I wish continue to blog about the history of the New Testament and continue with Luther’s German translation. Luther was a radical for his own time. His views of the bible and of theology was reason enough for the Roman Catholic Church’s high authorities to want to take his life. In 1415, the Church burned John Huss alive at the stake for his heresy. Thank God this is not the case today. Luther began translating parts of the scriptures in 1517. In 1521, Luther was kidnapped by five armed riders while returning to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms. They kidnapped him and brought him to Wartburg Castle to keep him safe from harm. For 10 months, from May 4, 1521 to March 1, 1522, Luther’s hideout was Wartburg Castle. (You have to see the movie or if you prefer, read the book). This was the place where he would translate the New Testament into German. No one knew where he was in hiding and when he did leave the castle, he grew a beard, dressed up as a knight and called himself “Knight George” (Junker Jorge).
Luther wanted to make the Word of God available to all of the German people so he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into easy‑to‑understand German. He completed the translation from Erasmus’ text which was a special new edition of the New Testament in Greek with a Latin translation. It was said that he completed the New Testament in three months. Three months is not much time to translate an entire New Testament. He must have had to work extremely hard.
There were only 5,000 copies of the first edition of the New Testament (printed in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter). Each copy costs no less than 1 ½ gulden (I am not sure what this would be equivalent to in today’s dollars). Luther did not make a financial profit from the translation. To make a profit would have been unthinkable for Luther.
This bible became the people’s bible and it helped shape the common German language. This bible translated into the contemporary language of the common people did a great thing for the German language because it unified the various German dialects into one. It was used as the norm for the next four hundred years (much like the King James Version was in the English-speaking world). I think it would be safe to assume that today’s translations in modern languages around the world will also unify hundreds of dialects around the world.
After completing the New Testament, he continued translating the Old Testament. His colleagues at the University assisted him in this endeavor. By 1534 he completed the translationf the entire German Bible.