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Does the Wycliffe Bible Follow the Jerome Text?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit, Matthew 7:17.

If you are a bible believing student of the history of the English Bible, you know that God mightily used the Wycliffe Bible. It is the first of the English Bibles which was to eventually culminate in the King James Bible. If you go online to view the Wycliffe Bible, it quickly becomes apparent that what is online is a Jerome Text.

Some years ago, I attended a conference in which a KJV author was a prominent speaker. I was somewhat underwhelmed by his understanding of the bible. I remember thinking, "if a guy like this can write a book, I guess anybody can". That's when I wrote Further Thoughts on the Word of God. In our conversations I made the remark that God will not use the Jerome Text in revival. The author instantly shot back with, "what about Wycliffe and the Lollards?; They used a Jerome Text."

At the time, I was quoting scripture and he was quoting history. If history or science contradicts the bible, you can be sure of one of two things. Either your concept of a bible doctrine needs reexamining, or the history or science is wrong. I sat there at that conference and realized that the common understanding of the Wycliffe Bible must be in error, or my bible was in error.

What ever that thing was that is currently masquerading on the internet as the Wycliffe Bible, it is not the Wycliffe Bible. If that thing on the internet stirred the people of God in England to withstand the Catholic Church, and to seek salvation through the grace of Lord Jesus Christ without sacraments or any other works, then my understanding of the God of Israel is seriously flawed. I began a serious search for clues as to the origin of that text on the internet, and how it ever got to be called the Wycliffe Bible.

It was through that search that I first found Margret Deanesly's book on the Lollard Bible. I know that some of my readers are serious students of the word of God and its history. I highly recommend that you get a copy of the book and read it. It is jammed full of history and insights to the Medieval Bible and the underground churches. As I said in the previous post, Deanesly's ultimate conclusion is erroneous. Nevertheless, I knew far more when I finished than when I had begun.

It was finding her student and helper Sven Fristedt that finally unlocked the history of the Wycliffe Bible for me. Fristedt wrote three books that challenged the Forshall and Madden Text of the Wycliffe Bible. Starting with his 1953 book, The Wycliffe Bible: The Principal Problems with the Forshall and Madden Edition Part I, Fristedt takes his readers on a meticulous look at the 180 extant manuscripts of the Wycliffe Bible that have survived. He demonstrated how that no two manuscripts were the same. They varied from rudimentary Latin Texts that had English translations of each word written directly above each Latin word, to sophisticated translations into English directly out of the Greek and Hebrew.

The 180 manuscripts can be dated from the late 14th century through the entire 15th century. They vary in the dialects of Middle English used and they vary in the texts that underlay the translation effort. It is possible in those 180 manuscripts to find occasional Jerome readings. It is also possible to find King James readings. One of Fristedt's conclusions was that it took prejudice towards Jerome readings to have ever mixed and matched the 180 variant manuscripts and to have concocted a Wycliffe Bible that read as if the Wycliffe Bible was a Jerome Text. Shame, shame on the fundamentalists who over the years have blindly accepted the phony document purporting to be a Wycliffe Text. Their bibles could have warned them that they had been slipped a substitute.

What is truly marvelous about Fristedt's conclusions is that he cared nothing about the theological value of any of his conclusions. Middle English uses many Norse pronouns and other Norse remnants of speech. As a Swedish Professor of Middle English in Stockholm, Sweden, Fristedt sought to use the abundance of Wycliffe texts to study the language. To be quite honest, Fristedt's three books, Parts 1,2 and 3 written over twenty years, are some of the most difficult reading that I have ever done. He painstakingly dissects each manuscript and proves that almost all of them represent unique translating out of variant texts, with varying translating techniques, and with varying dialects of Middle English.

At one point Fristedt identifies a particular manuscript from the 14th century, written in the exact dialect that Wycliffe would have spoken, and with a few other identifiers, suggests to his readers that that particular manuscript was probably handled by Wycliffe himself. We have tended to think of the Wycliffe Bible as being a bible translated by Wycliffe and then copied over and over. It was not. Wycliffe started a process. Over the next 150 years, many men, some named and some anonymous, labored with such light as they had to render the particular manuscripts that they had into English at the hazard of their lives. Each of these surviving manuscripts is called a Wycliffe Bible. There appears to be some coordinating with the labor of others who went before them, but no two of the 180 manuscripts read the same.

The movement to translate the word of God into Middle English starting with the labor of John Wycliffe can not be called a movement leaning on the Jerome text. Yes, there were a few of the manuscripts that demonstrated that its particular translator was in possession of one of the many Jerome Latin Texts that were sprinkled throughout England. They were not in the majority, and Forshall and Madden's Text that blights internet and the common conception of the Wycliffe Bible is intellectually dishonest and spiritually fraudulent.

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