Lost and Found in Translation


I complain that laymen don’t read the Lutheran Confessions, but can you really blame them? Below is a comforting quote from the Apology, but in the Triglotta it’s in Apology Article III in Tappert and Kolb it’s in Article IV and in the Reader’s Edition it’s in Article V.  I present them in the order that they came out from 1921 to 2005.


“If the regenerate ought afterwards to think that they will be accepted on account of the fulfilling of the Law, when would conscience be certain that it pleased God, since we never satisfy the Law” (Triglotta, AP III, 45, p. 169)?


“If those who are regenerated are supposed later to believe that they will be accepted because they have kept the law, how can our conscience be sure that it pleases God, since we never satisfy the law” (Tappert, AP IV, 164, p. 129)?


“Fifth, if we had to believe that after our renewal we must become acceptable not by faith on account of Christ but on account of our keeping of the law, our conscience would never find rest. Instead, it would be driven to despair.  For the law always accuses since we never satisfy the law.” (Kolb, AP IV, 179, p.148).


“If the regenerate afterward think that they will be accepted because of the fulfilling of the Law, when would a conscience be certain that it pleased God? We never satisfy the Law” (Reader’s Edition, AP V, 43, p. 134)!


Kolb makes what the other three translate as a question a statement.  Where it gets “Instead it would be driven to despair,” I don’t know, but having made these two observations, I rather like the translation. However, the Triglotta and Tappert translations do a better job of showing how the rhetorical question is based on the fact that we never satisfy the law. Kolb and The Reader’s Edition weaken the connection by making two sentences out of what I assume in the original was one.


But here’s the rub.  I don’t know which of these is the best translation.  The sainted Dr. Harold Buls said that by comparing different Bible translations a layman could arrive at the best translation. This is all but impossible with the Book of Concord.  It took me at least 30 minutes just to find this quotation in the various translations of the Book of Concord.


The Reader’s Edition was a step in the right direction, but what is needed is a critical edition that goes over the history of the text, enables cross-referencing between translations, and discusses variants.  This is not too much to ask of synod, seminaries, and publishing house for the book we expect layman to regard as next in importance to the Holy Scriptures.


In fact, if I were a layman before calling for a for “a 21st century Formula of Concord” we could all agree on, I would call for one Book of Concord we would all read.




About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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2 Responses to Lost and Found in Translation

  1. Bart Goddard says:

    Indeed, I spent a good amount of time looking at the German version of the Triglotta, and I couldn’t find the paragraph at all. I could find the final paragraph of that subsection, and a paragraph about 10 before. But there seems to be little correlation between any of the versions.
    I thought I could be the hero, and tell you whether the German had “one long sentence” and whether there was a rhetorical question. Instead, I’m just frustrated.

    • The German is on page 168 right column, and the reference is where the second full paragraph begins. Here’s the kicker, though. The Latin is considered the authoritative version in the Apology; that’s why it’s first. For the Augsburg Confession it’s the other way around. This is because the Augsburg Confession was made by laymen whose native tongue was German. The Apology was written as a scholarly presentation, and the language of the scholar then was Latin. To my unlettered eye, it appears the Latin is more than one sentence and the German is one long one.

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