Middle English Bible translations

From Academic Kids

The age of Middle English was not a fertile time for Bible translations but saw the first major translation, that of John Wyclif. The period of Middle English begins with the Norman conquest and ends about 1500. The influence of French as the preferred language in Britain at the time limited English literature of all types.

  • Richard Rolle of Hampole (or de Hampole) was an Oxford-educated hermit and writer of religious texts. He translated several parts of the Bible including the Psalms in the early 1300s. Rolle's Psalms was translated into a Northern English dialect but later copies have been adapted into Southern English dialects. Rolle's Psalms was written as a Latin gloss with English appearing between the Latin text.
  • At the same time another version of Psalms, the West Midland Psalms, was translated by an anonymous author in the West Midlands region. This version is also a gloss.
  • Also in the early years of the 1300's, an English translation appeared, also by an anonymous translator, of the French language version of Revelation which was popular in England as well as France.
  • Wyclif produced the first complete English language Bible in the late 1300's, often called Wyclif's Bible. His New Testament was completed in 1380 and the Old Testament a few years later. It is thought that a large portion of the Old Testament was translated by Nicholas Hereford with Wyclif completing it and translating the New Testament himself. Some 30 copies of this Bible survive despite the fact that it was banned by the church along with the Lollards who used it.
  • Wyclif's Bible was revised in the last years of the 1300's, perhaps by John Purvey. This edition was also banned and became even more popular than the first. Some 130 copies still exist, including some belonging to the British royal family.

Sample of Wyclif's translation:

Be not youre herte affraied, ne drede it. Ye bileuen in god, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyngis: if ony thing lasse I hadde seid to you, for I go to make redi to you a place. And if I go and make redi to you a place, eftsone I come and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be. And whidir I go ye witen: and ye witen the wey. (John 14:1-4)
  • After the controversy was begun by Wyclif, a unauthorized Roman Catholic version of the New Testament was produced in English. The oldest remaining copy dates to about 1400.

All translations of this time period were all from Latin or French. Greek and Hebrew texts would become available with the development of the Johann Gutenberg's movable-type printing press which coincided with the development of Early Modern English language and would lead to a great increase in the number of translations of the Bible in the Early Modern English era.

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