The following is a chapter taken from Philip Schaff's
History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910).
Luther's Translation of the Bible
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. If
he had done nothing else, he would be one of the greatest benefactors of the
German-speaking race. (1)
His version was followed by Protestant versions in other languages, especially
the French, Dutch, and English. The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a
foreign tongue, and became naturalized, and hence far more clear and dear to the
common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the
Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his
daily guide in spiritual life. This inestimable blessing of an open Bible for
all, without the permission or intervention of pope and priest, marks an immense
advance in church history, and can never be lost.
Luther was not the first, but by far the greatest translator of the German
Bible, and is as inseparably connected with it as Jerome is with the Latin
Vulgate. He threw the older translation into the shade and out of use, and has
not been surpassed or even equaled by a successor. There are more accurate
versions for scholars (as those of De Wette and Weizsäcker), but none that can
rival Luther's for popular authority and use.
The civilization of the barbarians in the dark ages began with the introduction
of Christianity, and the translation of such portions of the Scriptures as were
needed in public worship.
The Gothic Bishop Wulfila or Wölflein (i.e., Little Wolf) in the fourth century
translated nearly the whole Bible from the Greek into the Gothic dialect. It is
the earliest monument of Teutonic literature, and the basis of comparative
Teutonic philology. (2)
During the fourteenth century some unknown scholars prepared a new translation
of the whole Bible into the Middle High German dialect. It slavishly follows the
Latin Vulgate. It may be compared to Wiclif's English Version (1380), which was
likewise made from the Vulgate, the original languages being then almost unknown
in Europe. A copy of the New Testament of this version has been recently
published, from a manuscript in the Premonstratensian convent of Tepl in
Bohemia. (3) Another copy is preserved in the college library at Freiberg in
Saxony. (4) Both are from the fourteenth century, and agree almost word for word
with the first printed German Bible, but contain, besides the New Testament, the
apocryphal letter of St. Paul to the Laodiceans, which is a worthless
compilation of a few sentences from the genuine writings of the apostle. (5)
After the invention of the printing-press, and before the Reformation, this
mediaeval German Bible was more frequently printed than any other except the
Latin Vulgate. (6) No less than seventeen or eighteen editions appeared between
1462 and 1522, at Strassburg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Cöln, Lübeck, and Halberstadt
(fourteen in the High, three or four in the Low German dialect). Most of them
are in large folio, in two volumes, and illustrated by wood-cuts. The editions
present one and the same version (or rather two versions,--one High German, the
other Low German) with dialectical alterations and accommodations to the textual
variations of the MSS. of the Vulgate, which was in a very unsettled condition
before the Clementine recension (1592). The revisers are as unknown as the
The spread of this version, imperfect as it was, proves the hunger and thirst of
the German people for the pure word of God, and prepared the way for the
Reformation. It alarmed the hierarchy. Archbishop Berthold of Mainz, otherwise a
learned and enlightened prelate, issued, Jan. 4, 1486, a prohibition of all
unauthorized printing of sacred and learned books, especially the German Bible,
within his diocese, giving as a reason that the German language was incapable of
correctly rendering the profound sense of Greek and Latin works, and that laymen
and women could not understand the Bible. Even Geiler of Kaisersberg, who
sharply criticised the follies of the world and abuses of the Church, thought it
"an evil thing to print the Bible in German."
Besides the whole Bible, there were numerous German editions of the Gospels and
Epistles (Plenaria), and the Psalter, all made from the Vulgate. (7)
Luther could not be ignorant of this mediaeval version. He made judicious use of
it, as he did also of old German and Latin hymns. Without such aid he could
hardly have finished his New Testament in the short space of three months. (8)
But this fact does not diminish his merit in the least; for his version was made
from the original Hebrew and Greek, and was so far superior in every respect
that the older version entirely disappeared. It is to all intents a new work.
Luther had a rare combination of gifts for a Bible translator: familiarity with
the original languages, perfect mastery over the vernacular, faith in the
revealed word of God, enthusiasm for the gospel, unction of the Holy Spirit. A
good translation must be both true and free, faithful and idiomatic, so as to
read like an original work. This is the case with Luther's version. Besides, he
had already acquired such fame and authority that his version at once commanded
His knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was only moderate, but sufficient to enable
him to form an independent judgment. (9) What he lacked in scholarship was
supplied by his intuitive genius and the help of Melanchthon. In the German
tongue he had no rival. He created, as it were, or gave shape and form to the
modern High German. He combined the official language of the government with
that of the common people. He listened, as he says, to the speech of the mother
at home, the children in the street, the men and women in the market, the
butcher and various tradesmen in their shops, and, "looked them on the mouth,"
in pursuit of the most intelligible terms. His genius for poetry and music
enabled him to reproduce the rhythm and melody, the parallelism and symmetry, of
Hebrew poetry and prose. His crowning qualification was his intuitive insight
and spiritual sympathy with the contents of the Bible.
A good translation, he says, requires "a truly devout, faithful, diligent,
Christian, learned, experienced, and practiced heart."
Progress of his Version
Luther was gradually prepared for this work. He found for the first time a
complete copy of the Latin Bible in the University Library at Erfurt, to his
great delight, and made it his chief study. He derived from it his theology and
spiritual nourishment; he lectured and preached on it as professor at Wittenberg
day after day. He acquired the knowledge of the original languages for the
purpose of its better understanding. He liked to call himself a "Doctor of the
He made his first attempt as translator with the seven Penitential Psalms, which
he published in March, 1517, six months before the outbreak of the Reformation.
Then followed several other sections of the Old and New Testaments,--the Ten
Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Prayer of King Manasseh, the Magnificat of
the Virgin Mary, etc., with popular comments. He was urged by his friends,
especially by Melanchthon, as well as by his own sense of duty, to translate the
He began with the New Testament in November or December, 1521, and completed it
in the following March, before he left the Wartburg. He thoroughly revised it on
his return to Wittenberg, with the effectual help of Melanchthon, who was a much
better Greek scholar. Sturz at Erfurt was consulted about coins and measures;
Spalatin furnished from the Electoral treasury names for the precious stones of
the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21). The translation was then hurried through three
presses, and appeared already Sept. 21, 1522, but without his name. (10)
In December a second edition was required, which contained many corrections and
He at once proceeded to the more difficult task of translating the Old
Testament, and published it in parts as they were ready. The Pentateuch appeared
in 1523; the Psalter, 1524.
In the progress of the work he founded a Collegium Biblieum, or Bible club,
consisting of his colleagues Melanchthon, Bugenhagen (Pommer), Cruciger, Justus
Jonas, and Aurogallus. They met once a week in his house, several hours before
supper. Deacon Georg Rörer (Rorarius), the first clergyman ordained by Luther,
and his proof-reader, was also present; occasionally foreign scholars were
admitted; and Jewish rabbis were freely consulted. Each member of the company
contributed to the work from his special knowledge and preparation. Melanchthon
brought with him the Greek Bible, Cruciger the Hebrew and Chaldee, Bugenhagen
the Vulgate, others the old commentators; Luther had always with him the Latin
and the German versions besides the Hebrew. Sometimes they scarcely mastered
three lines of the Book of Job in four days, and hunted two, three, and four
weeks for a single word. No record exists of the discussions of this remarkable
company, but Mathesius says that "wonderfully beautiful and instructive speeches
At last the whole Bible, including the Apocrypha as "books not equal to the Holy
Scriptures, yet useful and good to read," was completed in 1534, and printed
with numerous woodcuts.
