Publication of the Book of Concord in America

By David L. Michel

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The occasion for frequent publication of a book of this kind rises out of need. On the American scene, the need for frequent publication of English translations came out of the change of language from German to English among descendants of the immigrants and the intense interest among Lutheran pastors for the content of their Reformation heritage.

Many editions of the Book of Concord had been made in the German since the first complete copy had come off the press in 1580. The German text was the most important language of the Confessions not only among those in Germany but also among the German Lutheran immigrants in the United States. Yet, there also seems to have been great interest in the Latin text judging by the large number of Latin editions and German-Latin editions made in Germany.

Lutheran ministers sent to New Netherland by the Consistory at Amsterdam during the seventeenth century were pledged to teach in accordance with the entire Book of Concord. If Justus Falckner's zeal in combating doctrinal errors of the Reformed and his high opinion of the Confessional writings are any indication, the Book of Concord was in early use on the American shores.


The early Lutheran congregations most often used German in their services. Generally, where English was adopted, the pastor was also familiar with German so that he was able to use the available German texts of the Book of Concord.

The trend of language in the United States was definitely toward English. Regardless of the language of the immigrants, the second generation became more fluent in English and by the third generation the native tongue of the family was very often completely lost. Thus, many of the sons who were born in America and who had become pastors were not able to read German and consequently, the Lutheran Confessions were closed to them for study.

The earliest English translations of the Confessions were done in England primarily to help send the Reformation on its way there. In 1536 Richard Tavener prepared the first translation of the Augsburg Confession. But there was little need in England for a complete statement of the Lutheran position and therefore little of the Book of Concord was published. We are told, however, that Thomas Cranmer published in 1548 "A Short Instruction into the Christian Religion," which was essentially a translation of the Ansbach-Nuernberg Sermons on the Catechism.


Just how much influence language has had on the theology of the church is a matter of conjecture. That conditions which gave rise to S. S. Schmucker's "American Lutheranism" occurred during the church's lack of an English translation of the Book of Concord were more than coincidental. The very fact that the first English translation was made about the same time as the issuance of the "Definite Synodical Platform" seems to indicate that there was already an opposition to this trend toward a more liberal theology.

Although there were such staunch orthodoxists as Berkenmeyer who fought unionistic movements in the colonial pastorates, even the Halle-oriented pastors recognized the Confessions - though it is true that about the time of the American Revolutionary War, Halle's character was becoming more orthodoxist.

Germany continued to send pastors with its many immigrants to the new country, but at the same time more and more young Americans were going into the ministry. Until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, these young men were trained individually by busy pastors. Their thought was shaped by the pastors under whom they studied. Undoubtedly, many were not conversant with the Lutheran Confessions because of the language barrier, and others because their pastor was not particularly interested in confessional stands, perhaps preferring the congeniality and warmth of pietism. Still others felt the need for a common confession of the Lutheran Church but felt that the writings of the Reformers were too dated to apply to the church on the American scene. It is doubtful that many of these American trained pastors had copies of the Book of Concord in their libraries.

Thus by mid-nineteenth century, the need for an English translation arose from several reasons: 1) to put the confessions into the church's now more common tongue, 2) to correct abuses in theology within the Lutheran church, and 3) to arrive at a common confessional ground for nineteenth century Lutheranism.

Prelude to the first English publication

The times (mid-1800's) were described glowingly in the Preface to the 1851 Henkel's edition: "in the land of freedom ... daily attaining fresh prospects of future improvement" ... and "continually unburying the sacred treasures of the past." The hope was that the theologians and pastors would rediscover the doctrines of the Lutheran church and find them fully fitted for the American Lutheran churches.

That hope for rediscovery was re-affirmed when in 1848 the Book of Concord was reprinted in the United States in the original German by H. Ludwig of New York. In this same year Ludwig issued a translation of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as well as a translation of the Introduction prepared by C. H. Shott, together with the ecumenical symbols with introductions. Also during this time, several of Luther's works had been translated into English and circulated extensively. Thus, the mood was set permitting such a venture to be economically possible. There was 1) sufficient demand for the Confession and 2) requirement that they be in English.

