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§ 63. A Critical Estimate of Luther’s Version.
Luther’s version of the Bible is a wonderful monument of genius, learning, and piety, and may be regarded in a secondary sense as inspired. It was, from beginning to end, a labor of love and enthusiasm. While publishers and printers made fortunes, Luther never received or asked a copper for this greatest work of his life.439439 He could say with perfect truth: "Ich habe meine Ehre nicht gemeint, auch keinen Heller dafür genomen, sondern habe es zu Ehren gethan den lieben Christen und zu Ehren einem, der droben sitzt."
We must judge it from the times. A German translation from the original languages was a work of colossal magnitude if we consider the absence of good grammars, dictionaries, and concordances, the crude state of Greek and Hebrew scholarship, and of the German language, in the sixteenth century. Luther wrote to Amsdorf, Jan. 13, 1522, that he had undertaken a task beyond his power, that he now understood why no one had attempted it before in his own name, and that he would not venture on the Old Testament without the aid of his friends.440440 "Interim Biblia transferam, quanquam onus susceperim supra vires. Video nunc, quid sit interpretari, et cur hactenus a nullo sit attentatum, qui proficeretur nomen suum. [This implies his knowledge of older German translations which are anonymous.] Vetus Testamentum non potero attingere, nisi vobis praesentibus et cooperantibus." He felt especially how difficult it was to make Job and the Hebrew prophets speak in barbarous German.441441 "Ach Gott! wie ein gross und verdriesslich Werk ist es, die hebräischen Schreiber zu zwingen deutsch zu reden; wie sträuben sie sich und wollen ihre hebräische Art gar nicht verlassen und dem groben Deutschen nachfolgen, gleich als wenn eine Nachtigall ... sollte ihre liebliche Melodei verlassen und dem Kukuk nachsingen." Walch, XVI. 508. Comp. his letter to Spalatin about the difficulties in Job, Feb. 23, 1524, in De Wette, II. 486. He jocosely remarked that Job would have become more impatient at the blunders of his translators than at the long speeches of his "miserable comforters."
As regards the text, it was in an unsettled condition. The science of textual criticism was not yet born, and the materials for it were not yet collected from the manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic quotations. Luther had to use the first printed editions. He had no access to manuscripts, the most important of which were not even discovered or made available before the middle of the nineteenth century. Biblical geography and archaeology were in their infancy, and many names and phrases could not be understood at the time.
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 1494.442442 Luther’s copy of the Hebrew
Bible is preserved in the Royal Library at Berlin. The editio
princeps of the whole Hebrew Bible appeared 1488 (Soncino: Abraham
ben Chayin de’ Tintori). A copy in possession of Dr.
Ginsburg in England. See Stevens, l.c. p. 60. Portions had been
He used also the Septuagint, the Vulgate of Jerome443443 A copy of the Lyons ed. of 1519, and one of the
Basel ed. of 1509, now in possession of the Brandenburg Provincial
Museum at Berlin. Grimm, Gesch. d. luther.
Bibelübers., p. 8, note. (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.444444 Lyra acquired by his Postillae perpetuae in
V. et N. Test. (first published in Rome, 1472, in 5 vols. fol.,
again at Venice, 1540) the title Doctor planus et utilis. His
influence on Luther is expressed in the well-known
"Si Lyra non lyrasset,
Lutherus non saltasset."
