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Luther’s Preface to the Old Testament from his German Bible


I’m posting this for anyone who may see it from St. Peter or my acquaintance who may be interested in reading what Luther said about the Old Testament–as we continue to inch along through Genesis in bible class–or who generally may have questions about how Christians should understand the Old Testament and its application to us now.

In my opinion, every Christian, whether or not they agree with Luther, benefits from reading him, in the same way that every Christian benefits from reading St. Augustine or Gregory the Great or Thomas Aquinas or Calvin.  You may not agree with him, but particularly protestants of all varieties can only benefit by refamiliarizing themselves with one of their theological fathers.

This translation is public domain.  At least, I sincerely hope it is.

INTRODUCTION

Luther’s work on the translation of the Bible into German extended over many years. His translation of the New Testament was begun in 1521, during his residence at the Wartburg; it was published in September, 1522.

Before the New Testament came off the press, he was already at work upon the Old Testament. November 2, 1522, he wrote to Spalatin, “In translating the Old Testament, I am only at Leviticus…I have decided to shut myself up at home and hasten the work, so that Moses may be in press by January. We shall publish this separately, then the historical books, and finally the prophets, for the size and cost of the books make it necessary for us to divide them and publish them a little at a time.”

This is the procedure that was actually followed. The first part of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, was published in 1523. It was followed closely by the second part, which contained the remainder of the historical books, and which was completed before December 4th . At that time he was at work on the third part. This section, which comprised Job, the Psalter, and the Books of Solomon, appeared in 1524. The work on the prophetical books proceeded very slowly. It was not completed until 1532, though single books were published separately before that time, — Isaiah in 1528, Daniel in 1530. After the publication of the prophets, all the books were collected into one volume, and Luther’s complete Bible appeared in 1534.

Meanwhile, Luther was continually revising the work that was already in print. The second edition of the New Testament, issued three months after the first (December, 1522) contained many alterations in the text, as did the second edition of the Psalter in 1531. In this work of revision, as in the original translation, Luther had the assistance of his Wittenberg colleagues, — Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Jonas, Cruciger, Aurogallus, and George Roerer. Luther called them his Sanhedrim. Their weekly meetings discussed the passages that seemed to need correction or amendment. The changes which Luther approved were incorporated in the editions after 1534. The most important of these was that of 1541. The last edition which Luther himself supervised appeared in 1545.

As an aid to the understanding of his Bible, Luther provided most of the books with prefaces. In most cases they were very brief and consisted of little more than summaries of contents; in a few instances they were more extensive, and discussed questions of the nature of the books, of date, authorship, and doctrine. Because of the importance of some of these prefaces, it has seemed wise to include all of them in this edition, with the exception of those to the Apocrypha, which are interesting, but not especially important.

Literature. There is a large literature on Luther’s Bible translation. The best summary of it is that of Nestle, in the Realencyk 3:70 ff. In the Weimar Ed. there have been published, to date, five volumes of Luther’s Bible, four of which deal with the German Bible. There are extensive bibliographies. The work is, however, not yet complete.

The prefaces are collected in Erlangen Ed. 63:7 ff., and St. Louis Ed. 14:2 ff.

CHARLES M. JACOBS.

MOUNT AIRY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

I. INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT F412 1545 (1523)

There are some who have a small opinion of the Old Testament, thinking of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only, and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times. They think that they have enough in the New Testament and pretend to seek in the Old Testament only a spiritual sense. Origen, Jerome, and many persons of high standing have held this view, but Christ says, “Search in the Scriptures, for they give testimony of me,” and St. Paul bids Timothy continue in the reading of the Scriptures, and declares, in Romans 1:2, that the Gospel was promised by God in the Scriptures, and in 1 Corinthians 15:3, he says that Christ came of the seed of David, died, and rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures; and St. Peter, too, points us back, more than once, to the Scriptures.

