Towards a new edition of the Wycliffite Bible

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: English Faculty


The Wycliffite Bible (WB) is the first complete translation of the Bible in English, produced at the end of the 14th century by the followers of the Oxford theologian John Wyclif. The identity of the translators remains uncertain, but the scale and scholarly nature of the project suggest the involvement of many academic translators, probably based in Oxford. Though learned and accurate, the translation was condemned and banned within twenty five years of its appearance. The legislation promulgated early in the 15th century by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Arundel prohibited the making of new versions and the use of any recent translations without episcopal approval of both the text and owner. In spite of this, WB became the most widely disseminated medieval English work: it survives in 250 complete or partial copies. It is also the most widely evidenced of European translations of the Vulgate.

The discovery of new manuscripts and recent research on the text of the translation have rendered obsolete the only complete edition of WB published in 1850 by J. Forshall and F. Madden. A new edition is unquestionably needed, but it is at present a remote goal, not only because of the amount of work it would involve, but also because it remains unclear which principles should underlie such an edition. There is no consensus among scholars as to which manuscripts should be collated and used as the base text for different parts of the translation, or how glosses that appear in the margins of many manuscripts relate to the biblical text and should be presented in an edition; the relevance of other apparatus attached to individual manuscripts in forms clearly related to WB is also not agreed upon. The proposed inquiry aims to establish whether what are currently known as the Earlier and Later versions of the translation (believed to reflect the translators' first efforts to produce an English text and its subsequent revision) represent each a single text or a series of different redactions. It also aims to investigate the relationships between important manuscripts and their value as evidence for different parts of the text. In addition the proposed research seeks to understand better the methods of the translators' work through the study of differences between versions of the translation, particularly in vocabulary, and the study of apparatus found in manuscripts, particularly marginal glosses. The project will also explore possible ways of editing WB and how such a large body of evidence can be presented and made intelligible to a user. It will develop a methodology for editing WB and produce trial editions of two Old Testament (Proverbs and the Song of Songs) and two New Testament (the Epistles to the Romans and Hebrews) books for print and online presentation. The online edition will offer a framework for expansion when editions of other biblical books are created in future or when further materials, such as additional images or records of variants, are developed to supplement the trial editions.

Planned Impact


The project's research outcomes will include descriptions and analysis of manuscripts, as well as images, editions and records of manuscript readings published in print and online. Availability of such materials will benefit collection description and management, and conservation work in the libraries that hold the manuscripts. The provision of such materials is an essential part of the libraries' efforts to give access to their collections to scholars, students and wider public, but the libraries usually lack the resources to carry out this work themselves, and increasingly rely on contributions from the academic community.

Religious communities, media, wider public

Though primarily aimed at researchers and graduate students the publications describing the project's findings and the project's editions will be of interest to members of religious communities and public interested in the history of Christianity, Reformation, biblical translation and the development of the English language and literacy in English. The interest in the Bible and its cultural and political impact throughout the world is consistently high, as can be seen from the number of print and online publications, novels, films and television programs concerned with the subject, aimed at widely different audiences. Both investigators have been invited to speak about WB and medieval tradition of biblical translation to groups interested in history, literature and theology, and to professional translators.

The proposed freely available online edition will address a need for an easily accessible, scholarly and user-friendly edition of WB. Such edition does not exist at present, and the only available options are difficult to access and use the Victorian edition and its partial reprints in modernised orthography with minimal commentary and apparatus.

In order to make the project's work and the online edition better known, the investigators and PDRA will record lectures aimed at the general public to be distributed via Oxford's iTunes-u. The lectures will be dedicated to the history of the Wycliffite movement, medieval biblical translation and WB, as well as specifically to the proposed project, its context, methods and findings, and draw attention to the website and suggest possible uses of the online edition. We will also organise a series of six public lectures on the history of biblical translation in the Middle Ages and early Modern period to be hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library. The lectures will be given by the members of the project and invited speakers and will be accompanied by an exhibition on the history of biblical translation in English in the Middle Ages.

Continuing Education

Continuing Education is good value and is open to all. The results of research will be disseminated through Continuing Education teaching in Oxford and Cambridge, raising awareness of medieval biblical translation as one of the most important aspects of our cultural heritage, and creating cultural and social benefits for wider public. Investigators and PDRA will organise a study day at the Department of Continuing Education, Oxford University, and a weekend course at the Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge University, both focusing on medieval vernacular translations of the Bible.


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Description Ludwig Humanities Research Fund
Amount £3,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
Description Pump priming research grant
Amount £46,910 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department John Fell Fund
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2018