Martin Luther (1483–1546) Translates the Bible While in Protective Custody

[ABOVE—Luther translating the Bible at Wartburg, by P.H. Labouche in D’Aubigne’s Historic Scenes in the Life of Martin Luther (London: Day and Son, Limited, 1806).]

Have you ever wished you could just get away from it all, hide out for a while? Luther did during the greater part of a year. This was not by his own choice. He was waylaid by men he did not know and hustled within the confines of a castle. All Germany wondered where he was. Fortunately, he was in friendly hands.

Here I Stand: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther. Luther is indisputably a “hinge of history.” In this two-hour special, we come to understand what motivated him, the turning points in his life, the issues he confronted, his opponents, and the profound changes he wrought.

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From May 1521-March 1522, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, held Martin Luther in protective custody at Wartburg Castle to keep him out of the grasp of his enemies. There Luther grew a beard and passed under the name Junker Jörg. During these eleven months, he was far from idle. Like Pamphilius so many centuries before, he worked on a Bible translation, turning the New Testament from the Greek (and Latin) into German. This translation and its introduction became a powerful tool in furthering the Reformation among German-speaking peoples.

Luther also wrote various letters and several doctrinal pamphlets during this time, including one on confession, a warning against rebellion, and a repudiation of private masses.

Here is an excerpt from his Preface to the New Testament, 1522 version. This translation is from George Duckett’s The Prefaces to the Early Editions of Martin Luther’s Bible. Oxford University, 1863.

Preface to the New Testament

Gospel or Evangelism is a Greek word signifying “a good message—a good tale—a good cry [ie: shout]—good tidings under which we sing and rejoice, and which re-echoes to our bosom. When David overcame the great Goliath, a good cry and tidings of comfort spread among the Jewish people: their formidable enemy was slain, they themselves were preserved, they were placed in a state of joy and peace; they sang and leaped for joy. The gospel of God, or the New Testament, is therefore, a tale of good tidings going forth throughout the whole world through the medium of the Apostles, and proceeding from a true David who has fought and overcome sin, death and the devil, in order that they who have been under the captivity of sin, under the plague of death, and under the inflluence of the devil, might be redeemed without any claim or merit of their own—might be justified, regenerated, and saved—might be accepted in peace, and might be reconciled to God. For this they sing, and give eternal thanks and praise God, providing their faith only is firm, steady, and persevering.

This goodly cry, or evangelical consolation, is called a New Testament from the analogy of a dying man regulating his affairs by will, and apportioning his property, when he shall have died, to his recorded heirs. Thus Christ, before he died, appointed and ordained that after his death his Gospel shoul be preached throughout the world, that all who believe might be heirs to the solid blessings which it imparts, namely: life, with which he has swallowed up death; righteousness, by which he has effaced sin; and salvation, by which he has overcome eternal condemnation. Poor human nature! Entangled in sin, and with the apprehensions of feath, what can be more consolatory than this gracious and loving message from his Savior; and he must rejoice with exceeding joy, and from the very bottom of his heart, if he believes that it is true…