In view of these difficulties we need not be surprised at the large number of mistakes, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies in Luther’s version. They are most numerous in Job and the Prophets, who present, even to the advanced Hebrew scholars of our day, many unsolved problems of text and rendering. The English Version of 1611 had the great advantage of the labors of three generations of translators and revisers, and is therefore more accurate, and yet equally idiomatic.
The Original Text.
The basis for Luther’s version of the Old Testament was the Massoretic text as published by Gerson Ben Mosheh at Brescia in 1494.449 He used also the Septuagint, the Vulgate of Jerome450 (although he disliked him exceedingly on account of his monkery), the Latin translations of the Dominican Sanctes Pagnini of Lucca (1527), and of the Franciscan Sebastian Münster (1534), the "Glossa ordinaria" (a favorite exegetical vade-mecum of Walafried Strabo from the ninth century), and Nicolaus Lyra (d. 1340), the chief of mediaeval commentators, who, besides the Fathers, consulted also the Jewish rabbis.451
The basis for the New Testament was the second edition of Erasmus, published at Basel in Switzerland in 1519.452 His first edition of the Greek Testament had appeared in 1516, just one year before the Reformation. He derived the text from a few mediaeval MSS.453 The second edition, though much more correct than the first ("multo diligentius recognitum, emendatum," etc.), is disfigured by a large -number of typographical errors.454 He laid the foundation of the Textus Receptus, which was brought into its mature shape by R. Stephen, in his "royal edition" of 1550 (the basis of the English Textus Receptus), and by the Elzevirs in their editions of 1624 and 1633 (the basis of the Continental Textus Receptus), and which maintained the supremacy till Lachmann inaugurated the adoption of an older textual basis (1831).
Luther did not slavishly follow the Greek of Erasmus, and in many places conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which is based on an older text. He also omitted, even in his last edition, the famous interpolation of the heavenly witnesses in 1 John 5:7, which Erasmus inserted in his third edition (1522) against his better judgment.455
The German Rendering.
The German language was divided into as many dialects as tribes and states, and none served as a bond of literary union. Saxons and Bavarians, Hanoverians and Swabians, could scarcely understand each other. Each author wrote in the dialect of his district, Zwingli in his Schwyzerdütsch. "I have so far read no book or letter," says Luther in the preface to his version of the Pentateuch (1523), in which the German language is properly handled. Nobody seems to care sufficiently for it; and every preacher thinks he has a right to change it at pleasure, and to invent new terms." Scholars preferred to write in Latin, and when they attempted to use the mother tongue, as Reuchlin and Melanchthon did occasionally, they fell far below in ease and beauty of expression.
Luther brought harmony out of this confusion, and made the modern High German the common book language. He chose as the basis the Saxon dialect, which was used at the Saxon court and in diplomatic intercourse between the emperor and the estates, but was bureaucratic, stiff, heavy, involved, dragging, and unwieldy.456 He popularized and adapted it to theology and religion. He enriched it with the vocabulary of the German mystics, chroniclers, and poets. He gave it wings, and made it intelligible to the common people of all parts of Germany.
He adapted the words to the capacity of the Germans, often at the expense of accuracy. He cared more for the substance than the form. He turned the Hebrew shekel into a Silberling,457 the Greek drachma and Roman denarius into a German Groschen, the quadrans into a Heller, the Hebrew measures into Scheffel, Malter, Tonne, Centner, and the Roman centurion into a Hauptmann. He substituted even undeutsch (!) for barbarian in 1 Cor. 14:11. Still greater liberties he allowed himself in the Apocrypha, to make them more easy and pleasant reading.458 He used popular alliterative phrases as Geld und Gut, Land und Leute, Rath und That, Stecken und Stab, Dornen und Disteln, matt und müde, gäng und gäbe. He avoided foreign terms which rushed in like a flood with the revival of learning, especially in proper names (as Melanchthon for Schwarzerd, Aurifaber for Goldschmid, Oecolampadius for Hausschein, Camerarius for Kammermeister). He enriched the vocabulary with such beautiful words as holdselig, Gottseligkeit.
Erasmus Alber, a contemporary of Luther, called him the German Cicero, who not only reformed religion, but also the German language.
Luther’s version is an idiomatic reproduction of the Bible in the very spirit of the Bible. It brings out the whole wealth, force, and beauty of the German language. It is the first German classic, as King James’s version is the first English classic. It anticipated the golden age of German literature as represented by Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller,—all of them Protestants, and more or less indebted to the Luther-Bible for their style. The best authority in Teutonic philology pronounces his language to be the foundation of the new High German dialect on account of its purity and influence, and the Protestant dialect on account of its freedom which conquered even Roman Catholic authors.459
The Protestant Spirit of Luther’s Version.
