Steve Combs and James Kramer
Pastor Ray Cunningham
A New Bible in German
In 2016, I received correspondence from Pastor Ray Cunningham of Mount Washington Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His question was about the condition of the Martin Luther German Bible. I had never looked into it, but I thought, along with many others, that the Martin Luther translation (as originally done) had only one error in 1 John 5:7. I quickly found that I was wrong. There were a number of errors that dated back to 1545. For example, Daniel 3:25 says, “a son of the gods.” Matthew 5:22 leaves out “without a cause.” Luke 2:33 says, “his father and mother.” When I went to Mt. Washington Baptist Church in June 2016, I met a remarkable man, James Kramer. He was fluent in German, French, and Hebrew. Furthermore, he had a burden to make the Martin Luther Bible more accurate. I encouraged him to go ahead and he soon started to translate. He began to revise the Martin Luther translation 1545 edition in the Book of Genesis. After he had revised Martin Luther for nine chapters, he came to a startling conclusion: he was having to make too many changes to continue revising! He needed to do a new translation! As Brother Kramer proceeds, I have the privilege of helping by reviewing his translation, comparing the New Testament translation to the Greek TR text, and making suggestions about what I observe. Pastor Cunningham helps with theological guidance and a great deal of encouragement. Let me allow Brother Kramer to tell the story why he knew a new translation is needed and to share his heart about his background and reasons for translating. – Steve Combs
“For the remainder of Genesis Chapter 10 this editor is not using Luther’s version, as he deviated in favor of the Latin Vulgate in far too many instances. The remainder of the Genealogy of Chapter 10 and for chapters 34 onward this editor will only occasionally consult Luther. The goal is to present a proper German version of God’s Holy and Preserved Word. The opinion of this editor is that this will be accomplished correctly and expeditiously by referring to the KJV and the Hebrew original of the Old Testament, and the KJV for the New Testament rather than correcting Luther’s text …
From Genesis 34:4 onward: this will no longer be an effort to correct Dr. Martin Luther’s version, as he had leaned too much on the Latin Vulgate. Instead, the remainder will be a direct translation from the KJV and the Hebrew for the Old Testament, and the KJV for the New Testament, as the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the New Testament are preserved intact in the KJV of 1611. (This editor is constantly amazed that thus far not a single error has appeared in the KJV when compared with the Masoretic Hebrew Text). Luther’s 1545 version will be consulted on occasion, along with the Universalwörterbuch (Duden Verlag 2011, 7. Ausgabe) to ensure good German usage and grammar. It will in effect be for comparison, rather than a revision in that sense.
Praise God, the Gospel of John is going pretty well … I am finding out something rather interesting: apparently Luther's Greek was better than his Hebrew!! Either that, or he felt compelled to use the Greek Textus Receptus more than the Latin. I wonder sometimes if Luther's known Anti-Semitism formed enough of a bias that he simply viewed the Latin as true and somehow better than the Masoretic text. He had precious little good to say about the Jews in his day, which also makes me sad. It is something I probably will not know for sure this side of Glory. I suspect that, because he never wanted to split from the Roman Catholic church, he put too high an emphasis on that belief system and therefore the Latin Vulgate. At any rate, his Old Testament translation deviates far too much from the Hebrew and Aramaic (most notably the Aramaic in the Book of Daniel, which was the first huge mistake we discovered in the Luther Bible that made me want to do this in the first place!).
Rather than be negative, I praise God that I know and can use German, a language which means so much to my heart. I was blessed to know good people in my own family and dear friends who were there for me when I needed help the most, and those people spoke German. German Grammar studies, exercises and all the things that make up the language were like games and fun for me in my youth. After all, I was dealing with a language that came from loving, kind people who wanted to help me and who took me seriously! I would rather have sat inside over a complex German grammar point than join in a game of pretty much anything outdoors. In fact, I did stay indoors most of the time and loved learning, using, unraveling secrets and obscurities and reveling in the language, strange as that may sound.
I don’t know if I ever told you why I love German so much. I mention this to some people, and they look askance! It is hard for many to understand. When I was young, my pre-teen and teenage years were terribly difficult. My parents were going through the last throes of their marriage. It was the unhappiest time of my life. I lived in a neighborhood that was an oddity, especially by today’s standards: next door were my friend Uta and her mother. Uta’s mother, Frau Vogt, spoke broken English, and we all spoke German to her. Across the street were Rita and Eberhard Müller, who were big members of the German club “Teutonia Männer-und Damenchor”, which is still on Pittsburgh’s North Side. All of these folks were from the Old Country. My Grandparents still spoke German as well with me, mostly Schwäbisch-Badisch.
