Ecumenical News International

Valuable prints of oldest Bible translations: opening of exhibition in Bibelhaus Museum

September 16, 2015

EKD Council chair Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Jürgen Schefzyk, director of the Bibelhaus Museums, Volker Jung, president of the Evangelical Church of Hessen and Nassau, German President Joachim Gauck and Thomas Kreuzer, Frankfurt Bible Society chair (from left to right) at the opening of the exhibition "Luther's Masterpiece" (Photo: epd-bild/Jochen Günther)

Frankfurt a.M. (epd). German president Joachim Gauck considers the Luther Bible one of the most important intellectual and cultural productions of the German nation. Martin Luther's Bible translation had become "a book belonging to all of us", said Gauck on 15 September in Frankfurt am Main. The Reformer had expressed the soul of the German language and, besides his theological vocation, had been a gifted translator "because he had the salvation of his Germans at heart", the president added.

Gauck was speaking at the opening of the exhibition "Luther's Masterpiece" at the Frankfurt Bibelhaus-Museum. The history of the origins and effects of the Luther Bible are illustrated with the aid of original Bibles from the 15th and 16th century, multimedia shows and a comprehensive side programme. "Luther did not just give us the Word of God in German - ... - he also contrived to find words and images that have remained idiomatic in German and shaped German thought-forms to this day," the president observed.

His aim: "Anchoring the Word of God in people's souls"

Luther understood himself primarily as a pastor, said Gauck, who was trained and worked as a Protestant minister himself. Luther was concerned for his own salvation and that of his fellow citizens with an urgency that is barely imaginable today, he added. The whole power and precision, the eloquence and poetic charm of Luther's translation of scripture had only one aim - to "anchor the Word of God in people's souls".
Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, EKD Council chair, said that the Luther Bible with its strong impact on the German language was still part of the cultural memory. The Reformer's "Bible German" had a firm place in ordinary German thanks to its many memorable turns of phrase. "That is why every revision, every adaptation of the Luther translation to the changing use of a living language needs special care," Bedford-Strohm observed. On 16 September he will receive the latest revision of the Luther Bible at Wartburg Castle; it is to be officially presented to the public on Reformation Day 2016.

According to Bedford-Strohm, who is the patron of the exhibition, new media have contributed to spreading the Bible, along with low prices and wide dissemination by modern printing techniques. The Protestant churches first 'popularized' the Bible by using it in church services and school lessons, he added.

Creative forms of cultural memory Training

The cultural importance of Luther's Bible translations is linked to their religious use, said Bedford-Strohm. The Bible was related to one's own life, he added. "You have to opt for that, it means making an effort and not only intellectually." The religious use of the Bible means experiencing both strangeness and accessibility. Bedford-Strohm conceded that the influence of the Bible was declining. "There is something like a loss of cultural memory." An antidote would be to develop creative forms of cultural memory training.

Hessen-Nassau church president Volker Jung expressed his conviction that the Bible "speaks to our lives" with Martin Luther's eloquence even 500 years after the Reformation. It does so in words that personally touch and console us, and can also give us guidance on social issues, Jung declared.
According to information from the museum, the exhibition shows not only historically precious volumes from the Reformation period with their rich illustrations, but also all the steps leading up to Luther's Bible translation. For example, visitors can admire a copy of the first book printed with movable metal letters, the Gutenberg Bible from 1454/55, and also pre-Luther translations into German, such as the splendidly ornamented Bible printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger (1483).

The exhibition "Luther's Masterpiece" in Frankfurt's "Bibelhaus Erlebnis Museum" is open from 16 September to 31 December. Opening hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10:00 to 17:00 and from 14:00-18:00 on Sundays and public holidays.
A catalogue is available. In addition, there is a smartphone app and quiz, with audio-guides available in English and German. Guided tours for adults, young people and children are also on offer. The exhibition is accompanied by a varied programme of events.



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