The Wartburg Project

October 28th, 2021

72. Luther and Genesis 4:1

In his translation of Genesis 4:1 Luther had a unique rendering for the words of Eve spoken at the birth of Cain, “I have a man, the Lord” (Ich habe den Mann, den Herrn). As a Lutheran translation, does the EHV follow Luther’s unique rendering of this verse?

First of all, before we address the question itself, we will comment on the issue of whether the EHV is a Lutheran translation. The EHV is a translation by Lutherans, but it is not “Lutheran” in the sense that it introduces Lutheran interpretations into the translation. The aim of the translation is to say what the Hebrew and Greek say without introducing interpretation into the translation itself. The proper place for such interpretive comments is in study Bibles or commentaries. Our Wartburg Project EHV study Bibles, which primarily focus on history, geography, and archaeology in their notes, do include Lutheran understandings and comments in their doctrinal notes. Study Bibles based on the EHV text which were produced by non-Lutherans would very likely include notes reflecting the doctrinal perspective of the scholars who produced them. That is one of the functions of a study Bible.

When asked if the EHV is a Lutheran Bible, we say, “It is a Bible translated by Lutherans (with lots of input from non-Lutherans) but it is not just for Lutherans, it is a gift from Lutherans to the whole church.” Its audience and aim are identified by its full name, the Evangelical Heritage Version. It is a translation which everyone with an interest in the evangelical heritage of Bible translation will feel comfortable with.

Back to the original question—Does the EHV follow Luther’s unique rendering of this verse? Here is what the EHV does with Genesis 4:1:

The man was intimate witha Eve, his wife. She conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have gotten a man with the Lord.”b

b. 4:1: Or, following Martin Luther’s translation, I have gotten a man, the Lord. Luther understood this comment as a statement of faith by Eve that the promise of Genesis 3:15 was already being fulfilled with Cain’s birth. The Jerusalem Targum seems to support this interpretation with the reading I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord. The Hebrew verb qayin means get or acquire and is similar in sound to Cain’s name.

So the answer to the question, “Does the EHV follow Luther’s unique rendering of this verse?” is no and yes. It does not follow Luther’s translation verbatim, but it does take note of the impact of Luther’s rendering upon the interpretation of Messianic prophecy. Here are a few of the reasons for our two-fold approach.

One reason to hesitate about incorporating Luther’s rendering into the translation is that virtually all other translations, including most of the ancient versions, render with something like “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord, or through the Lord.” Those translations understand the Hebrew word eth as the common word for with, whereas Luther’s rending takes eth as the mark of the direct object, a meaning it has elsewhere in Genesis.

Even some later versions of the Lutherbibel have an altered translation, “Ich habe einen Mann gewonnen mit dem HERRN." For example, the Lutherbibel on Bible Gateway has that translation. Bible Gateway lists the date of its Lutherbibel as 1545, but it says it has no knowledge of where this text came from or its publication history, so it is not clear if this is in fact an altered Lutherbibel from Luther’s lifetime, which was approved by Luther, or a later revision. What we can say is that “I have gotten a man, the Lord” remains the accepted standard translation for Luther’s Bible. For example, Franz Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, III, 213, treats this as the definitive Lutherbibel rendering of Genesis 4:1.

We can grant, however, that the majority of grammatical opinion regards “with the Lord” as the better translation, although Luther’s translation is certainly possible. Are there any other contextual factors that play into the decision and can help us break the tie?

The strongest contextual argument raised against Luther’s translation is that Eve could not possibly have had faith in a coming Messiah. Messianic faith is said to be a much latter development. But is this true? Interpreters’ evaluation of the context of Genesis 4:1 is dependent on their understanding of Genesis 3:15. If Genesis 3:15 is about women and snakes, it would be anachronistic to find Messianic faith in Genesis 4:1.

It is clear that the basis for Luther’s translation was his belief that Adam and Eve were saved by faith in the coming Savior. If that was their understanding of Genesis 3:15, it is plausible that Eve could express that faith when the first child came into the world. Luther states this conviction many times in this writings.

All the saints of the Old Testament were justified and sanctified by faith in the “Seed” which was to come (Weimar Edition, 42, 180; St Louis Edition, 1, 296).

Adam and Eve were encouraged by this promise. Wholeheartedly they grasped the hope of their restoration; and full of faith, they saw that God cared about their salvation, since he clearly declares that the male Seed of the woman would prostrate this enemy (American Edition, 1, 193).

“The woman’s Seed” he says. This means all individuals in general, and yet he is speaking of only one individual, of the Seed of Mary, who is the mother without union with a male. Thus the first little expression, “I shall put enmity between you and the woman” seems to denote all women in general. God wanted to make all women suspect to Satan; on the other hand, he wanted to leave the godly with a very certain hope, so that they might expect this salvation from all who gave birth, until the real one came. In the same way, this “her Seed” is spoken most individually, if one may use the expression, concerning the Seed which was born only to Mary of the tribe of Judah, who was espoused to Joseph (AE 1, 196).

Although Eve was mistaken in this hope [that Cain was the promised Seed of the woman], her words nevertheless reveal that Eve was a holy woman and believed the promise of the future salvation by the blessed Seed (St L, 1, 296).

“The Seed of the Woman shall bruise your head.” This passage is the absolution whereby God acquitted Adam and Eve and all of us (St L 3, 66).

Where and when did [Abraham see Christ’s day and rejoice]? Not with bodily eyes, as the Jews understand the words, but with the sight of faith when he recognized Christ when it was told him Genesis 22: “In your Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (St L, 11, 573).

Luther says that the first promise was both very dark and very clear. Very dark as far as the final circumstances, very clear in the promise that the Woman’s Seed in whom God is the acting subject will make an end of the devil. Romans 4 teaches us that the way of salvation was the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New. If Adam and Ever were not saved by Christ, how were they saved? ( See also St L, 1, 240ff; 1, 241; 3, 661; Pieper III, p 211-215)

In Genesis 4:1 translators find themselves in a very familiar position, between a rock and a hard place. If they simply incorporate Luther’s translation, critics will say they are going off on their own and ignoring the vast majority of translators. On the other hand, if they do not direct attention to Luther’s insight, they will miss an opportunity to share Luther’s belief in the presence of Messianic faith already in the earliest generations of history. So the translators hoped to pull off the rare feat of both having their cake and eating it, by directing their readers to both views of the passage.

It is possible to accept either grammatical approach to Genesis 4:1 and still hold a Messianic view of the Old Testament, but if one holds a non-Messianic view of Genesis 3:15, it is impossible to accept Luther’s view of Genesis 4:1. In Genesis 4:1 the most important question is not which translation is favored by the weight of grammatical evidence, but whether salvation was by faith in the Old Testament. The underlying question can be framed in this way: “Did Adam and Eve know that a Savior was coming, or did Eve just know about fighting snakes?” “Did Moses know about this Savior and write about him?” “Did David know about this Savior and write about him?” “Were these real Messianic prophecies that produced faith in the Messiah in those who received them?” We rejoice that we know so much more about the Seed, the Son of Adam, David’s Lord, the Virgin’s Son than those who first received and recorded the oracles about him, but we are also confident that at the heart of things, their gospel and ours, their faith and ours, are one. And we expect that translations and commentaries will clearly proclaim that truth.

Luther stands almost alone in his translation, but his Messianic interpretation of Genesis 4:1 did not originate with him. Its roots were already present among the Jewish scribes. This view was common in patristic and medieval interpretation. “I have gotten a man, the Lord” is probably the more difficult reading grammatically, but is this a case in which we should follow the axiom, “The more difficult reading is to be preferred”?