The history of the English Bible
Martin Luther, OSA, German: ; 10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German friar, Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of the 16th-century movement in Christianity known later as the Protestant Reformation. Initially an Augustinian friar, Luther came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.
Luther taught that salvation and subsequently eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds but is received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin and subsequently eternity in Hell. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther’s wider teachings, are called Lutherans even though Luther insisted on Christian as the only acceptable name for individuals who professed Christ.
His translation of the Bible into the vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible, which had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry.
In two of his later works, Luther expressed antagonistic views toward Jews, writing that Jewish synagogues and homes should be destroyed, their money confiscated, and liberty curtailed. These statements and their influence on antisemitism have contributed to his controversial status. Martin Luther died in 1546, still convinced of the correctness of his Reformation theology, and with his decree of excommunication by Pope Leo X still effective. On his deathbed, Luther was asked: “Are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” He answered “Yes”, before taking his final breath
Martin Luther was born to Hans Luder (or Ludher, later Luther) and his wife Margarethe (née Lindemann) on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was baptized as a Catholic the next morning on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father was a leaseholder of copper mines and smelters and served as one of four citizen representatives on the local council. The religious scholar Martin Marty describes Luther’s mother as a hard-working woman of “trading-class stock and middling means” and notes that Luther’s enemies later wrongly described her as a whore and bath attendant. He had several brothers and sisters, and is known to have been close to one of them, Jacob. Hans Luther was ambitious for himself and his family, and he was determined to see Martin, his eldest son, become a lawyer. He sent Martin to Latin schools in Mansfeld, then Magdeburg in 1497, where he attended a school operated by a lay group called the Brethren of the Common Life, and Eisenach in 1498. The three schools focused on the so-called “trivium”: grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Luther later compared his education there to purgatory and hell.
In 1501, at the age of 19, he entered the University of Erfurt, which he later described as a beerhouse and whorehouse. He was made to wake at four every morning for what has been described as “a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises.” He received his master’s degree in 1505.
In accordance with his father’s wishes, Luther enrolled in law school at the same university that year but dropped out almost immediately, believing that law represented uncertainty. Luther sought assurances about life and was drawn to theology and philosophy, expressing particular interest in Aristotle, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. He was deeply influenced by two tutors, Bartholomaeus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter, who taught him to be suspicious of even the greatest thinkers and to test everything himself by experience. Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to Luther was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he thereafter developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter’s emphasis on reason. For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.
He later attributed his decision to an event: on 2 July 1505, he was returning to university on horseback after a trip home. During a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck near him. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left law school, sold his books, and entered a closed Augustinian friary in Erfurt on 17 July 1505. One friend blamed the decision on Luther’s sadness over the deaths of two friends. Luther himself seemed saddened by the move. Those who attended a farewell supper walked him to the door of the Black Cloister. “This day you see me, and then, not ever again,” he said. His father was furious over what he saw as a waste of Luther’s education [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Academic Life”] Academic Life
Luther dedicated himself to the Augustinian order, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with
Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.” Johann von Staupitz, his superior, pointed Luther’s mind away from continual reflection upon his sins toward the merits of Christ. He taught that true repentance does not involve self-inflicted penances and punishments but rather a change of heart.
In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1508, von Staupitz, first dean of the newly founded University of Wittenberg, sent for Luther, to teach theology. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies on 9 March 1508, and another Bachelor’s degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard in 1509. On 19 October 1512, he was awarded his Doctor of Theology and, on 21 October 1512, was received into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg, having been called to the position of Doctor in Bible. He spent the rest of his career in this position at the University of Wittenberg. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Start Of The Reformation”] The start of the Reformation
Further information: History of Protestantism and The Ninety-Five Theses
In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man; justification rather depends only on such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata). The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.
On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”
Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.”
He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
However, this oft-quoted saying of Tetzel was by no means representative of contemporary Catholic teaching on indulgences, but rather a reflection of his capacity to exaggerate. Yet if Tetzel overstated the matter in regard to indulgences for the dead, his teaching on indulgences for the living was in line with Catholic dogma of the time.
The sale of indulgences shown in A Question to a Mintmaker, woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, ca. 1530.
According to scholars Walter Krämer, Götz Trenkler, Gerhard Ritter, and Gerhard Prause, the story of the posting on the door, even though it has settled as one of the pillars of history, has little foundation in truth. The story is based on comments made by Philipp Melanchthon, though it is thought that he was not in Wittenberg at the time.
It was not until January 1518 that friends of Luther translated the 95 Theses from Latin into German and printed and widely copied them, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months, they had spread throughout Europe.
Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak. He published a short commentary on Galatians and his Work on the Psalms. This early part of Luther’s career was one of his most creative and productive. Three of his best-known works were published in 1520: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Justification by Faith Alone”] Main article: Sola fide
From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity. The most important for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”
Luther came to understand justification as entirely the work of God. This teaching by Luther was clearly expressed in his 1525 publication On the Bondage of the Will, which was written in response to On Free Will by Desiderius Erasmus (1524). Luther based his position on Predestination on St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians 2:8–10. Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ but actually is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians (rather than infused into them) through faith. “That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law,” he wrote. “Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ.” Faith, for Luther, was a gift from God; the experience of being justified by faith was “as though I had been born again.” His entry into Paradise, no less, was a discovery about “the righteousness of God” – a discovery that “the just person” of whom the Bible speaks (as in Romans 1:17) lives by faith. He explained his concept of “justification” in the Smalcald Articles:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us … Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
Luther’s rediscovery of “Christ and His salvation” was the first of two points that became the foundation for the Reformation. His railing against the sale of indulgences was based on it [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Breach with the papacy”] Breach with the papacy
Pope Leo X’s Bull against the errors of Martin Luther, 1521, commonly known as Exsurge Domine.
Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther’s letter containing the 95 Theses. He had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. He needed the revenue from the indulgences to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, “the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter’s Church in Rome”.
Pope Leo X was used to reformers and heretics, and he responded slowly, “with great care as is proper.” Over the next three years he deployed a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther, which served only to harden the reformer’s anti-papal theology. First, the Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini drafted a heresy case against Luther, whom Leo then summoned to Rome. The Elector Frederick persuaded the pope to have Luther examined at Augsburg, where the Imperial Diet was held. There, in October 1518, under questioning by papal legate Cardinal Cajetan Luther stated that he did not consider the papacy part of the biblical Church because historistical interpretation of Bible prophecy concluded that the papacy was the Antichrist. The prophecies concerning the Antichrist soon became the center of controversy. The hearings degenerated into a shouting match. More than his writing the 95 Theses, Luther’s confrontation with the church cast him as an enemy of the pope. Cajetan’s original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but the legate desisted from doing so. Luther slipped out of the city at night, unbeknownst to Cajetan.
The meeting of Martin Luther (right) and Cardinal Cajetan (left, before the book).
In January 1519, at Altenburg in Saxony, the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz adopted a more conciliatory approach. Luther made certain concessions to the Saxon, who was a relative of the Elector, and promised to remain silent if his opponents did. The theologian Johann Eck, however, was determined to expose Luther’s doctrine in a public forum. In June and July 1519, he staged a disputation with Luther’s colleague Andreas Karlstadt at Leipzig and invited Luther to speak. Luther’s boldest assertion in the debate was that Matthew 16:18 does not confer on popes the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore neither popes nor church councils were infallible. For this, Eck branded Luther a new Jan Hus, referring to the Czech reformer and heretic burned at the stake in 1415. From that moment, he devoted himself to Luther’s defeat.
On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days. That autumn, Johann Eck proclaimed the bull in Meissen and other towns. Karl von Miltitz, a papal nuncio, attempted to broker a solution, but Luther, who had sent the Pope a copy of On the Freedom of a Christian in October, publicly set fire to the bull and decretals at Wittenberg on 10 December 1520, an act he defended in Why the Pope and his Recent Book are Burned and Assertions Concerning All Articles. As a consequence, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on 3 January 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.
Diet of Worms
Main article: Diet of Worms
The enforcement of the ban on the 95 Theses fell to the secular authorities. On 18 April 1521, Luther appeared as ordered before the Diet of Worms. This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in Worms, a town on the Rhine. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, obtained a safe conduct for Luther to and from the meeting.
Johann Eck, speaking on behalf of the Empire as assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked him if the books were his, and whether he stood by their contents. Luther confirmed he was their author, but requested time to think about the answer to the second question. He prayed, consulted friends, and gave his response the next day:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
At the end of this speech, Luther raised his arm “in the traditional salute of a knight winning a bout.” Michael Mullett considers this speech as a “world classic of epoch-making oratory.”
Eck informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic:
“‘Martin,’ said he, ‘there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments. It was with biblical texts that Pelagius and Arius maintained their doctrines. Arius, for instance, found the negation of the eternity of the Word—an eternity which you admit, in this verse of the New Testament—Joseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her first-born son; and he said, in the same way that you say, that this passage enchained him. When the fathers of the council of Constance condemned this proposition of John Huss— The church of Jesus Christ is only the community of the elect, they condemned an error; for the church, like a good mother, embraces within her arms all who bear the name of Christian, all who are called to enjoy the celestial beatitude.'”
Martin Luther Memorial in Worms. His statue is surrounded by the figures of his lay protectors and earlier Church reformers including John Wycliffe, Jan Hus and Girolamo Savonarola.
Luther refused to recant his writings. He is sometimes also quoted as saying: “Here I stand. I can do no other”. Recent scholars consider the evidence for these words to be unreliable, since they were inserted before “May God help me” only in later versions of the speech and not recorded in witness accounts of the proceedings. However, Mullett suggests that given his nature, “we are free to believe that Luther would tend to select the more dramatic form of words.”
Over the next five days, private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. The Emperor presented the final draft of the Diet of Worms on 25 May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.
Translation of the Bible
Luther had published his German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and he and his collaborators completed the translation of the Old Testament in 1534, when the whole Bible was published. He continued to work on refining the translation until the end of his life. Others had translated the Bible into German, but Luther tailored his translation to his own doctrine. When he was criticised for inserting the word “alone” after “faith” in Romans 3:28, he replied in part: “[T]he text itself and the meaning of St. Paul urgently require and demand it. For in that very passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law . . . But when works are so completely cut away – and that must mean that faith alone justifies – whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of works will have to say, ‘Faith alone justifies us, and not works’.”
Luther’s translation used the variant of German spoken at the Saxon chancellery, intelligible to both northern and southern Germans. He intended his vigorous, direct language to make the Bible accessible to everyday Germans, “for we are removing impediments and difficulties so that other people may read it without hindrance.”
Published at a time of rising demand for German-language publications, Luther’s version quickly became a popular and influential Bible translation. As such, it made a significant contribution to the evolution of the German language and literature. Furnished with notes and prefaces by Luther, and with woodcuts by Lucas Cranach that contained anti-papal imagery, it played a major role in the spread of Luther’s doctrine throughout Germany. The Luther Bible influenced other vernacular translations, such as William Tyndale’s English Bible (1525 forward), a precursor of the King James Bible