Station: [935] Martin Luther translates the Bible

  • Bibelhaus Erlebnis Museum

How did the translation of the Bible into German by Martin Luther come about? In the lower part of the display case, you can follow Luther’s path from his dispute with the Pope and emperor through to his stay in Wartburg castle in four examples from the Reformation period.

Two texts show the conflict with Pope Leo X Medici. Following his excommunication in 1520, Luther attempts to convince the Pope with his writing “On the Freedom of a Christian”, without success. In Wartburg castle at New Year in 1522, he wrote a biting commentary on Leo’s excommunication bull. It never reached the Pope; he died on 21 December 1521.

In 1521, Emperor Charles V invited Luther to the Diet in Worms. A note came from the town of Lich between Wittenberg and Worms: A so-called “Furierzettel” (forager notice) notes that a “Doctor Luther with 3 horses” is a guest of the Marienstift church. Other names on the original shown here are known to be participants in the Diet at Worms. It is one of the few witnesses to Luther’s journey between Wittenberg and Worms.

On the way back from Worms, Martin Luther disappeared. He was now in his hiding place in Wartburg castle. He had not yet planned to translate the whole of the New Testament there. At first, he worked on translating and explaining excerpts of the Bible for use in churches by the priests on the Sundays and fest days around Christmas. By comparing these translations with the translation of the entire New Testament, which would be completed shortly afterwards, one can see how Luther worked on these Biblical texts.

The display case above shows the process which led to the translation of the Hebrew Bible. The 1506 grammar book by Johann Reuchlin was decisive in this process and formed the basis for a Christian translation of the Hebrew Bible. The first German translations by Martin Luther of the Psalms can be seen. Luther often said that he loved the Hebrew language. However, some of his letters show that he hated the Hebrew people. The anti-Semitism of the reformers cast a shadow over the period. You can see Luther’s first work on the Jews from 1523 and an inflammatory piece by the reformer Martin Bucer from 1529.