German Protestants now have a common Bible, for the first time in 64 years. The modernized Luther Bible appeared in bookshops in West Germany and Austria last week. It will be available in East Germany in the fall.
Its publication goes back to a decision in 1921 by the Association of German Bible Societies to commission a revision of the Luther Bible that would aim at transparency and accuracy for present-day readers.
Various partial versions came out in 1956, 1964, 1970, 1975, and 1984. The Old Testament met with widespread approval, but the New Testament drew considerable criticism, especially for replacing Martin Luther's richness and resonance with flat substitutes.
Curiously, Martin Luther had had just the opposite experience. In 1521 he took only 11 weeks to turn out an inspired translation of the New Testament that would endure for four centuries with virtually no change, but worked for 25 years revising and rerevising his subsequent Old Testament translation.
In the newest translation an effort has been made to stick as closely as possible to the beloved original German of Luther, which was instrumental in forming the modern German language. The current translation seeks to change only those words and phrases that have become incomprehensible or assumed quite different meanings in the intervening centuries. Luther's word order, which differs from modern German, is preserved as much as possible.
Regional Protestant church councils still have to approve use of the new translation before it becomes the standard text in all churches. But it has already been authorized by the umbrella Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Association of the Evangelical Church in the (East) German Democratic Republic as the standard text in Germany.