The German speaking people, including my grandparents, did what every young person, especially young men, need: they did not ridicule me or put me down. They encouraged me, listened to me, and took me seriously, which my parents were unable and unwilling to do. These wonderful neighbors and friends would often invite me to have a meal with them, to help out in their garden and teach me about working the soil, etc. I feel I was blessed with several families, and for that reason, for me at least German is pure music! My regret: that I was not able to win them to the Lord, although Uta became a believer much later. Eberhard Müller passed away a few years ago, and Rita is sehr römisch katholisch—she always does what so many Roman Catholics do: they hear, but it does not sink in. My own grandparents used to say they grew up that way and could never change. Tradition can be beautiful; carried to the extreme I believe it can become dangerous.
At any rate, while an advanced degree would have been wonderful, it just wasn’t possible. I realized early on that a life of college debt was something I just could not bear. I did the next best thing: I took Professional Translating at the University of Pittsburgh as Post-Graduate work; I ordered the dictionary from Germany all in German (Duden’s Universalwörterbuch and a large, cumbersome work it is!); I snapped up some excellent grammar and reading books, and I have many books strictly for enjoyment from Germany. I even have a rare German Grammar Book: the 1952 edition of “A Grammar of the German Language” by George O. Curme, Sr. (Second Revised Edition. It has been extremely highly acclaimed online as well--Wikipedia positively gushed over it)! I believe it is the best “go to” grammar for people who live here and love German. I believe no finer German grammar was ever printed in the USA. Germany’s grammar books often do what American English grammars do: they assume a knowledge that a student living elsewhere may not have. Therefore, a grammar for German people strictly speaking would not be my first choice. Especially when I have to look up an obscure point and find an explanation. (George Oliver Curme, Sr. is also listed on Google, and his son, George Oliver Curme, Jr. was a noted industrial chemist. Sort of a family of "over-achievers"). After all, I did not have the experience of attending the Volksschule! I do not feel the least bit “short changed”, because God blessed me with enough curiosity and desire to keep looking until I find whatever it is I need. I also have various books for the older form of German, which came via my Amish friends: they were still using them in their schools, last I heard. I am also one of the few who can still read and write the handwritten form of the old German Script called “Sütterlin.” (I use that for note taking and also my shopping lists!)
I do hold a Mittelstufen Zeugnis (Mid-tier certificate – sc) from the Goethe Institute (in Germany-sc), in addition to the BA in teaching with my specialty being German. Other items of interest: I was written up somewhat in the Nordamerikanischer Saengerbund newsletter for having assisted with the old script, which I love and still write. There are only a handful of people who bother learning to read it, let alone write in it.
I believe translating the Bible must be like preaching: we fight the Devil constantly, yet ‘greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.’ The encouragement from the folks here at Mt. Washington Baptist Church has been so touching, and I know it is with everyone's help and prayers that I can continue. Pastor Cunningham even allows me to use his office desk and chair in the evenings! Here I am with my very large Duden Dictionary (about as thick as a Webster's unabridged, and all in German so that I can see how the words are correctly used, not just defined); my Cassel's bilingual dictionary, for the times when the expression I want isn't exactly on the tip of my tongue; the Old Scofield KJV; the 1545 Luther (saved in several different files on the thumb drive and the computer. I like to see whether Luther and I agree on some words and expressions!!); and my laptop with a thumb drive for backing up the work as well.
How I wish Germany had a true, faithful Bible! If they would have had and followed the true Word of God, I believe the Holocaust and much of the terrible things happening among the Germanic peoples today might have been prevented. I know I am in the minority when I say this: America and England held off for a very long time on many of the heresies which plagued and continue to plague Europe: "Rationalism", "Realism" "Secularism" "Enlightenment" (which I less-than affectionately like to call "Endarkenment") etc. because we had (and still have) the true preserved Word of God. We and England only fell prey to these much later, when people turned away from what God gave us by His love and grace. It is due to these heresies that our society is unraveling more and more each day. Oh that America would return to God's Word!
I want you to know that I do not feel proud but extremely humble. After all, I have with much prayer and soul-searching embarked on a project for which I sometimes feel I am woefully inadequate. Some have said this is the right attitude; I feel it is only God's grace which allows me to do this. If it can one day help someone to know our Lord as intimately as I do, then to Him be all the glory, honor and praise!"