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English Translation of the Bible

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English Translation of the Bible

"The story of the English Bible begins with the introduction of Christianity into Britain'... 'the missionary work proceeded almost entirely by means of the spoken word."# Some interlinear translations into Old English began to appear in the ninth and tenth centuries. "The Norman conquest of England (A.D. 1066) marked the end of the production of Scripture translation into Anglo-Saxon and Old English."# Latin was still the language of the clergy but not the people. It wasn't until the fourteenth century until English translation of parts of the Scripture began to reappear. The early church needed few translations. Believers copied and circulated Scriptures in Greek that everyone could read. But during the 4th century, Latin began to replace Greek as the common language. Several Latin translations, often inaccurate, leaked into circulation.# The Church needed an official translation. The first complete English Bible that is known of was due in part to the influence of one man.

John Wycliffe, a man who lived approximately 200 years before the Reformation was a man ahead of his time. Historians have called him the "Morning star of the Reformation." Wycliffe, who was born around 1330, criticized abuses and false teachings

in the Church.# During the sixteenth century in England, the only version of the Bible that someone could find was in Latin (and possibly some parts in French). A common person, who was most likely illiterate, could not find and read a Bible in his own language. Two hundred years earlier, common people were not only discouraged from reading the Bible, but a vernacular translation of the Bible did not even exist. John Wycliffe was the first person in medieval or modern history to undertake the producing of a vernacular translation of the Bible. What was it that motivated Wycliffe to go against the popular opinion of his day and risk incurring the wrath of both Church and state by producing a vernacular translation of the Bible?

Wycliffe's motive for translating the Bible into the English language arose out of three convictions that are closely related and help to shape one another: First he was distressed by the corruption he saw within the Church. Second, he saw that the Scriptures were the authority for combating these corruptions and third, was his conviction that each person was responsible to answer to God for the kind of life they lived. Wycliffe saw the corruption within the church of his day and he felt the need for reform of this unrighteousness. It seemed to him that the Church had failed to produce people living a godly life as he saw portrayed in the early disciples as recorded in the Bible. He wrote arguments condemning simony, confession to a priest, and tithing. He also spoke against the Pope as holding authority over the people and yet not representing God properly. He

even went so far as to refer to the Pope as the 'Antichrist'. In the book, "Wyclif, Select English Writings", Herbert Winn summarizes Wycliffe's view of the Pope in an introduction to one of Wycliffe's works entitled, "Pope or Antichrist?". He says,

He [Wyclif] reached the conclusion that the Gospel does not ordain one Pope; that Peter was not above the other apostles nor the Pope above other bishops. In his later years Wyclif denied the impeccability and infallibility of the Pope and used against him the doctrine of Predestination. The Pope, he said, might be destined for Hell. How dare such an one arrogate to himself the power to bind and to loose? #

The evil practices of churchmen were obvious to others besides Wycliffe. He wanted reform as did other people in his day, but he was unique in that he was using the Scriptures as the measuring rod by which the ecclesiastical errors should be measured. Margaret Deanesley, one of the authorities on Wycliffe and his view of the Scriptures, wrote about how Wycliffe's view of church errors and the Bible related to other people of his day.

The justification of Wycliffe's theories lay in the evident need for reform and reconstruction in Christendom, ... Ecclesiastical evils of the day were as apparent to devout Churchmen throughout Europe as to Wycliffe: ... Churchmen acknowledged and lamented such evils as the non-residence of parish priests and worldliness of the Clergy, ... More, probably, than in any other century it seemed to saint, socialist and sinner that the visible Church had failed, and that change and reorganization were needed. ... So far Wycliffe was justified by his contemporaries in his estimate of the evil tenor of his days: but he was original in the insistence of his appeal to gospel and apostolic Christianity as the standard for succeeding ages.#

Thus Wycliffe was led back to the Scriptures as the final authority for defining what Church practice and doctrine should be. The early documents of the Church were to be

the measuring rod to define present day practice and teaching. He appealed to the Scriptures and to the writings of the Church Fathers. Since the Church had strayed from what was recorded in these writings, the choice had to be made as to what was more authoritative. Since he saw obvious errors in Church practice, he concluded that the Bible was to be authoritative over and above tradition or pronouncements made by popes or other churchmen.

In summarizing parts of "De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae", Wycliffe's writing which focused on the truth of the Scriptures, Herbert Workman says,

From this insistence by Wyclif on this supreme authority of Scripture certain consequences followed. Wyclif sweeps away the whole mass of tradition, doctrine, and ordinances which set themselves as of equal or superior value to Scriptures, nor would he allow that what the pope decrees in maters of faith must be received, observed, and carried out as if it were Gospel. Such a claim would make the pope into Christ. Scripture alone is the standard of papal authority, and this the pope may fail to understand or misinterpret.#

The thought that the Scriptures were more authoritative than Church tradition was not a belief held by most people in Wycliffe's day. The Church held that both Scripture and Tradition, including decrees made by the Pope, were equally important in defining doctrines and church practice. In fact, the Scriptures were only to be used as they were interpreted by the Church. Since the Church believed that the Pope carried on the appointment given by Christ to the Apostle Peter, the Pope was seen as the supreme ruler of the Church and could set doctrine as he pleased. If he interpreted Scripture and Tradition as indicating a certain doctrine, then that became the rule. Historian Benjamin



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