The Henkel brothers of Newmarket, in Shenandoah, Virginia, were by no means unprepared for such a venture. The Rev. Charles Henkel assisted by Professor Schmidt of the Columbus seminary in Ohio completed a translation of the Augsburg Confession in 1831 which was subsequently published. The brothers announced on October 9, 1845 their "resolution to procure a correct English version of the entire work, and publish it as soon as practicable." The year of their announcement, 1845, brings to mind a literary and seminary institution (Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio) whose founding was compelled by the resistance of the German speaking church fathers to the introduction of English into the Lutheran Church.

Henkel's Book of Concord

The first edition is dated July 4, 1851 about six years after the announced intentions of the publishers. The work of those six years was not easy - as attested by the publishers in the preface. It was necessary for the publisher to use the talents of men familiar with Lutheran doctrine; the German and English languages; and also, because of the archaic style of the original which presented "insuperable obscurities," men able to consult the Latin text. The publishers were not attempting to translate literally with the ambiguities inherent in a translation. Rather they hoped to hit a middle ground between "purely literal" and a translation "which admits all the freedom and elegance of English composition." The publisher's good intentions probably are summed up in this statement, "We have labored to be faithful, and yet not to offend the fastidious ear."

The work was not that of one man, nor of the Henkel brothers solely, but represented the combined talents of men primarily in Newmarket area. The Revs. Ambrose and Socrates Henkel furnished a purely literal version of the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Appendix, and the Articles of Visitation. The Rev. J. Stirewalt provided a literal translation of the Larger Catechism. The Rev. H. Wetzel translated the Epitome. The Rev. J. R. Moser translated the Declaration. The publishers used the Rev. David Henkel's translation of the Smaller Catechism as it was published in 1827. Joseph Salyards, Principal of the Newmarket Academy, furnished translations of all the Prefaces, from the Latin text published by Hase in 1846, and of the Historical Introduction as it appeared in J. T. Mueller's Book of Concord. The publisher states that the principal translations were made from the German edition of 1790 published at Leipsic, and that they were enabled to compare their work with a copy of "the original German Dresden edition of 1580" made available by the Rev. C. P. Krauth.

The new English translation of the Book of Concord must have made a remarkable success for the publishers because just four years later they were able to put out a new and revised edition. Apparently, the publishers looked forward to publishing a second edition. In the preface to the second edition, the publisher modestly announces that the first edition met with a kind reception in the church. A. R. Wentz says that this English book found a ready acceptance in all parts of the General Synod; many copies were bought in Pennsylvania and Ohio; Gettysburg faculty and students studied it, Capital University and Seminary studied it, and the churches in the South welcomed it.

The publishers also point out that the revision was not to change the language but to render better translations where necessary. The work was assigned to different men than was the first edition. The Rev. C. P. Krauth, D.D., Professor in the Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, Pa., revised the Augsburg Confession; the Rev. W. F. Lehmann, Professor of Theology, Columbus, Ohio, revised the Apology. The Rev. Wm. M. Reynolds, D.D., President of Capital University, Columbus, Ohio, reworked the Smalcald Articles. The Rev. J. G. Morris, D.D., Baltimore, Md., did Luther's Smaller and Larger Catechisms. The Rev. C. F. Schaeffer, D.D., Easton, Pa., revised the Formula of Concord and Catalogue of Testimonies. It is interesting to note that although S. D. Henkel and Brothers are listed as "Publishers," the printers are listed as D. W. and Geo. B. Bentley.

The Ensuing Years

It was Henkel's noble-effort Book of Concord that saw the English speaking Lutheran churches through the difficult and stormy years of the 1850's and 1860's. It was during this time that "American Lutheranism" was running its course toward oblivion. And, it was during this time (1866) that the General Synod was restating its doctrinal position. The conservatives - the confessionals - were in power and felt a need for a clearer statement of the General Synod's position, especially since the General Council had been formed largely from the General Synod's ranks and as a reaction against the General Synod's lack of commitment specifically to the Augsburg Confession.

Nor was the English speaking church alone in its interest in the Confessions in this country. Swedish speaking American Lutherans needed the Confessions in local supply so the Swedish-Augustana Synod had the Book of Concord printed in Chicago in 1870. A Norwegian translation has also been published in America.

