The Berleburg Bible

PIETISM was a religious movement that developed within the German Lutheran Church in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some followers of this movement were ridiculed or even persecuted because of their faith. Several Pietist scholars found refuge in Berleburg, some 100 miles [150 km] north of Frankfurt am Main. They were granted asylum by a local nobleman, Count Casimir von Wittgenstein Berleburg, who held religion in high esteem. The presence of these preachers and academics in Berleburg led to a new translation of the Bible, known today as the Berleburg Bible. How did the translation come about?

One of the asylum seekers was Johann Haug, who was forced to leave his home in Strasbourg because of the intolerance of local theologians. Haug was an erudite scholar and a talented linguist. He told his fellow scholars in Berleburg of his earnest desire “to provide a wholly pure Bible translation, to correct Luther’s translation, to render the meaning exactly according to the letter of God’s Word and according to its spirit.” (Die Geschichte der Berlenburger Bibel [The History of the Berleburg Bible]) The goal was to produce a Bible with explanatory notes and comments, and it was to be understandable to the common man. Haug enlisted the support of academics in other European lands, and he worked on the project for 20 years. The Berleburg Bible was published starting in 1726. Because of its extensive notes, it ran to eight volumes.

The Berleburg Bible certainly has some interesting points. For example, Exodus 6:2, 3 reads: “Further God talked to Moses and spoke to him: I am the LORD! And appeared to Abraham/to Isaac and to Jacob/as an omni-sufficient God: but by my name JEHOVAH I did not become known to them.” A note explains: “The name JEHOVAH . . . , the name set apart/or/the declared name.” God’s own personal name, Jehovah, also appears in comments on Exodus 3:15 and Exodus 34:6.

The Berleburg Bible thus became one in a long line of German Bibles that have used the name Jehovah either in the main text, in footnotes, or in comments. One of the more modern translations giving due honor to God’s personal name is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.