The Bible

After Luther wrote his letter to Charles V, supporters secreted him into hiding at Wartburg Castle. Safely away from Charles V, Luther had uninterrupted time to work on his most important work: the translation of the Bible into German. This was not the first time the Bible was translated into German, nor was it the first time the German Bible appeared in print; however, Luther’s translation importantly put scripture into clear German that would have been understandable to a wider group of readers than any earlier version. Luther’s New Testament was published in September of 1522, with a second edition coming out in December of the same year, the so-called September and December Testaments, each adorned with woodcut illustrations by Lucas Cranach. Luther’s translation of the complete Bible was not available in print until 1534, twelve years later.

On the right is Luther’s manuscript draft translation of part of the Old Testament, Second Samuel, Chapters Twenty-two and Twenty-three. Such drafts were usually destroyed in the process of producing the printed book, which makes this survival exhibiting Luther’s working method all the more rare and precious. Luther thought that the printing press was God’s greatest gift for the dissemination of scripture, but the Reformation made use of the press for the complete spectrum of texts and imagery that promulgated and promoted the Reformation and Lutheran theology.

Martin Luther, “The December Testament,” Das Newe Testament Deůtzsch (The New Testament, in German). Wittenberg: Melchior Lotter the Younger, December 1522. Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt.

Martin Luther, Draft translation of Old Testament (2 Samuel 22–23). Wittenberg, after 1521. Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Dessau.