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Luther Bible

Luther Bible

Overview


The Luther Bible is a German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 Bible translation by Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, first printed with both testaments in 1534. This translation became a force in shaping the Modern High German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

. The project absorbed Luther's later years. The new translation was very widely disseminated thanks to the printing press.

While he was sequestered in the Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle
The Wartburg is a castle situated on a 1230-foot precipice to the southwest of, and overlooking the town of Eisenach, in the state of Thuringia, Germany...

 (1521–1522) Luther began to translate the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 into German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 in order to make it more accessible to all the people of the "Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 of the German nation." He used Erasmus' second edition (1519) of the Greek New Testament, known as the Textus Receptus
Textus Receptus
Textus Receptus is the name subsequently given to the succession of printed Greek texts of the New Testament which constituted the translation base for the original German Luther Bible, the translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale, the King James Version, and for most other...

.
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Encyclopedia


The Luther Bible is a German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 Bible translation by Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, first printed with both testaments in 1534. This translation became a force in shaping the Modern High German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

. The project absorbed Luther's later years. The new translation was very widely disseminated thanks to the printing press.

Luther's work


While he was sequestered in the Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle
The Wartburg is a castle situated on a 1230-foot precipice to the southwest of, and overlooking the town of Eisenach, in the state of Thuringia, Germany...

 (1521–1522) Luther began to translate the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 into German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 in order to make it more accessible to all the people of the "Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 of the German nation." He used Erasmus' second edition (1519) of the Greek New Testament, known as the Textus Receptus
Textus Receptus
Textus Receptus is the name subsequently given to the succession of printed Greek texts of the New Testament which constituted the translation base for the original German Luther Bible, the translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale, the King James Version, and for most other...

. Luther didn’t use the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

 which is the official Latin translation used by the Catholic Church. Both Erasmus and Luther learned their first Greek at the Latin schools led by the Brethren of the Common Life
Brethren of the Common Life
The Brethren of the Common Life was a Roman Catholic pietist religious community founded in the 14th century by Gerard Groote, formerly a successful and worldly educator who had had a religious experience and preached a life of simple devotion to Jesus Christ...

 (respectively in Deventer
Deventer
Deventer is a municipality and city in the Salland region of the Dutch province of Overijssel. Deventer is largely situated on the east bank of the river IJssel, but also has a small part of its territory on the west bank. In 2005 the municipality of Bathmen Deventer is a municipality and city in...

 (Netherlands) and in Magdeburg
Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

). These lay brothers added late 15th century Greek as a new subject to their curriculum. Greek was seldom taught even at universities.

To help him in translating Luther would make forays into the nearby towns and markets to listen to people speak. He wanted to ensure their comprehension by a translation closest to their contemporary language usage. It was published in September 1522, six months after he had returned to Wittenberg
Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

. In the opinion of the 19th century theologian and church historian Philip Schaff
Philip Schaff
Philip Schaff , was a Swiss-born, German-educated Protestant theologian and a historian of the Christian church, who, after his education, lived and taught in the United States.-Biography:...

,
"The richest fruit of Luther's leisure in the Wartburg, and the most important and useful work of his whole life, is the translation of the New Testament, by which he brought the teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles to the mind and heart of the Germans in life-like reproduction. It was a republication of the gospel. He made the Bible the people's book in church, school, and house."


Publication


The translation of the entire Bible into German was published in a six-part edition in 1534, a collaborative effort of Luther, Johannes Bugenhagen
Johannes Bugenhagen
Johannes Bugenhagen , also called Doctor Pomeranus by Martin Luther, introduced the Protestant Reformation in the Duchy of Pomerania and Denmark in the 16th century. Among his major accomplishments was organization of Lutheran churches in Northern Germany and Scandinavia...

, Justus Jonas
Justus Jonas
Justus Jonas was a German Lutheran reformer.-Biography:Jonas was born at Nordhausen in Thuringia. His real name was Jodokus Koch, which he changed according to the common custom of German scholars in the sixteenth century, when at the University of Erfurt...

, Caspar Creuziger
Caspar Creuziger
Caspar Creuziger or Caspar Cruciger the Elder was a German humanist . He was professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, preacher at the Castle Church , secretary to and worked with Martin Luther to revise Luther's German Bible translation..In 1524 he married the former nun Elisabeth...

, Philipp Melanchthon
Philipp Melanchthon
Philipp Melanchthon , born Philipp Schwartzerdt, was a German reformer, collaborator with Martin Luther, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation, and an influential designer of educational systems...