In the mean time the New Testament had appeared in sixteen or seventeen
editions, and in over fifty reprints. (12)
Luther complained of the many errors in these irresponsible editions.
He never ceased to amend his translation. Besides correcting errors, he improved
the uncouth and confused orthography, fixed the inflections, purged the
vocabulary of obscure and ignoble words, and made the whole more symmetrical and
He prepared five original editions, or recensions, of his whole Bible, the last
in 1545, a year before his death. (13) This is the proper basis of all critical
The edition of 1546 was prepared by his friend Rörer, and contains a large
number of alterations, which he traced to Luther himself. Some of them are real
improvements, e.g., "Die Liebe höret nimmer auf," for, "Die Liebe wird nicht
müde" (1 Cor. 13:8). The charge that he made the changes in the interest of
Philippism (Melanchthonianism), seems to be unfounded.
Editions and Revisions
The printed Bible text of Luther had the same fate as the written text of the
old Itala and Jerome's Vulgate. It passed through innumerable improvements and
mis-improvements. The orthography and inflections were modernized, obsolete
words removed, the versicular division introduced (first in a Heidelberg
reprint, 1568), the spurious clause of the three witnesses inserted in 1 John
5:7 (first by a Frankfurt publisher, 1574), the third and fourth books of Ezra
and the third book of the Maccabees added to the Apocrypha, and various other
changes effected, necessary and unnecessary, good and bad. Elector August of
Saxony tried to control the text in the interest of strict Lutheran orthodoxy,
and ordered the preparation of a standard edition (1581). But it was disregarded
outside of Saxony.
Gradually no less than eleven or twelve recensions came into use, some based on
the edition of 1545, others on that of 1546. The most careful recension was that
of the Canstein Bible Institute, founded by a pious nobleman, Carl Hildebrand
von Canstein (1667-1719) in connection with Francke's Orphan House at Halle. It
acquired the largest circulation and became the textus receptus of the German
With the immense progress of biblical learning in the present century, the
desire for a timely revision of Luther's version was more and more felt. Revised
versions with many improvements were prepared by Joh.- Friedrich von Meyer, a
Frankfurt patrician (1772-1849), and Dr. Rudolf Stier (18001862), but did not
obtain public authority.
At last a conservative official revision of the Luther Bible was inaugurated by
the combined German church governments in 1863, with a view and fair prospect of
superseding all former editions in public use. (15)
The German Bible of Luther was saluted with the greatest enthusiasm, and became
the most powerful help to the Reformation. Duke George of Saxony, Duke William
of Bavaria, and Archduke Ferdinand of Austria strictly prohibited the sale in
their dominions, but could not stay the current. Hans Lufft at Wittenberg
printed and sold in forty years (between 1534 and 1574) about a hundred thousand
copies,--an enormous number for that age,--and these were read by millions. The
number of copies from reprints is beyond estimate.
Cochlaeus, the champion of Romanism, paid the translation the greatest
compliment when he 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." (16)
The Romanists were forced in self-defense to issue rival translations. Such were
made by Emser (1527), Dietenberger (1534), and Eck (1537), and accompanied with
annotations. They are more correct in a number of passages, but slavishly
conformed to the Vulgate, stiff and heavy, and they frequently copy the very
language of Luther, so that he could say with truth, "The Papists steal my
German of which they knew little before, and they do not thank me for it, but
rather use it against me." These versions have long since gone out of use even
in the Roman Church, while Luther's still lives. (17)
The Pre-Lutheran German Bible
According to the latest investigations, fourteen printed editions of the whole
Bible in the Middle High German dialect, and three in the Low German, have been
identified. Panzer already knew fourteen; see his Gesch. der nürnbergischen
Ausgaben der Bibel, Nürnberg, 1778, p. 74.
The first four, in large folio, appeared without date and place of publication,
but were probably printed: 1, at Strassburg, by Heinrich Eggestein, about or
before 1466 (the falsely so-called Mainzer Bibel of 1462); 2, at Strassburg, by
Johann Mentelin, 1466 (?); 3, at Augsburg, by Jodocus Pflanzmann, or Tyner, 1470
(?); 4, at Nürnberg, by Sensenschmidt and Frissner, in 2 vols., 408 and 104
leaves, 1470-73 (?). The others are located, and from the seventh on also dated,
viz.: 5, Augsburg, by Günther Zainer, 2 vols., probably between 1473-1475. 6,
Augsburg, by the same, dated 1477 (Stevens says, 1475?). 7, The third Augsburg
edition, by Günther Zainer, or Anton Sorg, 1477, 2 vols., 321 and 332 leaves,
fol., printed in double columns; the first German Bible with a date. 8, The
fourth Augsburg edition, by A. Sorg, 1480, folio. 9, Nürnberg, by Anton Koburger
(also spelled Koberger), 1483. 10, Strassburg, by Johann Gruninger, 1485. 11 and
12, The fifth and sixth Augsburg editions, in small fol., by Hans Schönsperger,
1487 and 1490. 13, The seventh Augsburg edition, by Hans Otmar, 1507, small
folio. 14, The eighth Augsburg edition, by Silvan Otmar, 1518, small folio.
The Low Dutch Bibles were printed: 1, at Cologne, in large folio, double
columns, probably 1480. The unknown editor speaks of previous editions and his
own improvements. Stevens (Nos. 653 and 654) mentions two copies of the O. T. in
Dutch, printed at Delf, 1477, 2 vols. fol. 2, At Lübeck, 1491 (not 1494), 2
vols. fol. with large woodcuts. 3, At Halberstadt, 1522.
Comp. Kehrein (I.c.), Krafft (l.c., pp. 4, 5), and Henry Stevens, The Bibles in
the Caxton Exhibition, London, 1878. Stevens gives the full titles with
descriptions, pp. 45 sqq., nos. 620 sqq.
Several of these Bibles, including the Koburger and those of Cologne and
Halberstadt, are in the possession of the Union Theol. Seminary, New York. I
examined them. They are ornamented by woodcuts, beginning with a picture of God
creating the world, and forming Eve from the rib of Adam in Paradise. Several of
them have Jerome's preface (De omnibus divinae historiae libris, Ep. ad Paulinum),
the oldest with the remark: "Da hebet an die epistel des heiligen priesters sant
Jeronimi zu Paulinum von allen gottlichen büchern der hystory. Das erst capitel."
