Vol. 7, Chapter IV. The German Reformation from the Diet of Worms to the Peasants’ War, a.d. 1521-1525

60. A New Phase in the History of the Reformation

At Worms, Luther stood on the height of his protest against Rome. The negative part of his work was completed: the tyranny of popery over Western Christendom was broken, the conscience was set free, and the way opened for a reconstruction of the Church on the basis of the New Testament. What he wrote afterwards against Rome was merely a repetition and re-affirmation.

On his return to Wittenberg, he had a more difficult task before him: to effect a positive reformation of faith and discipline, worship and ceremonies. A revolution is merely destructive and emancipative: a reformation is constructive and affirmative; it removes abuses and corruptions, but saves the foundation, and builds on it a new structure.

In this home-work Luther was as conservative and churchly as he had been radical and unchurchly in his war against the foreign foe. The connecting link between the two periods was his faith in Christ and the ever-living word of God, with which he began and ended his public labors.

He now raised his protest against the abuse of liberty in his own camp. A sifting process was necessary. Division and confusion broke out among his friends and followers. Many of them exceeded all bounds of wisdom and moderation; while others, frightened by the excesses, returned to the fold of the mother Church. The German nation itself was split on the question of the old or new religion, and remains, ecclesiastically, divided to this day; but the political unification and reconstruction of the German Empire with a Protestant head, instead of the former Roman-Catholic emperor, may be regarded as a remote result of the Reformation, without which it could never have taken place. And it is a remarkable providence, that this great event of 1870 was preceded by the Vatican Council and the decree of papal infallibility, and followed by the overthrow of the temporal power of the Pope and the political unification of Italy with Rome as the capital.

Before Luther entered upon the new phase in his career, he had a short rest on what he called his “Patmos” (Rev_1:9), and his “wilderness.” It is the most romantic, as his stand at Worms is the most heroic, chapter in his eventful life.


61. Luther at the Wartburg. 1521-1522

I. Luther’s Letters, from April 28, 1521, to March 7, 1522, in De Wette, vol. I. 5; II. 1-141. Very full and very characteristic. Walch, XV. 2324-2402.

II. C. Koehler: Luther auf der Wartburg. Eisenach, 1798. A. Witzschell: Luthers Aufenthalt auf der Wartburg. Wien, 1876. J. G. Morris: Luther at Wartburg and Coburg. Philadelphia, 1882.

III. Marheineke, Chap. X. (I. 276 sqq.). Merle D’Aubigné, bk. IX., chs. I. and II. Hagenbach, III. 105 sqq. Fisher, p. 112. Koestlin, I. 468-535.

Luther left Worms after a stay of ten days, April 26, 1521, at ten o’clock in the morning, quietly, in the same company with which he had made his entrance under the greatest popular commotion and expectation. His friend Schurf went along. The imperial herald joined him at Oppenheim so as not to attract notice.

In a letter to his friend Cranach, dated Frankfurt, April 28, he thus summarizes the proceedings of the Diet: “Have you written these books? Yes. Will you recant? No. Then get thee hence! O we blind Germans, how childish we are to allow ourselves to be so miserably fooled by the Romanists!” In the same letter he takes leave of his Wittenberg friends, and intimates that he would be hidden for a while, though he did not know where. He says that he would rather have suffered death from the tyrants, especially “the furious Duke George,” but he could not despise the counsel of good people. “A little while, and ye behold me no more; and again a little while, and ye shall see me (Joh_16:16). I hope it will be so with me. But God’s will, the best of all, be done in heaven and on earth.”

At Friedberg he dismissed the herald, and gave him a Latin letter to the Emperor, and a German letter of the same import to the Estates. He thanked the former for the safe-conduct, and defended his course at Worms. He could not trust in the decision of one man or many men when God’s word and eternal interests were at stake, but was still willing to recant if refuted from the Scriptures.

At Hersfeld he was hospitably entertained in the Benedictine convent by the Abbot Crato, and urged to preach. He did so in spite of the Emperor’s prohibition, obeying God rather than men. “I never consented,” he says, “to tie up God’s word. This is a condition beyond my power.” He preached also at Eisenach, but under protest of the priest in charge of the parish. Several of his companions parted from him there, and proceeded in the direction of Gotha and Wittenberg.

