Bucer, Luther, Zwingli, and Translation Bias: Or, Be Careful Who Does Your Translation For You

bucerThe situation between Bucer and Wittenberg was further exacerbated by Bucer’s translation of Luther’s Church Postil. Before the theological differences between Bucer and Wittenberg had become manifest, Luther himself had requested, through the Strassburg publisher Johann Herwagen, that Bucer should undertake the translation of Luther’s Postil into Latin, especially for the use of Evangelicals in France and Italy.

Bucer’s translation was issued from Herwagen’s press in six volumes from 1525–27. Luther was well pleased with the first three volumes of the translation. Bucer’s translation of the fourth volume, however, which appeared on July 27, 1526, provoked a new crisis.

luther4At this point in the work, having become inclined to Zwingli’s views on the Lord’s Supper, Bucer had hesitated about how to continue. He felt obligated to the publisher, Herwagen, to complete the translation, and in general he found Luther’s teaching excellent, but he did not want to spread Luther’s views on the Lord’s Supper to the churches of France and Italy.

Despite another warning from Zwingli, and even though he knew the Wittenbergers were already angry about his interpolations in Bugenhagen’s work, Bucer proceeded to make his own additions to Luther’s text, offering his own opinions on the Supper, though this time clearly distinguished from Luther’s view. Bucer’s insertions took three forms: a preface “to the brethren in Italy”; notes on some of Luther’s statements in the postil sermons; and a letter to the reader giving an exegesis of 1 Cor. 9:24–10:5 (in opposition to Luther’s sermon on the Epistle for Septuagesima Sunday).

zwingli_opitzThe preface was especially irritating to Luther. On one hand, Bucer spoke of Luther as a great man, and on the other hand, he tried to discredit Luther as fallible and to spread his own views on the Lord’s Supper instead.*

It’s always best to get a sympathetic translator.  Otherwise…

*Open Letter to Johann Herwagen and Preface to the Fourth Volume of Martin Bucer’s Latin Translation of the Church Postil (LW Vol. 59, pp. 164–165).

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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