John Wycliffe, Born in 1328, is most well known for being the first to translate the Bible into the English language, or common language. He grew up in the Middle Ages, a time when the Roman Church prohibited the Bible to be written in anything other than Latin (since 400 AD Beginning the Dark and Middle Ages) so that only the priests could read it. It was considered a crime punishable by death to even own a copy of the Bible. Even though the majority of the common people could not even read Latin or English! The Church was deceiving the people by withholding the Truth, the Word of God, the Bible and instituting their own doctrines and tradition in order to make them the ultimate powerhouse.
Wycliffe was very well studied at Oxford in politics, religion, and theology. His passions led him to become an illustrious teacher, preacher, and patriot. Not too long into his career he started teaching to his students his very strong disagreements with the Roman Church. His student’s class notes started being copied and passed around and Wycliffe himself started writing up his oppositions to share publicly.
- He opposed indulgences (Killing a man $1.75, Robbery $3.00 etc..)
- He opposed purgatory (a place of purification, after death)
- He opposed transubstantiation (bread and wine actually become substance of the body and blood of Jesus,)
- He opposed the temporal wealth of the church (extravagant buildings)
- He opposed the “holy war” (killing of innocent people to plunder)
- He strongly opposed calling the pope the head of the church (went as far as saying the pope is an antichrist and not fit for heaven)
- Most of all he opposed the withholding of the Bible (Without knowledge of the Bible there can be no peace in the life of the Church)
Wycliffe strongly believed in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible and understood that it was for all believers, which led him to start translating the Latin Bible into English. Wycliffe said,
“Believers should ascertain for themselves what are the true matters of their faith, by having the Scriptures in a language which all may understand.”
The Pope and Roman clergy were outraged, to say the least, against this translating because they felt that the Holy Scriptures should be prohibited from the laity and “un-churched” in means to control them. When the Pope caught wind of Wycliffe’s work, he issued a letter against Wycliffe. In response to the Pope, Wycliffe said,
“You say it is heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English. You call me a heretic because I have translated the Bible into the common tongue of the people. Do you know whom you blaspheme? Did not the Holy Ghost give the Word of God at first in the mother-tongue of the nations to whom it was addressed? Why do you speak against the Holy Ghost? You say that the Church of God is in danger from this book. How can that be? Is it not from the Bible only that we learn that God has set up such a society as a Church on the earth? Is it not the Bible that gives all her authority to the Church? Is it not from the Bible that we learn who is the Builder and Sovereign of the Church, what are the laws by which she is to be governed, and the rights and privileges of her members? Without the Bible, what charter has the Church to show for all these? It is you who place the Church in jeopardy by hiding the Divine warrant, the missive royal of her King, for the authority she wields and the faith she enjoins”
After coming against the Roman Church with his writings, teachings and translation of the Bible, Wycliffe’s days were filled with trials and heat from the clergy. There was some Divine favor upon his head as he was not martyred but allowed to finish this good work. Wycliffe’s greatest feat was the translation of The New Testament, which was completed in 1380 as well as the Old Testament in 1382. This was a huge accomplishment for the spreading of the Gospel as well as encouraging the common people to learn how to read the Bible for themselves. For this John was condemned and charged with multiple heresies and errors and all of his writings were forbidden and any followers of his teachings were to be imprisoned.
John died two years later, December 31, 1384. He would later be known as the, “Morningstar of the Reformation”, because his forerunner message against the “organized” church opened up the door for what later became known as the Reformation.
It is hard to picture an age that prohibited the Bible from the common man and woman! We are so blessed to be able to have Bibles in our common language so that we may see and hear the Truth of God’s Word for ourselves. This has sobered me up to the importance of having a personal Bible for myself and actually reading it. I hope that none of us take for granted the beauty of being able to read and share the Word of God in this day and age. Now is the time to read and feed from this Book that brings us into a greater experiential knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…before a day comes when the Bible is again forbidden and those that are caught reading from it are burned at the stake!…
To be continued…John Hus, Martyr, burned at the stake for following Wycliffe’s teachings about having the Bible in their own language!