From Eisenach he started with Amsdorf and Petzensteiner for Moehra to see his relations. He spent a night with his uncle Heinz, and preached on the next Sunday morning. He resumed his journey towards Altenstein and Waltershausen, accompanied by some of his relatives. On the 4th of May, a company of armed horsemen suddenly appeared from the woods, stopped his carriage, amidst cursing and swearing, pulled him out, put him on horseback, hurried away with him in full speed, and brought him about midnight to the Wartburg, where he was to be detained as a noble prisoner of state in charge of Captain von Berlepsch, the governor of the castle.

The scheme had been wisely arranged in Worms by the Elector Frederick, whom Aleander calls “the fox of Saxony.” He wavered between attachment to the old faith and inclination to the new. He could not be sure of Luther’s safety beyond the term of three weeks when the Emperor’s safe-conduct expired; he did not wish to disobey the Emperor, nor, on the other hand, to sacrifice the reformer, his own subject, and the pride of his university. He therefore deemed it best to withdraw him for a season from the public eye. Melanchthon characterizes him truly when he says of Frederick: “He was not one of those who would stifle changes in their very birth. He was subject to the will of God. He read the writings which were put forth, and would not permit any power to crush what he believed to be true.”

The secret was strictly kept. For several months even John, the Elector’s brother, did not know Luther’s abode, and thought that he was in one of Sickingen’s castles. Conflicting rumors went abroad, and found credence among the crowds who gathered in public places to hear the latest news. Some said, He is dead; others, He is imprisoned, and cruelly treated. Albrecht Dürer, the famous painter, who was at that time at Antwerp, and esteemed Luther as “a man enlightened by the Holy Spirit and a confessor of the true Christian faith,” entered in his diary on Pentecost, 1521, the prayer that God may raise up another man in his place, and fill him with the Holy Spirit to heal the wounds of the Church.

The Wartburg is a stately castle on a hill above Eisenach, in the finest part of the Thuringian forest. It combines reminiscences of mediaeval poetry and piety with those of the Reformation. It was the residence of the Landgraves of Thuringia from 1073 to 1440. There the most famous Minnesaengers, Walther von der Vogelweide, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, graced the court of Hermann I. (1190-1217); there St. Elizabeth (1207-1231), wife of Landgrave Ludwig, developed her extraordinary virtues of humility and charity, and began those ascetic self-mortifications which her heartless and barbarous confessor, Conrad of Marburg, imposed upon her. But the most interesting relics of the past are the Lutherstube and the adjoining Reformationszimmer. The plain furniture of the small room which the Reformer occupied, is still preserved: a table, a chair, a bedstead, a small bookcase, a drinking-tankard, and the knightly armor of Junker Georg, his assumed name. The famous ink-spot is seen no more, and the story is not authentic. In the Wartburg the German students celebrated, in October, 1817, the third jubilee of the Reformation; in the Wartburg Dr. Merle D’Aubigné of Geneva received the inspiration for his eloquent history of the Reformation, which had a wider circulation, at least in the English translation, than any other book on church history; in the Wartburg the Eisenach Conference of the various Lutheran church-governments of Germany inaugurates its periodical sessions for the consultative discussion of matters of common interest, as the revision of the Luther-Bible. The castle was handsomely restored and decorated in mediaeval style, in 1847.

Luther’s sojourn in this romantic solitude extended through nearly eleven months, and alternated between recreation and work, health and sickness, high courage and deep despondency. Considering that he there translated the New Testament, it was the most useful year of his life. He gives a full description of it in letters to his Wittenberg friends, especially to Spalatin and Melanchthon, which were transmitted by secret messengers, and dated from “Patmos,” or “the wilderness,” from “the region of the air,” or “the region of the birds.”