They do this in order to teach us that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised, but to be read, because they themselves base the New Testament upon them, and prove it by them, and appeal to them, as St. Luke writes, in Acts 17:11, saying that they at Thessalonica searched the Scriptures daily to discover whether it agreed with what Paul taught. The ground and proof of the New Testament are surely not to be despised, and therefore the Old Testament is to be highly regarded. And what is the New Testament except an open preaching and proclamation of Christ, appointed by the sayings of the Old Testament and fulfilled by Christ?

But in order that those who know no better may have incentive and instruction for reading the Old Testament, I have prepared this introduction, with whatever ability God has given me. I beg and faithfully warn every pious Christian not to stumble at the simplicity of the language and the stories that will often meet him there. He should not doubt that however simple they may seem, these are the very words, works, judgments, and deeds of the high majesty, power, and wisdom of God; for this is Scripture, and it makes fools of all the wise and prudent, and stands open to the small and foolish, as Christ says, in Matthew 11:25.

Therefore let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines, which can never be worked out, so that you may find the wisdom of God that He lays before you in such foolish and simple guise, in order that He may quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds.

Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.

Know, then, that the Old Testament is a book of laws, which teaches what men are to do and not to do, and gives, besides, examples and stories of how these laws are kept or broken; just as the New Testament is a Gospel-book, or book of grace, and teaches where one is to get the power to fulfill the law. But in the New Testament there are given, along with the teaching about grace, many other teachings that are laws and commandments for the ruling of the flesh, since in this life the spirit is not perfected and grace alone cannot rule. Just so in the Old Testament there are, beside the laws, certain promises and offers of grace, by which the holy fathers and prophets, under the law, were kept, like us, under the faith of Christ.

Nevertheless, just as the peculiar and chief teaching of the New Testament is the proclamation of grace and peace in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins; so the peculiar and chief teaching of the Old Testament is the teaching of laws, the showing of sin, and the furtherance of good. Know that this is what you have to expect in the Old Testament.

We come, first, to the books of Moses; he teaches in his first book how all creatures were made, and (as the chief cause for his writing) whence sin came, and death, namely, by Adam’s fall, from the devil’s wickedness. But immediately thereafter, before Moses gets to the law, he teaches whence the help is to come, by which sin and death are to be driven out; namely, not by the law or men’s own works (since there was no law as yet), but by “the seed of the woman,” Christ, promised to Adam and Abraham. Thus from the beginning of the Scriptures, and throughout them all, faith is praised above all works and laws and merits. The first book of Moses, therefore, is made up almost entirely of illustrations of faith and unbelief, and the fruits that faith and unbelief bear, and is almost a Gospel-book.

Afterward, in the second book, when the world was now: full, and was sunk in blindness, so that men scarcely knew any longer what sin was or where death came from, God brings Moses forward with the law and takes up a special people, in order to enlighten the world again by them, and by the law to reveal sin anew. Thus He organizes this people with all kinds of laws, and separates it from all other peoples, has them build a tabernacle and begins a form of worship, appoints princes and officers, and provides His people splendidly with both laws and men, to rule them in the body before the world, and in the spirit before God.

The special topic of the third book is the appointment of the priesthood, with the statutes and laws according to which the priests are to act in teaching the people. There we see that a priestly office is instituted only because of sin, to proclaim sin to the people and make atonement before God. Thus all of its work is to deal with sin and sinners. Therefore no temporal wealth is given to the priests and they are neither commanded nor permitted to rule men’s bodies, but the only work that is assigned them is to care for the people who are in sin.

In the fourth book, after the laws have been given, the princes and priests instituted, the tabernacle and the form of worship set up, and everything that pertains to a people of God made ready, then the work and the practice of all this begins, and a test is made of the way that such an order of things will go and what will happen under it. That is why this book says so much about the disobedience of the people and the plagues that came upon them, and some of the laws are interpreted and the number of the laws is increased. For that is the way it always goes; laws are quickly given, but when they are to go into effect and be enforced, they meet with nothing but hindrance, and nothing will go as the law demands. This book is a notable example of how there is nothing at all in making people righteous with laws, but, as St. Paul says, laws cause only sin and wrath.

