What would Martin Luther say? Bon mots for the Reformation | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.10.2017
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What would Martin Luther say? Bon mots for the Reformation

En route to reforming Christianity, Martin Luther left behind a treasure trove of pithy quotes that address life's pleasures and perils. Here are just a few of them.

No one has had more of a lasting impact on the German language than Martin Luther. Histranslation of the New Testament from Greek was a major feat. He wanted a Bible for the everyman and used easy-to-understand and figurative language to achieve that. When he couldn't find an existing word to his liking, he created one. As a result, the modern German language includes more than 300 words, idioms and phrases that originated in Luther's writing. The vocabulary he wrote into the language derives not only from translations and theological works, but also the words he found to address everyday social and emotional needs.

Luther on God and Jesus:

"A sip of water or beer keeps thirst away, and a piece of bread, hunger. Christ keeps away death."

Luther's biggest concern was clarifying for people how they could live together with God over the long term. This groundbreaking perspective in 1517 addressed how sinners could receive forgiveness from their creator: "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not." In other words, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is enough.

Luther on faith:

"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times."

In 1520's "On the Freedom of a Christian," Luther defines evangelical liberty: "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one."

This appears to rebuke statements by the Apostle Paul from the New Testament: "For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people."

The 30 theses in "On the Freedom of a Christian" establish an intellectual separation from medieval thought.

Luther on the Bible:

"The main way is safe; the wrong track is dangerous. God's word leads to life. Complacency to death."


For Luther, the Bible is the path to life, and to eternal life — and it's a book full of surprises; neither "ancient nor modern, it is eternal."

Lutherbibel (Imago/M. Bäuml)

Luther's translation of the New Testament into German was a gift to the language

Luther on prayer:

"Christians who pray are like pillars holding up the roof of the world."

Luther is constantly advising people to have regular exchanges with God. In his more stressful moments, Luther said: "I've got so much work to do today, I'd better spend two hours in prayer instead of one."

Luther on lies:

"A lie is like a snowball: The further you roll it the bigger it becomes."

Almost everyone has lied, but Luther compared deception to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "The allegory of a sophist is always screwed; it crouches and bows like a snake, which is never straight, whether she go, creep, or lie still; only when she is dead, she is straight enough," he wrote.

Luther on speaking:

"To say much with few words is an art. But it is a great folly to need many words but say nothing."

Luther hated long-winded speakers. He advised the clergy that "you can preach what you want, but never preach more than 40 minutes."

Luther on love, marriage and sex:

"Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave."

Luther felt that"there is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."

He learned that later, however. He began as a celibate monk and did not marry until he was 42, to the runaway nun Katharina von Bora. They had six children. "I would not trade my Kate for France and Venice for three reasons," Luther said. "(1) Because God has given her to me and me to her. (2) I have seen, time and again, that other women have more faults than my Kate. (3) She is a faithful marriage partner; she is loyal and has integrity."

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