WYCLIFFE, JOHN (c. 1329–1384)
English reformer; Bible translator
A native of Yorkshire, Wycliffe attended Oxford University, where he received a doctorate of theology in 1372. Wycliffe, the most eminent Oxford theologian of his day, and his associates, were the first to translate the entire Bible from Latin into English.
Wycliffe has been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation” because he boldly questioned papal authority, criticized the sale of indulgences (which were supposed to release a person from punishment in purgatory), denied the reality of transubstantiation (the doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into Jesus Christ’s actual body and blood during Communion), and spoke out against church hierarchies. The pope reproved Wycliffe for his heretical teachings and asked that Oxford University dismiss him. But Oxford and many government leaders stood with Wycliffe, so he was able to survive the pope’s assaults.
Wycliffe believed that the way to prevail in his struggle with the church’s abusive authority was to make the Bible available to the people in their own language. Then they could read for themselves how each one of them could have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ—apart from any ecclesiastical authority. Wycliffe, with his associates, completed the New Testament around 1380 and the Old Testament in 1382. Wycliffe concentrated his labors on the New Testament, while an associate, Nicholas of Hereford, did a major part of the Old Testament. Wycliffe and his coworkers, unfamiliar with the original Hebrew and Greek, translated the Latin text into English.
After Wycliffe finished the translation work, he organized a group of poor parishioners, known as Lollards, to go throughout England preaching Christian truths and reading the Scriptures in their mother tongue to all who would hear God’s word. As a result the Word of God, through Wycliffe’s translation, became available to many Englishmen.
Wycliffe was loved and yet hated. His ecclesiastical enemies did not forget his opposition to their power or his successful efforts in making the Scriptures available to all. Several decades after he died. they condemned him for heresy, dug up his body, burned it, and threw his ashes into the Swift River.
One of Wycliffe’s close associates, John Purvey (c. 1353–1428), continued Wycliffe’s work by producing a revision of his translation in 1388. Purvey was an excellent scholar; his work was very well received by his generation and following generations. Within less than a century, Purvey’s revision had replaced the original Wycliffe Bible.
P. M. BECHTEL & P. W. COMFORT
P.M. Bechtel and P.W. Comfort, “Wycliffe, John,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 735.