As late as 1880 a new edition in German was published in this country. The St. Louis German edition was published as a "jubilee offering" by the Concordia Publishing House.

Spare No Expense

In 1882 a retired General Council clergyman, the Rev. G. W. Frederick offered to underwrite a new edition of the Book of Concord permitting its editor Dr. Henry E. Jacobs of Pennsylvania College, Gettysburg, Pa. to introduce any amount of matter which he deemed of value for illustrating the history and teaching of the Confessions. Jacobs says that he spared no expense in providing a most attractive form for the work. Jacobs dates the volume containing the Book of Concord February 27, 1882.

Editor Jacobs asked Dr. Charles P. Krauth for his translation which appeared in the second edition of Henkel's book. Dr. Krauth is reported to have made revisions as the proof-sheets passed through his hands - obviously superficial changes. The Smaller Catechism reprinted in this edition is the one which was in universal use in the English churches of the General Council. It had been translated by Dr. C. F. Schaeffer (who had participated in the translations for Henkel's second edition) with the co-operation of a committee of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania. The Rev. A. Martin, Professor of the German Language and Literature in Pennsylvania College translated the Large Catechism. The editor, H. E. Jacobs, translated the Apology, the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord.

The texts to be used for translation continue to plague the translators. Jacobs used the Latin text of the Apology for this edition, saying that the German translation of Justus Jonas (with Melanchthon's aid) of the Concordienbuch was more of a paraphrase than a translation. He points out also that editors of some of the best German editions of the Symbolical Books were compelled to prepare fresh translations. The Smalcald Articles, Melanchthon's Appendix, and the Formula of Concord were translated from the same language in which they were composed. Thus this edition seems to be more enlightened and perhaps more accurate than the previous.

But what about the officially adopted statements the church has drawn from these documents? Jacobs renders the translation anew and includes the chief variations of the alternate language (officially received in the churches) in brackets in the text, with the exception of the Apology where they were found so numerous and extensive as to make it necessary to insert them frequently among the footnotes.

The second volume of Jacob's edition of the Book of Concord includes a historical introduction to the Confessions, translations of the Marburg Articles, the Schwabach Articles, the Torgau Articles, the Altered Augsburg Confession of 1540 and 1542, Zwingli's Ratio Fidei, the Tetrapolitan of the Reformed cities, the Confutation of the Augsburg Confession by the Papists, Melanchthon's Opinion of 1530, Luther's Sermon on the Descent into Hell of 1533, the Wittenberg Concordia, the Leipsig Interim, the Catalog of Testimonies, the Articles of Visitation, and the Decretum Upsaliense of 1593. Also included are the Principles of Faith and Church Polity of the General Council, and an index. One printing included Eck's 404 Theses.

29 Years and a Popular Edition

This two-volume work was considered an "expensive edition," and yet had wide circulation in the Lutheran churches in America. But, there was felt to be a need for a more modest publication - a "popular edition." Thus, H. E. Jacobs through the Board of Publications of the General Council brought out in 1911 a 700-page Book of Concord - at a price "that they may be scattered broadcast throughout all English-speaking lands, where there are confessors of the Lutheran faith - for Canada and Australia, for South Africa and India, for the West Indies and South America, as well as for the United States of America." The preface to the Second Edition says that this edition does not supplant the two-volume work which will continue to be published for the use of scholars.

The contents - the translations included in this new popular edition of 1911 are the same as those used in previous edition with one exception. And here seems to be a significant correction. Dr. Charles Porterfield Krauth who had loaned a copy of 1580 Dresden edition of the Book of Concord to the Henkels for their 1851 edition, had revised the Henkel's translation of the Augsburg Confession in the 1854 edition, and had contributed his "well-known" translation to Jacobs' 1882 work. Dr. Krauth apparently only gave the work a superficial revision since it states that he revised as the proof-sheets passed through his hands. Dr. Krauth died in 1883 - only a short time after "his" translation appeared in print in Jacob's Book of Concord. Jacobs seems miffed that he had credited this translation to Dr. Krauth in his first edition and corrects the wrong impression in the new preface: "... except that, for the translation of the Augsburg Confession, credited in that edition to Dr. Charles Porterfield Krauth, but which is in reality a reprint of a sixteenth century English translation, published in 'The Harmony of the Confessions' in 1586." Just how extensive were the revisions that Dr. Krauth had made in the translation of the Henkel brothers and whether they were significant enough to warrant shift of credit to Dr. Krauth, is a matter better left to the scholars. It is enough to note here the air in which another translation was substituted. In the meantime, a joint committee of the various synodical bodies had prepared a new translation which the General Council had officially approved, and it was this one that Jacobs properly inserted in his new edition.

