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An Open Letter on Translating by Martin Luther

An Open Letter on Translating

By Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546

Translated from: "Sendbrief von Dolmetschen" in _Dr. Martin Luthers Werke_, (Weimar: Hermann Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1909), Band 30, Teil II, pp. 632-646

by Gary Mann, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Religion/Theology Augustana College Rock Island, Illinois

Preface

Wenceslas Link to all believers in Christ:

The wise Solomon says in Proverbs 11: "The people who withhold grain curse him. But there is a blessing on those who sell it." This verse speaks truly concerning all that can serve the common good or the well-being of Christendom. This is the reason the master in the gospel reprimands the unfaithful servant like a lazy scoundrel for having hidden and buried his money in the ground. So that this curse of the Lord and the entire Church might be avoided, I must publish this letter which came into my possession through a good friend. I could not withhold it, as there has been much discussion about the translating of the Old and New Testaments. It has been charged by the despisers of truth that the text has been modified and even falsified in many places, which has shocked and startled many simple Christians, even among the educated who do not know any Hebrew or Greek. It is devoutly hoped that with this publication the slander of the godless will be stopped and the scruples of the devout removed, at least in part. It may even give rise to more writing on such matters and questions such as these. So I ask all friends of the Truth to seriously take this work to heart and faithfully pray to God for a proper understanding of the divine Scriptures towards the improvement and increase of our common Christendom. Amen.

Nuremberg Sept. 15, 1530.

To the Honorable and Worthy N., my favorite lord and friend.

Grace and peace in Christ, honorable, worthy and dear Lord and friend. I received your writing with the two questions or queries requesting my response. In the first place, you ask why I, in the 3rd chapter of Romans, translated the words of St. Paul: "Arbitramur hominem iustificari ex fide absque operibus" as "We hold that the human will be justified without the works of the law but only by faith." You also tell me that the Papists are causing a great fuss because St. Paul's text does not contain the word sola (alone), and that my changing of the words of God is not to be tolerated. Secondly, you ask if the departed saints intercede for us. Regarding the first question, you can give the papists this answer from me--if you so desire.

On the first hand, if I, Dr. Luther, had thought that all the Papists together were capable of translating even one passage of Scripture correctly and well, I would have gathered up enough humility to ask for their aid and assistance in translating the New Testament into German. However, I spared them and myself the trouble, as I knew and still see with my own eyes that not one of them knows how to speak or translate German. It is obvious, however, that they are learning to speak and write German from my translations. Thus, they are stealing my language from me--a language they had little knowledge of before this. However, they do not thank me for this but instead use it against me. Yet I readily grant them this as it tickles me to know that I have taught my ungrateful students, even my enemies, to speak.


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