Fun Facts from Church History: Luther and Hebrew

According to Helen Kraus, Martin Luther’s knowledge of Hebrew was minimal and, in his own words he was ‘… no Hebrew grammarian, nor do I wish to be’.  Luther also expressed ‘a deep-seated distaste for Hebrew grammar’. She continues, ‘Luther depended heavily upon such distinguished Hebraists as Bernard Ziegler, Mattheus Aurogallus, Andreas Osiander, and Caspar Cruciger’ for the German translation of the Old Testament.’*

[This in contrast to Zwingli’s mastery of Hebrew (and Greek).]

I was unable to track down Luther’s comments concerning his Hebrew skills so I inquired of Prof. Kraus and not having received any reply I turned to the learned Christian Moser who provided the following citations:

WA TR 3, no. 3271b: “Ego nullus sum Hebraeus grammatice et regulariter, quia nullis patior me vinculis constringi, sed libere versor. Etiamsi quis linguarum dona habeat, attamen non statim potest in aliam linguam transferre. Das ist ein sonderliche Gottes gabe, interpretari.”

or similarly WA TR 1, no. 1040: “Jch bin kein Ebräer nach der Grammatica und Regeln, denn ich lasse mich nirgendan binden, sondern ich gehe frei hindurch. Wenn einer gleich die Gabe der Sprachen hat, und verstehet sie, doch kann er darum nicht eine in die ander so bald bringen und wol verdolmetschen. Dolmetschen ist eine sonderliche Gnade und Gabe Gottes.”

However, concerning Kraus’s conclusion that Luther had a ‘distaste’ for Hebrew- Moser observes

No idea where she got the “the deep seated distaste” from, the quotation doesn’t allow this conclusion at all.

I have no idea where Kraus got the idea either. At any rate, it’s one of the benefits of modern life that citations that are unattributed or imprecise can be examined and uncovered fairly quickly.  And those which have no basis in the sources can also be brought to light as such.

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* Helen Kraus, Gender Issues in Ancient and Reformation Translations of Genesis 1-4 (OUP,2011, p. 119).

2 thoughts on “Fun Facts from Church History: Luther and Hebrew

  1. Pingback: Carl Trueman at SBTS (1) Theological and Biographical Foundations – Reflections upon Luther « agnus dei – english + romanian blog

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