Luther and the Bible

An interesting take on the German language from The Economist.  What is most fascinating is Luther’s ability to translate the Bible into everyday language.  I think of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, and how I’ve heard some circles speak against his interpretation.  While on one hand, I see the need to stick to the original text, I also see the need to put the Bible into modern parlance, something that is still often missing in many translations today (too many Christianese words sometimes).  I like Luther’s idea: create a book that the common person would WANT to read, even if it means going in the face of tradition.

Perhaps the most celebrated turning point in the history of the German language is the work of another rebel against Rome, Martin Luther. His belief in salvation through personal faith alone, not the intermediation of the Church, led him to violate a longstanding prohibition on translating the Bible into vernacular languages…

Luther’s genius was to infuse his translation with the words he heard on the street in his bit of Saxony, in east-central Germany. He obsessively asked friends and fellow scholars which dialectal words would be most widely understood. The common touch was so successful that a Catholic opponent complained that “even tailors and shoemakers…read it with great eagerness.” It was the bestseller of the century and remains the most popular German translation. Rarely has a single man had such a mark on a language. The German of Luther’s Bible was nobody’s native language in his day. Today it is so universal that it threatens Germany’s once-vibrant dialects with death by standardisation.

I wonder what this means for how we communicate today: where Christians use exclusive language that inherently excludes others.  Brooke has long told me that she wants to always speak — no matter the context — about spirituality in a way that includes anyone who might overhear.  I applaud those who continue in Luther’s legacy of communicating the Bible (and the gospel) in ways that consider the context and the audience.  For too much of the 20th century the church has failed to do this.

On a lighter note, I am a huge fan of websites that find interesting links.  I don’t have the time to find the links, but I do have time to visit a few sites that will point me somewhere interesting (i.e. I don’t read The Economist, but I’ll read an article now and then if someone tells me it’s good).

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2 Comments

  1. gabe- thanks for writing. i know you don’t take my positive feedback too seriously because i am your sister and completely biased- but seriously i love what you write. i find it encouraging and thoughtful. and i love hearing about your life. thank you for your discipline to write on this blog. you have a captive audience in vancouver.

    1. Yahoo! Thanks, Kristi. And, family is usually where I look first for feedback (I know if people don’t like it I really have a problem).

      Thanks for the comment.

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