, Matthäus Aurogallus
Matthäus Aurogallus
Matthäus Aurogallus , also known as Matthäus Goldhahn, was a German linguist.Born in Komotau, Bohemia, he served as Professor of Hebrew at the University of Wittenberg and was a colleague of Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther...

, and Georg Rörer
Georg Rörer
Georg Rörer was a Lutheran reformer and pastor from Bavaria. He was one of the first clergymen ordained by Martin Luther himself in 1525. His office was deacon. He assisted in Luther's work of translating the Bible and served as Luther's secretary beginning in 1537...

. Luther worked on refining the translation up to his death in 1546: he had worked on the edition that was printed that year.

There were 117 original woodcuts included in the 1534 edition issued by the Hans Lufft press in Wittenberg. They reflected the recent trend (since 1522) to include artwork to reinforce the textual message.

Theology


Luther added the word "alone" (allein in German) to Romans 3:28 controversially so that it read: "thus, we hold, then, that man is justified without the works of the law to do, alone through faith" The word "alone" does not appear in the original Greek text
Biblical manuscript
A biblical manuscript is any handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. The word Bible comes from the Greek biblia ; manuscript comes from Latin manu and scriptum...

, but Luther defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb "alone" was required both by idiomatic German and the apostle Paul's intended meaning.

View of canonicity


Initially, Luther had a low view of the books of Esther
Book of Esther
The Book of Esther is a book in the Ketuvim , the third section of the Jewish Tanakh and is part of the Christian Old Testament. The Book of Esther or the Megillah is the basis for the Jewish celebration of Purim...

, Hebrews
Epistle to the Hebrews
The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the books in the New Testament. Its author is not known.The primary purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews is to exhort Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. The central thought of the entire Epistle is the doctrine of the Person of Christ and his...

, James
Epistle of James
The Epistle of James, usually referred to simply as James, is a book in the New Testament. The author identifies himself as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ", with "the earliest extant manuscripts of James usually dated to mid-to-late third century."There are four views...

, Jude
Epistle of Jude
The Epistle of Jude, often shortened to Jude, is the penultimate book of the New Testament and is attributed to Jude, the brother of James the Just. - Composition :...

, and Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

. He called the Epistle of James "an epistle of straw," finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work. He also had harsh words for the book of Revelation, saying that he could "in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it." In his New Testament, Luther placed Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Revelation at the end and differentiated these from the other books which he considered "the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation." His views on some of these books changed in later years.

Luther chose to place the Apocrypha
Biblical apocrypha
The word "apocrypha" is today often used to refer to the collection of ancient books printed in some editions of the Bible in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments...

 between the Old and New Testaments. These books and addenda to canonical
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

 books are found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Masoretic text
Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible and is regarded as Judaism's official version of the Tanakh. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and...

. Luther left the translating of them largely to Philipp Melanchthon
Philipp Melanchthon
Philipp Melanchthon , born Philipp Schwartzerdt, was a German reformer, collaborator with Martin Luther, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation, and an influential designer of educational systems...

 and Justus Jonas
Justus Jonas
Justus Jonas was a German Lutheran reformer.-Biography:Jonas was born at Nordhausen in Thuringia. His real name was Jodokus Koch, which he changed according to the common custom of German scholars in the sixteenth century, when at the University of Erfurt...

. They were not listed in the table of contents of his 1532 Old Testament, and they were given the well-known title: "Apocrypha: These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read" in the 1534 Bible. See also Biblical canon
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

, Development of the Christian Biblical canon
Development of the Christian Biblical canon
The Christian Biblical canon is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the Christian Bible. Books included in the Christian Biblical canons of both the Old and New Testament were decided at the Council of Trent , by the Thirty-Nine Articles , the Westminster...

, and Biblical Apocrypha
Biblical apocrypha
The word "apocrypha" is today often used to refer to the collection of ancient books printed in some editions of the Bible in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments...

.

Impact


The Luther Bible was not the first German translation
German Bible translations
German language translations of the Bible have existed since the Middle Ages. The most influential is Luther's translation, which established High German as the literary language throughout Germany by the middle of the seventeenth century and which still continues to be most widely used in the...

, but it was by far the most influential.

The Luther Bible by reason of its widespread circulation facilitated the emergence of the modern German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 by standardizing it for the peoples of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, an empire extending throughout and well beyond present day Germany. It is considered a landmark in German literature
German literature
German literature comprises those literary texts written in the German language. This includes literature written in Germany, Austria, the German part of Switzerland, and to a lesser extent works of the German diaspora. German literature of the modern period is mostly in Standard German, but there...

