Monday Morning Moment – Lost In Translation – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Photo Credit: Revive Our Hearts

Monday morning, Y’all! Last night’s sleep was done way early for me. I’m not super pumped for the day, but the day is here, so onward.

Tomorrow (October 31) marks the grand finale of a year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Writer pastor David Mathis posted a fascinating article on A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: Discovering the Power of Luther’s Original Lyrics.

The lyrics that we in the US church call to mind as Martin Luther’s are actually a translation from German to English by Reverend Frederic Hedge. American-born, Hedge was a German scholar therefore his handling of the lyrics of this great hymn should be supposed as honoring of the original.

Still, Hedge was a Unitarian minister. His particular theology, in Unitarianism stresses the oneness of God, without the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – three persons in One being). This thinking did, in fact, shift some of the meaning in the translation of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

David Mathis’ 7 points on what was lost in translation help us appreciate the hymn even more, in its original form. Read those lyrics re-translated from German by John Piper and Matthias Lohmann in Mathis’ article.

  1. God is not only our safe refuge but He is also our strong offense.
  2. God doesn’t just help in some of our woes but in ALL of them.
  3. Compared to Hedge’s strong statements abut God’s power and our weakness, Luther’s original lyrics were extreme descriptions – ALL-powerful God and our total defenselessness.
  4. In Luther’s words: All that happens is according to God’s plan.
  5. Hedge speaks of God’s sufficiency in our day-to-day, and Luther further clarifies that even in our worst situation possible, we are secure in God’s sovereignty.
  6. Hedge’s claim that God never changes is true, but Luther stressed that there is no other God. Full stop.
  7. Hedge closes the hymn with the great truth that God’s “Kingdom is forever”. Luther personalized it more stating that His “kingdom must remain for us.” For us. Hallelujah!

The nuances are worthy of note. Hedge’s translation brought the hymn to English for many more of us to enjoy. His translation left intact the hymn’s power in speaking to the greatness of God and the church’s confidence in Him. Yet, Luther’s original lyrics were even more emotive of the glorious nature of God, His working out His purposes in the world, and His complete provision for us.

I know it’s Monday (when I usually write about leadership), but as the year closes on the grand celebration of the Reformation, can we worship together? Hedge’s English translation will more than suffice.

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

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.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath 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.

That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ 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.*

*Lyrics and Hymn Story: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Tim Challies

[Movement Church‘s Trunk or Treat yielded our own Martin Luther.]

Happy Reformation Day tomorrow!

Worship Wednesday – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – Deb Mills Writer

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World – Eric Metaxas

The Real Story of the Reformation – Eric Metaxas – Wall Street Journal

Luther (2004) DVD

YouTube Video – Martin Luther in Rome – film clip from above film

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