He was known and treated during this episode as Knight George. He exchanged the monastic gown for the dress of a gentleman, let his hair and beard grow, wore a coat of mail, a sword, and a golden chain, and had to imitate courtly manners. He was served by two pages, who brought the meals to his room twice a day. His food was much better than be had been accustomed to as a monk, and brought on dyspepsia and insomnia. He enjoyed the singing of the birds, “sweetly lauding God day and night with all their strength.” He made excursions with an attendant. Sometimes he took a book along, but was reminded that a Knight and a scholar were different beings. He engaged in conversation on the way, with priests and monks, about ecclesiastical affairs, and the uncertain whereabouts of Luther, till he was requested to go on. He took part in the chase, but indulged in theological thoughts among the huntsmen and animals. “We caught a few hares and partridges,” he said, “a worthy occupation for idle people.” The nets and dogs reminded him of the arts of the Devil entangling and pursuing poor human souls. He sheltered a hunted hare, but the dogs tore it to pieces; this suggested to him the rage of the Devil and the Pope to destroy those whom he wished to preserve. It would be better, he thought, to hunt bears and wolves.

He had many a personal encounter with the Devil, whose existence was as certain to him as his own. More than once he threw the inkstand at him — not literally, but spiritually. His severest blow at the archfiend was the translation of the New Testament. His own doubts, carnal temptations, evil thoughts, as well as the dangers threatening him and his work from his enemies, projected themselves into apparitions of the prince of darkness. He heard his noises at night, in a chest, in a bag of nuts, and on the staircase “as if a hundred barrels were rolled from top to bottom.” Once he saw him in the shape of a big black dog lying in his bed; he threw the creature out of the window; but it did not bark, and disappeared. Sometimes he resorted to jokes. The Devil, he said, will bear any thing better than to be despised and laughed at.

Luther was brought up in all the mediaeval superstitious concerning demons, ghosts, witches, and sorcerers. His imagination clothed ideas in concrete, massive forms. The Devil was to him the personal embodiment of all evil and mischief in the world. Hence he figures very largely in his theology and religious experience. He is the direct antipode of God, and the archfiend of Christ and of men. As God is pure love, so the Devil is pure selfishness, hatred, and envy. He is endowed with high intellectual gifts, as bad men often surpass good men in prudence and understanding. He was originally an archangel, but moved by pride and envy against the Son of God, whose incarnation and saving work he foresaw, he rose in rebellion against it. He commands an organized army of fallen angels and bad men in constant conflict with God and the good angels. He is the god of this world, and knows how to rule it. He has power over nature, and can make thunder and lightning, hail and earthquake, fleas and bed-bugs. He is the ape of God. He can imitate Christ, and is most dangerous in the garb of an angel of light. He is most busy where the Word of God is preached. He is proud and haughty, although he can appear most humble. He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He understands a thousand arts. He hates men because they are creatures of God. He is everywhere around them, and tries to hurt and seduce them. He kindles strife and enmity. He is the author of all heresies and persecutions. He invented popery, as a counterpart of the true kingdom of God. He inflicts trials, sickness, and death upon individuals. He tempts them to break the Ten Commandments, to doubt God’s word, and to blaspheme. He leads into infidelity and despair. He hates matrimony, mirth, and music. He can not bear singing, least of all “spiritual songs.” He holds the human will captive, and rides it as his donkey. He can quote Scripture, but only as much of it as suits his purpose. A Christian should know that the Devil is nearer him than his coat or shirt, yea, than his own skin. Luther reports that he often disputed with the Devil in the night, about the state of his soul, so earnestly that he himself perspired profusely, and trembled. Once the Devil told him that he was a great sinner. “I knew that long ago,” replied Luther, “tell me something new. Christ has taken my sins upon himself, and forgiven them long ago. Now grind your teeth.” At other times he returned the charge and tauntingly asked him, “Holy Satan, pray for me,” or “Physician, cure thyself.” The Devil assumes visible forms, and appears as a dog or a hog or a goat, or as a flame or star, or as a man with horns. He is noisy and boisterous. He is at the bottom of all witchcraft and ghost-trickery. He steals little children and substitutes others in their place, who are mere lumps of flesh and torment the parents, but die young. Luther was disposed to trace many mediaeval miracles of the Roman Catholic Church to the agency of Satan. He believed in daemones incubos et succubos.

But, after all, the Devil has no real power over believers. He hates prayer, and flees from the cross and from the Word of God as from a flaming fire. If you cannot expel him by texts of Holy Scripture, the best way is to jeer and flout him. A pious nun once scared him away by simply saying: “Christiana sum.” Christ has slain him, and will cast him out at last into the fire of hell. Hence Luther sings in his battle hymn, — 

“And let the Prince of ill

Look grim as e’er he will,

He harms us not a whit:

For why? His doom is writ,

One little word shall slay him.”

