The Scripture Alone
“God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place.” – Martin Luther
In the 16th century, power and wealth had corrupted many of the church leaders. Teachings and practices such as the doctrine of purgatory and the sale of indulgences to shorten time in purgatory, were based on church authority and tradition, not on the Scripture.
Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German Augustinian monk, spoke out against such corruptions. In 1517, he published Ninety-Five Theses, criticizing the church’s teachings and practices. A key idea of the Reformation was that truth for the Christian was based on the authority of “Scripture alone.”
Martin Luther was placed on trial for his writings against the church. He told the court, “I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God.” Though Martin Luther survived his trial, his friends hid him in the Wartburg Castle to protect him from his enemies. There he translated the Bible into the language of the German people.
With Gutenberg’s invention of printing only decades earlier, it was possible for everyone to have a personal copy of the Bible. Each person could now read and examine the Scripture for himself and was responsible to God for knowing the Bible and living life according to its teachings. In this way, the Reformation planted the seeds of individualism and liberty.
Martin Luther’s New Testament German translation, 2nd edition. Das neuw Testament recht grüntlich teutscht; Concordantz des Newen Testaments zu teütsch. Martin Luther, trans. Strasbourg: J. Knobloch and J. Schott, 1524
Though there were German translations of the Bible before Martin Luther, Luther was the first to translate from into German from the Greek and Hebrew. His New Testament translation was first published in September 1522. This beautiful 1524 folio edition was published while Luther was still working on his translation of the Old Testament. The spectacular cover is stamped in gold with Verbum Domini Manetin Aeternum – “The Word of the Lord Remains Forever.” The volume includes over 30 woodcut illustrations and an amazingly complete “Concordanz.”
Luther Bible, Facsimile of 1534 1st edition
In translating the Scripture, Martin Luther tried to render the Greek and Hebrew originals into common German. Luther’s Bible avoided regional dialects and led to a standardized written German. Luther first published his New Testament in 1522. The complete Bible was published in 1534. Luther’s translation remains the standard German Bible translation today. The woodcuts in the first edition were done in the workshop of Lucas Cranach and were hand-painted.