It should be said again that the Henkel-Krauth "translation" led the English-speaking Lutheran Church through a most perilous part of its history. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 also became a living expression of faith for the nineteenth century Lutheran church in America. Perhaps, when it is valuable only for the scholars and when extensive attempts are made to reconstruct the exact wording of the original, the Confession loses the significance that it had for the Reformers. Jacobs saw the period prior to 1911 as a widespread and all but general return toward the confessional position of the Fathers; and as the beginning of a period of new life and promise for our church in America. He sees the signs of union for the entire Lutheran church in America. He says "The work in which she has so successfully cooperated in the preparation of a Common Service will not be complete until the agreement possible in such joint work is traced to a more thorough harmony in the faith than had been supposed, and its ultimate expression in agreement as to the terms of confessional statement."

The "Popular Edition" of Jacobs lived through many mergers in the Lutheran church in America which were based on confessional unity. In these latter times when German was all but left for the American scholars, Jacobs' Book of Concord was regarded as the "standard work." But it was not to be alone for long.

A Quadricentennial Memorial

During the Fifteenth Delegate Synod at Milwaukee from June 20 to 29, 1917 of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, a resolution was unanimously passed to publish a German-Latin-English edition of the Book of Concord as a Memorial of the Quadricentennial of the Reformation. Although World War I intervened and prolonged the work, it was published at last entitled "Concordia Triglotta" on July 4, 1921.

The Concordia Triglotta has all appearances of a scholarly work. However, it is not certain just which text was used in the German. The preface states that the German text was "compared" with the original German edition, published 1580 at Dresden; it does not specify that it was in conformity. The translators have substituted more modern forms for many of the words in use at the time of the Reformation, making it more readable to the modern German reader.

It is not clearly stated, but the Latin text may have been taken from Mueller's eleventh edition of 1912; it was revised "according to the first authentic Latin edition, published 1584 in Leipsig" and quite a number of misprints still found in Mueller were corrected, the editor says. Thus it appears that the editor is not interested in a critical scholarship but in preserving what is believed to be the "pure doctrine."

The editor E. Bente, of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was responsible for the Latin and German texts. The editor was joined by Prof. W. H. T. Dau in the translation into English. Bente says that the translation was based on the original German and Latin texts and on the existing English translations, "chiefly those incorporated in Jacobs' Book of Concord."

The "Preface to the Book of Concerd," the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the treatise of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, have been translated from the Latin; the Smalcald Articles, the two Catechisms, the Formula of Concord and the Visitation Articles, have been translated from the German. No reason was given for these choices, for instance why the Latin Augsburg Confession instead of the German which Tappert considers "official." Everything not found in the original texts but inserted by the editors has been bracketed. Some Bible references have been inserted but were not bracketed and are not enumerated by the editor.

In his preface, Bente says that the Lutheran Church differs from all other churches in being essentially the Church of the pure Word and unadulterated Sacraments. "It is the precious truths confessed by her symbols in perfect agreement with the Holy Scriptures that constitute the true beauty and rich treasures of our Church, as well as the never-failing source of her vitality and power." He feels that Lutherans must be faithful to her confessions and constantly be on their guard lest any one rob her of her treasure. The object of this edition is to strengthen this loyalty and to further and facilitate the study of our "Golden Concordia."

Thus the last major German-speaking stronghold of the Lutheran church in America had broken the language barrier and had put the Confessions of the Reformation into English. It did not conform to Jacobs' idea of a popular edition nor did it measure up to the scholarship exhibited in his editions, but it made available the Confessions in modern German, in Latin, and in English in one volume, columns side by side, for easy reference.

