The Day Star Of The English Bible AppearsAs late as 650 years ago, there was no Bible in the English tongue, or for that matter, in French, German, Dutch, Flemish, Swedish or Spanish languages. The Hebrews had the Old Testament in Hebrew, and it had been translated into Greek, known as the Septuagint, and Jerome had translated the Septuagint into Latin, which was in the hands of the officialdom of the Roman Church. Select extracts in Latin, had been incorporated into the liturgy, which was read or recited by the priesthood, but the people did not know what was being read. Even most of the priests did not understand the Latin. For the ordinary person, it was a world without a Bible.
Into the darkness, fear and superstition of a world without a Bible, God brought forth a man who would discover the Scriptures of the early Church and would put them into the language of the common people. It was John Wycliffe whom God used to perform this monumental task. John Wycliffe was born about 1320 in Yorkshire, England. He attended Oxford University where he was an outstanding student. He earned a doctorate in theology and remained on to be a professor, a position he held most of the rest of his life. Being a Roman Catholic priest, he also was appointed to the pastorate of a church.
Wycliffe could read and write Latin fluently. He became very interested in the Latin Vulgate Bible. Wycliffe came to believe in the supreme authority of the Bible. Scripture is first in religion, Wycliffe said, because it is the Word of God, higher than which it is impossible to go; and Scripture is as superior to all other writings as Christ is to all other men. It therefore comes to us with absolute authority. Furthermore, he said, the Holy Ghost teaches us the meaning of Scripture.
Through his intense study of the Bible, Wycliffe came to see clearly the truth of salvation through faith. He was eager to share this truth with others. As a pastor, he began to read from the Latin Scriptures to his congregation, and then to translate his reading into English and to preach from it to his people, a practice at that time unheard of. The more he studied God’s Word, the clearer became to him the errors and the moral corruption of the Roman Church and the Papacy of that day. He bravely exposed and opposed these, and he was denounced from Rome.
His great esteem for God’s Word made Wycliffe eager for the common man to have it in a language he could understand. Only as the Scriptures were in the hands of the people to read and understand could they see for themselves how opposed to God’s Word were many practices going on in the religious world, and only then could they resist them. Between 1378 and 1382, Wycliffe and his co-laborers worked night and day on a translation into the English of that day. This translation was hand copied and distributed throughout the land. So great was God’s blessing on this that according to one historian, "You could not meet two persons on the highway but one of them was Wycliffe’s disciple."
The circulation of Wycliffe’s Bible was bitterly opposed by ecclesiastical authorities in Rome. Those who read it and encouraged its use were denounced as heretics. Wycliffe was summoned to face charges of erroneous teaching and his views were condemned. It was ordered that he and his followers be imprisoned. Wycliffe fully expected to pay with his life for his faithfulness to God’s Word, but he was spared a martyr’s death. He became ill and died a natural death, in the providence of God.
However, severe persecution came to many of those who dared to use the Bible as their guide book. An act was made which declared it an offence punishable by death to translate Scripture into English or any other tongue or to read it. There was martyrdom after martyrdom. Some lost all their possessions and were hunted in caves and dens for their love of God’s Word. Dungeons, flames and tortures came to others. Forty-one years after Wycliffe’s death, his body was disinterred and burned and the ashes scattered by Rome.
In the years following Wycliffe’s death, John Purvey made a revision of Wycliffe’s translation. This revision was copied and re-copied many times, in spite of all opposition to it, before the invention of printing in the 16th century made it possible to replace the handwritten copies with printed Bibles.
Might we never forget the debt of gratitude we owe to those who, at great cost to themselves, gave us the English Bible.