Episode 125: The First English Bible

Many people are familiar with the King James Bible, but over two centuries earlier, an Oxford theologian named John Wycliffe produced the first Bible composed in the English language. Together with a group of close associates, he produced a Bible that was read throughout England. In this episode, we explore the events leading to this translation, and we also examine how the Wycliffe Bible impacted the English language.


18 thoughts on “Episode 125: The First English Bible

  1. I have enjoyed your podcasts, from episode one and all the way so far. Besides being interested in language, the information in this episode, and an earlier, #106, have a lot of information related to Bible editions I’ve seen at Nordisk bibelmuseum. https://nobimu.no/en/.
    Keep up the good work, Kevin 🙂

  2. I remember seeing a Victorian Bible in John Rylands Library in Manchester UK which was known as the “Wicked Bible” because it had a misprint in Exodus which read” THOU SHALT COMMIT ADULTERY”.

    This was another fascinating episode. Wyclif must be up there with Shakespeare as one of the greatest originators of new words. Like most “non-linguists” I had always assumed that Middle English had started about 1200 and hadn’t really changed until Shakespeare came along. To hear about how the language developed during the Middle English period has been a real eye-opener.

    Can’t wait for the next episode!

    • How can we be certain that they coined and introduced those terms, rather than simply being the first to record them, or maybe just the only ones whose record survived? Or perhaps they just popularized new words by recording them? And perhaps it’s a mix of all those and then some.

    • The Prologue to the revised version of the Wycliffe Bible explains how the translators poured through many different Latin manuscripts of the Bible. They found numerous scribal errors and had to determine the ‘correct’ version by comparing the various manuscripts. The implication was that scribal errors in the Bible were common. However, leaving out an occasional ‘not’ seems like it could be a big deal.

  3. Wow, excellent episode! I’ve enjoyed ALL the episodes and the thorough historical detail, but this one was extremely interesting! Thanks for putting together such a quality podcast!

  4. Thanks for the episode! I would think that Wycliffe would have used a number of Latin words in his Bible, that did NOT actually “catch on” … never finding their way into the works of other writers of English. Is this true, and if so, would you know any examples?

    • I actually found some of these “dead end” words. In my OED on CD-ROM, I went to Advanced Search, then chose: Search for entries containing “Wyclif” as quotation author. In the results list, I looked for words that originated with Wyclif, but contained no later citations. One of my finds was the word “cenefectory”, meaning “tent-making”. Wyclif’s sentence was “Thei weren of cenefectorie craft”. The word comes from the Latin “scenofactorius”.

  5. Loved the episode. I didn’t realize that England/Wycliffe had ties to Bohemia and Jon Huss. Moravians are pretty significant in the part of NC I live in and that link is really interesting. What was the name of first protestant state in Europe that you alluded to?

    • Just curious, they call themselves Moravians? Not Czechs? Moravia is the other (eastern) part of Czechia – the other is Bohemia (by the way – the name probably comes from the Bohi Celtic tribe also mentioned here way back)

  6. Thank you for another intriguing trip to history, and special thanks for the link to Czechia, my homeland.
    Good king Wenceslas (Vaclav in Czech) – was sadly not a king, but a ‘mere’ duke – the Germans did not let us have a king then:) He became a saint also because he was murdered by his own brother in a church – sainthood guaranteed for such death you can say. Ann was the daughter of Charles the IV. – holy Roman Emperor – who was a great and ambitious diplomat. Her brother Vaclav IV. only took the dowry – and squandered it promptly.
    We learn about J. Wycliffe in history class as an inspiration to Jan Hus/John Huss (also a language reformer by the way – he introduced the weird hooks to modern Czech – see – pět = five, škola = school, čelo = cello).
    I am not sure if we can call the hussite wars period a state, it was all chaos and fighting. The Hussites were traditionally glorified by the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia – as, really, the first proletariat and working class heroes. Nowadays, however, there are contesting views showing all the destruction, burned cities and killings by the most radical hussites – Jan Hus never preached that, of course.

    • I cannot but add my praise for Kevin’s work to what other listeners said before me. This is an outstanding podcast, exceptionally well-narrated and well-researched.

      One of my teenage favorite readings were the Hussite novels by Alois Jirasek(1851-1930). Czech is a bit more distant from Russian than some other Slavic languages, so I cannot judge how good was the Russian translation – but to a 15-year boy it was absolutely wonderful.

      Glorification of peasant wars and other such insurrections predates communism – it was typical for most left-wing and national revival movements of the XIXth century.
      Sergei @ London

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