From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Luther Bible is a German language Bible translation from Hebrew and ancient Greek by Martin Luther, of which the New Testament was published in 1522 and the complete Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha, in 1534.
The project absorbed Luther's later years. The new translation was widely disseminated thanks to the printing press, and it became a force in shaping the modern High German language.
Luther's New Testament translation
While he was sequestered in the Wartburg Castle (1521–1522) Luther began to translate the New Testament from ancient Greek into German in order to make it more accessible to all the people of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German nation." He translated from the Greek text, using Erasmus' second edition (1519) of the Greek New Testament, known as the Textus Receptus. Luther did not translate from the Latin Vulgate translation, which is the Latin translation officially used by the Roman Catholic Church. Both Erasmus and Luther had learned Greek at the Latin schools led by the Brethren of the Common Life (respectively in Deventer (Netherlands) and in Magdeburg). These lay brothers added late 15th century Greek as a new subject to their curriculum. At that time Greek was seldom taught even at universities.To help him in translating into contemporary German, Luther would make forays into nearby towns and markets to listen to people speaking. He wanted to ensure their comprehension by translating as closely as possible to their contemporary language usage. His translation was published in September 1522, six months after he had returned to Wittenberg. In the opinion of the 19th century theologian and church historian Philip Schaff,
"The richest fruit of Luther's leisure in the Wartburg, and the most important and useful work of his whole life, is the translation of the New Testament, by which he brought the teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles to the mind and heart of the Germans in life-like reproduction. It was a republication of the gospel. He made the Bible the people's book in church, school, and house."
Publication of the complete Bible translation
The translation of the entire Bible into German was published in a six-part edition in 1534, a collaborative effort of Luther and many more such as; Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Caspar Creuziger, Philipp Melanchthon, Matthäus Aurogallus, and Georg Rörer. Luther worked on refining the translation up to his death in 1546: he had worked on the edition that was printed that year.
There were 117 original woodcuts included in the 1534 edition issued by the Hans Lufft press in Wittenberg. They reflected the recent trend (since 1522) of including artwork to reinforce the textual message.
Luther added the word "alone" (allein in German) to Romans 3:28 controversially so that it read: "thus, we hold, then, that man is justified without the works of the law to do, alone through faith" The word "alone" does not appear in the Greek texts, but Luther defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb "alone" was required both by idiomatic German and the apostle Paul's intended meaning.
View of canonicity
Initially Luther had a low view of the Old Testament book of Esther and of the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Revelation of John. He called the Letter of James "an epistle of straw," finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work. He also had harsh words for the Revelation of John, saying that he could "in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it." In his translation of the New Testament, Luther moved Hebrews and James out of the usual order, to join Jude and the Revelation at the end, and differentiated these from the other books which he considered "the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation." His views on some of these books changed in later years.
Luther chose to place the Biblical apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. These books and addenda to Biblical canon of the Old Testament are found in the ancient Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Masoretic text. Luther left the translating of them largely to Philipp Melanchthon and Justus Jonas. They were not listed in the table of contents of his 1532 Old Testament, and in the 1534 Bible they were given the well-known title: "Apocrypha: These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read". See also Biblical canon, Development of the Christian Biblical canon, and Biblical Apocrypha.