In the fifth book, after the people have keen punished because of their sins, and God has enticed them a little with grace, in order that by His kindness in giving them the two kingdoms they might be moved to keep His law with pleasure and love, — then Moses repeats the whole law, with the story of all that has happened to them (except what concerns the priesthood), and explains anew everything that belongs either to the bodily or to the spiritual government of a people. Thus Moses, as a perfect lawgiver, fulfilled all the duties of his office; he not only gave the law, but was there when men were to fulfill it, and when things went wrong, he explained it and re-established it. But this explanation in the fifth book really contains nothing else than faith toward God and love to one’s neighbor; for all God’s laws come to that. Therefore, down to the twentieth chapter, Moses, in his explanation of the law, guards against everything that may destroy faith in God, and from there to the end of the book, against everything that hinders love.

It is to be observed, in the first place, that Moses provides so exactly for the organization of the people under laws as to leave human reason no room to choose a single work of its own, or to invent its own form of worship; for he not only teaches fear, love, and trust toward God, but also provides so many ways of outward worship, — sacrifices, thanksgivings, fasts, mortifications, etc., — that no one needs to choose anything else.

Moreover he gives instructions for planting and tilling and marrying and fighting and ruling children, servants, and households, buying and selling, borrowing and repaying, and everything that one can do, either outwardly or inwardly. It goes so far that some of the prescriptions are to be regarded as foolish and useless.

Why, dear sir, does God do that? In the end, because He has taken this people to be His own and has willed to be their God; therefore He would so rule them that all their doings may surely be right in His eyes. For if anyone does anything for which God’s Word has not first given warrant, it counts for nothing before God and is labor lost, for in the Fifth Book in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 12:32, He forbids any addition to His laws, and in Deuteronomy 12:8 He says that they shall not do what seems to them right. The Psalter, too, and all the prophets lament that the people are doing good works that they themselves have chosen and that were not commanded by God. He cannot and will not suffer those who are His to undertake to do anything that He has not commanded, no matter how good it may be; for obedience, which depends on God’s Word, is of all works the noblest and best.

Since this life, however, cannot be without external forms of worship, He put before them all these forms and included them in His commandment, so that if they must or would do God any outward service, they might take one of these, and not some form of service that they themselves had invented. So they could be sure and certain that their work was done in obedience to God and His Word. Thus they are prevented on every hand from following their own reason and free will, in doing good and living aright; and yet room, place, time, person, work, and form are so determined and prescribed, that they cannot complain that they must follow the example of alien worship.

In the second place, it is to be noted that the laws are of three kinds. Some speak only of temporal things, as do our imperial laws. These are established by God chiefly because of the wicked, that they may not do worse things. Such laws are for prevention rather than for instruction; f414 as when Moses commands to dismiss a wife with a letter of separation, or that a husband shall bring an “offering of jealousy” for his wife, and may take other wives besides.

All these are temporal laws. — There are some, however, that teach the external worship of God, as was said above.

Over and above these are the laws about faith and love, so that all other laws must and ought to be measured by the laws of faith and love; that is to say, they are to be kept where their observance does not conflict with faith and love; but where they conflict with faith and love, they are entirely void.

Therefore we read that David did not kill the murderer Joab, though he had twice deserved death; and in 2 Samuel 14:11 he promises the woman of Tekoa that her son shall not die, though he has slain his brother; Absalom, too, he did not kill. Moreover, David himself ate of the holy bread of the priests, and Tamar thought the king might give her in marriage to her stepbrother, Amnon. From these and similar stories one sees plainly that the kings, priests, and heads of the people often transgressed the laws boldly, at the demand of faith and love, and therefore that faith and love are always to be mistresses of the law and to have all laws in their power. For since all laws aim at faith and love, none of them can be valid, or be a law, if it conflicts with faith and love.

