Thursday Theology: More about Translation

by Crossings


This is your editor again with some follow-up to last week’s post. The topic, you may recall, was translation; specifically, translation as a task that all of us are bound to engage in as we go about the mission our Lord has given us.

From Canva

Came a note over the weekend from Gary Simpson, the long-serving and now retired systematics prof at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Gary pointed me to an article he published a year and a half ago in Luther’s Word and World. It’s about Martin Luther’s work in Biblical translation. I found it packed with information I hadn’t known. It also disabused me of some bits of silliness I had glommed onto in my growing-up days and had never questioned. An example is the all but universal assumption of the pious Lutheran lad of my generation that no one had ever thought—or, more likely, had ever been allowed—to translate the Bible into German until our hero Martin came along.

Not so, as Gary points out. And this is but one among a host of details that drive me to make Gary’s essay the centerpiece of today’s Thursday Theology. Not that you’ll find it reproduced here—how could we? Instead we give you the link (see below) that will let you read it at the Word and World website. By all means do that! And when you’re all done reading, join me in thanking Word and World for not fencing it behind a paywall.

The essay’s title is “Martin Luther as Ethnographic Translator: The Ciceronian Precedent.” If you find this somewhat daunting, swallow hard and tackle it anyway. Count on a rich payoff, made all the heftier by Gary’s abundance of illuminating footnotes. One of my favorite parts of the essay is Gary’s discussion of why the word allein—alone, in English—showed up in Luther’s German rendering of Romans 3:28: “justified by faith alone.” Came the problem that Luther’s opponents pounced on. There is no equivalent for “alone” in the original Greek text. So why did Luther insist on sticking it in his German text? As much, says Gary, for basic principles of translation as for the underscoring of a theological point. Fascinating, methinks. But again, read for yourselves.

Luther and his Collegium Biblicum, 1532.

Finally, a note about the illustration you’ll find in this present post of Luther and some colleagues at their translating work. Gary sent me this too, saying—

“I’ve also attached the print—Luther with his Collegium Biblicum—at the front of my family’s German Bible that I have inherited from my great, great grandfather Johan Jacob Brater. [He was] the 1852 first graduate of what is now Wartburg College, Waverly, IA, which at the time was at my home congregation, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, UAC, Saginaw, Michigan.”

(I add a tangential observation for any of you who aren’t familiar with nineteenth-century intra-Lutheran polemics. The “UAC” appended to the name of Gary’s home church stands for “Unaltered Augsburg Confession.” Next Tuesday, June 25, will mark the 494th anniversary of that document’s official presentation to Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Fiddling with this original text has provoked any number of spats and separations among Lutherans in subsequent centuries. Hence the long-ago drive at Holy Cross, Saginaw and innumerable other congregations of the era to let it be known that Real Lutherans Are Found Here. “UAC.”)

Back to this week’s main point: read Gary’s essay!

Peace and Joy,
Jerry Burce for the Crossings Community

Thursday Theology: that the benefits of Christ be put to use
A publication of the Crossings Community


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