Know All About Wycliffe’s New Testament

John Wycliffe’s New Testament was the first hand-written English translation of the Latin Bible. Know more about it and how it influenced its successors here.

No one should be coerced to learn another language to comprehend God’s Word and experience the Bible’s life-transforming power. John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor and a leading theologian of his time, believed this. He was among the few individuals who had read the Latin Bible.

Despite being a scholar who lived a life of privilege, he felt a special empathy for the uneducated and the poor. He challenged the Church princes to face their widespread corruption and hypocrisy and repent. He opined the Church was no longer fit to be the keeper of God’s Word.

Wycliffe proposed a truly revolutionary idea of God’s Word being made available to people in both Latin and English so they can read it in the tongue most known to them. He strongly believed that with God’s Word literally in their hands, individuals would be able to work toward their own salvation without needing any institutional or human intermediary.

This was the basic premise that drove Wycliffe to translate the scriptures into English for the first time. And thus, Wycliffe’s New Testament came into existence.

Wycliffe’s Translation of the Bible

John Wycliffe, together with his followers, translated the “Latin Bible” (Saint Jerome’s Vulgate) into the very first English Bible in the 1380’s. This literal and respectful translation was hand-printed.

Wycliffe was in his room at Queen’s College from August 1380 until 1381’s summer, busy with his Bible translation and an order of Poor Preachers, whom he trusted to take Bible truth to the people.

At Wycliffe’s instigation, two translations were made of the Bible, one more idiomatic than the other. His considerable toil can be understood better by how the Bible became essential in his theories to replace the discredited church authority and to make God’s Word available to every literate person.

This, together with a belief in the efficiency of preaching, paved the way for the creation of the Lollards. Though it’s uncertain to which level Wycliffe was involved in the formation of the Lollards, it’s clear that the Lollards propagated his controversial views.

Wycliffe retired to Lutterworth in 1381. At this time, the Peasants’ Revolt happened due to the labor classes’ discontent. After Simon of Sudbury, Canterbury’s archbishop, was killed in the revolt, William Courtenay took his place.

Courtenay moved against Wycliffe and condemned several of his works at the synod held in May 1382 at Blackfriars, London, and banned all his writings. That year, Wycliffe had his first stroke at Lutterworth. However, he continued writing prolifically until his death in December 1384, triggered by another stroke.

Features of Wycliffe’s New Testament

Wycliffe’s New Testament was hand-written. Consequently, it was extremely challenging to read. Yet, its historical importance couldn’t be ignored as it was the very first English translation of the Bible from Latin.

To make the readers’ job easier, Wycliffe’s 1378 manuscript was reprinted in 1731. It had a modern, user-friendly typeface. Thus, the text was easier to read compared to Wycliffe’s New Testament that was hand-written. However, reprinted edition preserved the Middle-English wordings and spellings of the original 100% faithfully.

If you are planning to buy a facsimile of Wycliffe’s New Testament, it may be wiser to look for the 1731 reprint with the modern English typeface. It’s important to note here that this 1731 publication was a vital milestone in Biblical history and printing history as it was the first printed version of the English translation of God’s Word.

In 1731, a limited number of copies (160) were printed. Today, less than ten of those are known to exist. Perhaps you can imagine how costly each of those copies would be in case they are available for sale. However, a facsimile of the first printed edition of Wycliffe’s New Testament is relatively easier to get and would cost you just a small fraction of the cost of the 1731 printed version.

Wrapping Up

John Wycliffe’s New Testament angered the Church so much that his bones were dug up and burned. All confiscated copies of his work were burned. Those who possessed, copied, or distributed the copies they could manage to hide were imprisoned or burned at stake. But the spark elicited by Wycliffe’s English Bible couldn’t be extinguished.

God’s Word was copied, time and again, and shared from hand to hand. It was read, heard, and spoken by the common people in their own language for the first time in more than 1300 years. Thus, Wycliffe’s New Testament finally returned God’s Word to the simple folk in a language they spoke and understood.

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