The basis for the New Testament was the second edition of Erasmus, published at Basel in Switzerland in 1519.445445 Greek and Latin, 2 vols. folio. The first part contains Preface, Dedication to Pope Leo X., and the Ratio seu Compendium verae Theologiae per Erasmum Roterodamum (120 pages); the second part, the Greek Text, with a Latin version in parallel columns, with brief introductions to the several books (565 pages). At the end is a Latin letter of Frobenius, the publisher, dated "Nonis Fehr. Anno M.D.XIX." A copy in the Union Theol. Seminary, New York. - Some say that Luther made use of Gerbel’s reprint of Erasmus, 1521. But Dr. Reuss of Strassburg, who has the largest collection and best knowledge of Greek Testaments, denies this. Gesch. der h. Schriften des N. T., 5th ed., II. 211, note. 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.446446 See Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, etc., New York, 3d ed., 1888, pp. 229 sqq., and the facsimile of the Erasmian ed. on p. 532 sq. Tyndale’s English version was likewise made from Erasmus. The second edition, though much more correct than the first ("multo diligentius recognitum, emendatum," etc.), is disfigured by a large -number of typographical errors.447447 O. von Gebhardt, in his Novum Test. Graece et Germanice, Preface, p. xvi., says of the second ed. of Erasmus: "Die Zahl der Druckfehler ist so gross, dass ein vollständiges Verzeichniss derselben Seiten füllen würde." Comp. Scrivener, Introd. to the Criticism of the N. T., 3d ed. (1883), p. 432 sq. 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.448448 It first appeared in the Frankfort edition of Luther’s Bible, 1574. The revised Luther-Bible of 1883 strangely retains the passage, but in small type and in brackets, with the note that it was wanting in Luther’s editions. The Probebibel departs only in a few places from the Erasmian text as followed by Luther: viz., Acts 12:25; Heb. 10:34; 1 John 2:23; Rev. 11:2. In this respect the German revision is far behind the Anglo-American revision of 1881, which corrects the Textus Receptus In about five thousand places.
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.449449 He says in his Tischreden (Erl. ed., vol. lxii. 313): "Ich habe keine gewisse, sonderliche eigene Sprache im Deutschen [i.e., no special dialect], sondern brauche der gemeinen deutschen Sprache, dass mich Oberländer und Niederländer verstehen mögen. Ich rede nach der sächsischen Canzelei, welcher nachfolgen alle Fürsten und Könige in Deutschland. Alle Beichstädte, Fürstenhöfe schreiben nach der sächsischen und unseres Fürsten Canzelei, darumb ists auch die gemeinste deutsche Sprache. Kaiser Maximilian und Kurfürst Friedrich, Herzog zu Sachsen, etc., haben im römischen Reich die deutschen Sprachen [dialects] also in eine gewisse Sprache gezogen." Formerly the Latin was the diplomatic language in Germany. Louis the Bavarian introduced the German in 1330. The founder of the diplomatic German of Saxony was Elector Ernst, the father of Elector Friedrich. See Wilibald Grimm, Gesch. der luth. Bibelübersetzung (Jena, 1884), p. 24 sqq. 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,450450 The same word silverling occurs once in the English version, Isa. 7:23, and is retained in the R. V. of 1885. The German Probebibel retains it in this and other passages, as Gen. 20:16; Judg. 9:4, etc. 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.451451 See Grimm, Luther’s Uebersetzung der Apocryphen, in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1883, pp. 376-400. He judges that Luther’s version of Ecclesiasticus (Jesus Sirach) is by no means a faithful translation, but a model of a free and happy reproduction from a combination of the Greek and Latin texts. 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.452452 "Luther’s Sprache," says Jakob Grimm, In the Preface to his German Grammar, "muss ihrer edeln, fast wunderbaren Reinheit, auch ihres gewaltigen Einflusses halber für Kern und Grundlage der neuhochdeutschen Sprachniedersetzung gehalten werden, wovon bis auf den heutigen Tag nur sehr unbedeutend, meistens zum Schaden der Kraft und des Ausdrucks, abgewichen wordenist. Man darf das Neuhochdeutsche in der That als den protestantischen Dialekt bezeichnen, dessen freiheitathmende Natur längst schon, ihnen unbewusst, Dichter und Schriftsteller des katholischen Glaubens überwältigte. Unsere Sprache ist nach dem unaufhaltsamen Laufe der Dinge in Lautverhältnissen und Formen gesunken; was aber ihren Geist und Leib genährt, verjüngt, was endlich Blüten neuer Poesie getrieben hat, verdanken wir keinem mehr als Luthern." Comp. Wetzel, Die Sprache Luthers in seiner Bibel, Stuttgart, 1850. Heinrich Rückert, Geschichte der neu-hochdeutschen Schriftsprache, II. 15-175. Opitz, Ueber die Sprache Luthers, Halle, 1869. Dietz, Wörterbuch zu Luther’s deutschen Schriften, Leipzig, 1870 sqq. Lehmann, Luthers Sprache in seiner Uebersetzung des N. T., Halle, 1873.
