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Who Translated The Bible Into English

Dominant faiths in the English-speaking world commonly make use of an English version of the Bible, a translation from the original scriptural texts from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Most of us are familiar with the King James Geneva Bible and the Martin Luther Bible, but surprisingly, for its time, there was a rather unorthodox and unheralded translation of the Bible into English – the Wycliffe translation. ‘John Wycliffe,’ as he is commonly known, was the first to ever translate the full canonical Bible into English at a time when translations were not traditionally allowed by the Church. This earns him the unofficial title of ‘Father of English Translation.’

Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire, England around 1330. Coming from an upper-middle class background, Wycliffe received a classical education, which enabled him to develop a keen interest in literature and debate. An active cleric in the Catholic Church, Wycliffe was eventually appointed canon of Lutterworth Parish, where he lived between 1374 and 1384. Though raised within the Church, he questioned some of its theology and practices that he believed were not licensed in scripture and went against common sense. Wycliffe believed the Bible should be read by the common people and studied the original languages to achieve his translation of the Bible.
While the Catholic Church condemned Wycliffe and his translation, the people of England welcomed it. The translation was quickly embraced by the lower and middle classes for whom Latin was not a respected language and as such deserved to be able to read the Word of God in their own language. Wycliffe and his associates made hundreds of copies of the Bible, his translation being circulated throughout England, denying the Catholic Church of its authoritative control of the scripture. Wycliffe died in 1384, leaving behind a legacy of Biblical translation and religious reformation that is still held in high regard.

The Church was highly concerned about the news that circulated about Wycliffe’s translations and immediately sought out the writings that had been created by Wycliffe and his followers. In 1408, twenty-four years after his death, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic and his works heretical and simultaneously ordered that all copies of Wycliffe’s Bibles be destroyed. That was primarily because of the doctrinal and reformatory teachings that Wycliffe put forward in his translation.
Despite those orders, Wycliffe’s works still survived and would eventually influence a number of movements, including the Lollards, Spiritual Franciscans, and reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. In addition, the Church of England, which was created by Henry VIII, was also founded on some of Wycliffe’s teachings and his rejection of papal authority.

Wycliffe’s work on the translations stirred up a great debate about the development of the Bible in English and throughout the rest of Europe. His translations, though unfinished, have had a huge and lasting impact on the way the Bible is studied and read across the world.

The Impact of Wycliffe’s Translations

Wycliffe’s translations made a significant impact on the church, society, and culture. It affected theology, religious practices, culture, language, and politics. Wycliffe was one of the first advocates for what is known as vernacular translations of the Bible, which is translated into the language of the people it is intended for rather than relying on Latin, the language of the Church.

The translations provided the people of England a way to understand the Bible for themselves, rather than relying on what the clergy interpreted for them, and helped promote spiritual literacy. Wycliffe’s translations sparked a religious reformation movement and signaled the beginning of a period of significant change within the church. His translations had a strong influence on later reformers, such as Luther and Calvin, who used Wycliffe’s work as precedent for their own great religious contributions.

Wycliffe’s translations also had an impact on culture and language. His works were part of the English language movement, which took English from a common dialect to a formal language. Wycliffe’s fame as a translator had a far-reaching effect on both England and the rest of the world. He was one of the first people to translate the Bible into English and his translations had a deep and lasting impact on the language.

Who Succeeded Wycliffe?

Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible undoubtedly laid the groundwork for his successors. During the period of the Reformation in Europe, other scholars took up the task of translating the Bible. John Wycliffe’s colleague John Purvey continued translating the Scriptures, his works first appearing in 1388 and being completed in 1387. William Tyndale, an early Protestant reformer, also translated the Bible, working from 1525 to 1535 and printing the first printed English translation of the New Testament. Myles Coverdale translated the Bible in 1535, followed by the Great Bible in 1539 and the Bishop’s Bible in 1568. These successive translations of the Bible laid the groundwork for the famous King James Bible, published in 1611 and still used by churches today.

The Significance of Wycliffe’s Translations

The significance of John Wycliffe’s translations of the Bible cannot be underestimated. He was the first person to translate the Bible into English and in doing so, sparked a religious reformation, influenced the language and literature of England, and firmly embraced by the people of England. His translations brought about a shift in the ownership of scripture, and his work was a catalyst for other reformers and for the Protestant Reformation that followed. Though Wycliffe’s translations were controversial, they laid the groundwork for later translations and the perception of the Bible as an accessible text that could be read and interpreted by all.

Wycliffe’s Legacy Lives On

Although many of his teachings were denounced by the Church and his works were forbidden for many years, John Wycliffe’s legacy has lasted for centuries. He stands out as a pioneer of English translations that solidified him as ‘the Father of English Translations’. Wycliffe remains a figure of significance not only in religious history but in English language and literature, as his translations and legacy continue to influence generations of readers today.

A Lasting Tribute to Wycliffe

John Wycliffe has been immortalized in the memory of many and remains a controversial figure within religious history. The John Wycliffe Society, an organization founded in 1895 to recognize Wycliffe’s contribution, has published two prominent books on his life and works: The Wycliffe Historical Series and The Wycliffe Dictionary of Intellectual History. Each year the John Wycliffe Society holds a service to honor his work and to recognize his contributions to history. A statue of Wycliffe at Lutterworth, the town he served as canon and where he spent the last years of his life, stands as a lasting tribute to his historical accomplishments.

Conclusion: A True Reformer

John Wycliffe was a champion of literacy, a true reformer, and a protector of the people’s access to the Word of God. His adaptation of scripture into English spoke to the neglected and disadvantaged and his translation of the Bible is remembered fondly by supporters of religious liberty. Wycliffe’s translations sparked a religious reformation and provided a foundation for English literature and cultural advancement. More than seven centuries after his death, his gracious spirit is remembered in the words of his translation.

Hilda Scott is an avid explorer of the Bible and inteprator of its gospel. She is passionate about researching and uncovering the mysteries that lie in this sacred book. She hopes to use her knowledge and expertise to bring faith and God closer to people all around the world.

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