History of the English Bible (Lollard Bibles)

Lollard Bibles (late 1300s)

  • By the 1300s, people were translating bits and pieces of the Bible into a form of English that you might recognize.  There are a little over 200 manuscripts of Middle English testaments from the late 1300s. They’re all published by a group known as the Lollards.
  • John Wyclif is the name most associated with the Lollards, but he did not do the translating, but did provide much leadership for the publication of the scriptures.
    • John Trevista – “Much about that time, even in our King Richard the second’s days (1377-1399), John Trevisa translated them into English, and many English Bibles in written hand are yet to be seen with divers, translated as it is very probable, in that age.” King James Bible, The Translators to the Reader.
    • Wyclif, Trevista and other Lollards held biblical beliefs about the Bible that led to mass production of English scriptures.
  • Politics
    • In 1374 he became chaplain to King Edward III.  Wyclif was called on to negotiate terms between King Edward III and Pope Gregory XI because England had not paid taxes to the Roman Catholic Church for 40 years.  Furthermore, Edward III disagreed with the Pope’s appointments in England. There was enmity between the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to property in England.
    • The charge levied by the pope was 1,000 marks a year — an almost impossible burden. (Interesting currency called “mark” – the last to use the name was Germany’s Deutsche Mark that was replaced by the Euro.  Just to throw this out there, can you think of any place in the Bible where currency is called a mark? The “Mark” is not that mark of the beast but it sure is interesting that currency would be called a mark.)  But money moved out of England in other ways: ecclesiastical offices were sold to the highest bidder, with the money going to the pope. Many offices in England were held by foreigners who never saw the land in which they held office. Some of those officers were nothing but children, but they reaped the income of the offices — after the pope had been paid off. The pope often moved bishops from one see to another and received one year’s salary as his part of the transaction. Much money for the forgiveness of sins was funneled out of England to the papal coffers. In fact the pope received five times more money than the king. To add insult to injury, the money was going to a French pope and eventually found its way into French hands; and France was at war with England. England was thus supporting its enemy in the wars.  So intolerable did this become that Parliament passed a Bill of Indictment against the pope which read in part: God hath given his sheep to the Pope to be pastored and not shorn and shaven . . . therefore it would be good to renew all the statutes against provisions from Rome . . . . No papal collector should remain in England upon pain of life and limb, and no Englishman, on the like pain, should become such collector or remain at the court of Rome.”
  • Theology
    • Wyclif wrote a tract in defense of the authority and inerrancy of the Bible in his work called “On the Truth of Sacred Scripture” which earned him the title the “Evangelical Doctor.”
    • Twelve Lollard Conclusions, 1394
  • Lollard manuscripts in the 1380s had five characteristics:
    • Unlike those before, these manuscripts were not philosophical explanations of Bible stories mixed with legends, folklore, and British history.
    • Second, the manuscripts were produced in very large numbers.
    • Third, the manuscripts were produced by anonymous souls who loved God’s word enough and loved their own people enough to risk their lives in publishing the words of God.
    • Fourth, the manuscripts that were attributed to John Wyclif produced violent opposition from the Roman Catholic Church which was the religion of the day in England.  English Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel wrote to Pope John XXIII, “This pestilent and wretched John Wyclif, of cursed memory, that son of the old serpent…endeavoured by every means to attack the very faith and sacred doctrine of Holy Church, devising-to fill up the measure of his malice-the expedient of a new translation of the Scriptures into the mother tongue.”  More directly it was said of Wyclif, “…by his means it has become vulgar and more open to laymen and women who can read than it usually is to quite learned clergy of good intelligence.  And so the gospel is scattered abroad and trodden underfoot by swine.”
    • Fifth, because English was more like a common man’s language, there was no standard of spelling or literary dialect.  So in one manuscript you might have the word call and in another you might have the word clepe.  One manuscript might say clad and another says clothed.  Regarding spelling “ing” might be “yng” or “inge” or “ynge”.
  • Wyclif dies in 1384 and by 1409 the Roman Catholic Church has regained enough control of the law to purge English scriptures and to prosecute and execute many of the publishers.  But the seeds of awakening among the English speaking people had been planted.
  • The Roman Catholic Church was so furious at Wycliff that 44 years after his death the Pope ordered Wycliff’s body exhumed and his bones crushed to powder and thrown in the Swift River that runs through Lutterworth in England.