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.453453 Annotationes des hochgel. und christl. doctors Hieronymi Emsers über Luthers neuw Testament, 1523. I have before me an edition of Freiburg-i.-B., 1535 (140 pages). Emser charges Luther with a thousand grammatical and fourteen hundred heretical errors. He suspects (p. 14) that he had before him "ein sonderlich Wickleffisch oder Hussisch Exemplar." He does not say whether he means a copy of the Latin Vulgate or the older German version. He finds (p. 17) four errors in Luther’s version of the Lord’s Prayer: 1, that he turned Vater unser into Unser Vater, against the German custom for a thousand years (but in his Shorter Catechism he retained the old form, and the Lutherans adhere to it to this day); 2, that he omitted der du bist; 3, that he changed the panis supersubstantialis (überselbständig Brot!) into panis quotidianus (täglich Brot); 4, that he added the doxology, which is not in the Vulgate. In our days, one of the chief objections against the English Revision is the omission of the doxology. 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."454454 Das gantz New Testament: So durch den Hochgelerten L. Hieronymum Emser seligen verteutscht, unter des Durchlauchten Hochgebornen Fürsten und Herren Georgen Hertzogen zu Sachsen, etc., ausgegangen ist. Leipzig, 1528. The first edition appeared before Emser’s death, which occurred Nov. 8, 1527. I find in the Union Seminary four octavo copies of his N. T., dated Coln, 1528 (355 pp.), Leipzig, 1529 (416 pp.), Freiburg-i.-B. 1535 (406 pp.), Cöln, 1568 (879 pp.), and a copy of a fol. ed., Cologne, 1529 (227 pp.), all with illustrations and marginal notes against Luther. On the concluding page, it is stated that 607 errors of Luther’s are noted and corrected. The Cologne ed. of 1529 indicates, on the titlepage, that Luther arbitrarily changed the text according to the Hussite copy ("wie Martinus Luther dem rechten Text, dem huschischen Exemplar nach, seins gefallens ab und zugethan und verendert hab"). Most editions contain a Preface of Duke George of Saxony, in which he charges Luther with rebellion against all ecclesiastical and secular authority, and identifies him with the beast of the Apocalypse, Rev. 13 ("dass sein Mund wol genannt werden mag der Mund der Bestie von welcher Johannes schreibet in seiner Offenbarung am dreizehnten").
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.455455 Dr. Döllinger, in his Reformation, vol. III. 139 sqq., 156 sqq., goes into an elaborate proof. In his Luther, eine Skizze (Freiburg-i. -B., 1851), p. 26, he calls Luther’s version "ein Meisterstück in sprachlicher Hinsicht, aber seinem Lehrbegriffe gemäss eingerichtet, und daher in vielen Stellen absichtlich unrichtig und sinnentstellend." So also Cardinal Hergenröther (Lehrbuch der allg. Kirchengesch., vol. III. 40, third ed. of 1886): "Die ganze Uebersetzung war ganz nach Luthers System zugerichtet, auf Verbreitung seiner Rechtfertigungslehre berechnet, oft durch willkührliche Entstellungen und Einschaltungen seinen Lehren angepasst."
The same objection has been raised against the Authorized English Version.456456 By older and more recent Romanists, as Ward, Errata of the Protestant Bible, Dublin, 1810. Trench considers the main objections in his book on the Authorized Version and Revision, pp. 165 sqq. (in the Harper ed. of 1873). The chief passages objected to by Romanists are Heb. 13:4 (where the E. V. translates "Marriage is honorable in all" for "Let marriage be honorable among all"); 1 Cor. 11:27 ("and" for "or"); Gal. 5:6 ("faith which worketh by love;" which is correct according to the prevailing sense of ἐνεργεῖσθαι, and corresponds to the Vulgate operatur, against the Roman view of the passive sense, "wrought by love," in conformity with the doctrine of fides formata), and the rendering of εἰδωλον by image, instead of idol. The E. V. has also been charged with a Calvinistic bias from its connection with Beza’s Greek text and Latin notes.
