Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

IV
Completing the Translation
of the Bible

1. TRANSLATING THE PROPHETS
AND THE APOCRYPHA

The German translation of the Bible progressed without interruption until 1524, first the New Testament and then the Old Testament as far as the Song of Solomon. The next installment, the translation of the Prophets, was not ready until 1532. Hence our account must once again return to an earlier date. In 1525 Luther blamed the regrettable delay in completing the publication of a complete German Bible partially on the thieving reprinters who published pirated editions, for in such a lengthy printing process there was a danger that portions that were already completed would be stolen from the Wittenberg printers and be published elsewhere, and this would mean that the Wittenbergers would suffer a considerable loss in sales of the costly edition. In fact, such an unauthorized advance printing of the Wittenberg Latin Bible did happen in 1529.1 The many other demands upon Luther and his illnesses were the real reason for the delay. Nevertheless, he never lost sight of the ultimate goal.

The German commentaries on Jonah and Habakkuk in 1526, along with the one on Zechariah in 1528, each contained a translation. At the beginning of 1527, Luther turned direedy to the translation project, “which this barbarous and animalistic nation has taken from me,” undoubtedly meaning primarily the Peasants’ War and its consequences.2 In May he learned with some disappointment that Ludwig Hatzer, an Anabaptist with a humanistic education, and Hans Denck had already published a translation of the prophets in Worms. Luther fully acknowledged their achievement, although he felt the translation was somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, he was still determined to complete his own. Later, he was more reserved about this work by the “fanatics,” and he criticized them for using the assistance of rabbis.3 In his own translating, Luther made use of the “Worms Prophets” in an independent and critical way. Some things he adopted, but often he intentionally went his own way. Occasionally he used this work to correct his own, but the accusation—which George Witzel had already raised in 1536—that he borrowed from it without acknowledgement has proved to be without merit.

-95-

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