Weten: The Bible in Low German

In the section ›Weten we present to you information about the Low German language and associated culture.

With his High German translation of the Bible, Martin Luther is often held responsible for the decline of Low German. And he was for sure one of the contributing factors. But what many people do not know: even before Martin Luther published his Bible, it was completely translated into Low German. While Luther was translating the Bible into High German, his companion Johannes Bugenhagen at the same time was working on the Low German version, which appeared in 1533/1534 and is called the Lübeck Bible. Luther also finished his edition later in 1534.

But Luther and Bugenhagen weren't the first to translate the Bible. Just the first, who translated from the original Greek text. There were already translations of the Latin Vulgate before that. The reformers did not accept the Vulgate as the original text.

The first Low German Bible was the Cologne Bible from 1478. Cologne was just the place of the printing press. The Cologne Bible was not based on the language of Cologne, but facilitated a Middle Low German as it was used by the Hanseatic League as a commercial language. At the same time, a second version of the same Bible appeared in Cologne in Low Franconian (i.e. Dutch), since Dutch and Low German were already felt to be too different for a joint edition at that time.

Other Low German Bibles were published in Lübeck in 1494 and in Halberstadt in 1522.

From 1534 to 1622, the Bugenhagen Lübeck Bible was published by various book printers in around 25 editions and enjoyed great popularity in northern Germany. After this time the Lübeck Bible was superseded by the Luther Bible and High German became the only church language in all of Low Germany.

Only after Low German was revived in the 19th century through the works of Fritz Reuter and Klaus Groth, among others, work was done on a Low German Bible again. Pastor Johannes Paulsen revised the Lübeck Bible and translated the New Testament into a more modern Low German. Dat Nie Testament: vun unsen Herrn un Heiland Jesus Christus na de plattdütsche Oewersettung vun Johann Bugenhagen appeared in 1885. In 1929 Ernst Voss published his translation of the New Testament into Mecklenburgian: Dat Ni Testament för plattdütsch Lüd in ehr Muddersprak äwerdragen.

In 1915 Oldig Boekhoff published Dat Näie Testament in dat ostfräske Plattdüts un in 1983/1984 Gerrit Herlyn Dat Neei Testament: Weergeven un wiedergeven in oostfreeske Taal.

A Schleswig variant of the New Testament was published in 1933 by Johannes Jessen and a Holstein variant in 1975 by Rudolf Muuß (Dat Niee Testament: plattdüütsch). A Holstein version of the entire Bible was published from 1996 to 2003 by Karl-Emil Schade (Old Testament 1996, New Testament 2003).

A translation of the Old Testament into Mecklenburgian based on the Stuttgart edition was completed in 2016 by Gerhard Amtsberg.

A translation of the New Testament into Plautdietsch was created in 1988 by John J. Neufeld, which was supplemented by the Old Testament in 2003 by Ed Zacharias. A translation of the entire Bible into Plautdietsch from a single source was done in 2008 by Jehaun Friese.