Fortress Press

Experiencing Gospel: The History and Creativity of Martin Luther's 1534 Bible Project

Experiencing Gospel

The History and Creativity of Martin Luther's 1534 Bible Project

Gordon A. Jensen (Author), Robert Kolb (Foreword by)


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Gordon Jensen's careful analysis of the 1534 Luther Bible uncovers the central truth of Martin Luther's prodigious translation efforts: Luther's commitment to producing this physical object was founded in his desire that receiving the Gospel might become a lived experience. Contrary to popular perception, Luther's works were not the first, the freshest, or even the most user-friendly German biblical translations of the time. Rather, their power came in Luther's utter commitment to creatively sharing the Word "so that people would encounter Christ within the pages of scripture and through scripture, thus driving Christ into their hearts and lives."

Jensen locates proof of Luther's commitment in his deliberate decision to highlight seven specific words and phrases in the text of his 1534 translation. Combined, these terms provide a concise summary of Luther's Reformation theology: the source, voice, content, and command of the gospel. Skillfully tracing the theological implications of Luther's editorial decisions, Jensen provides readers with a crystalline view into the very heart of Luther's theological message. The written Bible is important not for its literary qualities or its "inerrancy" -- an irrelevant premise for Luther, as Jensen explains. Rather, the Bible's essential value is as the conduit through which Christ is proclaimed. Luther's hope was that once someone encountered the Bible, they "would experience the gospel, and having experienced it, want to share this gospel so that others might experience Christ and the Word of life as well."

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506482941
  • eBook ISBN 9781506482958
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 214
  • Publication Date December 5, 2023


Going far beyond telling the story of how the 1534 Bible came about, Jensen shows what drove and shaped the translation and publication. Through a careful examination of words and phrases that Luther chose to emphasize, Jensen illuminates Luther's theological agenda. This Bible sought to speak gospel, to give the experience of the life-giving Word to readers and hearers, and thereby to change their lives.

Mary Jane Haemig, professor emerita of church history, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Most authors long for one best-seller. Luther had several, but none more enduring than the 1534 Luther Bible. Jensen's book explores the results of the Wittenberg Bible project, noting how the remarkable translation effort, notable illustrations, and a few highlighted texts brought audiences not just a book but the living voice of the gospel (viva vox evangelii).

Jeffrey Jaynes, Warner Professor of Church History, Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Gordon Jensen has written a broad history of the so-called Luther Bible. In clear and captivating prose, he tells the behind-the-scenes story of its creation by multiple Wittenberg figures who spent years translating and revising the Scriptures into a German that resonated with German speakers. Jensen captures the energy of this group, the convictions that motivated them to carry out this lengthy project, and the vitality they saw in the Word. Through humanistic learning and creative renderings, they created a dynamic translation that quickly became a classic.

Anna Marie Johnson, associate professor of Reformation church history, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; author of Beyond Indulgences: Luther's Reform of Late Medieval Piety

This book describes how Martin Luther and his colleagues not only translated biblical languages into German but also sought to translate the gospel from written page to personal experience. In that way, this insightful historical study serves as a great resource for understanding the scriptural theology that drove the Lutheran Reformation.

Martin J. Lohrmann, associate professor of Lutheran Confessions and heritage, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Martin Luther's passion for the Word and his creativity as translator have drawn ample scholarly attention. Dr. Gordon A. Jensen's discovery of Luther's decision to capitalize certain words in his Bible translation led to this delightful study that demonstrates both Luther's intentionality in communicating the gospel and his commitment to lead the reader to experience forgiveness. The book contributes to the study of the art of biblical translation and the themes of Luther's essential theology.

Kirsi Stjerna, First Lutheran, Los Angeles/Southwest California Synod Professor of Lutheran History and Theology, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley