Bible translations into German

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German language translations of the Bible have existed since the Middle Ages. The most influential is Luther's translation, which established High German as the literary language throughout Germany by the middle of the seventeenth century and which still continues to be most widely used in the Germanic world today.


Pre-Lutheran German Bibles

Page from the Wenzel Bible
Page from the Wenzel Bible

There are still approximately 1,000 manuscripts or manuscript fragments of Medieval German Bible translations extant.[1] The earliest known and partly still available Germanic version of the Bible was the fourth century Gothic translation of Wulfila (ca. 311-380). This version, translated primarily from the Greek, established much of the Germanic Christian vocabulary that is still in use today. Later Charlemagne promoted Frankish biblical translations in the 9th century. There were Bible translations present in manuscript form at a considerable scale already in the thirteenth and the fourteenth century (e.g. the New Testament in the Augsburger Bible of 1350 and the Old Testament in the Wenceslaus or Wenzel Bible of 1389). There is ample evidence for the general use of the entire vernacular German Bible in the fifteenth century.[2] In 1466, before Martin Luther was even born, Johannes Mentelin printed the Mentel Bible, a High German vernacular Bible, at Strasbourg. This edition was based on a no-longer-existing fourteenth-century manuscript translation of the Vulgate from the area of Nuremberg. Until 1518, it was reprinted at least 13 times. In 1478-1479, two Low German Bible editions were published in Cologne, one in the Low Rhenish dialect and another in the Low Saxon dialect. In 1494, another Low German Bible was published in the dialect of Lübeck, and in 1522, the last pre-Lutheran Bible, the Low Saxon Halberstadt Bible was published. In total, there were at least eighteen complete German Bible editions, ninety editions in the vernacular of the Gospels and the readings of the Sundays and Holy Days, and some fourteen German Psalters by the time Luther first published his own New Testament translation.[3] An Anabaptist translation by Ludwig Hetzer and Hans Denck was published at Worms in 1529. This was the first complete translation of the Bible into German.[4] Luther would copy entire passages word for word from the Wormser Bibel in his translation.[5]

Luther's Bible

See Also Luther Bible

The most important and influential of translations of the Bible into German is the Luther Bible completed in 1534. The influence that Martin Luther's translation had on the development of the German language is often compared to the influence the King James Version had on English. The Luther Bible is currently used in a revised version from 1984, which was adapted to the new German orthography in 1999. Here also some revisions have taken place, e.g. "Weib" > "Frau". Despite the revisions, the language is still somewhat archaic and difficult for non-native speakers who want to learn the German language using a German translation of the Bible.

Froschauer Bible

Zwingli's translation grew out of the "Prophezey", an exegetical workshop taking place on every weekday, with the participation of all clerics of Zürich, working at a German rendition of Bible texts for the benefit of the congregation. The translation of Martin Luther was used as far as it was already completed. This helped Zwingli to complete the entire translation five years before Luther. At the printing shop of Christoph Froschauer, the New Testament appeared from 1525 to 1529, and later parts of the Old Testament, with a complete translation in a single volume first printed in 1531, with an introduction by Zwingli and summaries of each chapter. This Froschauer Bible, containing more than 200 illustrations, became notable as a masterpiece of printing at the time. The translation is mainly due to Zwingli and his friend Leo Jud, pastor at the St. Peter parish. The translation of the Old Testament was revised in 1540, and that of the New Testament in 1574. Verse numbering was introduced in 1589.

Other translations after Luther's

A Reformed translation by Parens was published in 1579, and another, by Johannes Piscator, was published at Herborn from 1602 to 1604. Johannes Crellius (15991633) and Joachim Stegmann, Sr., did a German version of the Socinians' Racovian New Testament, published at Raków in 1630. A Jewish translation of the Tenakh by Athias was published in 1666, and reprinted in the Biblia Pentapla at Hamburg in 1711. Johann Heinrich Michaelis' translation was published in 1709.

In 1526, Beringer's translation of the New Testament was published at Speyer. In 1527, Hieronymus Emser did a translation of the New Testament based on Luther's translation and the Vulgate. In 1534, Johann Dietenberger, OP, used Emser's New Testament and Leo Jud's translation of the deuterocanonical books in a complete Bible published at Mainz; both Emser's and Dietenberger's prose partly followed the style of the pre-Lutheran translations. The Dietenberger Bible was published in various revisions. Kaspar Ulenberg's revision was published at Mainz in 1617, and at Cologne in 1630. Ulenberg's revision was the basis for the "Catholic Bible," the revision by Jesuit theologians published at Mainz in 1661, 1662, and so on. Th. Erhard, OSB, did a revision published at Augsburg in 1722, which was in its sixth edition by 1748. G. Cartier's revision was published at Konstanz in 1751. The revision by Ignatius von Weitenauer, SJ, was published at Augsburg in twelve volumes from 1783 to 1789.[6]


Moses Mendelssohn (a.k.a. Moses ben Menahem-Mendel and Moses Dessau) (17291786) translated part of the Torah into German, which was published in Amsterdam in 1778. The translation was honored by some Jews and Protestants, while some Jews banned it. The whole Pentateuch and Psalms was published in 1783, and was appreciated even in Christian circles. His version of the Song of Solomon was posthumously published in 1788.

Later Bible translations

Daniel Gotthilf Moldenhawer's translation was published in 1774, Simon Grynaeus' in 1776, and Vögelin's in 1781.

Heinrich Braun, OSB, did a new translation of the Vulgate, published at Augsburg from 1788 to 1797. Johann Michael Feder's revision of this was published at Nuremberg in 1803. Feder's revision was the basis of Joseph Franz Allioli's revision, published at Landshut in 1830 and 1832, and often republished.[7]

Dominic de Brentano translated the New Testament and the Pentateuch and Anton Dereser translated the rest of the Bible; this was published at Frankfurt in sixteen volumes from 1815 to 1828, and then was revised by Johann Martin Augustin Scholz and published in seventeen volumes from 1828 to 1837.[8]

Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette and Augusti did a translation that was published at Heidelberg from 1809 to 1814, and the revision by Wette was published from 1831 to 1833. Rabbi Michael Sachs worked with Arnheim and Füchs on a new translation of the Tenakh published at Berlin in 1838.

Loch and Reischl did a translation from the Vulgate, compared with the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, published at Regensburg from 1851 to 1866.[9]

Contemporary Bible translations

A modern German translation is the Catholic Einheitsübersetzung ("unified" or "unity translation"), so called because it was the first common translation used for all Catholic German-speaking dioceses. The text of the New Testament and the Psalms of the Einheitsübersetzung was agreed on by a committee of Catholic and Protestant scholars, and therefore was intended to be used by both Roman Catholics and Protestants especially for ecumenical services, while the remainder of the Old Testament follows a Catholic tradition. However, the Protestant Church of Germany refused to continue the cooperation for the current revision of the Einheitsübersetzung.

Other well known German language Bible versions are: Zürcher Bibel, Elberfelder, Schlachter, Buber-Rosenzweig (OT only), Pattloch, Herder, Hoffnung für Alle (Hope for All), Die Gute Nachricht (The Good News), Gute Nachricht Bibel (Good News Bible, revision of "Gute Nachricht").


  • 1. Paul Arblaster, Gergely Juhász, Guido Latré (eds.), Tyndale's Testament, Brepols 2002, ISBN 2-503-51411-1, p. 116
  • 2. Paul Arblaster, Gergely Juhász, Guido Latré (eds.), Tyndale's Testament, Brepols 2002, ISBN 2-503-51411-1, p. 116
  • 3. Paul Arblaster, Gergely Juhász, Guido Latré (eds.), Tyndale's Testament, Brepols 2002, ISBN 2-503-51411-1, p. 116
  • 4. Ludwig Keller, Die Rrformation und die alteren Reformparteien (1885), p. 432.
  • 5. John William Porter, The World's Debt to the Baptists (Louisville, KY: Baptist Book Concern, 1914), p. 139c
  • 6. "Versions of the Bible", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.
  • 7. "Versions of the Bible", Catholic Encyclopedia
  • 8. "Dereser, Anton", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.
  • 9. "Versions of the Bible", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.

See also

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