Dr. Krafft illustrates the dependence of Luther on the earlier version by
several examples (pp. 13-18). The following is from the Sermon on the Mount,
The Ninth Bible, 1483
Habt ir gehört, das gesaget ist den alten. Du solt nit tödten, wellicher aber
tödtet. der wird schuldig des gerichts. Aber ich sag euch, daz ein yeglicher der
do zürnet seinem bruder. der wirt schuldig des gerichts. Der aber spricht zu
seinem bruder. racha. der wirt schuldig des rats. Und der do spricht. tor. der
wirt schuldig des hellischen fewrs. Darum ob du opfferst dein gab zu dem attar.
und do wirst gedenckend. daz dein bruder ettwas hat wider dich, lasz do dein gab
vor dem altar und gee zum ersten und versüne dich mit deim bruder und denn kum
und opffer dein gab. Bis gehellig deim widerwertigen schyer. die weyl du mit im
bist him weg. das dich villeycht der widersacher nit antwurt den Richter. und
der Richter dich antwurt dem diener und werdest gelegt in den kercker. Fürwar
ich sag dir. du geest nit aus von dannen. und das du vergeltest den letzten
Luther's New Testament, 1522
Ihr habt gehortt, das zu den alten gesagt ist, du sollt nit todten, wer aber
todtet, der soll des gerichts schuldig seyn. Ich aber sage euch, wer mit seynem
bruder zurnit, der ist des gerichts schuldig, wer aber zu seynem bruder sagt,
Racha, der ist des rads schuldig, wer aber sagt, du narr, der ist des hellischen
fewers schuldig. Darumbwenð du deyn gabe auff den altar opfferst, un wirst alda
eyngedenken, das deyn bruder ettwas widder dich hab, so las alda fur dem altar
deyn gabe, unnd gehe zuvor hyn, unnd versune dich mitt deynem bruder, unnd als
denn kom unnd opffer deyn gabe. Sey willfertig deynem widersacher, bald, dieweyl
du noch mit yhm auff dem wege bist, auff das dich der widdersacher nit der mal
eyns ubirantwortte dem richter, unð d. richter ubirantworte dich dem diener, unð
werdist ynð den kerccker geworffen, warlich ich sage dyr, du wirst nit von
dannen erauze komen, bis du auch den letzten heller bezealest.
To this I add two specimens in which the superiority of Luther's version is more
The Koburger Bible of Nürnberg, 1483
In dem anfang hat got beschaffen hymel und erden. aber dye erde was eytel und
leere. und die vinsternus warn auff dem antlitz des abgrunds. vnd der geist gots
swebet oder ward getragen auff den wassern. Unð got der sprach. Es werde dz
liecht. Un das liecht ist worden.
Luther's Bible, ed. 1535
Im anfang schuff Gott himel und erden. Und die erde war wüst und leer, und es
war finster auff der tieffe, und der Geist Gottes schwebet auff dem wasser. Un
Gott sprach. Es werde liecht. Und es ward liecht.
1 Cor. 13:1, 2
The Strassburg Bible Of 1485
Ob ich rede inn der zungen der engel vnd der menschen; aber habe ich der lieb
nit, ich bin gemacht alls ein glockenspeyss lautend oder alls ein schell
klingend. Vnd ob ich hab die weissagung und erkenn all heimlichkeit vnd alle
kunst, und ob ich hab alten glauben, also das ich übertrag die berg, habe ich
aber der lieb nit, ich bin nichts.
Luther's New Testament, 1522
Wenn ich mit menschen und mit engelzungen redet und hette die (18) liebe nit,
(19) so wäre ich ein tönend ertz oder ein klingende schell. (20) Und wenn ich
weissagen kündt, vnnd wüste alle geheymnuss vnd alle erkantnüss, vnd hette alten
glauben, also das ich berg versetzete, und hett der liebe nicht, so were ich
The precise origin of the mediaeval German Bible is still unknown. Dr. Ludwig
Keller of Münster first suggested in his Die Reformation und die älteren
Reformparteien, Leipzig, 1885, pp. 257-260, the hypothesis that it was made by
Waldenses (who had also a Romanic version); and he tried to prove it in his Die
Waldenser und die deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, Leipzig, 1886 (189 pages). Dr.
Hermann Haupt, of Würzburg, took the same ground in his Die deutsche
Bibelübersetzung der mittelalterlichen Waldenser in dem Codex Teplensis und der
ersten gedruckten Bibel nachgewiesen, Würzburg, 1885 (64 pages); and again, in
self-defense against Jostes, in Der waldensische Ursprung des Codex Teplensis
und der vor-lutherischen deutschen Bibeldrucke, Würzburg, 1886. On the other
hand, Dr. Franz Jostes, a Roman Catholic scholar, denied the Waldensian and
defended the Catholic origin of that translation, in two pamphlets: Die
Waldenser und die vorlutherische Bibelübersetzung, Münster, 1885 (44 pages), and
Die Tepler Bibelübersetzung. Eine zweite Kritik, Münster, 1886 (43 pages). The
same author promises a complete history of German Catholic Bible versions. The
question has been discussed in periodicals and reviews, e.g., by Kawerau in
Luthardt's "Theol. Literaturblatt," Leipzig, 1885 and 1886 (Nos. 32-34), by
Schaff in the New York "Independent" for Oct. 8, 1885, and in the "Presbyterian
Review" for April, 1887, pp. 355 sqq.; by Kolde, in the "Göttinger Gelehrte
Anzeigen," 1887, No. I.; by Müller in the "Studien und Kritiken," 1887, No.
III.; and Bornemann, in the "Jahrb. f. Prot. Theol.," 1888, 67-101.
The arguments for the Waldensian origin are derived from certain additions to
the Codex Teplensis, and alleged departures from the text of the Vulgate. But
the additions are not anti-Catholic, and are not found in the cognate Freiberger
MS.; and the textual variations can not be traced to sectarian bias. The text of
the Vulgate was in greater confusion in the middle ages than the text of the
Itala at the time of Jerome, nor was there any authorized text of it before the
Clementine recension of 1592. The only plausible argument which Dr. Keller
brings out in his second publication (pp. 80 sqq.) is the fact that Emser, in
his Annotations to the New Test. (1523), charges Luther with having translated
the N. T. from a "Wickleffisch oder hussisch exemplar." But this refers to
copies of the Latin Vulgate; and in the examples quoted by Keller, Luther does
not agree with the Codex Teplensis.
The hostility of several Popes and Councils to the circulation of vernacular
translations of the Bible implies the existence of such translations, and could
not prevent their publication, as the numerous German editions prove. Dutch,
French, and Italian versions also appeared among the earliest prints. See
Stevens, Nos. 687 and 688 (p. 59 sq.). The Italian edition exhibited in 1877 at
London is entitled: La Biblia en lingua Volgare (per Nicolo di Mallermi).
Venetia: per Joan. Rosso Vercellese, 1487, fol. A Spanish Bible by Bonif. Ferrer
was printed at Valencia, 1478 (see Reuss, Gesch. der heil. Schr. N. T., II. 207,
The Bible is the common property and most sacred treasure of all Christian
churches. The art of printing was invented in Catholic times, and its history
goes hand in hand with the history of the Bible. Henry Stevens says (The Bibles
in the Caxton Exhibition, p. 25): "The secular history of the Holy Scriptures is
the sacred history of Printing. The Bible was the first book printed, and the
Bible is the last book printed. Between 1450 and 1877, an interval of four
centuries and a quarter, the Bible shows the progress and comparative
development of the art of printing in a manner that no other single book can;
and Biblical bibliography proves that during the first forty years, at least,
the Bible exceeded in amount of printing all other books put together; nor were
its quality, style, and variety a whit behind its quantity."
