16th May 2011

Happy Anniversary, KJV

The third of a series

“Wherewithall shall a yong man cleanse his way? By taking heede thereto according to thy word…. I have reioyced in the way of thy testimonies; as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts and haue respect vnto thy ways.”
Psalm 119:9, 15-16 (original KJV of 1611)

Around 1353 Wycliffe and his followers issued the first New Testament in English. Wycliffe believed that the Bible belonged to the people. How could God be known and followed unless the people heard him speak in their own tongue? According to Henry Knyghton, a contemporary, an adversary and canon of Leicester, copies, all hand written, were widely disseminated throughout Britain. This was much to Knyghton’s disgust, since common people and women! could read it without the benefit of learned clergy to guide them. Wycliffe went on to publish the Old Testament and then his associates published a revised version of the whole bible in 1388 after his death. All copies being hand written!

Gradually the church authorities caught up with him and sought repeatedly to try him for heresy—in producing the Bible in English. Although protected time and again by friends in high places, the storms continued to assail him until his death. Once again, the word of God, which had begun to be available for the instruction of young and old, was placed back behind locked doors. Meanwhile, Wycliffe died of a stroke at Lutterworth, where he had been the vicar, on December 31, 1384.

But still the church was not satisfied and in 1804 they banned his translations, and nine years later ordered that his remains be disinterred and burned. Such was the fear of an unfettered Bible in the language of the common people.

Whereas restricted circulation engendered a desire to read God’s word back in 1353, the free dissemination we see today does exactly the reverse. Today the Bible is consigned to cranks, religious nuts, the elderly (facing death and the unknown) and those who have made religion their business. But the Bible is actually the handbook for life, and human beings, typically, ignore the only manual that is given to them, only then to ask ‘Why are we here?’ The Bible contains all the answers to life. All we have to do is read it.

Most merciful Father, thank you for a man like Wycliffe who sacrificed his life through persecution and privation to bring us your word in our own tongue. Help us therefore not to take that which was won at so high a cost lightly, which is what we human beings, and even Christians, tend to do. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by John Stettaford 

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