Dr. Emser, one of the most learned opponents of the Reformation, singled out in Luther’s New Testament several hundred linguistic blunders and heretical falsifications.460 Many of them were silently corrected in later editions. He published, by order of Duke George of Saxony, a new translation (1527) for the purpose of correcting the errors of "Luther and other heretics."461
The charge that Luther adapted the translation to his theological opinions has become traditional in the Roman Church, and is repeated again and again by her controversialists and historians.462
The same objection has been raised against the Authorized English Version.463
In both cases, the charge has some foundation, but no more than the counter-charge which may be brought against Roman Catholic Versions.
The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther’s version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben), by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness.464 But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine evangelische Art").
He therefore insisted on this insertion in spite of all outcry against it. His defense is very characteristic. "If your papist," he says,465 "makes much useless fuss about the word sola, allein, tell him at once: Doctor Martin Luther will have it so, and says: Papist and donkey are one thing; sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the Papists, but their masters and judges." Then he goes on in the style of foolish boasting against the Papists, imitating the language of St. Paul in dealing with his Judaizing opponents (2 Cor. 11:22 sqq.): "Are they doctors? so am I. Are they learned? so am I. Are they preachers? so am I. Are they theologians? so am I. Are they disputators? so am I. Are they philosophers? so am I. Are they the writers of books? so am I. And I shall further boast: I can expound Psalms and Prophets; which they can not. I can translate; which they can not .... Therefore the word allein shall remain in my New Testament, and though all pope-donkeys (Papstesel) should get furious and foolish, they shall not turn it out."466
The Protestant and anti-Romish character of Luther’s New Testament is undeniable in his prefaces, his discrimination between chief books and less important books, his change of the traditional order, and his unfavorable judgments on James, Hebrews, and Revelation.467 It is still more apparent in his marginal notes, especially on the Pauline Epistles, where he emphasizes throughout the difference between the law and the gospel, and the doctrine of justification by faith alone; and on the Apocalypse, where he finds the papacy in the beast from the abyss (Rev. 13), and in the Babylonian harlot (Rev. 17).468 The anti-papal explanation of the Apocalypse became for a long time almost traditional in Protestant commentaries.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic translators used the same liberty of marginal annotations and pictorial illustrations in favor of the doctrines and usages of their own church. Emser’s New Testament is full of anti-Lutheran glosses. In Rom. 3:28, he protests on the margin against Luther’s allein, and says, "Paul by the words ’without works of the law’ does not mean that man is saved by faith alone, without good works, but only without works of the law, that is, external circumcision and other Jewish ceremonies." He therefore confines the "law" here to the ritual law, and "works" to Jewish works; while, according to the best modern commentators, Paul means the whole law, moral as well as ceremonial, and all works commanded by the law. And yet even in the same chapter and throughout the whole Epistle to the Romans, Emser copies verbatim Luther’s version for whole verses and sections; and where he departs from his language, it is generally for the worse.
The same may be said of the other two German Catholic Bibles of the age of the Reformation. They follow Luther’s language very closely within the limits of the Vulgate, and yet abuse him in the notes. Dr. Dietenberger adds his comments in smaller type after the chapters, and agrees with Emser’s interpretation of Rom. 3:28.469 Dr. Eck’s German Bible has few notes, but a strongly anti-Protestant preface.470
To be just, we must recognize the sectarian imperfections of Bible versions, arising partly from defective knowledge, partly from ingrained prejudices. A translation is an interpretation. Absolute reproduction is impossible in any work.471 A Jew will give a version of the Old Testament differing from that of a Christian, because they look upon it in a different light,—the one with his face turned backward, the other with his face turned forward. A Jew cannot understand the Old Testament till he becomes a Christian, and sees in it a prophecy and type of Christianity. No synagogue would use a Christian version, nor any church a Jewish version. So also the New Testament is rendered differently by scholars of the Greek, Latin, and Protestant churches. And even where they agree in words, there is a difference in the pervading spirit. They move, as it were, in a different atmosphere. A Roman Catholic version must be closely conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which the Council of Trent puts on an equal footing with the original text.472 A Protestant version is bound only by the original text, and breathes an air of freedom from traditional restraint. The Roman Church will never use Luther’s Version or King James’s Version, and could not do so without endangering her creed; nor will German Protestants use Emser’s and Eck’s Versions, or English Protestants the Douay Version. The Romanist must become evangelical before he can fully apprehend the free spirit of the gospel as revealed in the New Testament.
