Theological Presuppositions and Sixteenth Century English Bible Translation Part I -- By: William E. Nix

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 124:493 (Jan 1967)
Article: Theological Presuppositions and Sixteenth Century English Bible Translation Part I
Author: William E. Nix


Theological Presuppositions
and Sixteenth Century English Bible Translation
Part I

William E. Nix

[William E. Nix, Professor of History Department, LeTourneau College, Longview, Texas.]

The things with which an individual thinks have a tremendous influence upon what he thinks. This principle is manifested in the sixteenth-century translation of the Bible into English. For the doctrines of Protestantism and Catholicism were not so important to the actual work of translation as they were to the choice of the text upon which the translation was based. It is the purpose of this study to illustrate this fact, even though in a cursory manner, and to derive some guidelines for ministering amid the maze of modern-day Bible translations.

During the Middle Ages, portions of the Scriptures were translated into English, but there was no effort to translate the complete Bible. The translations made were primarily for

the purpose of bringing the liturgical portions within the comprehension of the numerous priests who knew very little Latin. Then, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a new intellectual impetus began and continued to expand. New professions began to appear, chivalry and feudalism were in their decline, and a newborn sense of political individuality and independence threatened the church’s omnipotent position. Her worldliness, immorality, greediness, pretentiousness, and arrogance were causing a moral revolt which would extend itself into the doctrinal ramifications of the sixteenth century.

Wycliffe’s century opened with the momentous quarrel between Pope Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France. This quarrel, with its subsequent Babylonian Captivity and Great Schism, marked the downfall of the papacy as the moral tribunal of Christendom. It was in his recoil from the spiritual apathy and moral degeneracy of the clergy that John Wycliffe (ca. 1328–1384) was thrust into the limelight, and the first complete Bible was translated into English. Indeed, it is here that “the readiest key to Wycliffe’s career is to be found in the conviction—a conviction which grew deeper as life went on—that the papal claims are incompatible with what he felt to be the moral truth of things, incompatible with his instinct of patriotism, and finally with the paramount authority of the inspired Book which was his spiritual Great Charter.”1

Toward the close of the fourteenth century the great Wycliffite versions of the Bible were made, and they brought about a new epoch in the history of the English Bible. These versions were translated from contemporary manuscripts of the venerated Latin...

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