Martin Luther's translation of the bible

How does Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible hold up today? I read where he took almost two years to do it, and eventually sold 100,000 of them. This would have been in the early 1500’s.

Did he make any huge mistakes? I am assuming that the Catholic church eventually authorized a German edition- did it vary much from Luther’s?

I just read a very good book on the reformation, creatively based on the wife of Martin Luther. Here is an Amazon link.

Never paid much attention to the reformation, but those were very interesting times. I didn’t realize that the reformation was caused in large measure by the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. It was financed by the Fugger’s bank of Germany. Fugger’s forced agents of the Church to travel around selling indulgences with the money going straight into the accounts of Fugger’s to pay off the loans.

At one point, Fugger’s owned 4 percent of the entire wealth of Europe!

Luther and other German figures did not like this practice and eventually broke from the Vatican.

Interesting thread. Subscribed

Same. I have Die Luther Bibel in German with facing ESV translation because the Reformation is super interesting, but I haven’t had time to look at the book much.

The Main cause was teaching, not a cathedral.

There were at least 18 Catholic bibles in German before Luther published his bible. source

No, the scandals of, and oppression by Rome heavily influenced Luther to reassess everything taught by the Church. So the teachings were not questioned until he witnessed the immorality.

Corruption in the Church due to the sin of its members does not eclipse the truth of what the Church teaches.

There are many saints to learn about for much inspiration.

Depends on what you mean by ‘mistake’. In a way his translation isn’t very literal - he sometimes tended to paraphrase here and there.

The most (in)famous example would be his addition of the word allein “alone” in Romans 3:28 (“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”), something which he claimed was a justified (pun not intended) addition because of the context.

As for John’s gospel, that verse, “Jesus wept” (two words in English, three in Greek) was paraphrased poetically as Und Jesus gingen die Augen über “And Jesus’ eyes overflowed.” Also “Behold the man:” he rendered that as something like “See what a man this is” (Sehet, welch ein Mensch).

Also Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart is most deceitful and sick, who will know it?”): Luther translated that half-literally as Es ist das Herz ein trotzig und verzagt Ding; wer kann es ergründen? (“The heart is a contrary and despondent thing. Who can fathom it?”), and then adding a marginal note which gives a looser paraphrase: “In German we would say: Es ist ein verzweifelt und bös Ding um ein Herz. Es kann weder Gutes noch Böses ertragen (‘A heart is a desperate and bad thing. It can endure neither goodness nor badness’).”

The reason why Luther paraphrased large sections is mainly because of his intended audience: the common people. To be fair, Luther isn’t the first biblical translator who paraphrased: many medieval vernacular versions of biblical books were also paraphrases themselves. But he would probably be the first guy to actually admit outright he was trying to convey the “meaning” and “matter” of the text, not so much the words themselves. (And that’s probably where the problem is… :cool:)

At the same time, Luther did try to preserve some elements of the original text that would be lost in German. For example, Genesis 2:23 (“She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man”): there Luther used the made-up word Männin (‘she-man’; Mann + feminine suffix -in) for ‘woman’ in order to give some sense of the wordplay in the original Hebrew (ish ‘man’ and ishah ‘woman’). The words for ‘woman’ used in German (Frau and Weib) don’t really have that ‘man’ element that English ‘woman’ (‘wife’ + ‘man’; Weib is cognate to ‘wife’) does, and so keeping the wordplay is more difficult there.

Also, while in Hebrew the word ‘flesh’ can mean the totality of living things on the earth (“All flesh shall see the salvation of God” and all that), the German Fleisch originally didn’t really have that connotation. Luther however chose to preserve the Hebrew way of speaking (for instance, Psalm 56:4/5 “What can flesh do unto me?” = Was sollte mir Fleisch tun?). Same goes for the Hebrew usages of words like ‘seed’ to denote descendants (= Same; cf. English ‘semen’) or ‘arm’ to mean powerful doing (= Arm).

Never paid much attention to the reformation, but those were very interesting times. I didn’t realize that the reformation was caused in large measure by the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

There were various causes. This was just one of them.


It was eighteen vernacular Bibles, ninety Gospels (+ lectionaries), and some fourteen psalters. Three examples include the Wenceslas Bible (it’s actually just the Old Testament minus Daniel, the Minor Prophets and Maccabees - the book is an unfinished project), the Mentel Bible, and the Halberstadt Bible (Low Saxon).

Now to give credit to Luther, his Bible was probably the first to be ‘really’ in German. AFAIK many of the preceding versions were so literally/mechanically translated (from the Latin Vulgate, naturally) that they’re quite stilted. (In other words, very much like John Wycliff’s translation or the original 1582/1609 Douai-Rheims.) That, or they’re either paraphrases.