There is, however, a gradual progress in translation, which goes hand in hand with the progress of the understanding of the Bible. Jerome’s Vulgate is an advance upon the Itala, both in accuracy and Latinity; the Protestant Versions of the sixteenth century are an advance upon the Vulgate, in spirit and in idiomatic reproduction; the revisions of the nineteenth century are an advance upon the versions of the sixteenth, in philological and historical accuracy and consistency. A future generation will make a still nearer approach to the original text in its purity and integrity. If the Holy Spirit of God shall raise the Church to a higher plane of faith and love, and melt the antagonisms of human creeds into the one creed of Christ, then, and not before then, may we expect perfect versions of the oracles of God.
the official revision of the luther-bible, and the anglo-
american revision of the authorized english bible.
An official revision of Luther’s version was inaugurated, after long previous agitation and discussion, by the "Eisenach German Evangelical Church Conference," in 1863, and published under the title: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments nach der deutschen Uebersetzung D. Martin Luthers. Halle (Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses), 1883. It is called the Probebibel. The revised New Testament had been published several years before, and is printed by Dr. O. von Gebhardt together with the Greek text, in his Novum Testamentum Graece et Germanice, Leipzig, 1881.
The revision was prepared with extraordinary care, but in an ultra-conservative spirit, by a number of distinguished biblical scholars appointed by the ecclesiastical authorities of the German governments, eleven for the New Testament (Nitzsch, Twesten, Beyschlag, Riehm, Ahlfeld, Brückner, Meyer, Niemann, Fronmüller, Schröder, Köstlin), and over twenty for the Old Testament, including some who had also served in the New Testament company (Tholuck, Schlottmann, Riehm, Dillmann, Kleinert, Delitzsch, Bertheau, Düsterdieck, Kamphausen, Baur of Leipzig, Ahlfeld, Thenius, Kübel, Kapff, Schröder, Diestel, Grimm, Kühn, Hoffmann, Clausen, Grill). Dorner, Mönckeberg, and Karl Frommann took a very active part as counsellors and promoters, the last (an eminent Germanist and Luther-scholar, but with strong archaic tastes) in the linguistic portion.
The work was very severely criticised by opposite schools for changing too much or too little, and was recommitted by the Eisenach Conference of 1886 for final action. The history of this revision is told in the preface and Introduction to the Probebibel, and in Grimm’s Geschichte der luth. Bibelübersetzung, Jena, 1884, pp. 48–76.
The Anglo-American revision of the Authorized English Version of 1611 was set in motion by the Convocation of Canterbury, and carried out in fifteen years, between 1870 and 1885, by two committees,—one in England and one in the United States (each divided into two companies, -one for the Old Testament, one for the New, and each consisting of scholars of various Protestant denominations). Dr. Dorner, on his visit to America in 1873, desired to bring about a regular co-operation of the two revision movements, but it was found impracticable, and confined to private correspondence.
The two revisions are similar in spirit and aim; and as far as they run parallel, they agree in most of the improvements. Both aim to replace the old version in public and private use; but both depend for ultimate success on the verdict of the churches for which they were prepared. They passed through the same purgatory of hostile criticism both from conservative and progressive quarters. They mark a great progress of biblical scholarship, and the immense labor bestowed upon them can never be lost. The difference of the two arises from the difference of the two originals on which they are based, and its relation to the community.
The authorized German and English versions are equally idiomatic, classical, and popular; but the German is personal, and inseparable from the overawing influence of Luther, which forbids radical changes. The English is impersonal, and embodies the labors of three generations of biblical scholars from Tyndale to the forty-seven revisers of King James,—a circumstance which is favorable to new improvements in the same line. In Germany, where theology is cultivated as a science for a class, the interest in revision is confined to scholars; and German scholars, however independent and bold in theory, are very conservative and timid in practical questions. In England and America, where theology moves in close contact with the life of the churches, revision challenges the attention of the laity which claims the fruits of theological progress.
Hence the Anglo-American revision is much more thorough and complete. It embodies the results of the latest critical and exegetical learning. It involves a reconstruction of the original text, which the German Revision leaves almost untouched, as if all the pains-taking labors of critics since the days of Bengel and Griesbach down to Lachmann and Tischendorf (not to speak of the equally important labors of English scholars from Mill and Bentley to Westcott and Hort) had been in vain.
As to translation, the English Revision removes not only misleading errors, but corrects the far more numerous inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the minor details of grammar and vocabulary; while the German Revision is confined to the correction of acknowledged mistranslations. The German Revision of the New Testament numbers only about two hundred changes, the Anglo-American thirty-six thousand. The revised German New Testament is widely circulated; but of the provisional Probebibel, which embraces both Testaments, only five thousand copies were printed and sold by the Canstein Bibelanstalt at Halle (as I learned there from Dr. Kramer, July, 1886). Of the revised English New Testament, a million copies were ordered from the Oxford University Press before publication, and three million copies were sold in less than a year (1881). The text was telegraphed from New York to Chicago in advance of the arrival of the book. Over thirty reprints appeared in the United States. The Revised Old Testament excited less interest, but tens of thousands of copies were sold on the day of publication (1885), and several American editions were issued. The Bible, after all, is the most popular book In the world, and constantly increasing in power and influence, especially with the English-speaking race. (For particulars on the English Revision, see Schaff’s Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version, New York, 3d ed., 1888, pp. 404 sqq., and the extensive Revision literature, pp. 371 sqq.)
