Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

By Paul R. Waibel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Bondage of the Will

Martin Luther, in formulating his theology, openly acknowledged his debt to the humanists. It was they, both the Christian and secular humanists, but especially the former, who in one sense made the Reformation possible. The humanists provided the tools for reading the Scriptures in the form of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew grammars and glossaries, as well as translations of portions of the Bible in the original languages that were employed by Luther in his own biblical studies and translation of the Bible into German. It was noted earlier how Luther learned from Erasmus's Greek New Testament that Augustine of Hippo erred in rendering the Greek dikaioun (Latin, justificari) as meaning “to make righteous,” rather than “to pronounce righteous.”

Whereas the Renaissance humanists were characterized by their interest in the classical languages, the Christian humanists in particular pioneered in the quest for a better understanding of the Scriptures based on close examination of them in the original languages. To achieve this goal, the Christian humanists encouraged the study of the three biblical languages (Latin, Greek, and Hebrew). In the study of Hebrew, their efforts could bring them into conflict with powerful church authorities. Johannes Reuchlin, the leading German humanist of his day, was charged with heresy because of his efforts to encourage the study of Hebrew. Although he never joined the Lutheran cause, he openly defended Luther. Reuchlin's grandnephew, Philip Melanchthon, became Luther's closest associate and successor.

Luther's translation of the Bible, begun in 1521, was not the first German translation, but it was the first translation from the original languages. In addition to grammars

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