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We Need a Revival of the Bible–500 Years Ago Today Martin Luther’s German Translation Was Published

Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Johnston

The miracle of the preservation of the Bible is one of the strongest lines of evidence for the veracity of Scripture. Have you stopped to appreciate how phenomenal it is that anything from the Christian past survives at all? The Christian church was terrorized for its first three hundred years. The fact that we have any early Christian documents is a miracle. By comparison, Herod the Great (c. 74 c. 4 BC) had a secretary named Nicholas of Damascus, who wrote a Universal History of the Ancient World in 144 volumes. It is all lost to history. None of it survives.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he admonished him to be fervently committed to the Word of God, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus(2 Timothy 3:15). And yet, there was a time (c. 1408) when to possess a copy of the Bible in England was a crime punishable by death. The Bible was a lost book to the people then, much as it is today, but it was a question of access then, not an issue of apathy as it is today.

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Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther published his German translation of the New Testament. I once stood in the room of the German friar, Martin Luther, where lore has it he flung his ink well at the devil where it crashed against the wall. The wall has now been stripped bare to the framing. Over the centuries, visitors to the Warburg Castle outside of Eisenach have availed themselves of pieces of this famous wall as a moment of Luthers fight with the devil during his isolation and Bible translating work. Luther risked his life to make the Scriptures available to the German people in words they would easily understand. At the age of 33, he boldly condemned the injustices of the Catholic church in the sale of indulgences by nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, which thrust him to the forefront as the leader of the Reformation. I later visited the birthplace of the Dominican, Johann Tetzel, who famously coined the phrase, every time a coin in the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs,in his quest to raise money for the construction of St. Peters Basilica.

In any case, on April 18, 1521, Luther appeared before the Imperial Diet (Congress) at Worms and refused to recant, opposing an empire and the Catholic church. Luther said, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me, Amen.