Even to the present day, then, the Jews are greatly in error when they hold so strictly and so hard to some of the laws of Moses. They would rather let love and peace be destroyed than eat or drink with us, or do things of that kind. They do not see the real meaning of the law. This understanding of it is necessary to all who live under laws, and not to the Jews only; for Christ says, in Matthew 12:11, that one might break the Sabbath if an ox had fallen into a pit, and might help it out, though that would be only a temporal necessity and a temporal injury; how much more then ought one boldly break all kinds of laws when bodily necessity demands it, provided nothing is done against faith and love, as Christ says that David did when he ate the holy bread.

But why does Moses mix up his laws in such a disorderly way? Why does he not put the temporal laws together in one group and the spiritual in another, and the laws of faith and love in still another? Moreover, he sometimes repeats a law so often and uses certain words so many times that it becomes tedious to read it or listen to it. The answer is that Moses writes as the case demands, so that his book is a picture and illustration of government and life. For this is what happens when things are moving, — now this work has to be done and now that, and no man can so arrange his life (if he is to act in a godly way) that this day he uses only spiritual laws and that day only temporal, but God disposes the laws as He sets the stars in the heavens and the flowers in the fields, and a man must be ready every hour for anything, and do the first thing that comes to his hand. The books of Moses are mixed up just this way.

That he is so insistent and often repeats the same thing shows the nature of his office; for one who is to rule a people with laws must always hold on, always insist, and be patient with the people, as with asses. No work of law is done with pleasure and love; it is all forced and compelled. Since Moses, then, is a lawgiver, he has to show by his insistence that the work of the law is a forced work, and has to make the people weary, until, through this insistence, they recognize their illness and their dislike for God’s Law, and long for grace, as appears below.

In the third place, Moses’ true intention is to reveal sin, and put to shame all the presumption of human ability; therefore St. Paul calls him in Galatians 2 and 3, “a minister of sin,” and his office “an office of death;” and in Romans 3 and Romans 7:7, he says, “By the law cometh only the knowledge of sin,” and “by the works of the law no one becomes righteous before God. For by the law Moses can do. no more than tell what men ought to do and not to do; but power, and ability to do it and not to do it he does not give, and so he lets us stick in sin. If we, then, stick in sin, death presses instantly upon us as vengeance, and punishment for sin.

Therefore Paul calls sin “the sting of death,” because it is by sin that death has all its right and power over us. But if it were not for the law, there would be no sin; therefore it is all the fault of Moses, who, by the law, stirs up and censures sin, and then upon sin death follows, with its power, so that Moses’ office is rightly called by St. Paul an office of sin and death; for by his law-giving he brings nothing upon us but sin and death.

Nevertheless, this office of sin and death is good and very necessary; for where God’s law is not, there human reason is so blind that it cannot recognize sin. Human reason does not know that unbelief and despair of God is sin; nay, it knows nothing about man’s duty to believe God and trust Him; thus it goes on, hardened in its blindness, and feels this sin not at all, doing meanwhile some works that would otherwise be good and leading an outwardly honorable life. Then it thinks it stands well, and enough has been done in this matter. We see this in the heathen and the hypocrites, when their life is at its best. Besides, the reason does not know that the wicked inclination of the flesh and hatred against enemies are sin, but because it feels that all men are so inclined, it holds that these things are natural and right and thinks it enough to guard against outward wrongdoing.

Thus it goes on and regards its illness as strength, its sin as right, its bad as good, and can make no progress.

See, then! To drive away this blindness and hardened presumption, Moses’ office is necessary. Now he cannot drive them away, unless he reveals them, and makes them known. He does this by the law, when he teaches that men ought to fear, trust, believe, and love God; and ought to have beside no evil desire or hatred for any man. When Nature, then, hears this aright, it must be frightened, for it certainly finds neither trust nor faith, neither fear nor love to God, and neither love nor purity toward one’s neighbor, but only unbelief, doubt, contempt and hatred to God, and only evil will and desire toward one’s neighbor. But where it finds this, death is instantly before its eyes, ready to devour such a sinner and swallow him up in hell.

