Luther on Translation

“You’ve got to go out and ask the mother in her house, the children in the street, the ordinary man at the market. Watch their mouths move when they talk, and translate that way. Then they’ll understand you and realise that you are speaking German to them.”

“In Mark 14:4 the traitor Judas says Ut quid perditio ista unguenti facta est? If I followed those lemmings and literalists, I’d have to render that ‘Why was this waste of ointment made?’ What kind of talk is that? Whoever talks about ‘making a waste of ointment’? You make a mess not a waste, and anybody who heard you talking about making a waste would naturally think you are actually making something, when it fact you were unmaking it — though that still sounds pretty vague (nobody unmakes a waste either). What a real person would say, of course, is ‘What a waste!'”

Both quotations cited in Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 185, 195.

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Filed under bible, church history, martin luther, quotes, translations

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