Between 1401 and 1409 the Roman Catholic church in England took vigorous steps to ensure that it could hand over to the state for public burning those convicted of heresy — and translating or reading a Bible in English was heresy. Archbishop Thomas Arundel’s Constitutions against the Lollards of 1408 forbade anyone to own even a single text from the English Bible without a bishop’s licence. The penalty for disobedience was often death. On 4 April 1519, a woman and six men were burnt in Coventry for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed in English. The fourth book in this series, begins by tracing the story of how a few attempts had been made to translate parts of the Bible into the English language until John Wycliffe and his team, late in the fourteenth century, translated the whole Bible from the Latin Vulgate. This was therefore a translation from a translation and, since the printing press has not yet reached Europe, every book had to be copied out by hand. Nevertheless, the Lollards, as these early evangelicals were known, bravely carried Wycliffe’s Bibles with them as they preached across the land; many died for their courage, but the fire of the Reformation had been lit. In 1526 William Tyndale presented the world with its first New Testament printed in English and translated from the original Greek. The Reformation in England now had God’s written authority for its gospel of justification by faith alone — and in a language that even the ploughboy could understand. Ten years later, after vigorous persecution and the sacrifice of many translators, printers, distributors and readers of the Bible, Henry VIII ordered every church to display a copy of the complete Bible in English. This was only the beginning of the story of our English Bible. Book four surveys some of the most significant translations up to, and including, the King James Authorised Version in 1611.
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