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No less than seventeen or eighteen editions appeared between 14, at Strassburg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Cöln, Lübeck, and Halberstadt (fourteen in the High, three or four in the Low German dialect).Most of them are in large folio, in two volumes, and illustrated by wood-cuts.He acquired the knowledge of the original languages for the purpose of its better understanding.He liked to call himself a "Doctor of the Sacred Scriptures." He made his first attempt as translator with the seven Penitential Psalms, which he published in March, 1517, six months before the outbreak of the Reformation.The editions present one and the same version (or rather two versions,--one High German, the other Low German) with dialectical alterations and accommodations to the textual variations of the MSS.of the Vulgate, which was in a very unsettled condition before the Clementine recension (1592). The spread of this version, imperfect as it was, proves the hunger and thirst of the German people for the pure word of God, and prepared the way for the Reformation. Archbishop Berthold of Mainz, otherwise a learned and enlightened prelate, issued, Jan.Luther was not the first, but by far the greatest translator of the German Bible, and is as inseparably connected with it as Jerome is with the Latin Vulgate.He threw the older translation into the shade and out of use, and has not been surpassed or even equaled by a successor.
But this fact does not diminish his merit in the least; for his version was made from the original Hebrew and Greek, and was so far superior in every respect that the older version entirely disappeared. Luther had a rare combination of gifts for a Bible translator: familiarity with the original languages, perfect mastery over the vernacular, faith in the revealed word of God, enthusiasm for the gospel, unction of the Holy Spirit.
His version was followed by Protestant versions in other languages, especially the French, Dutch, and English.
The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became naturalized, and hence far more clear and dear to the common people.
He listened, as he says, to the speech of the mother at home, the children in the street, the men and women in the market, the butcher and various tradesmen in their shops, and, "looked them on the mouth," in pursuit of the most intelligible terms.
His genius for poetry and music enabled him to reproduce the rhythm and melody, the parallelism and symmetry, of Hebrew poetry and prose.
The Gothic Bishop Wulfila or Wölflein (i.e., Little Wolf) in the fourth century translated nearly the whole Bible from the Greek into the Gothic dialect.