“An Open Letter on Translating” by Martin Luther
The speaker within the address tells his audience that letter was obtained through a friend and that he serves to publish it in order to refute any claims against the works of Luther. It seems to be his Christen duty to publish this letter.
“So that this curse of the lord and the entire Church might be avoided, I had to publish this letter which came into my hands through a good friend. I could not withhold it, as there has been much discussion about the translating of the Old and New Testaments. It has been charged by the enemies of truth that the text has been modified and even falsified in many places, which has startled and shocked many simple Christians, even among the educated who do not know the Hebrew and Greek languages.”
The recipient of the letter further poses the same question when speaking of the letter. He serves to question the translation of the words of Paul, inquiring into the nature of the word “alone” as such text does not originally contain the word.
“I received your letter with the two questions, or inquiries., requesting my response. In the first place, you ask why in translating the words of Paul in the 3rd chapter…and you tell me that the papists are causing a great fuss because Paul’s text does not contain the word sola (alone), and that my addition to the words of God is not to be tolerated”
Luther responds that he would not have expected the papists to have been capable of such deductions, making a rather discriminatory claim against the intelligence of Roman Catholics. He says that they are stealing his language.
“It is evident, however, that they are learning to speak and write German from my German translation, and so they are stealing my language from me, a language they had little knowledge of before”
Does Luther consider the process of translation as a process of creating a language? Consequentially, is understanding a translation thus understanding a language? In believing the translation to be his own, does he claim authorship then? And if so, how does one consider the original text and its author in relation?
He reprimands them for not offering thanks and instead using such language against him. He suggests that he has now taught his “enemies how to speak”.
He suggests that he has translated the New Testament into German as to the best of his abilities and thus it is still open to a better rendition. However, since it is his translation, it will remain his. He will not allow the papists to be his judge. He proposes that it is easier to be the reader than the translator. He does not require anyone to read his translation.
Is it fair to subjectively judge the translator on his abilities to translate?
He believes that their critique of his translation now subjects him as the pupil and they as his master.
“It takes a great deal of patience to do good things in public… Criticizing everything and accomplishing nothing, that is the world’s nature”
He suggests that he would like to see the papists attempt to translate even one epistle of St. Paul’s without making use of Luther’s German or translation. It is clear that Luther holds his translation to the highest standard in believing that in order to even consider translating St. Paul that you would need to inspect his German and translation.
He then suggests that the original and the translation be placed side-by-side in order to be assessed. He boasts his abilities, saying his translation is most meritious.
“I will go even further with my boasting: I can expound the psalms and the prophets, and they cannot. I can translate and they cannot”
Luther addresses the first question in telling his reader that “Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope”.
Does the translator assume dominance above both the reader and the original author?
He suggests that he has always tried to translate in pure and clear German. The plowing and sowing of a field is a metaphor for the laborious work of translation. The work and effort is never shown. The product seems to come with ease by the observer. He knows that solum in not in the Greek or Latin text, yet it helps to convey a clear and recognizable sense within the text.
“We do not have to ask the literal Latin how we are to speak German, as these donkeys do” (He is very dismissive of the papists)
He relates himself to that of previous translators who have also been attacked. He believes it to be unjust and unfair for others to judge his translation, his own work, as though it is their own. However, in their address of his work, they are bringing attention, fame and consequentially honor to his work by publicizing it.
In translating, his methods, procedures and reasons were pure as he is of Christian faith.
“It requires a right, devout, honest, sincere, God-fearing, Christian, trained, educated, and experienced heart. So I hold that no false Christian or sectarian spirit can be a good translator”
Salvation is through the readings of his translation.
The Preface to King James Bible