Luther on the Biblical Languages

Because of the meaning of the text is found in the text, Luther was convinced that those who preach and teach to the church should know the OT Hebrew and the NT Greek. For Luther, reading Greek and Hebrew was one of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of the Reformed preacher. In regards to those who raised objection to him in his day, “We can read and understand the Bible in German, so what’s the matter?” (which by the way is the same line of thinking today that says, Isn’t a good English translation enough?) Luther responded:

Without languages we could not have received the gospel. Languages are the case which contains the priceless jewels of antique thought; they are the vessel that holds the wine; and as the gospel says, they are the baskets in which the loaves and fishes are kept to feed the multitude. If we neglect the literature we shall eventually lose the gospel. No sooner did men cease to cultivate the languages than Christendom declined, even until it fell under the undisputed dominion of the pope. But no sooner was this torch relighted, than this papal owl fled with a shriek into congenial gloom. In former times the fathers were frequently mistaken, because they were ignorant of the languages and in our days there are some who like the Waldenses, do not think the languages of any use; but although their doctrine is good, they have often erred in the real meaning of the sacred text; they are without arms against error, and I fear much that their faith will not remain pure.

Moreover, Luther wrote:

It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially, in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! With a great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor – yes, almost without any labor at all – can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame!

According to Luther, knowing biblical languages would bring freshness and preaching to be powerful. He said:

Though the faith and the gospel may be proclaimed by simple preachers without the languages, such preaching is flat and tame, men grow at last wearied and disgusted and it falls to the ground. But when the preacher is versed in the languages, his discourses has freshness and force, the whole of Scripture is treated, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and works.