, with Luther's vernacular style often praised by modern German sources for its forceful vigor ("kraftvolles Deutsch") that he chose to translate the Scripture.

Luther’s significance was largely due to his influence on the emergence of the German language and nationalism. This importance stemmed predominantly from his translation of the Bible into the vernacular, which was potentially as revolutionary as canon law and the burning of the papal bull. Luther’s goal was to equip every Christian in Germany with the ability to hear the Word. Thus, by 1534 he completed his translation of the old and new testaments from Hebrew and Greek into the vernacular, one of the most significant acts of the Reformation. Although Luther was not the first to attempt this translation, his was superior to all its predecessors. Previous translations contained poor German and were that of Vulgate, (translations of translations) rather than a direct translation to German text. Luther sought to get as close to the original text as possible but at the same time, his translation was guided by how people spoke in the home, on the street and in the marketplace. Luther combined his faithfulness to the language spoken by the common people to produce a work which the common man could relate to. This aspect of Luther’s creation led German writers such as Goethe and Nietzsche to thoroughly praise Luther’s Bible. The fact that the new Bible was printed in the vernacular allowed it to spread rapidly as it could be read by all. Hans Lufft, a renowned Bible printer in Wittenberg printed over one hundred thousand copies between 1534 and 1574 which went on to be read by millions. Luther’s Bible was virtually present in every German Protestant’s home, and there can be no doubts regarding the vast biblical knowledge attained by the German common masses. As a testament to the vast influence of Luther’s Bible, he even had large print Bibles made for those who had failing eyesight. German humanist Johann Cochlaeus
Johann Cochlaeus
Johann Cochlaeus was a German humanist and controversialist.-Life:Originally Johann Dobneck, he was born of poor parents at Wendelstein , from which he obtained the punning surname Cochlaeus , for which he occasionally substituted Wendelstinus...

 complained that

Luther's New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity."


The spread of Luther's Bible had implications for the German language. The German language had been divided into many dialects, and different German statesmen could barely understand each other. This led Luther to conclude that “I have so far read no book or letter in which the German language is properly handled. Nobody seems to care sufficiently for it; and every preacher thinks he has a right to change it at pleasure and to invent new terms." Scholars preferred to write in Latin. Luther popularized the Saxon dialect and adapted it to theology and religion, subsequently making it the common literary language used in books. He enriched the vocabulary with that of German poets and chroniclers. For this accomplishment, a contemporary of Luther's, Erasmus Albertus, labeled him the German Cicero as he not only reformed religion, but the German language. Luther’s Bible has been hailed as the first German classic, comparable to the King James version of the Bible which became the first English classic. German Protestant writers and poets such as Klopstock, Herder and Lessing owe stylistic qualities to Luther’s Bible. Ultimately, Luther adapted the words to fit the capacity of the German public and thus, due to the pervasiveness of his Bible, he created and spread the modern German language.

Luther's Bible also had a role in the creation of German nationalism. Because it penetrated every Protestant home in Germany, his sayings and translation became part of the German national heritage. Luther's program of Biblical exposure extended into every sphere of daily life and work, illuminating moral considerations to Germans. This exposure gradually became infused into the blood of the whole nation and occupied a permanent space in German history. The popularity and influence of Luther’s translation gave him the confidence to act as a spokesperson of the nation and thus the leader of the anti-Roman movement in Germany. In light of this, it also allowed him to become a prophet of the new German nationalism and helped to determine the spirit of a new epoch in German history.

In a sense, Luther’s Bible also empowered and liberated all Protestants who had access to it. Immediately, Luther’s translation was a public affirmation of reform and subsequently deprived the elite and priestly class of their exclusive control over words, as well as the word of God. Through his translation, Luther strove to make it easier for the "simple people" to understand what he was teaching. In the major controversies amongst evangelicals at the time, most evangelicals did not understand the reasons for disagreement, let alone the commoners. Thus, Luther saw it as necessary to help those who were confused see that the disagreement between himself and the Catholic Church was real and had significance. His translation was made in order to allow the common man and woman to become aware of the issues at hand and develop an informed opinion. The common individual was thus given the right to have a mind, spirit and opinion, who existed not as economic functionaries but as subjects to complex and conflicting aspirations and motives. In this sense, Luther’s Bible acted as a force towards the liberation of the German people. Luther’s social teachings and ideologies throughout the Bible undoubtedly had a role in the slow emancipation of European society from its long phase of clerical domination. Luther gave men a new vision of the exaltation of the human self. Luther’s Bible thus had broken the unchallenged domination of the Catholic Church, effectively splintering its unity. He had claimed the scriptures as the sole authority, and through his translation, every individual was able to abide by its authority, thus nullifying their need for a pope. As Bishop Fisher put it, Luther’s Bible had “stirred a mighty storm and tempest in the church” empowering the no longer clerically dominated public.

