Over the next several weeks I will be highlighting a section from J.C. Ryle’s Light from Old Times. This book is a collection of essays about Christian men who made significant contributions towards a Gospel centered English church. If you speak English and are a Christian, odds are these men contributed in no small way to your Christian life. Take the time with me over the coming weeks to learn about these men, that you might be made grateful to God for them and inspired by their faithfulness. And now…
Every wonder where that Bible on your shelf came from? I’m not seeking to get us into heavy questions of inspiration, but rather, where did that English Bible come from? That is, who took that wonderful Hebrew and Greek text and translated it into English so that we could read it? Well, the first Bible written in English was translated by a man named John Wycliffe. He was a remarkable man, who not only translated the Scriptures into English but he also used his spare time teaching illiterate peasants to read as well as training lay preachers to evangelize both Britain and the continent.
Last in order, but first in importance, let us ever gratefully remember that Wyclif was the first Englishman who translated the Bible into the English language, and thus enabled it to be understood by the people.
The difficulty of this work was probably something of which we can form no conception at this day. There were probably few, very few, that could help the translator in any way. There was no printing, and the whole book had to be laboriously written in manuscript, and by written manuscript alone could copies be multiplied. To inspect the machinery and apparatus of our blessed Bible Society in Blackfriars, and then to think of the stupendous toil which Wyclif must have gone through, is enough to take one s breath away. But with God s help nothing is impossible. The work was done, and hundreds of copies were circulated. In spite of every effort to suppress the book, and the destruction of it by time, fire, and unfavourable hands, no less than 170 complete copies were found extant when it was reprinted at Oxford some 40 years ago, and no doubt many more are in existence.
The good that was done by the translation of the Bible will probably never be known till the last day, and I shall not attempt to form any conjecture about it. But I shall never hesitate to assert that if there is any one fact more incontrovertibly proved than another it is this, that the possession by a people of the Bible in their own language is the greatest possible national blessing.
J.C. Ryle, Light from Old Times pg 26
If that whet your appetite, click here to read Ryle’s chapter on Wycliffe