A Critical Estimate of Luther's Version
Luther's version of the Bible is a wonderful monument of genius, learning, and
piety, and may be regarded in a secondary sense as inspired. It was, from
beginning to end, a labor of love and enthusiasm. While publishers and printers
made fortunes, Luther never received or asked a copper for this greatest work of
his life. (21)
We must judge it from the times. A German translation from the original
languages was a work of colossal magnitude if we consider the absence of good
grammars, dictionaries, and concordances, the crude state of Greek and Hebrew
scholarship, and of the German language, in the sixteenth century. Luther wrote
to Amsdorf, Jan. 13, 1522, that he had undertaken a task beyond his power, that
he now understood why no one had attempted it before in his own name, and that
he would not venture on the Old Testament without the aid of his friends. (22)
He felt especially how difficult it was to make Job and the Hebrew prophets
speak in barbarous German. (23) He jocosely remarked that Job would have become
more impatient at the blunders of his translators than at the long speeches of
his "miserable comforters."
As regards the text, it was in an unsettled condition. The science of textual
criticism was not yet born, and the materials for it were not yet collected from
the manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic quotations. Luther had to use
the first printed editions. He had no access to manuscripts, the most important
of which were not even discovered or made available before the middle of the
nineteenth century. Biblical geography and archaeology were in their infancy,
and many names and phrases could not be understood at the time.
In view of these difficulties we need not be surprised at the large number of
mistakes, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies in Luther's version. They are most
numerous in Job and the Prophets, who present, even to the advanced Hebrew
scholars of our day, many unsolved problems of text and rendering. The English
Version of 1611 had the great advantage of the labors of three generations of
translators and revisers, and is therefore more accurate, and yet equally
The Original Text
The basis for Luther's version of the Old Testament was the Massoretic text as
published by Gerson Ben Mosheh at Brescia in 1494. (24) He used also the
Septuagint, the Vulgate of Jerome (25) (although he disliked him exceedingly on
account of his monkery), the Latin translations of the Dominican Sanctes Pagnini
of Lucca (1527), and of the Franciscan Sebastian Münster (1534), the "Glossa
ordinaria" (a favorite exegetical vade-mecum of Walafried Strabo from the ninth
century), and Nicolaus Lyra (d. 1340), the chief of mediaeval commentators, who,
besides the Fathers, consulted also the Jewish rabbis. (26)
The basis for the New Testament was the second edition of Erasmus, published at
Basel in Switzerland in 1519. (27) His first edition of the Greek Testament had
appeared in 1516, just one year before the Reformation. He derived the text from
a few mediaeval MSS. (28) The second edition, though much more correct than the
first ("multo diligentius recognitum, emendatum," etc.), is disfigured by a
large -number of typographical errors. (29) He laid the foundation of the Textus
Receptus, which was brought into its mature shape by R. Stephen, in his "royal
edition" of 1550 (the basis of the English Textus Receptus), and by the Elzevirs
in their editions of 1624 and 1633 (the basis of the Continental Textus Receptus),
and which maintained the supremacy till Lachmann inaugurated the adoption of an
older textual basis (1831).
Luther did not slavishly follow the Greek of Erasmus, and in many places
conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which is based on an older text. He also
omitted, even in his last edition, the famous interpolation of the heavenly
witnesses in 1 John 5:7, which Erasmus inserted in his third edition (1522)
against his better judgment. (30)
The German Rendering
The German language was divided into as many dialects as tribes and states, and
none served as a bond of literary union. Saxons and Bavarians, Hanoverians and
Swabians, could scarcely understand each other. Each author wrote in the dialect
of his district, Zwingli in his Schwyzerdütsch. "I have so far read no book or
letter," says Luther in the preface to his version of the Pentateuch (1523), 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, and when they
attempted to use the mother tongue, as Reuchlin and Melanchthon did
occasionally, they fell far below in ease and beauty of expression.
Luther brought harmony out of this confusion, and made the modern High German
the common book language. He chose as the basis the Saxon dialect, which was
used at the Saxon court and in diplomatic intercourse between the emperor and
the estates, but was bureaucratic, stiff, heavy, involved, dragging, and
unwieldy. (31) He popularized and adapted it to theology and religion. He
enriched it with the vocabulary of the German mystics, chroniclers, and poets.
He gave it wings, and made it intelligible to the common people of all parts of
He adapted the words to the capacity of the Germans, often at the expense of
accuracy. He cared more for the substance than the form. He turned the Hebrew
shekel into a Silberling, (32) the Greek drachma and Roman denarius into a
German Groschen, the quadrans into a Heller, the Hebrew measures into Scheffel,
Malter, Tonne, Centner, and the Roman centurion into a Hauptmann. He substituted
even undeutsch (!) for barbarian in 1 Cor. 14:11. Still greater liberties he
allowed himself in the Apocrypha, to make them more easy and pleasant reading.
(33) He used popular alliterative phrases as Geld und Gut, Land und Leute, Rath
und That, Stecken und Stab, Dornen und Disteln, matt und müde, gäng und gäbe. He
avoided foreign terms which rushed in like a flood with the revival of learning,
especially in proper names (as Melanchthon for Schwarzerd, Aurifaber for
Goldschmid, Oecolampadius for Hausschein, Camerarius for Kammermeister). He
enriched the vocabulary with such beautiful words as holdselig, Gottseligkeit.
Erasmus Alber, a contemporary of Luther, called him the German Cicero, who not
only reformed religion, but also the German language.
Luther's version is an idiomatic reproduction of the Bible in the very spirit of
the Bible. It brings out the whole wealth, force, and beauty of the German
language. It is the first German classic, as King James's version is the first
English classic. It anticipated the golden age of German literature as
represented by Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller,--all of them
Protestants, and more or less indebted to the Luther-Bible for their style. The
best authority in Teutonic philology pronounces his language to be the
foundation of the new High German dialect on account of its purity and
influence, and the Protestant dialect on account of its freedom which conquered
even Roman Catholic authors. (34)
The Protestant Spirit of Luther's Version
Dr. Emser, one of the most learned opponents of the Reformation, singled out in
Luther's New Testament several hundred linguistic blunders and heretical
falsifications. (35) Many of them were silently corrected in later editions. He
published, by order of Duke George of Saxony, a new translation (1527) for the
purpose of correcting the errors of "Luther and other heretics." (36)
The charge that Luther adapted the translation to his theological opinions has
become traditional in the Roman Church, and is repeated again and again by her
controversialists and historians. (37)
The same objection has been raised against the Authorized English Version. (38)
In both cases, the charge has some foundation, but no more than the
counter-charge which may be brought against Roman Catholic Versions.
The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther's version is the
famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben),
by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on
the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness.
