A first edition of Luther’s translation of the complete Bible into German.
Who was Luther?
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German theologian and reformer. After being arrested following the publication of his ninety-five theses in 1517 he was held in Wartburg Castle. There, whilst in captivity, Luther set about translating the Bible into a language that was accessible to everyone in the country. He wanted it to be comprehensible to theologians and ordinary people alike and intended it to be for private prayer as well as for reading aloud. At that time Germans spoke in many dialects, which can roughly be grouped into Low and High German. Luther had the advantage of being fluent in both and thus the language he produced was very clear, using words and phrases from spoken as well as written German. In contrast to Tyndale, however, who paid for his translation of the New Testament into English with his life, Luther survived, partly due to the political system in Germany and his support among the rich and powerful.
How important is Luther’s Bible?
Luther’s German translation of the New Testament appeared in 1522. He then translated the whole of the Bible into German with the first edition being published in Wittenberg in 1534. Although Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was not the first one to be published in Germany, it was by far the most influential one. Many of Luther’s words and phrases entered general parlance and are still very much in use in Germany today. He had not only captured the language of the ordinary people of his day, but he also influenced the future of the German language, much as Tyndale had done for the English language.
This copy is illustrated with woodcuts provided by Luther’s friend the artist Lucas Cranach.
- Article by:
- Alec Ryrie
The Bible as we know it today was shaped by events of the 15th and 16th centuries. Professor Alec Ryrie discusses the transformation of the Bible, looking at humanism, the reformation and key theological figures such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale.
- Article by:
- Christianity, Sacred texts
Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.