Luther was at times deeply dejected in spirit. He wrote to Melanchthon, July 13, under the influence of dyspepsia which paints every thing in the darkest colors: “You elevate me too high, and fall into the serious error of giving me too much credit, as if I were absorbed in God’s cause. This high opinion of yours confounds and racks me, when I see myself insensible, hardened, sunk in idleness, alas! seldom in prayer, and not venting one groan over God’s Church. My unsubdued flesh burns me with devouring fire. In short, I who ought to be eaten up with the spirit, am devoured by the flesh, by luxury, indolence, idleness, somnolence. Is it that God has turned away from me, because you no longer pray for me? You must take my place; you, richer in God’s gifts, and more acceptable in his sight. Here, a week has passed away since I put pen to paper, since I have prayed or studied, either vexed by fleshly cares, or by other temptations. If things do not improve, I will go to Erfurt without concealment; there you will see me, or I you, for I must consult physicians or surgeons. Perhaps the Lord troubles me so much in order to draw me from this wilderness before the public.”

Notwithstanding his complaints of illness and depression, and assaults from the evil spirit, he took the liveliest interest in the events of the day, and was anxious to descend to the arena of conflict. He kept writing letters, books, and pamphlets, and sent them into the world. His literary activity during those few months is truly astounding, and contrasts strangely with his repeated lament that he had to sit idle at Patmos, and would rather be burned in the service of God than stagnate there.

He had few books in the Wartburg. He studied the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures very diligently; he depended for news on the letters of his friends at Wittenberg; and for his writings, on the resources of his genius.

He continued his great Latin commentary on the Psalms, dwelling most carefully on Psa_22:1-31 with reference to the crucifixion, and wrote special expositions of Psa_68:1-35 and Psa_37:1-40. He completed his book on the Magnificat of the Holy Virgin, in which he still expresses his full belief in her sinlessness, even her immaculate conception. He attacked auricular confession, which was now used as a potent power against the reading of Protestant books, and dedicated the tract to Sickingen (June 1). He resumed his sermons on the Gospels and Epistles of the church year (Kirchenpostille), which were afterwards finished by friends, and became one of the most popular books of devotion in Germany. He declared it once the best book he ever wrote, one which even the Papists liked. He replied in Latin to Latomus, a Louvain theologian. He attacked in Latin and German the doctrine of the mass, which is the very heart of Roman Catholic worship, and monastic vows, the foundation of the monastic system. He dedicated the book against vows to his father who had objected to his becoming a monk.

He also dealt an effectual blow at Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, who had exposed in Halle a collection of nearly nine thousand wondrous relics (including the manna in the wilderness, the burning bush of Moses, and jars from the wedding at Cana) to the view of pilgrims, with the promise of a “surpassing” indulgence for attendance and a charitable contribution to the Collegiate Church. Luther disregarded the fact that his own pious Elector had arranged a similar exhibition in Wittenberg only a few years before, and prepared a fierce protest against the “Idol of Indulgences” (October, 1521). Spalatin and the Elector protested against the publication, but he wrote to Spalatin: “I will not put up with it. I will rather lose you and the prince himself, and every living being. If I have stood up against the Pope, why should I yield to his creature?” At the same time he addressed a sharp letter to the archbishop (Dec. 1), and reminded him that by this time he ought to know that indulgences were mere knavery and trickery; that Luther was still alive; that bishops, before punishing priests for marrying, better first expel their own mistresses. He threatened him with the issue of the book against the Idol of Halle. The archbishop submitted, and made a humble apology in a letter of Dec. 21, which shows what a power Luther had acquired over him.


62. Luther’s Translation of the Bible

I. Dr. Martin Luther’s Bibeluebersetzung 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 Fuerbitte 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.

