The “gnashing of teeth” is going to stay

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is one of those typical neologisms favoured by Martin Luther. And this pithy formulation will also remain in the new 2017 Bible translation. Other expressions, however, will change.

Starting in January 2019, the freshly revised 2017 Luther Bible will serve as the foundation for sermons in the German-speaking divine services of the New Apostolic Church. It will take the place of the current 1984 edition. The new translation results in quite a few word changes. For example: “brood of vipers” (Luther 1984) will be rendered as “generation of vipers” (Luther 2017), and “heritage” will become “inheritance”. The underlying motive for these changes was the urgent desire to assign greater significance to the original Hebrew and Greek texts in this edition, as compared to the 1984 revision. The German Bible Society, which is always mindful of Luther’s Bible translations, gave the following reasoning for this revision to the Luther translation: the discovery of the scrolls in Qumran and advances in the textual criticism of linguistic and literary scholarship, especially in the Old Testament, have made a revision necessary.

Many small changes

One of the things that stand out is that the address “brothers”, as is customary in many New Testament texts, has been replaced by “brothers and sisters”. For example, Romans 1: 13 now reads as follows: “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often planned to come to you …” The Greek term adelphos, which was generally translated as “brothers” in the past, can refer to both men and women.

Relatively speaking, there have been more changes in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. In the New Testament, many of the word changes have been made for philological reasons: the word “penny” becomes “farthing”, and the “tempest” described in Matthew 8: 24—“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep”—now appears as a “quake”. The Greek source text uses the word seismos which suggests more of a quake than a storm. For this reason, the passage in the 2017 Luther translation now states: “And suddenly there was a great quake in the sea, so that the boat was covered by the waves. But He was asleep.”

Although the many small changes—which in some instances only affect a single word or a sentence—may appear rather marginal, it is nevertheless evident that they thread their way through the text as a whole and at times change its characteristic style. Occasionally new accents are set in terms of content as well. One of the things that has remained, however, is Luther’s typical avoidance of the term ‘church’. The Greek word ekklesia is exclusively rendered as “congregation” in the German text.

Catechism citations will remain unchanged for now

“Since the changes in the 2017 Luther Bible are not overly dramatic, no updates will be made to the biblical quotations in the Catechism for the time being,” explains Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider. “They do not have any bearing on the content or the theological positions of the Catechism.”

The Chief Apostle, who has written a greeting in Bible editions intended for New Apostolic congregations, expresses the following: “The translation of Holy Scripture by Martin Luther has left a decisive impact on German language, literature, and music. Thus it is not at all surprising that it has accompanied our Church in the German-speaking regions since its beginnings. New Apostolic theology, as well as the language of its sermons and worship, owe a great deal to the Luther Bible.” He appeals to believers to make fervent use of the Bible in their private lives as well: “The Bible is of central significance in divine service, however, it is just as important to accord it sufficient room in one’s private life of faith.”

Reading the Bible is important

Concerning this, the Catechism states the following in “It is recommendable for every believer to read regularly from Holy Scripture, as it comforts and edifies, provides orientation and admonition, and serves to promote knowledge. The important thing in this process is the attitude of heart with which the reader studies the Bible. The striving for the fear of God and sanctification, together with sincere prayer for correct understanding, are contributing factors for profitable reading of the Bible. Reading the Bible intensively leads to a better understanding of the gospel. This in turn promotes knowledge and reinforces certainty of faith.”

Photo: Oliver Rütten

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Peter Johanning
Divine service, Doctrinal instruction