General Prologue of the Wycliffe Bible

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Wycliffe Bible
General Prologue

The General Prologue of the Wycliffe Bible, also the Great Prologue of the Wycliffe Bible, is a 15-chapter explanation, generally attributed to John Purvey, of translation procedures in his later version of the Wycliffe Bible translation done originally by John Wycliffe in 1382–1384.[1]

Time frame[edit]

The Gospels and some other books within the New Testament were likely circulated around 1388, before the General Prologue was written. John Wycliffe did not participate in the writing of the General Prologue since he died in 1384 and the General Prologue was not started until about January or February of 1395 and finished before January or February of 1397.[2][3]

The General Prologue and the later version of the New Testament portion of the Wycliffe Bible, done after 1395, are attributed to Purvey as the main translator and editor/writer. The earlier version of the Wycliffe Bible, done around 1382, is attributed to John Wycliffe as the main translator and editor/writer.[4]


There are 250 Wycliffe Bibles that survive today in various degrees of completeness. It is estimated that about twenty-one contain or might have had the complete Wycliffe Bible (also known as the English Wycliffite Bible or the Lollard Bible[5]). There are 89 Wycliffe Bibles that contain just the New Testament. There are fifteen Wycliffe Bibles that have just the four Gospels of the New Testament. There are four copies of the Wycliffe Bible that comprise only the letters from the Apostles to the Christians commonly called the Epistles.[6]

There are known to be nine (Deanesly says 10[7]) hand written copies of the General Prologue that survive today. There is one that is a manuscript by itself, while there are six attached to the later version of Wycliffe Bibles. There is wording in the General Prologue that give a probable time of writing of the later version of Wycliffe Bibles at about 1395–1397.[8] The other two General Prologues are attached to revised earlier version Wycliffe Bibles, revised 1395–1397.[9] There are more than 200 later versions of the Wycliffe Bible that do not have the General Prologue attached.[10] The Prologue contains wording that indicates it was written between 1395 and 1397.[11][12] Purvey, as the eximious doctor prominent leader of the Lollards at the time, is credited with the later version Wycliffe Bible New Testament portion, as well as the General Prologue.[13][14]

Chapter 15[edit]

Chapter fifteen shows the procedures how the Lollard translators went about their work of translating from Jerome's Latin to Middle English.[15][16] Purvey says in chapter 15 of the General Prologue that with his associates they took four steps to compile the later version of the Wycliffe Bible.[16]

1) First this symple creature hadde myche trauaile with diuerse felawais and helperis to gedere manie elde biblis, and othere doctouris and comune glosis, and to make oo Latyn bible sumdel trewe;
2) and thane to studie it of the newe, the text with the glose, and othere doctouris as he mighte gete, and speciali Lire on the elde testament that helpide ful myche in this werk.
3) The thridde tyme to counseile with elde gramariens and elde dyuynis of harde wordis and harde sentencis, hou tho mighten best be vnderstonden and translated.
4) The fourthe tyme to translate as cleerli as he coude to the sentence, and to haue manie gode felawis and kunnynge at the correcting of the translacioun.
1) First they examined the Latin texts available to them to decide upon which they could most trust.
2) Second, they looked at the scriptures in relation to literature guides available to them.
3) Third, they studied the Latin language rules, principles, linguistics and grammar.
4) Fourth, they translated the Latin text into the final Middle English wording.[16]



  • Deanesly, Margaret, The Lollard Bible and other medieval Biblical versions, Cambridge University Press, 1920
  • Forshall, Josiah, The holy bible containing the old and new testaments with the apocryphal books in the earliest english versions made from the latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his followers edited by Josiah Forshall and Sir Frederic Madden, Austrian National Library, University press 1850