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Luther and the Language of the Gospel

23. January 2017

Features, Theme Articles,

  —Dr. Byron G. Curtis

Tongue-Tied?

Lately I’ve ventured into textspeak. Instead of writing to my daughter, “I’ll see you at 5:00,” I sent her a text message that said something like “c u @ 5.” I cringe at the memory of my wicked syntax. It reminds me that language is a dicey business. It ever reinvents itself.

Along with merry old Oz’s melting wicked witch, we might moan, “Oh, what a world!” The problem is akin to what the nuns of Saltsburg sang of wayward Maria in The Sound of Music: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?/ How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?”

Language, like Maria, is elusive. But language can be pinned down. It tells us what we need to know. Sometimes our clarity falters, and sometimes we falter at others’ clarity. But without good success at our words, we’d fall into tongue-tied silence. Because of the eternal Word, our lesser words work.

Luther’s Gift for Language

Martin Luther (1483–1546), the first Protestant Reformer, had a gift for language. His vigorous German translation of the Bible (1534) established a standard for the wild, wandering German language even greater than the effect the King James Version (KJV 1611) had upon the weird dialects of the English. It was Luther’s gift for language that helped purify Christian preaching, first for the churches of Europe, then for a great part of the world, down to our time.

Luther wasn’t always a ...

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