See, that is what is meant by bringing death upon us by sin and killing us by sin, that is, stirring up sin by the law, and setting it before our eyes, and driving all our presumption into despondency and trembling and despair, so that a man can do no more than cry, with the prophet, “I am rejected by God,” or, as we say in German, “I am the devil’s; I can never be saved.”

That is what St. Paul means by those short words in 1 Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin,’ but the strength of sin is the law.” It is as if he were saying, “Death stings and slays us, because of the sin that is found in us and makes us guilty of death; but sin is found in us and gives us so mightily to death, because of the law, which reveals sin to us and teaches us to recognize it; we did not know it before, and therefore felt secure.”

Now see with what power Moses conducts and performs his office. For, in order to put Nature to the very utmost shame, he not only gives laws that speak of natural and true sins, such as the Ten Commandments, but he makes sins of things that are in their nature, no sins, and forces and p erasers sins upon them in heaps. For unbelief and evil desire are, in their nature, sin, an worthy of death; but not to eat leavened bread on Easter, and to eat any unclean beast, to make no sign on the body, and all those things that the Levitical priesthood deals with as sin, — these things are not, in their nature, sinful or wicked, but they become sins because they are forbidden by the law. This law can be done away; but the Ten Commandments cannot be done away, for sin against the Ten Commandments would be sin, even though there were no commandments, or they were not known; just as the unbelief of the heathen is sin, even though they do-not know or think that it is sin.

Thus we see that these many laws of Moses were given not only to prevent anyone from choosing ways of his own to do good and live well, as has beet: said above, but rather that sins might become more, and be heaped up beyond measure, to burden the conscience so that hardened blindness might have to recognize itself and feel its own. inability and nothingness in respect of good, and thus be compelled and forced by the law to seek something beyond the law and its own ability, namely, God’s grace, promised in Christ, Who was to come. Every law of God is good and right, even if it only bids men carry dung or gather straw, and no man can be righteous or good of heart who does not keep this good law, or who keeps it unwillingly. But Nature cannot keep it otherwise than unwillingly; therefore, through God’s law, it must recognize and feel its wickedness, and it must sigh and long for the aid of divine grace in Christ.

Then, when Christ comes, the law ceases, especially the Levitical law, which, as has been said, makes sins of things that are not in their nature, sinful. The Ten-Commandments do not cease, in the sense that they are no longer to be kept or fulfilled, but Moses’ part in them ceases, and no longer strengthens sin by the Ten Commandments, and sin is no longer the sting of death. For through Christ sin is forgiven, God is reconciled, and man’s heart has begun to be inclined to the law. Moses can no longer rebuke it and make it sinful, because it has not kept the commandments and is guilty of death, as he did before grace came and before Christ was there.

St. Paul teaches this, in 2 Corinthians 3:7, when he says that the glory in the countenance of Moses ceases because of the glory in the countenance of Jesus Christ; that is, the work of Moses, which makes sinners of us and puts us to shame with the brightness of the knowledge of our wickedness and nothingness, no longer causes us pain and no longer terrifies us with death. For we now have the glory in the face of Christ, that is, the work of grace whereby we know Christ, by whose righteousness, life, and strength we fulfill the law and overcome death and hell. The three apostles saw Moses and Elias on Matthew Tabor, and yet were not frightened at them, because of the tender glory in the face of Christ; but in Exodus 34, where Christ was not present, the children of Israel could not endure the glory and brightness in Moses’ face, and he had to put a covering over it.

There are three kinds of pupils of the law. The first are those who hear the law and despise it, and lead an impious life, without fear. To these the law does not come. They are signified by the calf-worshipers in the wilderness, on whose account Moses broke the tables; he did not bring them the law.

