“The Great Gift” to Poland
ON July 6, 1525, Duke Albrecht of Hohenzollern declared Lutheranism to be the State religion. Thus, Ducal Prussia, at the time a fiefdom of the kingdom of Poland, became the first state in Europe to adopt the teachings of Martin Luther officially.
Albrecht wanted to make Königsberg—the capital of East Prussia—a Protestant cultural hub. He established a university in the city and promoted the printing of Lutheran writings in several languages. In 1544 the duke also decreed that the Polish people of his lands should hear portions of the Holy Scriptures read to them in their language. However, no Bible translation was yet available in Polish.
A Translation in “Everyday Speech”
To rectify the situation, Albrecht began searching for someone capable of producing a Polish translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. About the year 1550, he engaged the services of a writer, bookseller, and printer named Jan Seklucjan. Seklucjan was a graduate of the University of Leipzig and had a history of irritating the Catholic Church by spreading Protestant teachings. In fact, he had earlier gone to Königsberg to escape facing trial for propagating his religious beliefs.
Jan Seklucjan was enthusiastic about producing a Polish translation of the Scriptures. Just a year after Seklucjan was commissioned, the first copies of the Gospel of Matthew came off the press. This edition included a detailed commentary and helpful marginal notes that provided possible alternate renderings for some passages. Soon afterward, Seklucjan oversaw the printing of an edition containing all four Gospels. Within just three years, he had printed the entire Christian Greek Scriptures.
To produce an accurate rendition, the translator had consulted Greek texts. In addition, the foreword to the 1551 edition stated that Latin translations and “translations to some other languages were consulted.” Stanisław Rospond, author of Studies on the Polish Language of the 16th Century, describes this translation as being rendered in “beautiful and flowing prose.” The translator was not constrained by “literary language,” states Rospond. Rather, he endeavored to use Polish words that were “very close to everyday speech.”
Although Seklucjan coordinated this project, evidence indicates that he was not the translator. Who, then, was the scholarly translator? Stanisław Murzynowski, a man likely in his early 20’s when Seklucjan engaged him for this difficult task.
Murzynowski was born in a village, but when he was old enough, his father sent him to Königsberg to begin his studies of Greek and Hebrew. Afterward, Murzynowski enrolled at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, where he probably met Martin Luther. The young student listened to lectures by Philipp Melanchthon, who no doubt helped him to master both Greek and Hebrew. After furthering his studies in Italy, Murzynowski returned to Königsberg and offered his services to Duke Albrecht.
“Murzynowski worked diligently and effectively,” writes Maria Kossowska in her book The Bible in the Polish Language, “but he did not draw attention to himself, pursue a prominent position, or request that his name be put on the title page of the translation.” Indeed, this young man writes concerning his own abilities: “I do not know whether it is in Latin or in Polish that I write worse.” Despite his doubts, Murzynowski was instrumental in making God’s Word available to the Polish people. His associate, Seklucjan, described the translation they produced as “the great gift” to Poland.
One of the Greatest Gifts
Since that first Polish translation of the Bible, many others have followed. In 1994 came the release of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, and in 1997, the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Polish. The translators, who do not draw attention to themselves, endeavored to convey God’s Word in a manner that is not only accurate but also close to the common speech of today, not that of the 16th century.
Today the Bible is available in whole or in part in some 2,400 languages. If you are able to obtain an accurate translation of God’s Word in your native language, it is one of the greatest gifts you could receive, a gift from Jehovah God for your guidance.—2 Timothy 3:15-17.
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Memorial stone for Stanisław Murzynowski, a translator of the “New Testament” into Polish
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Chapter 3 of the book of Matthew translated by Stanisław Murzynowski
Dzięki uprzejmości Towarzystwa Naukowego Płockiego