Not just one genius

What a nice welcome back to Wittenberg. The exhibition: “Nicht ein Genius allein” shows Dr. Martin Luther´s September Testament of 1522. It was prepared by the Reformationsgeschichtliche Forschungsbibliothek (Dr. Matthias Meinhardt) and the European Melanchthon-Academy, Bretten. It´s on show in the castle until mid-November. Prominent guests like Ministerpräsident Dr. Reiner Haseloff and Bishop Friedrich Kramer emphasized the ongoing significance of this publication.

Luther´s translation of the New Testament printed in September 1522

Dr. Meinhardt stressed the special impact of Luther´s translation of the New Testament (Das newe Testament Deutzsch) drafted during his forced exile on the Wartburg in 1522. In just eleven weeks Luther produced the remarkable draft, which was then refined and polished for the Leipzig book sale in September in cooperation with Philipp Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach. Melchior Lotter jr printed the “September Testament” on three printing presses.

Luther had only very basic tools at his disposal there in the realm of the crows, but the result was truly a game-changer anyway. His feel for the biblical imagery, prose, vocabulary, and way of speaking changed the German language for good. Still, in teamwork with his professional colleagues like Amsdorf, Bugenhagen and even the court connection Spalatin his ongoing translation improved continually – until the whole bible was translated in 1534 and printed by Hans Luft jr.

Even this milestone did not stop the translation efforts. Rather Luther continued to work on this translation until his end. It was the work, he was called for as Doctor of Theology and church teacher of the Bible. This is the lasting monument to his genius.

Still, it was not just his genius, but incorporated the efforts of many more. Luther took advantage of compilations by Italian humanist Laurentius Valla´s and those of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was working in England, amongst others. Luther´s translation sparked other bible translations too. For example, in Switzerland amongst the Reformed and in Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands amongst the Roman Catholics. The bible translation became a truly European project, which rapidly morphed into the global one it is today.

The exhibition shows precious originals worthwhile seeing – even as we are grateful that we can read the Word of God in our mother tongue – even as the heavenly Father talks to us His very own children and our brother Jesus Christ addresses us directly as good friends and true siblings.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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