In preparing his New Testament German translation for publishing, Luther enlisted the help of his friend, the master of languages, Melanchthon. The two spent many hours studying the Bible texts together. Finally, the translation was ready for printing.
Three printing presses were used and Luther reported that 10 000 pages were printed each day. The first copies of the New Testament in German were ready for distribution September 21, 1522. What an exciting moment for the Reformation! Luther said, “Reason thinks, Oh! If I could once hear God speak! I would run from one end of the world to the other to hear Him…Listen then, my brother man! God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, speaks to thee.”[i]
Luther’s New Testament in German was enormously popular. The first edition of 3 000 copies sold out quickly and the demand was great. A second edition was printed in December. In about 10 years, the New Testament in German was printed in nearly 60 editions all across Germany. The Bible was finally in the hands of the people and they could learn from it and hear God’s voice speaking to them for themselves.
The Bible taught the people that faith is necessary for salvation. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” The Bible taught the people also to turn study for themselves, for Romans 10:17 teaches, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In this way, the Bible strengthened the faith of the people and taught them to obey the authority of Scripture over man. In the Bible, the people discovered the word of Christ Himself who had said, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Not everyone was happy about the printing of the Bible in the language of the common people, though. In November, Duke George ordered that all the copies of the new Bible be brought to the authorities. Other cities loyal to the pope made the same decrees and the Bible was burned in these cities. How strange for a “Christian” church to require the burning of God’s Word! How strange for a religion to destroy its sacred writings.
But the Word of God cannot be stopped. Even in Duke George’s states, thousands of German Bibles continued to be sold. People were hungry for it. Soon, common people were seen carrying it around with them, reading it in public, memorizing Scriptures and sharing what they learned with others. In a short period of time, “Women and children, artisans and soldiers, knew more of the Bible than the doctors of the schools or the priests of the altars.”[ii]
As knowledge of God’s Word grew, the Reformation rapidly spread. A monk in Nuremberg arrived with his begging box and asked a blacksmith for a donation. The blacksmith asked, “Why do you not gain your bread by the work of your own hands?”[iii] Perhaps the blacksmith had a Bible study with the monk and showed him 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 which says, “…we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” The monk sent his begging box and robe back to the monastery and learned to be a blacksmith.
Monks everywhere were leaving the convents and learning to work. More priests began preaching the Gospel. Persecution broke out and often these new reformers had to leave their communities. But when one door closed against the Gospel, another would open in some other place. One priest, forbidden to preach in his church, preached to crowds at a cemetery. Others preached in market places or in the country. A former student at Wittenberg preached in a lime grove and the Christians there were called the Lime Tree Brethren.
As knowledge of the Bible spread, the Reformation took hold in people’s hearts. Lives were transformed. Christians learned to love, forgive, pray, and suffer and even to die for the truth. There could be no turning back to the superstitious devotions and empty ceremonies of the Roman Church.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century 519
[ii] Ibid., 535
[iii] Ibid., 533.