The second are those who attempt to fulfill it by their own power, without grace. They are signified by the people who could not look on Moses’ countenance, when he brought the tables a second time. To these the law comes, but they endure it not; therefore they put a covering over it and lead a life of hypocrisy, with outward works of the law, though the law makes everything sin, if the covering is removed. For the law shows that our ability is nothing without Christ’s grace.

The third are those who see Moses clearly, without a covering. These are they who understand the meaning of the law and how it demands impossible things. Then sin comes into power, death is mighty, Goliath’s spear is like a weaver’s beam and its head weighs six hundred shekels of brass, and all the children of Israel flee before him, but David only. Christ, our Lord, saves us from all that; for if Christ’s glory did not come along with this glory of Moses, no one could bear the glory of the law, the terror of sin and death. These pupils fall away from all works and presumption and learn from the law nothing else except to recognize sin and to sigh for Christ; and this is the true work of Moses and the true purpose of the law.

So Moses himself has told us that his work and teaching should last until Christ, and then cease, when he says in Deuteronomy 18, “A prophet shall the Lord thy God raise up unto thee from among thy brethren, like unto me; him shalt thou. hear, etc.” This is the noblest saying in all of Moses; indeed it is the very pith of him; and the apostles appealed to it and made great use of it to strengthen the Gospel and abolish the law; all the prophets, too, drew heavily upon it. For since God here promises another Moses, whom they are to hear, it follows of necessity that he would teach something different from Moses; and Moses gives up his power to him, and yields to him, so that he may be heard. This prophet cannot, then, teach law, for Moses has done that to the uttermost, and for the law’s sake there would be no need to raise up another prophet. Therefore this word was certainly spoken concerning the teaching of grace and concerning Christ.

For this reason also, St. Paul calls the law of Moses “the Old Testament,” and Christ does the same when He institutes “the New Testament.’” Thus it is a testament, because in it God promises and bequeaths to the people of Israel the land of Canaan, if they keep it. He gave it to them, also, and it was confirmed by the death and blood of sheep and goats. But since this testament rested not upon God’s grace, but upon men’s works, it had to grow old and cease, and the promised land had to be lost again, because the law cannot be fulfilled by works. And another testament had to come, which would not grow old, and would not rest upon our deeds, but upon God’s words and works, so that it might last forever. Therefore it is confirmed by the death and blood of an eternal Person, and an everlasting land is promised and given.

Let this be enough about the books and work of Moses. ‘What, then, are the other books, the prophets and the histories? I answer: They are nothing else than what Moses is; for all of them do the work that Moses does, and guard “against the false prophets, that they may not lead the people to works, but allow them to stay in the work of Moses and the knowledge of sin. They hold fast to this purpose, in order to keep the people conscious of their own impotence through a right understanding of the law, and thus drive them to Christ, as Moses does. Therefore they enlarge upon what Moses says of Christ, and furnish two kinds of examples, — pies of those who understand Moses and those who do not understand him rightly, — together with examples of the punishments and rewards that come to both.

Thus the prophets are nothing else than administrators and witnesses of Moses and his work, to bring everyone to Christ through the law.

In conclusion, I ought also indicate the spiritual meaning presented to us by the Levitical law and the Mosaic priesthood. But there is too much of this to write; it needs space and time, and should be expounded with the living voice. For Moses is, indeed, a well of all wisdom and understanding, out of which has sprung all that the prophets knew and said. Moreover, even the New Testament flows out of it and is founded in it, as we have heard. Let it be my service to give a little hint to those who have the grace and understanding to search for it.

If, then, you would interpret well and surely, set Christ before you; for He is the man to whom it all applies. Make nothing else of the high priest Aaron than Christ alone, as is done by the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is almost enough, all by itself, to interpret all the figures of Moses. Likewise it is certain that Christ Himself is both the sacrifice and the altar, for He sacrificed Himself, with His own blood; as the same Epistle announces.

Now, as the Levitical high priest, by his sacrifice, took away only the artificial sins, which were in their nature no sins, so our high priest, Christ, by His own sacrifice and blood, has taken away the true sin, which is in its nature sin, and He has gone in once through the veil to God to make atonement for us. Thus you should apply to Christ personally and to no one else, all that is written about the high priest.

