Wyclif’s Bible is the term now given to the versions of the Bible translated into Middle English by Lollard scholar John Wyclif. These versions of the Bible appeared in the later years of the fourteenth century, but were still studied long thereafter.
What was received of the Bible in the earliest part of Christianity to the masses was an oral version of scriptures, verses and homilies in Latin. At this point in time, only the educated (and only the wealthy could afford to be educated) could read and understand Latin. Wyclif’s idea was to translate the Bible into what the common man was speaking, giving the commoner the chance and ability to read the Bible and create one’s own understanding of the Bible’s meaning, rather than the Church’s condensed and biased version.
“[…] it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.”
Helping Hands of the Wyclif Bible
Older scholars believed that John Wyclif himself was the man behind the idea of the translated Bible, leaving no evidence and names but his own behind. Recent studies, however, suspect that Wyclif may have had assistance in his task, probably from other Oxford scholars and / or Lollards as himself. The Wyclif Bible was a very popular text for some time, and therefore many copies very made. Because of the high demand for it, many scribes had to reproduce what we now know to be two separate versions of the Wyclif Bible. Ms. Bodley 959 The original manuscript, referred to as Ms. Bodley 959, is thought to have been dictated to five separate scribes, each giving to the manuscript a sense of personality with different forms of Middle English dialect, erasures, handwriting style and expression substitution. Ms. Douce 369 A separate manuscript of the Wyclif Bible, Ms. Douce 369, shows no signs of different scribes and is thought to be completely translated by Nicholas of Hereford, one of Wyclif’s most avid followers. Subsequently, it seems as if no existing translations of the Bible come from Wyclif’s hand, and scholars conclude that Wyclif may have had no business in his translations at all.
Wyclif’s Bible and the Church’s Response
Because the versions of the Bible translated by Wyclif were considered unorthodox, the Roman Catholic Church of England rejected Wyclif’s Bible along with Lollardy and all writings in association with it. All Lollard writing was forced to go underground. The Church and Parliament both created, in part because of the Wyclif Bible, some of the most strict religious censorship laws. Criticism was created by the Roman Catholic Church in hope to sway Wyclif’s Bible readers back to the oral teachings of the Vulgate, the Latin Bible from which Wyclif’s translations derived. This was due to the Church’s claim that Wyclif’s Bible was full misinterpretations and mistranslation. Still, over one hundred copies of the two versions of Wyclif’s Bible exist today in manuscript form.
Justice, Steven. “Lollardy.” The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Ed. David Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 662-689.
Pitard, David. The Lollard Society. 28 March 2008. John Carroll University 1 April 2008. <http://lollardsociety.org/>.
Robinson, Henry Wheeler. The Bible in its Ancient and English Versions. Greenwood Press Publishers: Westport, Connecticut. 1970. 137-145.