The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

5
Luther as an interpreter of Holy Scripture
OSWALD BAYER
Translated by Mark Mattes

THE BIBLE AS A MIRROR OF THE WORLD

The philologist Friedrich Nietzsche maintained that Luther's translation of the Bible was”the best German book.“ 1 In connection to Luther's work, Goethe designated the Bible a”mirror of the world“ 2 and thereby saw the world of this one book and the”book of the world“enfolded within each other.

Researchers of the German language are to a great extent agreed that Luther, not only with his translation of the Bible but also with his prefaces to the Bible, sermons, Small Catechism, and his songs, pamphlets, and tracts, is an event in the history of German literature to which no other can be compared. The event is of speech that comes out of hearing. Luther is linguistically creative by means of hearing and translating.

To recognize Luther's significance for the German language, one must not, as has indeed happened, make Luther into the creator of the modern High German literary language. Nevertheless, Klopstock wrote that among no nation has a single person so shaped the language of a whole people as Luther has done. 3 In fact, Luther's language—above all the language of his translation of the Bible—became the presupposition of understandingand communication throughout the whole of the German language.

Even Luther's sharpest opponents recognized the influence of his translation of the Bible. Johannes Cochlaeus had to admit:

Luther's New Testament, through its printing, was disseminated to such an amazingextent that even cobblers and women and other simple people, if they had ever learned German at all and in so far as they were Lutherans, read it with greatest desire as the well of all truth. They carried the translation with themselves on their bosoms in order to impress it on their memory by means of frequent reading. 4

Yet Luther's translation of the Bible had an effect not only in Protestantism but also, from the very beginning, in Roman Catholicism. It was

-73-

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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