While preparing for a sermon this coming LORD’s Day on Isaiah 9:6, I meditated on a hymn written by Martin Luther in 1529. I discovered that it was written by a unitarian pastor. In an article written by David Matthis from Desiring God, he lamented the fact that there are important details that are lost in the translation that we are now singing.
An example is Luther’s commitment to the fact there is no other God than Jesus. This solid reference to Jesus as God is lost in the translation from age to age the same. Though, this might refer to Jesus’ immutability. To miss His exclusive, true and full deity is to miss everything.
You can read the entire article here, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
DISCOVERING THE POWER OF LUTHER’S ORIGINAL LYRICS.
Luther’s extremes better capture not only God’s extreme fullness and power, but also our extreme emptiness and powerlessness.David Matthis
Here’s the wooden translation of Martin Luther’s original hymn (phrases in bold are the seven variants, which David Matthis explained in his article that lost their strong force when compared to Luther’s original):
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
A “Woodenly Literal” Translation
by John Piper, with Matthias Lohmann
A strong castle is our God,
A good defense and weapon.
He helps us become free from every misery
That has now affected us.
The old evil enemy
Is now in earnestness with his intents.
Great Power and much deception
Is his cruel armor.
On earth is not its likeness.
With our power nothing is accomplished.
We are very soon lost.
The right man fights for us
Whom God himself has chosen.
Do you ask who that is?
His name is Jesus Christ,
The Lord of hosts,
And there is no other God.
The battlefield he must hold.
Even if the world were full of Devils
And would want to swallow us up,
We would not thus fear so very much.
We will nevertheless succeed.
The prince of this world,
How bitterly he might pretend to be,
Nevertheless will not do anything to us
Because he is judged.
A little word can fell him.
That word they shall let stand
And will have no thanks for it.
He is with us according to plan
With his Spirit and gifts.
If they take the body,
Goods, honor, child, and wife,
Let them go away.
They will have no profit.
The kingdom must remain for us.
To compare the translation easily, here is the translation of what we normally sin in the church:
1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.
3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!
To God be the glory!