To answer Steve’s question (“How does Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible hold up today?”), let’s just say that the Luther Bible is apparently pretty much Germany’s analogue to the KJV in terms of its influence on the language and culture.

“I read where he took almost two years to do it, and eventually sold 100,000 of them.” That was the New Testament; Luther began to translate it while he was holed up in Wartburg Castle for two years (1521-22) for his safety following his excommunication by Pope Leo X and his refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. It’s not so much that he took two years to translate it; he supposedly finished his translation in just ten weeks (= two months and a half).

Now the complete Bible was published by Luther (and some of his associates) in 1534; Luther continued to revise it until his death in 1546.

This is such a lovely idiomatic rendering. There’s a myth out there that German is somehow an “ugly” language, but they really have such beautiful ways of saying simple things.

Sort of an aside, but…

As other’s mentioned, there were already existing Bibles in German - some written in whatever dialect was spoken by the translator or whatever sdialect was spoken in that region (there’s a great one done in the low German of Köln - Cologne).

Luther’s Bible was oneof the main forces, if you will, of standardizing the German language into what we would now call a modern High German.

One has to wonder what the situation of the Ggerman language would be today had that not occurred; what dialect, if any, would have become the “standard”.

I took a course on the Reformation/Revolution. The Professor was a devout, funny, and detailed man within mode of presentation. He said that the selling of indulgences is a protestant slant on history that many Catholics buy today and accept as `truth’.

Keep studying!

p.s. He had great fear for the secular rulers who protected him. For he obey them rather then his heretical volition, the volition to rip out James and Revelation from the New Testament.

In my opinion, “stilted” is often in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t think Wycliffe’s translation or the original Douay-Rheims is hard to read grammatically, except perhaps because the sentences are long. To me, the hard thing is deciphering the old spellings and occasionally the unusual alphabet. (I believe Wycliffe’s Bible in particular used the letter thorn or þ, which is no longer a letter in English. Modern editions of his work seem to replace the þ with a “th”, unless I’m mistaken and he didn’t use it. Also, the original Douay-Rheims Bible often uses a letter known as “long s” or ſ – to me, that letter looks more like an “f” without the cross bar than an s.)

Here’s Hebrews 1:1-3 in the original Rheims edition:

“Diversely and many waies in times past God speaking to the fathers in the prophets: last of al in these daies hath spoken to vs in his Sonne, whom he hath appointed heire of al, by whom he made also the vvorldes. Who being the brightnesse of his glorie, and the figure of his substance, and carying al things by the word of his power, making purgation of sinnes, sitteth on the right hand of the Maieftie in the high places.” source

To me, that is not stilted.

Not to distract you all but Wartburg sounds oddly appropriate, and the Diet of Worms refusal just reminds me of the worm that never dies.

To be serious, the Wart- in Wartburg is the word for ‘lookout’ or ‘guardpost’, Warte. (The English cognate would be ‘ward’.) So Wartburg (Warte ‘lookout’ + Burg ‘castle’, ‘fort’) = ‘watchtower’. There’s a legend that the name comes from a statement made by the founder of the castle, Louis the Springer (Ludwig der Springer) when he first laid his eyes on the area: Warte, Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg tragen “Wait (Warte), mountain (Berg) - you shall bear my castle (Burg)!”

BTW, did you know St. Elizabeth of Hungary once lived in this castle for seventeen years (1221-8)? And after Luther, an Anabaptist farmer was imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon for eight years (1540-8). Goethe also stayed here for five weeks. Seriously, I think the Wartburg has pretty much seen everything.

The Long S was used in many documents from colonial American up to the 1900century .
If the KJ bible didn’t use it ,I would think that would be very unusual.

It did.

It wasn’t an optional affectation. It was normal type, and even writing/printing by just people in longhand used it.

It was carried over from the way manuscripts were written prior to the invention of printing. Printing standardized the way the type was cast imitating the manuscript writing. So besides the long s, you had two “v” together for “w” or “v” for “u”, many standardized ligatures were also retained from the manuscript days. The easiest to find example would be the “ct” which looked like a backward “B” and many long s and f related ligatures.

Going back to the 16th century in printing, spelling was very personal, and not very standardized. A lot depended on where you got your education, and how you literally spoke. That is why the spelling could be radically different from one book to another in English back then.

That is why Latin was the language of choice for scholarly writings. It was already standardized, both in spelling and in type.

Apparently a memo went out in the waning years of the 18th century, that the long s, all the customary ligatures, catch words and such like were all to be abolished by the year 1800. I have just a couple of books dating to the first 4 or 5 yrs. of the 19th century which still retained the long s for whatever reason, but otherwise almost OVERNIGHT normal type in all printed matter appeared from the year 1800 on.

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