How Our Bible Came to Us: Its Texts and Versions

By H. G. G. Herklots | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
BACK TO THE MISSIONARIES - I

THE FACT that vernacular translations of the Scriptures were so sternly forbidden in the later Middle Ages and those who owned them so rigorously prosecuted is a clear indication that there was a growing popular demand for the Scriptures in language which common people could understand. Ecclesiastical authorities were intolerant of this demand and frightened by it because it was usually associated with what they regarded as a revolutionary desire to overhaul the organization of the Church and to simplify its doctrine. Against such proposals they stood firm, with the rigidity of men in possession. It was one thing for a king to have the Bible in French, or for English nuns to read the Psalms in English under the direction of their confessor; but it was quite another thing when 'the very cooks who sod the pottage made good their claim to read the Bible in Wycliffe's English.'1

The translation of the Bible into English was the end rather than the beginning of John Wycliffe's schemes of reform; and the greater part of the work was done by his learned secretary, John Purvey. His movement was, in its origins, scholarly and theological, an Oxford movement: some of the first preaching associated with it was done by young men in the vacations, very much as young men from the Universities and theological colleges are now wont to descend upon English parishes for short missions. As this work developed--and as controversy increased--there came with it an appeal to the Scriptures as 'Goddis Law' over against the man-made laws of the Church. Often the sentiment was repeated that the Gospel is the rule by which all Christians ought to live. Whereas later reformers broke

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1
Henry IV, 111, 433, quoted Deanesly, op. cit., p. 294.

-56-

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