Although not as significant as German linguistics, Luther’s Bible also had a large impression on educational reform throughout Germany. Luther’s goal of a readable and accurate translation of the Bible became a stimulus towards universal education. This stemmed from the notion that everyone should be able to read in order to understand the Bible. Luther felt that man had fallen from grace and was ruled by his own selfishness, but ultimately had not lost his moral consciousness. In Luther's eyes all men were sinners and needed to be educated. Thus his Bible was a means of establishing a form of law, order and moral teachings which everyone could abide by as that they could all read and understand his Bible. This education subsequently allowed Luther to found a State Church and educate his followers into a law-abiding community. Overall, the Protestant states of Germany were educational states which encouraged the spirit of teaching which was ultimately fueled by Luther’s Bible.

Finally, Luther’s Bible also had international significance in the spread of Protestantism. Luther’s translation influenced the English translations by William Tyndale
William Tyndale
William Tyndale was an English scholar and translator who became a leading figure in Protestant reformism towards the end of his life. He was influenced by the work of Desiderius Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, and by Martin Luther...

 and Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.-Life:...

 who in turn inspired many other translations of the Bible such as the Bishops' Bible
Bishops' Bible
The Bishops' Bible is an English translation of the Bible which was produced under the authority of the established Church of England in 1568. It was substantially revised in 1572, and this revised edition was to be prescribed as the base text for the Authorized King James Version of...

 of 1568, the Douay–Rheims Bible of 1582–1609, and the King James Version of 1611. Luther’s work also inspired translations as far reaching as Scandinavia and the Netherlands. In a metaphor, it was Luther who broke the walls of translation and once such walls had fallen, the way was open to all, including some who were quite opposed to Luther’s belief. Luther’s Bible spread its influence for the remolding of Western culture in all the great ferment of the sixteenth century. The worldwide implications of the translation far surpassed the expectations of even Luther himself.

Memorable verses


Attributes that make Luther's translation of the Bible certainly characteristic are, on the one hand, a poetic, embellishing style, and on the other hand, his connection and closeness to the German people and their language.



Additional reading

  • Antliff, Mark. The Legacy of Martin Luther. Ottawa, McGill University Press, 1983
  • Atkinson, James. Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1968
  • Bindseil, H.E. and Niemeyer, H.A. Dr. Martin Luther's Bibelübersetzung nach der letzten Original-Ausgabe, kritisch bearbeitet. 7 vols. Halle, 1845–55. [The N. T. in vols. 6 and 7. A critical reprint of the last edition of Luther (1545). Niemeyer died after the publication of the first volume. Comp. the Probebibel (the revised Luther-Version), Halle, 1883. Luther's Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen (with a letter to Wenceslaus Link, Sept. 12, 1530), in Walch
    Johann Georg Walch
    Johann Georg Walch was a German Lutheran theologian.He was born at Meiningen, where his father, Georg Walch, was general superintendent. He studied at Leipzig and Jena, amongst his teachers being JF Buddeus, whose only daughter he married. He published in 1716 a work, Historia critica Latinae...

    , XXI. 310 sqq., and the Erl. Frkf. ed., vol. LXV. 102–123.]
  • Bluhm, Heinz. Martin Luther: Creative Translator. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965.
  • Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. 3 Volumes. James L. Schaaf, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–1993. ISBN 0-8006-2813-6, ISBN 0-8006-2814-4, ISBN 0-8006-2815-2.
  • Dickens, A.G. The German Nation and Martin Luther. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1974
  • Edwards, Mark Luther and the False Brethren Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975
  • Gerrish, B.A. Reformers in Profile. Philadelphia: Fortpress Press, 1967
  • Green, V.H.H. Luther and the Reformation. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1964
  • Grisar, Hartmann. Luther: Volume I. London: Luigi Cappadelta, 1914
  • Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformation. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996
  • Reu, [John] M[ichael]. Luther and the Scriptures. Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1944. [Reprint: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1980].
  • Reu, [John] M[ichael]. Luther's German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a Collection of Sources. Columbus, Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934. [Reprint: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984].
  • Ritter, Gerhard. Luther: His life and Work. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963

External links