John Wycliffe, the man who translated the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, into English did so at great risk to his life. The endeavor to translate was never with permissions and did end up with his corpse unburied by order of the Catholic church, burned and ashes scattered, since he was as unstoppable force in death as he had been in life.
According to Britannica, Wycliffe was an, “English theologian, philosopher, church reformer, and promoter of the first complete translation of the Bible into English. He was one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation.”
Wycliffe was a brilliant man with a knack for languages who was born about 40 years after the expulsion of the Jews from England. When he went about translating Hebrew into English, there were no Jewish rabbis he could speak to in order to ensure an accurate translation.
From Biography Online:
“Wycliffe became well known for being an excellent scholar with a thorough understanding of the law. His scholarship gained the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he was made the head of Canterbury Hall in 1365. When the Pope pressed England to send taxes, Wycliffe was instrumental in drafting a reply arguing that there was no basis for demanding a tribute from a foreign power.”
To oppose the Pope at any point in his life was a radical thing to do. It showed a courage of his conviction in what he believed was right, not what was popular. It was time when any act of heresy got people killed.
His writings and speeches became more radical, from the Roman Catholicism perspective. His followers, of which there were many, were eventually called lollards, which was a pejorative term used against those who were believed to be falsely pious heretics.
From Britannica on lollard:
“At Oxford in the 1370s, Wycliffe came to advocate increasingly radical religious views. He denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and stressed the importance of preaching and the primacy of Scripture as the source of Christian doctrine. Claiming that the office of the papacy lacked scriptural justification, he equated the pope with Antichrist and welcomed the 14th-century schism in the papacy as a prelude to its destruction. Wycliffe was charged with heresy and retired from Oxford in 1378. Nevertheless, he was never brought to trial, and he continued to write and preach until his death in 1384.”
It is a miracle he was not executed for heresy. To openly call the Pope Antichrist was about as heretical as it got.
When he began to work on translating the Bible, he did so without permission from anyone. Wycliffe’s history shows he did not care much about asking for permission and did not care about upsetting anyone. He simply did it because he believed it was the right thing to do and no one was going to tell him otherwise.
The language of the aristocracy and elites in England all spoke French. Had he chosen French for his translation, he may have found some protection from a royal with influence and reduced the risk to his life.
The majority of people in England were peasants who could not understand French anymore than they could Latin. It was for them Wycliffe translated the Bible, which is the only reason he chose English. He believed the people should be able to understand the message, rather than rely on others to tell them what it means.
Some would see his actions as having a death wish, but he simply did things because they were, to him, the right thing to do.
From Britannica, Translation of the Bible of John Wycliffe:
“From August 1380 until the summer of 1381, Wycliffe was in his rooms at Queen’s College, busy with his plans for a translation of the Bible and an order of Poor Preachers who would take Bible truth to the people… There were two translations made at his instigation, one more idiomatic than the other. The most likely explanation of his considerable toil is that the Bible became a necessity in his theories to replace the discredited authority of the church and to make the law of God available to every person who could read.”
Despite debilitating strokes, he never stopped writing. There was no sense of fear of man in anything he wrote or said. It made for a very remarkable man in a time where there were so few willing to stand up for anything.
When he began the translation, Latin and Greek were fairly simple to translate into English, but Hebrew is nothing like Latin and Greek. Without proper Judaic sources and people who understood the complexities of Hebrew, he could never write an accurate translation.
Despite the lack of Jewish people in England during his life in the 14th century, as well as France and Spain, that did not mean there were no Jewish people living in Europe. There were well-known Jewish communities scattered throughout Europe that he could have gone to for help.
In Wycliffe’s defense, he never met anyone who spoke Hebrew with a clear understanding of the depth of language. He had no way to know just how different the language was compared to the other languages he was familiar with.
To him, there was no difference in languages. Translating one to English was no different than any other.
The errors that exist throughout, such as prohibiting murder. Christians still read the words as a prohibition against killing. God never commands man not to kill, but not to commit murder. There is a clear distinction between the two.
Wycliffe died on December, 31, 1384 from a stroke and buried, with no knowledge of the errors that were made. He translated in faith that the words were accurate without an anti-Jewish thought behind the words. Wycliffe had already shown he did not care about what others thought, including those who were of anti-Semitic nature. All he cared about was accuracy in the translation and making the Bible readable to the English people.
From Christianity Today’s Christian History, John Wycliff Medieval “protestant”:
“John Wycliffe left quite an impression on the church: 43 years after his death, officials dug up his body, burned his remains, and threw the ashes into the river Swift. Still, they couldn’t get rid of him. Wycliffe’s teachings, though suppressed, continued to spread.”
There is something almost Jewish about those words. Numerous nations have tried to do to the Jewish people what the Catholic Church did to his body in hopes of ending his works. No matter how often it has been tried, the Jewish people remain and thrive.
The errors that continue to exist today do not appear in the Hebrew when translated properly. Chabbad should be working with Christian Bible editors to ensure accuracy in the words, or as close to accurate as possible when dealing with English, as well as other languages.
The tribes of Israel have a responsibility to be the light of the world and part of their duty is to ensure accuracy in the words of God. To reach out to the Gentiles is part of being chosen by God.