Tuesday, July 19, 2005 AD

Sin Boldly?

Seeing that "Sin Boldly" is the motto of this blog, I feel compelled to explain it appropriately.

Luther's supposed "sin boldly" quote is a mistranslation and is therefore often misunderstood.

What he actually says is this:

"Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world."

Source: Project Wittenberg

In Bible Study, our pastor was explaining how it is important, according to Walther's XIX thesis on Law and Gospel, not to minimize any of our sins. This gave me a truer understanding of what I believe Luther was saying in this oft misapplied phrase. Afterward, Erika Flores, the translator of the above text who happens to be a member of our congregation, came up to me and pointed our a verse of Scripture in Luther's German translation of the Bible which says the same basic thing Luther was in this reference. I believe this is exactly what Luther was paraphrasing in his (in)famous statement quoted above.

Romans 5:20-21 (Luther Bibel 1545)

Das Gesetz aber ist neben eingekommen, auf daß die Sünde mächtiger würde. Woaber die Sünde mächtig geworden ist, da ist doch die Gnade viel mächtiger geworden, auf daß, gleichwie die Sünde geherrscht hat zum Tode, also auch herrsche die Gnade durch die Gerechtigkeit zum ewigen Leben durch Jesum Christum, unsern HERRN.

My English translation of the German: The law however came in besides, so that sin became more strong. But where sin becomes strong, nevertheless grace becomes even more strong, so that, as sin prevailed to death, thus grace also prevails through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

NKJV - Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

My point is not to say that Luther's German is the best translation of the Greek of this verse (I haven't even looked at that), but rather to point out what it is that Luther was trying to say in this often misunderstood phrase. That is, let your sins be strong, do not minimize them, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, because His grace is even stronger.


Blogger The Terrible Swede said...

Dear Caspar the Friendly Ghost,

Thanks for the translation, explanation and the links.

I thought that people would click on the "Sin Boldly" picture (which is a link - try it!) to take them to the translation and context of the words, which was you first link.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Caspar said...

You're welcome. The greatest revelation is the connection to the German of Romans 5:20-21. This gives a greater understanding of what Luther meant than even Erika's translation does.

7:09 AM  
Blogger --m said...

Oddly, I think I "get" this blog.
Thanks for helping keep Christianity fun.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that mistranslation has been the cause of much antinomian-justified sin among Lutherans, especially young adults.

3:42 PM  
Blogger TRAC said...

I came across this blog in searching for references to Luther's 'sin boldly' statement, as I had an inspiration last night as to a more subtle underlying message involved - sincerity. The points made of 'imaginary mercy' and 'imaginary sin' seem to be in agreement with that conclusion, despite my never having come across the full, lengthy, translated text before tonight.

So what am I seeing in Luther's message? If you sin, sin with sincerity; for if you will not be sincere in your sin, or your mercy, or in any thing, why engage in that thing? I find a strong parallel with this and the rebuke of the 'lukewarm' of Revelation 3:16.

Also, if one will be sincere, then they will be being (at least more) honest with themselves; and if they do this, they will find it more difficult to willfully engage in the rebellion of sin.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Libby said...

Hi, I came across this page while trying to find a German text of the quote explained. If you could lead me in the right direction, or could just post the actual German text, I would love that.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Edward Hopkins said...

Paul does offer a mitigating word in 6:1 "What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?"

He answers his own question: μὴ γένοιτο.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I was doing more research on this and discovered that this letter of Luther's was originally in Latin. The German text translated above was Johann Georg Walch's German translation of the original Latin. Walch translated many of Luther's Latin writings into German for the "St. Louis Edition."

"Let your sins be strong" probably gets more to Luther's intended meaning, based on the context, but Luther did actually write, "pecca fortiter". It turns out "sin boldly" is an unfortunately accurate translation of the actual words Luther penned.

Here is the original Latin version of Luther's letter to Melanchthon in the Weimar Edition. The words in question are near the bottom of page 372:


8:11 AM  
Blogger Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"Si gratiae praedicator es, gratiam non fictam sed veram praedica; si vera gratia est, verum non fictum ferto. Deus non facit salvos ficte peccatores. Esto peccator et pecca fortiter, sed fortius fide et gaude in Christo, qui victor est peccati, mortis, et mundi; peccandum est quam diu hic sumus."

8:17 AM  
Blogger Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"Pecca fortiter" can also mean "sin strongly", which seems to fit better since the sentence continues, "sed fortius fide et gaude in christo" (but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ). This also fits better with the plausible explanation that Luther is simply paraphrasing his understanding of Romans 5:20-21, "Woaber die Sünde mächtig geworden ist, da ist doch die Gnade viel mächtiger geworden" (But where sin becomes strong, nevertheless grace becomes even more strong).

4:29 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home