(39) But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who
says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht
durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to
harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of
James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine
He therefore insisted on this insertion in spite of all outcry against it. His
defense is very characteristic. "If your papist," he says, (40) "makes much
useless fuss about the word sola, allein, tell him at once: Doctor Martin Luther
will have it so, and says: Papist and donkey are one thing; sic volo, sic jubeo,
sit pro ratione voluntas. For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the
Papists, but their masters and judges." Then he goes on in the style of foolish
boasting against the Papists, imitating the language of St. Paul in dealing with
his Judaizing opponents (2 Cor. 11:22 sqq.): "Are they doctors? so am I. Are
they learned? so am I. Are they preachers? so am I. Are they theologians? so am
I. Are they disputators? so am I. Are they philosophers? so am I. Are they the
writers of books? so am I. And I shall further boast: I can expound Psalms and
Prophets; which they can not. I can translate; which they can not .... Therefore
the word allein shall remain in my New Testament, and though all pope-donkeys (Papstesel)
should get furious and foolish, they shall not turn it out." (41)
The Protestant and anti-Romish character of Luther's New Testament is undeniable
in his prefaces, his discrimination between chief books and less important
books, his change of the traditional order, and his unfavorable judgments on
James, Hebrews, and Revelation. (42) It is still more apparent in his marginal
notes, especially on the Pauline Epistles, where he emphasizes throughout the
difference between the law and the gospel, and the doctrine of justification by
faith alone; and on the Apocalypse, where he finds the papacy in the beast from
the abyss (Rev. 13), and in the Babylonian harlot (Rev. 17). (43) The anti-papal
explanation of the Apocalypse became for a long time almost traditional in
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic translators used the same liberty of
marginal annotations and pictorial illustrations in favor of the doctrines and
usages of their own church. Emser's New Testament is full of anti-Lutheran
glosses. In Rom. 3:28, he protests on the margin against Luther's allein, and
says, "Paul by the words 'without works of the law' does not mean that man is
saved by faith alone, without good works, but only without works of the law,
that is, external circumcision and other Jewish ceremonies." He therefore
confines the "law" here to the ritual law, and "works" to Jewish works; while,
according to the best modern commentators, Paul means the whole law, moral as
well as ceremonial, and all works commanded by the law. And yet even in the same
chapter and throughout the whole Epistle to the Romans, Emser copies verbatim
Luther's version for whole verses and sections; and where he departs from his
language, it is generally for the worse.
The same may be said of the other two German Catholic Bibles of the age of the
Reformation. They follow Luther's language very closely within the limits of the
Vulgate, and yet abuse him in the notes. Dr. Dietenberger adds his comments in
smaller type after the chapters, and agrees with Emser's interpretation of Rom.
3:28. (44) Dr. Eck's German Bible has few notes, but a strongly anti-Protestant
To be just, we must recognize the sectarian imperfections of Bible versions,
arising partly from defective knowledge, partly from ingrained prejudices. A
translation is an interpretation. Absolute reproduction is impossible in any
work. (46) A Jew will give a version of the Old Testament differing from that of
a Christian, because they look upon it in a different light,--the one with his
face turned backward, the other with his face turned forward. A Jew cannot
understand the Old Testament till he becomes a Christian, and sees in it a
prophecy and type of Christianity. No synagogue would use a Christian version,
nor any church a Jewish version. So also the New Testament is rendered
differently by scholars of the Greek, Latin, and Protestant churches. And even
where they agree in words, there is a difference in the pervading spirit. They
move, as it were, in a different atmosphere. A Roman Catholic version must be
closely conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which the Council of Trent puts on an
equal footing with the original text. (47) A Protestant version is bound only by
the original text, and breathes an air of freedom from traditional restraint.
The Roman Church will never use Luther's Version or King James's Version, and
could not do so without endangering her creed; nor will German Protestants use
Emser's and Eck's Versions, or English Protestants the Douay Version. The
Romanist must become evangelical before he can fully apprehend the free spirit
of the gospel as revealed in the New Testament.
There is, however, a gradual progress in translation, which goes hand in hand
with the progress of the understanding of the Bible. Jerome's Vulgate is an
advance upon the Itala, both in accuracy and Latinity; the Protestant Versions
of the sixteenth century are an advance upon the Vulgate, in spirit and in
idiomatic reproduction; the revisions of the nineteenth century are an advance
upon the versions of the sixteenth, in philological and historical accuracy and
consistency. A future generation will make a still nearer approach to the
original text in its purity and integrity. If the Holy Spirit of God shall raise
the Church to a higher plane of faith and love, and melt the antagonisms of
human creeds into the one creed of Christ, then, and not before then, may we
expect perfect versions of the oracles of God.
1 The testimony of the great philosopher Hegel is worth quoting. He says in his
Philosophie der Geschichte, p. 503: "Luther hat die Autorität der Kirche
verworfen und an ihre Stelle die Bibel und das Zeugniss des menschlichen Geistes
gesetzt. Dass nun die Bibel selbst die Grundlage der christlichen Kirche
geworden ist, ist von der grössten Wichtigkeit; jeder soll sich nun selbst
daraus belehren, jeder sein Gewissen daraus bestimmen können. Diess ist die
ungeheure Veränderung im Principe: die ganze Tradition und das Gebäude der
Kirche wird problematisch und das Princip der Autorität der Kirche umgestossen.
Die Uebersetzung, welche Luther von der Bibel gemacht hat, ist von unschätzbarem
Werthe für das deutsche Volk gewesen. Dieses hat dadurch ein Volksbuch erhalten,
wie keine Nation der katholischen Welt ein solches hat; sie haben wohl eine
Unzahl von Gebetbüchlein, aber kein Grundbuch zur Belehrung des Volks. Trotz dem
hat man in neueren Zeiten Streit deshalb erhoben, ob es zweckmässig sei, dem
Volke die Bibel indie Hand zu geben; die wenigen Nachtheile, die dieses hat,
werden doch bei weitem von den ungeheuren Vortheilen überwogen; die äusserlichen
Geschichten, die dem Herzen und Verstande anstössig sein können, weiss der
religiöse Sinn sehr wohl zu unterscheiden, und sich an das Substantielle haltend
überwindet er sie." Froude (Luther, p. 42) calls Luther's translation of the
Bible "the greatest of all the gifts he was able to offer to Germany."
2 Hence repeatedly published from the remaining fragmentary MSS. in Upsala
(Codex Argenteus, so called from its silver binding), Wolfenbüttel and Milan, by
H. C. von Gabelenz and J. Loebe (1836), Massmann (1857), Bernhardt (1875), Stamm
(1878), Uppström (1854-1868, the most accurate edition), R. Müller and H. Hoeppe
(1881), W. W. Skeat (1882). Comp. also Jos. Bosworth, The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon
Gospels in Parallel Columns with the Versions of Wycliffe and Tyndale, London,
2d ed., 1874 (with a fac-simile of the Codex Argenteus).
3 By P. Philipp Klimesch (librarian of the convent), Der Codex Teplensis,
enthaltend "Die Schrift des newen Gezeuges." Aelteste deutsche Handschrift,
welche den im 15 Jahrh. gedruckten deutschen Bibeln zu Grunde gelegen. Augsburg
and München, 1881-1884, in 3 parts. The Codex contains also homilies of St.
Augustin and St. Chrysostom, and seven articles of faith. The last especially
have induced Keller and Haupt to assign the translation to Waldensian origin.
But these Addenda are not uncatholic, and at most would only prove Waldensian or
Bohemian proprietorship of this particular copy, but not authorship of the
translation. See Notes below, p. 353.
