Luther on the World's Nature
In honor of reformation Sunday, all saints day and the release of the updated NIV, it seems appropriate to hear from Martin Luther on the experience of Bible traslation.
In 1530, Marin Luther penned a letter defending his German translation of the Bible against attacks from the Roman Catholic church. The result was a scathing polemic against his detractors and one of the most profound observations about the view from the cheap seats:
It is said, “He who builds along the road has many masters.” That is how it is with me also. Those who have never been able to speak [German] properly (to say nothing of translating) have all at once become my masters and I must be their pupil. If I were to have asked them how to turn into German the first two words of Matthew, Liber Generationis, not one of them would have been able to say Quack! And now they judge my whole work! Fine fellows! It was also like this for St. Jerome when he translated the Bible. Everybody was his master. He alone was totally incompetent, and people who were not worthy to clean his boots judged the good man’s work. It takes a great deal of patience to do good things in public. The world believes itself to be the expert in everything, while putting the bit under the horse’s tail. Criticizing everything and accomplishing nothing, that is the world’s nature. It can do nothing else.
Martin Luther, An Open Letter on Translating 1530, Translated from “Ein sendbrief D. M. Luthers. Von Dolmetzschen und Fürbit der heiligenn” in Dr. Martin Luthers Werke, (Weimar: Hermann Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1909), Band 30, Teil II, pp. 632-646. Revised and annotated by Michael D. Marlowe, June 2003.