Luther as an interpreter of Holy Scripture
Translated by Mark Mattes
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