§ 64. Melanchthon’s Theology.
See Literature in § 38, pp. 182 sq. The 21st vol. of the "Corpus Reformatorum" (1106 fol. pages) is devoted to the various editions of Melanchthon’s Loci Theologici, and gives bibliographical lists (fol. 59 sqq.; 561 sqq.), and also an earlier outline from an unpublished MS. Comp. Carl Schmidt, Phil. Mel., pp. 64–75; and on Melanchthon’s doctrinal changes, Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1. 261 sqq.
While Luther translated the New Testament on the Wartburg, Melanchthon prepared the first system of Protestant theology at Wittenberg. Both drew from the same fountain, and labored for the same end, but in different ways. Luther built up the Reformation among the people in the German tongue; Melanchthon gave it methodical shape for scholars by his Latin writings. The former worked in the quarries, and cut the rough blocks of granite; the latter constructed the blocks into a habitable building. Luther expressed a modest self-estimate, and a high estimate of his friend, when he said that his superiority was more "in the rhetorical way," while Melanchthon was "a better logician and reasoner."
Melanchthon finished his "Theological Common-Places or Ground-Thoughts (Loci Communes or Loci Theologici), in April, 1521, and sent the proof-sheets to Luther on the Wartburg. They appeared for the first time before the Close of that year.473
This book marks an epoch in the history of theology. It grew out of exegetical lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, the Magna Charta of the evangelical system. It is an exposition of the leading doctrines of sin and grace, repentance and salvation. It is clear, fresh, thoroughly biblical, and practical. Its main object is to show that man cannot be saved by works of the law or by his own merits, but only by the free grace of God in Christ as revealed in the gospel. It presents the living soul of divinity, in striking contrast to the dry bones of degenerate scholasticism with its endless theses, antitheses, definitions, divisions, and subdivisions.
The first edition was written in the interest of practical Christianity rather than scientific theology. It is meagre in the range of topics, and defective in execution. It is confined to anthropology and soteriology, and barely mentions the metaphysical doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation, as transcendent mysteries to be adored rather than curiously discussed. It has a polemical hearing against the Romanists, in view of the recent condemnation of Luther by the Sorbonne. It also contains some crude and extreme opinions which the author afterwards abandoned. Altogether in its first shape it was an unripe production, though most remarkable if we consider the youth of the author, who was then only twenty-four years of age.
Melanchthon shared at first Luther’s antipathy to scholastic theology; but he learned to distinguish between pure and legitimate scholasticism and a barren formalism, as also between the Aristotelian philosophy itself and the skeleton of it which was worshiped as an idol in the universities at that time. He knew especially the value of Aristotle’s ethics, wrote a commentary on the same (1529), and made important original contributions to the science of Christian ethics in his Philosophiae Moralis Epitome (1535).474
Under his improving hand, the Loci assumed in subsequent editions the proportions of a full, mature, and well-proportioned system, stated in calm, clear, dignified language, freed from polemics against the Sorbonne and contemptuous flings at the schoolmen and Fathers. He embraced in twenty-four chapters all the usual topics from God and the creation to the resurrection of the body, with a concluding chapter on Christian liberty. He approached the scholastic method, and even ventured, in opposition to the Anti-Trinitarians, on a new speculative proof of the Holy Trinity from psychological analogies. He never forsakes the scriptural basis, but occasionally quotes also the Fathers to show their supposed or real agreement with evangelical doctrines.
Melanchthon’s theology, like that of Luther, grew from step to step in the heat of controversy. Calvin’s Institutes came finished from his brain, like Minerva out of the head of Jupiter.
The Loci prepared the way for the Augsburg Confession (1530), in which Melanchthon gave to the leading doctrines official shape and symbolical authority for the Lutheran Church. But he did not stop there, and passed through several changes, which we must anticipate in order to form a proper estimate of that work.
The editions of his theological manual are divided into three classes: 1, those from 1521 to 1535; 2, those from 1535 to 1544; 3, those from 1544 to 1559. The edition of 1535 (dedicated to King Henry VIII. of England, and translated into German by Justus Jonas) was a thorough revision. This and the editions which followed embody, besides additions in matter and improvements in style, important modifications of his views on predestination and free will, on the real presence, and on justification by faith. He gave up necessitarianism for synergism, the corporeal presence in the eucharist for a spiritual real presence, and solifidianism for the necessity of good works. In the first and third article he made an approach to the Roman-Catholic system, in the second to Calvinism.