A New Age of Scholarship and a New English Edition

If the 1925 debate between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow could be called the turning point of American Protestant thought from fundamentalism to an attitude more conducive to critical studies, then perhaps it provided impetus for Lutherans to look more critically at their heritage from the time of the Reformation. It must be pointed out that H. E. Jacobs in his 1882 edition made a remarkable attempt to face the textual problems and the historical problems.

In 1930, there appeared in Germany a critical edition of the Confessions. It is "Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche." In 1952 a critically superior and typographically incomparable" second, revised edition of this book was printed in Gottingen by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht and edited by Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, Hans Volz and Ernst Wolf.

The historical interest in the Reformation has been a full-blown movement since the opening of the nineteenth century. In the Concordia Triglotta one can find extensive historical introductions which bear witness to the findings of the past century's work.

More than 30 years since this latest publication and more than forty since the latest translation in the Jacobs' "Popular Edition," the American expression had changed somewhat by the 1950's and this was keenly felt by those wanting to be able to read the Lutheran Confessions. No American Edition had been based upon the Gottingen 1930 edition, although John C. Mattes undertook in 1940 the task of making a revised translation but died in 1948 before the work was completed.

Finally in 1959, Fortress Press published the fourth major English translation of the 1580 Book of Concord. It was under the editorship of Theodore G. Tappert in collaboration with Jaroslav Pelikan, Robert H. Fischer, and Arthur Piepkorn. Their primary concern has been the presentation of English translations which are as faithful as possible to the original texts and therefore are not concerned with any of the apologetic or expository literature.

One of the significant innovations to this edition is the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. The editor says that more than fifty copies of the Confession have been found dating from the year 1530. These versions have been the object of extended critical study on the part of many scholars, and a German and a Latin text have been reconstructed which can claim to be close to, if not identical with, the documents presented to the emperor. Since there are significant differences between the two texts, both the German and the Latin have been translated and are included in the book; the German text appears at the top of the page because of its having been read before the emperor, and thus it would be considered the more "official" text.

The collaborators with Tappert are responsible for individual translations. Jaroslav Pelikan translated the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Robert H. Fischer translated the Large Catechism from the German, and Arthur Piepkorn did the Formula of Concord. Tappert is credited with the remaining pieces and general editorial supervision.

It is significant to note the scarcity of background information concerning this edition. The introduction to the book says very little. No information is given as to the identity of the translators - perhaps the editor feels they are well enough known so as to need no introduction. However, two of the men were LCA theologians: Dr. T. G. Tappert, professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia; and Dr. Robert H. Fischer, professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Maywood Campus. Dr. Jaroslav J. Pelikan was a member of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (formerly Slovak Ev. Lutheran Church) and was Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Divinity School of Yale University. Dr. Arthur C. Piepkorn represents the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and was chairman of the department of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.


The Lutheran church in America has enjoyed its beloved Book of Concord in the English language for more than a century. During this time a great deal of research has been done in the original documents and in the historical setting of the Confessions. We are better able to understand the times and context of the Book of Concord; we can read a faithful translation of the writings. But, the most important contribution we can make to our churches from these treasures is to interpret the spirit of the Reformation. This is possible thanks to the efforts of those scholars who have been willing to study the Reformation and its writings, and of those men who have put the writings into our own language and within the reach of each pastor of the Lutheran church in America.

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American editions of the Book of Concord consulted in this paper:

Ludwig, H. Concordien Buch (New York: H. Ludwig & Co., 1848)

Henkel, S. D. and Brothers Book of Concord (Newmarket, Shenandoah, Va: S. D. Henkel & Brothers, 1854)

Jacobs, Henry E. Book of Concord (Philadelphia: The General Council Press, 1911)

Bente, F. The Concordia Triglotta (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921)

Tappert, Theodore G. The Book of Concord (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959)


Other works consulted:

Allbeck, Willard D. Studies in the Lutheran Confessions (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1952)

Latourette, Kenneth Scott A History of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953)

Lietzmann, Hans, and others Die Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch- Lutherischen Kirche (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952)

Olmstead, Clifton E. History of Religion in the United States (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964)

Schlink, Edmund Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961)

Wentz, Abdel R. A Basic History of Lutheranism in America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964)