Works of Martin Luther, with introductions and notes, Volume 1/Translators' Note
The languages from which the following translations have been made are the Latin and the German,—the Latin of the German Universities, the German of the people, and both distinctively Luther's. In the Latin there is added to the imperfection of the form, when measured by classical standards, the difficulty of expressing in an old language the new thoughts of the Reformation. German was regarded even by Gibbon, two hundred and fifty years later, as a barbarous idiom. Luther, especially in his earlier writings, struggled to give form to a language and to express the highest thoughts in it. Where Luther thus struggled with two languages, it is evident that they have no easy task who attempt to reproduce the two in a third.
Modern Germans find it convenient to read Luther's German in a modernized text, sometimes rather hastily and uncritically constructed, and altogether unsafe as a basis for translation. Where the Germans have had to modify, a translator meets double difficulties. It may be puzzling for him to know Luther's exact meaning; it is even more puzzling to find the exact English equivalent.
In order to overcome these difficulties, in part at least, and present a translation both accurate and readable, the present group of translators have not simply distributed the work among themselves, but have together revised each translation as it was made. The original translator, at a meeting of the group, has submitted his work to the rest for criticism and correction, amounting at times to retranslation. No doubtful point, whether in sense or in sound, has been passed by unchallenged.
Even with such care, the translation is not perfect. In places a variant reading is possible, a variant interpretation plausible. We can only claim that an honest effort has been made to be both accurate and clear, and submit the result of our labors to a fair and scholarly criticism. Critics can hardly be more severe than we have been to one another. If they find errors, it may be that we have seen them, and preferred the seeming error to the suggested correction; if not, we can accept criticism from others as gracefully as from each other.
The sources from which our translations have been made are the best texts available in each case. In general, these are found in the Weimar Edition (D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesammtausgabe. Weimar. Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1883 ff.), so far as this is completed. A more complete and fairly satisfactory edition is that known as the Erlangen Edition, in which the German and Latin works are published in separate series, 1826 ff. The text of the Berlin Edition (Luthers Werke, herausgegeben von Pfarrer D. Dr. Buchwald, etc., Berlin, C. A. Schwetschke und Sohn, third edition, 1905, ten volumes is modernized, and where it has been used it has been carefully compared with the more critical texts. The two editions of Walch—the original, published 1740–1753, in twenty-four volumes, at Halle, and the modern edition, known as the St. Louis, Mo., edition, 1880 ff.—are entirely German, and somewhat modernized. For our purpose they could be used only as helps in the interpretation, and not as standard texts for translation. A very convenient and satisfactory critical text of selected treatises is to be found in Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Bonn, 4 vols., of which two volumes appeared in 1912.