II. On the merits and history of Luther’s version. The best works are by Palm (1772). Panzer (Vollstaend. Gesch. der deutschen Bibeluebers. Luthers, Nuernb. 1783, 2d ed. 1791), Weidemann (1834), H. Schott (1835), Bindseil (1847), Hopf (1847), Moenckeberg (1855 and 1861), Karl Frommann (1862), Dorner (1868), W. Grimm (1874 and l884), Duesterdieck (1882), Kleinert (1883), TH. Schott (1883), and the introduction to the Probebibel (1883). See Lit. in § 17.

III. On the pre-Lutheran German Bible, and Luther’s relation to it. Ed. Reuss: Die deutsche Historienbibel vor der Erfindung des Buecherdrucks. Jena, 1855. Jos. Kehrein (Rom. Cath.): Zur Geschichte der deutschen Bibeluebersetzung 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 Verhaeltniss zu derselben und seine Verdienste um die deutsche Bibeluebersetzung. Bonn, 1883 (25 pages. 4°.) Also the recent discussions (1885-1887) of Keller, Haupt, Jostes, Rachel, Kawerau, Kolde, K. Mueller, on the alleged Waldensian origin of the pre-Lutheran German version.

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.

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.


Earlier Versions

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 Weizsaecker), 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 Woelflein (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.

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. Another copy is preserved in the college library at Freiberg in Saxony. 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.

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. No less than seventeen or eighteen editions appeared between 1462 and 1522, at Strassburg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Coeln, Luebeck, 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 translators.

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.

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. 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’s Qualifications

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 universal attention.

His knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was only moderate, but sufficient to enable him to form an independent judgment. 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 Sacred Scriptures.”

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 whole Bible.

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_21:1-27). The translation was then hurried through three presses, and appeared already Sept. 21, 1522, but without his name.

In December a second edition was required, which contained many corrections and improvements.

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 Roerer (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 were made.”

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.

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 melodious.

He prepared five original editions, or recensions, of his whole Bible, the last in 1545, a year before his death. This is the proper basis of all critical editions.

The edition of 1546 was prepared by his friend Roerer, 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” (1Co_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 1Jo_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 Bible.

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.


The Success

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.”

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.


Note. 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 nuernbergischen 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 Guenther Zainer, 2 vols., probably between 1473-1475. 6, Augsburg, by the same, dated 1477 (Stevens says, 1475?). 7, The third Augsburg edition, by Guenther 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 Schoensperger, 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 Luebeck, 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, Mat_5:21-27: — 




The Ninth Bible, 1483. Luther’s New Testament, 1522.   

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 quadranten. 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. Darumb wen 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 mat eyns ubirantwortte dem Richter, un d. Richter ubirantworte dich dem diener, un werdist yn den kercker geworffen, warlich ich sage dyr, du wirst nit von dannen erauzs komen, bis du auch den letzten heller bezalest.  


To this I add two specimens in which the superiority of Luther’s version is more apparent.





The Koburger Bible of Nurnberg, 1483 Luther’s Bible, Ed. 1535.   

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. Un got der sprach. Es werde dz liecht. Un das liecht ist worden. 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. Und Gott sprach. Es werde liecht. Und es ward liecht.  


1Co_13:1, 1Co_13:2.




The Strassburg Bible of 1485. Luther’s New Testament, 1522.   

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. Wenn ich mit menschen und mit engelzungen redet und hette die liebe nit, so wäre ich ein tönend ertz oder ein klingende schell. 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 nichts.  


The precise origin of the mediaeval German Bible is still unknown. Dr. Ludwig Keller of Muenster first suggested in his Die Reformation und die aelteren 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 Bibeluebersetzungen, Leipzig, 1886 (189 pages). Dr. Hermann Haupt, of Wuerzburg, took the same ground in his Die deutsche Bibeluebersetzung der mittelalterlichen Waldenser in dem Codex Teplensis und der ersten gedruckten Bibel nachgewiesen, Wuerzburg, 1885 (64 pages); and again, in self-defense against Jostes, in Der waldensische Ursprung des Codex Teplensis und der vor-lutherischen deutschen Bibeldrucke, Wuerzburg, 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 Bibeluebersetzung, Muenster, 1885 (44 pages), and Die Tepler Bibeluebersetzung. Eine zweite Kritik, Muenster, 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 “Goettinger Gelehrte Anzeigen,” 1887, No. I.; by Mueller 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, 5th Ed.).

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.”