A modern-spelling edition of the 14th century Middle English translation, the first complete English vernacular version.
More than two centuries before the King James Version came into existence, Oxford professor and theologian John Wycliffe undertook the first-ever English translation of Scripture. The hand-printed "Early Version" of the Wycliffe Bible, which first appeared in 1382, offered a literal translation of the Latin Vulgate. It was the first time the common people had access to Scripture in their language in more than 1,300 years. By 1395, Wycliffe’s friend John Purvey had amended the often-unwieldy translation into a "Later Version," which was easier to read but kept much of the poetry of the Early Version. This version, known today as the Wycliffe Bible, was widely distributed throughout England – all more than half a century before Gutenberg invented his printing press.
This update of the Wycliffe Bible mostly follows the "Later Version", but with irregular spelling deciphered, verb forms comprehended and made consistent, and numerous grammatical variations standardized. The translation also borrows from the later King James Version for verse order (which was standardized just 60 years before the KJV), book order, and proper names (the exception is "christian," which has been left not capitalized as it appears in the "Later Version"). Comparing the two translations shows how the KJV grew out of and built on the Wycliffe Bible, especially with the "Early Versions" poetic influence. Very often, the two texts are almost identical.
English was still morphing into a modern language when Wycliffe and Purvey undertook their translation. Even so, more than 85% of the words used in the "Later Version" are direct precursors of current words, simply spelled differently (such as "vpsedoun": "upside-down"). Another 10% are archaic words (such as "trow":"trust/believe") that are still valid, vital, and provide a sense of the times in which the "Later Version" was written. Most of these words have been included today. Only about 5% of the words in the "Later Version" have dropped out of usage altogether. These have been replaced in Wycliffe’s Bible. In many cases, a replacement was often found in the language of the "Early Version," right alongside a soon-to-be-discarded doublet. When a replacement word wasn’t readily available, older words suitable to the time were chosen over modern equivalents. As always, the goal was to achieve a workable balance between comprehension on the one hand and an honest representation of the original texts on the other.
Copyright © 2001 by Terence P. Noble. For personal use only.