But the high priest’s sons, who are engaged in the daily sacrifice, you should interpret to mean ourselves, who, in the presence of our father Christ, sitting in heaven, live here on earth in the body, and have not passed through to Him except by faith, spiritually. Their office of slaughter and sacrifice signifies nothing else than the preaching of the Gospel, by which the old man is slain and offered to God, burned and consumed by the fire of love, in the Holy Ghost; and this sacrifice is a sweet savor to God, that is, it produces a conscience that is good, pure, and secure before God. This is the interpretation that St. Paul makes, in Romans 12:1, when he teaches that we are to offer our bodies to God, a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice; and this we do (as has been said) by the constant practice of the Gospel, by preaching it and believing it.

Let this suffice for the present as a brief suggestion for seeking Christ and the Gospel in the Old Testament. He that reads this Bible should know that I have been careful to put the Name of God that the Jews call Tetragrammaton in capital letters, and the other, which they call Adonai half in capitals; for among all the names of God, these two alone are applied in the Scriptures to the real, true God, while the others are often ascribed to the angels and saints. I have done this so that men can draw the strong conclusion that Christ is true God, since Jeremiah 23:6 calls HimLORD, saying, “They shall call HimLORD, our Righteousness.” The same thing is to be found in more passages.

Herewith, I commend all my readers to Christ, and ask that they will help me get from God the power to carry this work through to a profitable end, for I freely admit that I undertook too much, especially in trying to put the Old Testament into German. The Hebrew language, sad to say, has gone down so far that even the Jews know little enough about it, and their glosses and interpretations (which I have tested) are not to be trusted. I think that if the Bible is to come up again, we Christians are the ones who must do the work, for we have the understanding of Christ, without which the knowledge of the language is nothing. Because they were without it, the old interpreters, even Jerome, made mistakes in many passages.

Though I cannot claim that I have got everything, nevertheless, I venture to say that this German Bible is plainer and surer, at many points, than the Latin, and so it is true that if the printers do not, as usual, spoil it with their carelessness, the German language has here a better Bible than the Latin language. I call upon its readers to say whether this is so.

And now, of course, the mud will stick to the wheel, and there will be no one so stupid that he will not want to be my master in this work, and criticize me here and there. Let them go. From the beginning I have considered the fact that it would be easier to find ten thousand to criticize my work than one to do a twentieth of it after me. I, too, would like to be a great scholar and give brilliant proof of what I know by criticizing St. Jerome’s Latin Bible, but he also could defy me to do the work after him.

If there is anyone who is so far above me in scholarship, let him undertake to translate the whole Bible into German, and let him tell me, after that, what he can do. If he does better than I, why should he not be preferred to me. I thought I was a scholar, and I know that, by God’s grace, I am more learned than all the sophists in the universities; but now I see that I cannot handle even my own native German tongue. Nor have I read, up to this time, a book or letter which contained the real German language. No one thinks of speaking German rightly either, especially the people in the chancelleries and the miserable preachers and wretched writers who think they have the right to change the German tongue, and invent new words for us every day, — beherzigen, behandigen, erspriesslich, erschiesslich , and the like. Yes, my dear man, there are also bethoren f424 and ernarren . f425 In a word, if we were, all of us, to work together, we would have plenty to do in bringing the Bible to light, one with his knowledge, another with his language. Even as it is, I have not worked at this alone, but have used the services of anyone whom I could get. Therefore I ask everyone to desist from abuse and leave the poor people undisturbed, and help me, if he can. If he will not do that, let him take up the Bible himself and make one of his own. Those who only abuse and worry others, are certainly not so godly and honest that they would care to have a pure Bible, since they know that they cannot produce it; but they would like to be clever masters of another’s science, though in their own science they have never been even pupils.

May God complete the work that He has begun. Amen.

Categories: Luther
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