4 See Dr. M. Rachel's Gymnasial program: Ueber die Freiberger Bibelhandschrift,
nebst Beiträgen zur Gesch. der vorlutherischen Bibelübersetzung, Freiberg, 1886
5 This apocryphal Epistle was also included in the Albigensian (Romance) version
of the 13th century, in a Bohemian version, and in the early English Bibles, in
two independent translations of the 14th or 15th century, but not in Wiclif's
Bible. See Forshall and Maddan, Wycliffite Versions of the Bible (1850), IV. 438
sq.; Anger, Ueber den Laodicenerbrief (Leipzig, 1843); and Lightfoot, Com. on Ep.
to the Colossians (London, 1875), p. 363 sq. On the other hand, the same
pseudo-Pauline Epistle appears in many MSS. and early editions of the Vulgate,
and in the German versions of Eck and Dietenberger. It can therefore not be used
as an argument for or against the Waldensian hypothesis of Keller.
6 Ninety-seven editions of the Vulgate were printed between 1450 and 1500,--28
in Italy (nearly all in Venice), 16 in Germany, 10 in Basel, 9 in France. See
Fritzsche in Herzog ii, vol. VIII. 450.
7 In the royal library of Munich there are 21 MSS. of German versions of the
Gospels and Epistles. The Gospels for the year were printed about 25 times
before 1518; the Psalter about 13 times before 1513. See besides the works of
Panzer, Kehrein, Keller, Haupt, above quoted, Alzog, Die deutschen Plenarien im
15. und zu Anfang des 16. Jahrh., Freiburg-i-B., 1874.
8 Luther's use of the older German version was formerly ignored or denied, but
has been proved by Professor Krafft of Bonn (1883). He adds, however, very
justly (l.c. p. 19): "Es gereicht Luther zum grössten Verdienst, dass er auf den
griechischen Grundtext zurückgegangen, den deutschen Wortschatz zunächst im N.
T. wesentlich berichtigt, dann aber auch mit seiner Genialität bedeutend
vermehrt hat." See Notes below, p. 352.
9 "Ich kann," he says in his Tischreden, "weder griechisch noch ebraeisch, ich
will aber dennoch einem Ebraeer und Griechen ziemlich begegnen. Aber die
Sprachen machen für sich selbst keinen Theologen, sondern sind nur eine Hülfe.
Denn soll einer von einem Dinge reden, so muss er die Sache [Sprache?] zuvor
wissen und verstehen." Erl.-Frkf. ed., vol. LXII. 313.
10 Under the title: Das Newe Testament Deutzsch. Wittemberg. With wood-cuts by
Lucas Cranach, one at the beginning of each book and twenty-one in the
Apocalypse. The chapter division of the Latin Bible, dating from Hugo a St. Caro,
was retained with some paragraph divisions; the versicular division was as yet
unknown (Robert Stephanus first introduced it in his Latin edition, 1548, and in
his Greek Testament of 1551). The order of the Epistles is changed, and the
change remained in all subsequent editions. Some parallel passages and glosses
are added on the margin. It contained many typographical errors, a very curious
one in Gal. 5:6: "Die Liebe, die durch den Glauben thaetig ist," instead of "Der
Glaube, der durch die Liebe thätig ist." A copy of this rare edition, without
the full-page Apocalyptic pictures, but with the error just noticed, is in the
Union Seminary Library, New York. It has the famous preface with the fling at
the "rechte stroern Epistel" of St. James, which was afterwards omitted or
11 The woodcuts were also changed. The triple papal crown of the Babylonian
woman in Rev. 17 gave place to a simple crown.
12 Fritzsche (l.c., p. 549): "Vom N. T. sind von 1522-1533 ziemlich sicher 16
original Ausgaben nachgewiesen ... Die Nachdrucke belaufen sich auf ungefähr 54,
wobei Augsburg mit 14, Strassburg mit 13, und Basel mit 12 vertreten ist."
13 Under the title: Biblia, das ist die gantze Heilige Schrift, Deutsch. Auffs
neu zugericht. D. Mart. Luther. Wittemberg. Durch Hans Lufft, M.D.XLV. fol. with
numerous woodcuts. A copy in the Canstein Bibelanstalt at Halle. The Union Theol.
Seminary in New York has a copy of the edition of 1535 which bears this title:
Biblia das ist die /gantze Heilige /Schrifft Deutsch./ Mart. Luth./ Wittemberg./
Begnadet mit Kür-/ furstlicher zu Sachsen /freiheit. /Gedruckt durch Hans Lufft./
M. D. XXXV. The margin is ornamented. Then follows the imprimatur of the Elector
John Frederick of Saxony, a preface of Luther to the O. T., and a rude picture
of God, the globe and paradise with Adam and Eve among trees and animals.
14 Republished with the greatest care by Bindseil & Niemeyer. See Lit., p. 340.
15 See Note at the end of the next section.
16 De Actis et Scriptis M. Lutheri ad Ann. 1522. Gieseler (IV. 65 sq.) quotes
the whole passage in Latin.
17 The last edition of Dr. Eck's Bible appeared in 1558, at Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
18 Ed. of 1535: der.
19 Ed. of 1535: nicht.
20 Later eds.: eine ... schelle.
21 He could say with perfect truth: "Ich habe meine Ehre nicht gemeint, auch
keinen Heller dafür genomen, sondern habe es zu Ehren gethan den lieben Christen
und zu Ehren einem, der droben sitzt."
22 "Interim Biblia transferam, quanquam onus susceperim supra vires. Video nunc,
quid sit interpretari, et cur hactenus a nullo sit attentatum, qui proficeretur
nomen suum. [This implies his knowledge of older German translations which are
anonymous.] Vetus Testamentum non potero attingere, nisi vobis praesentibus et
23 "Ach Gott! wie ein gross und verdriesslich Werk ist es, die hebräischen
Schreiber zu zwingen deutsch zu reden; wie sträuben sie sich und wollen ihre
hebräische Art gar nicht verlassen und dem groben Deutschen nachfolgen, gleich
als wenn eine Nachtigall ... sollte ihre liebliche Melodei verlassen und dem
Kukuk nachsingen." Walch, XVI. 508. Comp. his letter to Spalatin about the
difficulties in Job, Feb. 23, 1524, in De Wette, II. 486.
24 Luther's copy of the Hebrew Bible is preserved in the Royal Library at
Berlin. The editio princeps of the whole Hebrew Bible appeared 1488 (Soncino:
Abraham ben Chayin de' Tintori). A copy in possession of Dr. Ginsburg in
England. See Stevens, l.c. p. 60. Portions had been printed before.
25 A copy of the Lyons ed. of 1519, and one of the Basel ed. of 1509, now in
possession of the Brandenburg Provincial Museum at Berlin. Grimm, Gesch. d.
luther. Bibelübers., p. 8, note.
26 Lyra acquired by his Postillae perpetuae in V. et N. Test. (first published
in Rome, 1472, in 5 vols. fol., again at Venice, 1540) the title Doctor planus
et utilis. His influence on Luther is expressed in the well-known lines:--
"Si Lyra non lyrasset,
Lutherus non saltasset."
