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The Bible in German
From Ulfilas to Luther

Die Bibel: Ulfilas, Gutenberg, Luther

Essentially, every Bible is a translation (eine Übersetzung). The ancient elements that became what we now call the Bible (die Bibel) were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek on papyrus, leather, and clay. Some of the originals have been lost and exist only in copies that suffer from errors and ommissions that have dismayed biblical scholars and translators. All earlier translations of the Bible have suffered from this problem. More modern editions, using more recent discoveries (e.g., the Dead Sea texts), try to correct such errors and render the Bible as accurately as possible from the ancient originals. By the end of the 20th century, the Bible had been translated into more than 1,100 different world languages and dialects. The history of biblical translation is long and fascinating, but here we'll concentrate on the German connections—of which there are many.


The title page from the
German-American Lutheran
Kirchenbuch (1908).

Also see: Fraktur Type

Ulfilas (ca. 381)
The earliest Germanic version of the Bible was Ulfilas' Gothic translation from Latin and Greek. From Ulfilas came much of the Germanic Christian vocabulary that is still in use today. Later Charlemagne (Karl der Große) would foster Frankish (Germanic) biblical translations in the 9th century. Over the years, prior to the appearance of the first printed German Bible in 1466, various German and German dialect translations of the Scriptures were published. The Augsburger Bibel of 1350 was a complete New Testament, while the Wenzel Bible (1389) contained the Old Testament in German.

Gutenberg Bible (1455)
Johannes Gutenberg's so-called 42-line Bible, printed in Mainz, was in Latin. About 40 copies exist today in various states of completeness. It was Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type that made the Bible, in any language, vastly more influential and important. It was now possible to produce Bibles (and other books) in greater quantities at a lower cost.

See: Bible Texts in German and
German Fraktur Type

First Printed Bible in German (1466)
Before Martin Luther was even born, a German-language Bible was published in 1466, using Gutenberg's invention. Known as the Mentel Bible, this Bibel was a literal translation of the Latin Vulgate. Printed in Strassburg, the Mentel Bible appeared in some 18 editions until it was replaced by Luther's new translation in 1522.

Die Luther Bibel (Neues Testament, 1522)
The most influential German Bible, and the one that continues to be most widely used in the Germanic world today (last official revised edition in 1984), was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek by Martin Luther (1483-1546) in the record time of just ten weeks (New Testament) during his involuntary stay in the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, Germany. Luther's first complete Bible in German appeared in 1534. He continued to revise his translations up until his death. In response to Luther's Protestant Bible, the German Catholic Church published its own versions, most notably the Emser Bibel, which became the standard German Catholic Bible. Luther's German Bible also became the primary source for other northern European versions in Danish, Dutch, and Swedish.

NEXT > More Bibles in German - Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

MORE > German Typefaces: The Battle Between Antiqua and Fraktur

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