As publication of the Today's New International Version of the Bible brews controversy among church leaders and translation scholars, it may be useful to remember that the first English Bible translations sparked passions as well. Sometimes deadly flames erupted, as these excerpts from Tony Lane's article in Christian History issue 43 depict:
The first attempt to translate the complete Bible into English is associated with fourteenth-century theologian John Wycliffe. Toward the end of his life, Wycliffe became critical of the established church, and, as a result, in 1381 he was removed from his post at Oxford University. He withdrew to the church in Lutterworth, where he was surrounded by disciples who began to translate the Bible into English, certainly under his inspiration and probably at his bidding. There is no evidence Wycliffe took part in the actual work of translation.
The church did not approve of the translation, but not primarily because it was in English. There were already English translations of parts of the Bible, and copies of the Wycliffe translation were legally owned by nobles and clergy.
The main problem was that it was the Wycliffe Bible: it was distributed by his followers (the "heretical" Lollards) and used to attack the teachings and practices of the church. In addition, the church was concerned about the effect of Bible reading upon the uneducated laity. The Bible was best left to the eyes of educated clergy, since salvation was mediated through the teachings of the church and the clergy-led sacraments.
Copies of Wycliffe's books and his Bible translation were burned, as were some of his followers. Wycliffe escaped arrest during his lifetime, but 43 years after his death, officials dug up his body, ...1