27 Greek and Latin, 2 vols. folio. The first part contains Preface, Dedication
to Pope Leo X., and the Ratio seu Compendium verae Theologiae per Erasmum
Roterodamum (120 pages); the second part, the Greek Text, with a Latin version
in parallel columns, with brief introductions to the several books (565 pages).
At the end is a Latin letter of Frobenius, the publisher, dated "Nonis Fehr.
Anno M.D.XIX." A copy in the Union Theol. Seminary, New York. - Some say that
Luther made use of Gerbel's reprint of Erasmus, 1521. But Dr. Reuss of
Strassburg, who has the largest collection and best knowledge of Greek
Testaments, denies this. Gesch. der h. Schriften des N. T., 5th ed., II. 211,
28 See Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, etc., New York, 3d ed., 1888,
pp. 229 sqq., and the facsimile of the Erasmian ed. on p. 532 sq. Tyndale's
English version was likewise made from Erasmus.
29 O. von Gebhardt, in his Novum Test. Graece et Germanice, Preface, p. xvi.,
says of the second ed. of Erasmus: "Die Zahl der Druckfehler ist so gross, dass
ein vollständiges Verzeichniss derselben Seiten füllen würde." Comp. Scrivener,
Introd. to the Criticism of the N. T., 3d ed. (1883), p. 432 sq.
30 It first appeared in the Frankfort edition of Luther's Bible, 1574. The
revised Luther-Bible of 1883 strangely retains the passage, but in small type
and in brackets, with the note that it was wanting in Luther's editions. The
Probebibel departs only in a few places from the Erasmian text as followed by
Luther: viz., Acts 12:25; Heb. 10:34; 1 John 2:23; Rev. 11:2. In this respect
the German revision is far behind the Anglo-American revision of 1881, which
corrects the Textus Receptus In about five thousand places.
31 He says in his Tischreden (Erl. ed., vol. lxii. 313): "Ich habe keine gewisse,
sonderliche eigene Sprache im Deutschen [i.e., no special dialect], sondern
brauche der gemeinen deutschen Sprache, dass mich Oberländer und Niederländer
verstehen mögen. Ich rede nach der sächsischen Canzelei, welcher nachfolgen alle
Fürsten und Könige in Deutschland. Alle Beichstädte, Fürstenhöfe schreiben nach
der sächsischen und unseres Fürsten Canzelei, darumb ists auch die gemeinste
deutsche Sprache. Kaiser Maximilian und Kurfürst Friedrich, Herzog zu Sachsen,
etc., haben im römischen Reich die deutschen Sprachen [dialects] also in eine
gewisse Sprache gezogen." Formerly the Latin was the diplomatic language in
Germany. Louis the Bavarian introduced the German in 1330. The founder of the
diplomatic German of Saxony was Elector Ernst, the father of Elector Friedrich.
See Wilibald Grimm, Gesch. der luth. Bibelübersetzung (Jena, 1884), p. 24 sqq.
32 The same word silverling occurs once in the English version, Isa. 7:23, and
is retained in the R. V. of 1885. The German Probebibel retains it in this and
other passages, as Gen. 20:16; Judg. 9:4, etc.
33 See Grimm, Luther's Uebersetzung der Apocryphen, in the "Studien und Kritiken"
for 1883, pp. 376-400. He judges that Luther's version of Ecclesiasticus (Jesus
Sirach) is by no means a faithful translation, but a model of a free and happy
reproduction from a combination of the Greek and Latin texts.
34 "Luther's Sprache," says Jakob Grimm, In the Preface to his German Grammar,
"muss ihrer edeln, fast wunderbaren Reinheit, auch ihres gewaltigen Einflusses
halber für Kern und Grundlage der neuhochdeutschen Sprachniedersetzung gehalten
werden, wovon bis auf den heutigen Tag nur sehr unbedeutend, meistens zum
Schaden der Kraft und des Ausdrucks, abgewichen wordenist. Man darf das
Neuhochdeutsche in der That als den protestantischen Dialekt bezeichnen, dessen
freiheitathmende Natur längst schon, ihnen unbewusst, Dichter und Schriftsteller
des katholischen Glaubens überwältigte. Unsere Sprache ist nach dem
unaufhaltsamen Laufe der Dinge in Lautverhältnissen und Formen gesunken; was
aber ihren Geist und Leib genährt, verjüngt, was endlich Blüten neuer Poesie
getrieben hat, verdanken wir keinem mehr als Luthern." Comp. Wetzel, Die Sprache
Luthers in seiner Bibel, Stuttgart, 1850. Heinrich Rückert, Geschichte der
neu-hochdeutschen Schriftsprache, II. 15-175. Opitz, Ueber die Sprache Luthers,
Halle, 1869. Dietz, Wörterbuch zu Luther's deutschen Schriften, Leipzig, 1870
sqq. Lehmann, Luthers Sprache in seiner Uebersetzung des N. T., Halle, 1873.
35 Annotationes des hochgel. und christl. doctors Hieronymi Emsers über Luthers
neuw Testament, 1523. I have before me an edition of Freiburg-i.-B., 1535 (140
pages). Emser charges Luther with a thousand grammatical and fourteen hundred
heretical errors. He suspects (p. 14) that he had before him "ein sonderlich
Wickleffisch oder Hussisch Exemplar." He does not say whether he means a copy of
the Latin Vulgate or the older German version. He finds (p. 17) four errors in
Luther's version of the Lord's Prayer: 1, that he turned Vater unser into Unser
Vater, against the German custom for a thousand years (but in his Shorter
Catechism he retained the old form, and the Lutherans adhere to it to this day);
2, that he omitted der du bist; 3, that he changed the panis supersubstantialis
(überselbständig Brot!) into panis quotidianus (täglich Brot); 4, that he added
the doxology, which is not in the Vulgate. In our days, one of the chief
objections against the English Revision is the omission of the doxology.
36 Das gantz New Testament: So durch den Hochgelerten L. Hieronymum Emser
seligen verteutscht, unter des Durchlauchten Hochgebornen Fürsten und Herren
Georgen Hertzogen zu Sachsen, etc., ausgegangen ist. Leipzig, 1528. The first
edition appeared before Emser's death, which occurred Nov. 8, 1527. I find in
the Union Seminary four octavo copies of his N. T., dated Coln, 1528 (355 pp.),
Leipzig, 1529 (416 pp.), Freiburg-i.-B. 1535 (406 pp.), Cöln, 1568 (879 pp.),
and a copy of a fol. ed., Cologne, 1529 (227 pp.), all with illustrations and
marginal notes against Luther. On the concluding page, it is stated that 607
errors of Luther's are noted and corrected. The Cologne ed. of 1529 indicates,
on the titlepage, that Luther arbitrarily changed the text according to the
Hussite copy ("wie Martinus Luther dem rechten Text, dem huschischen Exemplar
nach, seins gefallens ab und zugethan und verendert hab"). Most editions contain
a Preface of Duke George of Saxony, in which he charges Luther with rebellion
against all ecclesiastical and secular authority, and identifies him with the
beast of the Apocalypse, Rev. 13 ("dass sein Mund wol genannt werden mag der
Mund der Bestie von welcher Johannes schreibet in seiner Offenbarung am
37 Dr. Döllinger, in his Reformation, vol. III. 139 sqq., 156 sqq., goes into an
elaborate proof. In his Luther, eine Skizze (Freiburg-i. -B., 1851), p. 26, he
calls Luther's version "ein Meisterstück in sprachlicher Hinsicht, aber seinem
Lehrbegriffe gemäss eingerichtet, und daher in vielen Stellen absichtlich
unrichtig und sinnentstellend." So also Cardinal Hergenröther (Lehrbuch der allg.
