at that time was absolutely forbidden to him by the church. He was well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed to be contrary to the Bible.
With the help of his followers, called the Lollards, and his assistant Purvey, and many other faithful scribes, Wycliffe produced dozens of English language manuscript copies of the scriptures. The Lollard movement was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation, (for this reason, Wycliffe is sometimes called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”). At that time some members of the nobility possessed the Bible in French, and some portions of the Bible had been translated into English as early as the seventh century but only under the auspices of the Catholic Church. From Wycliffe comes the translation of the New Testament, which was smoother, clearer, and more readable than any previous rendering.
Wycliffe was one of the earliest opponents of papal authority influencing secular power. His works were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, which was the only source text available to him. Pope Gregory XI was so infuriated by his teachings and his translation of the Bible into English that, 44 years after Wycliffe had died, he ordered Wycliffe’s bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in a river!
In spite of the zeal with which the Roman and English hierarchy sought to destroy it due to mistranslations and erroneous commentary, there still exist about 150 manuscripts, complete or partial, containing the translation in its revised form. For this reason Wycliffe’s followers in England were often designated by their opponents as “Bible men.” Just as Luther’s version had great influence upon the German language, so Wycliffe’s, by reason of its clarity, beauty, and strength, influenced the English language by the King James Version which borrowed heavily from Wycliffe’s New Testament translation.
God bless the faithful who act in His name!
***This article was written by one of our contributing writers: Malcolm Noden