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.457457 But he omitted allein in Gal. 2:16, where it might be just as well justified, and where the pre-Lutheran Bible reads "nur durch den Glauben." However correct in substance and as an inference, the insertion has no business in the text as a translation. See Meyer on Rom. 3:28, 5th ed., and Weiss, 6th ed. (1881), also my annotations to Lange on Romans (p. 136). 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,458458 In his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, in the Erl.-Frkf. ed., vol. LXV., p. 107 sqq. It was published in September, 1530, with special reference to Emser, whom he does not name, but calls "the scribbler from Dresden" ("der dresdener Sudler"). "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."459459 The Revisers of the Probebibel retained the interpolated allein in Rom. 8:28, the nur in 4:15, and the incorrect rendering in 3:25,26,—a striking proof of Luther’s overpowering influence even over conscientious critical scholars in Germany. Dr. Grimm, the lexicographer (l.c., p. 48), unjustly censures Meyer and Stier for omitting the word allein. I have an old copy of Luther’s Testament, without titlepage, before me, where the word allein is printed in larger type with a marginal finger pointing to it.
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.460460 The Prefaces are collected in the 7th volume of Bindseil’s edition of the Luther Bible, and in the 63d volume of the Erlangen ed. of Luther’s works. The most important is his preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and his most objectionable that to the Epistle of James. 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).461461 He adds in the marginal note on Rev. 17: "Hie zeiget er die römische Kirche in ihrer Gestalt und Wesen, die verdammt soll werden." His friend Cranach, in the accompanying picture in the first ed., and also in the ed. of 1535, represents the harlot as riding on a dragon with a triple crown on her head. 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. 3:28.462462 Biblia beider Allt unnd Newen Testamenten, fleissig, treulich vn Christlich nach alter inn Christlicher Kirchen gehabter Translation, mit Ausslegung etlicher dunckeler ort und besserung vieler verrückter wort und sprüch ... Durch D. Johan Dietenberger, new verdeutscht. Gott zu ewiger ehre unnd wolfarth seiner heil. Christlichen Kirchen … Meynz, 1534, fol. From a copy in the Union Seminary (Van Ess library). Well printed and illustrated. Dr. Eck’s German Bible has few notes, but a strongly anti-Protestant preface.463463 I have before me three copies of as many folio editions of Eck’s Bible, 1537, 1550, and 1558, bearing the title: Bibel Alt und New Testament, nach dem Text in der heiligen Kirchen gebraucht, durch Doctor Johan Ecken, mit fleiss, auf hochteutsch verdolmetscht, etc. They were printed at Ingolstadt, and agree in the number of pages (1035), and vary only in the date of publication. They contain in an appendix the Prayer of Manasseh, the Third Book of Maccabees, and the spurious Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans.
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.464464 There is an Italian proverb that translators are traitors (Traduttori traditori). Jerome speaks of versiones which are eversiones. As Trench says, there are in every translation "unavoidable losses inherent in the nature of the task, in the relations of one language to the other, in the lack of accurate correlations between them, in the different schemes of their construction." 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.465465 Hence the stiffness of literalism and the abundance of Latinisms in the Rhemish Version of the N. T. (first published in 1582, second ed. 1600, third ed. at Douay, 1621), such as "supersubstantial bread" for daily or needful bread (Jerome introduced supersubstantialis for the difficult ἐπιούσιος in the Lord’s Prayer, Matt. 6:11, but retained quotidianus in Luke), transmigration of Babylon, impudicity, coinquinations, postulations, agnition, cogitation, prepuce, pasche, exinanite, contristate, domesticals, exemplars of the coelestials, etc. Some of them have been silently removed in modern editions. The notes of the older editions abound in fulminations against heretics. 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.)
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