Kirchengesch., vol. III. 40, third ed. of 1886): "Die ganze Uebersetzung war
ganz nach Luthers System zugerichtet, auf Verbreitung seiner
Rechtfertigungslehre berechnet, oft durch willkührliche Entstellungen und
Einschaltungen seinen Lehren angepasst."
38 By older and more recent Romanists, as Ward, Errata of the Protestant Bible,
Dublin, 1810. Trench considers the main objections in his book on the Authorized
Version and Revision, pp. 165 sqq. (in the Harper ed. of 1873). The chief
passages objected to by Romanists are Heb. 13:4 (where the E. V. translates
"Marriage is honorable in all" for "Let marriage be honorable among all"); 1
Cor. 11:27 ("and" for "or"); Gal. 5:6 ("faith which worketh by love;" which is
correct according to the prevailing sense of ejnergei'sqai, and corresponds to
the Vulgate operatur, against the Roman view of the passive sense, "wrought by
love," in conformity with the doctrine of fides formata), and the rendering of
eijdwlon by image, instead of idol. The E. V. has also been charged with a
Calvinistic bias from its connection with Beza's Greek text and Latin notes.
39 But he omitted allein in Gal. 2:16, where it might be just as well justified,
and where the pre-Lutheran Bible reads "nur durch den Glauben." However correct
in substance and as an inference, the insertion has no business in the text as a
translation. See Meyer on Rom. 3:28, 5th ed., and Weiss, 6th ed. (1881), also my
annotations to Lange on Romans (p. 136).
40 In his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, in the Erl.-Frkf. ed., vol. LXV., p. 107
sqq. It was published in September, 1530, with special reference to Emser, whom
he does not name, but calls "the scribbler from Dresden" ("der dresdener Sudler").
41 The Revisers of the Probebibel retained the interpolated allein in Rom. 8:28,
the nur in 4:15, and the incorrect rendering in 3:25,26,--a striking proof of
Luther's overpowering influence even over conscientious critical scholars in
Germany. Dr. Grimm, the lexicographer (l.c., p. 48), unjustly censures Meyer and
Stier for omitting the word allein. I have an old copy of Luther's Testament,
without titlepage, before me, where the word allein is printed in larger type
with a marginal finger pointing to it.
42 The Prefaces are collected in the 7th volume of Bindseil's edition of the
Luther Bible, and in the 63d volume of the Erlangen ed. of Luther's works. The
most important is his preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and his most
objectionable that to the Epistle of James.
43 He adds in the marginal note on Rev. 17: "Hie zeiget er die römische Kirche
in ihrer Gestalt und Wesen, die verdammt soll werden." His friend Cranach, in
the accompanying picture in the first ed., and also in the ed. of 1535,
represents the harlot as riding on a dragon with a triple crown on her head.
44 Biblia beider Allt unnd Newen Testamenten, fleissig, treulich vn Christlich
nach alter inn Christlicher Kirchen gehabter Translation, mit Ausslegung
etlicher dunckeler ort und besserung vieler verrückter wort und sprüch ... Durch
D. Johan Dietenberger, new verdeutscht. Gott zu ewiger ehre unnd wolfarth seiner
heil. Christlichen Kirchen ... Meynz, 1534, fol. From a copy in the Union
Seminary (Van Ess library). Well printed and illustrated.
45 I have before me three copies of as many folio editions of Eck's Bible, 1537,
1550, and 1558, bearing the title: Bibel Alt und New Testament, nach dem Text in
der heiligen Kirchen gebraucht, durch Doctor Johan Ecken, mit fleiss, auf
hochteutsch verdolmetscht, etc. They were printed at Ingolstadt, and agree in
the number of pages (1035), and vary only in the date of publication. They
contain in an appendix the Prayer of Manasseh, the Third Book of Maccabees, and
the spurious Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans.
46 There is an Italian proverb that translators are traitors (Traduttori
traditori). Jerome speaks of versiones which are eversiones. As Trench says,
there are in every translation "unavoidable losses inherent in the nature of the
task, in the relations of one language to the other, in the lack of accurate
correlations between them, in the different schemes of their construction."
47 Hence the stiffness of literalism and the abundance of Latinisms in the
Rhemish Version of the N. T. (first published in 1582, second ed. 1600, third
ed. at Douay, 1621), such as "supersubstantial bread" for daily or needful bread
(Jerome introduced supersubstantialis for the difficult ejpiouvsio" in the
Lord's Prayer, Matt. 6:11, but retained quotidianus in Luke), transmigration of
Babylon, impudicity, coinquinations, postulations, agnition, cogitation,
prepuce, pasche, exinanite, contristate, domesticals, exemplars of the
coelestials, etc. Some of them have been silently removed in modern editions.
The notes of the older editions abound in fulminations against heretics.
Dr. Martin Luther's Bibelübersetzung nach der letzten Original-Ausgabe, kritisch
bearbeitet von H. E. Bindseil und H. A. Niemeyer. Halle, 1845-55, in 7 vols. 8°.
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, XXI. 310 sqq., and the Erl. Frkf. ed., vol. LXV. 102-123.
(Not in De Wette's collection, because of its polemical character.) A defense of
his version against the attacks of the Romanists. Mathesius, in his thirteenth
sermon on the Life of Luther.
On the merits and history of Luther's version. The best works are by Palm
(1772). Panzer (Vollständ. Gesch. der deutschen Bibelübers. Luthers, Nürnb.
1783, 2d ed. 1791), Weidemann (1834), H. Schott (1835), Bindseil (1847), Hopf
(1847), Mönckeberg (1855 and 1861), Karl Frommann (1862), Dorner (1868), W.
Grimm (1874 and l884), Düsterdieck (1882), Kleinert (1883), TH. Schott (1883),
and the introduction to the Probebibel (1883). See Lit. in § 17, p. 103.
On the pre-Lutheran German Bible, and Luther's relation to it. Ed. Reuss: Die
deutsche Historienbibel vor der Erfindung des Bücherdrucks. Jena, 1855. Jos.
Kehrein (Rom. Cath.): Zur Geschichte der deutschen Bibelübersetzung vor Luther.
Stuttgart, 1851. O. F. Fritzsche in Herzog, 2d ed., Bd. III. (1876), pp. 543 sqq.
Dr. W. Krafft: Die deutsche Bibel vor Luther, sein Verhältniss zu derselben und
seine Verdienste um die deutsche Bibelübersetzung. Bonn, 1883 (25 pages. 4°.)
Also the recent discussions (1885-1887) of Keller, Haupt, Jostes, Rachel,
Kawerau, Kolde, K. Müller, on the alleged Waldensian origin of the pre-Lutheran