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The Saur Bibles 1743-1776

Saur Bible 1743

Saur Bible 1743

Christoph Saur, 1693-1758, printed the first European language Bible in America (1,200) copies in 1743 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It took three years to produce. The price was 18 shillings although Saur wrote that for the poor "we have no price." Saur sent a crate containing 12 copies to Heinrich Luther of the Luther Foundry in gratitude for the gift of the type used to print these Bibles. The ship hauling the crate was captured by pirates, but the crate arrived at its destination two years later. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787) of the German Lutheran Church did everything in his power to embarrass the work, as did the Reverend Caspar Schnoor of the German Reformed Church of Lancaster, PA. Saur was accused of being an "arch Separatist." There were many typographical errors, and critics feared a non-orthodox bias in the translation. The text is based on Martin Luther's version by way of the 34th edition of the Halle Bible. It contained only that part of the Apocrypha that Luther had used. To please the Sectarians, Saur added as an appendix to the Apocrypha three books from the Berleberg Bible, III and IV Esdras (generally known as I and II Esdras by Protestants) and III Maccabees. The Berleberg Bible had been published in 1742 and edited by J. F. Haug and others with mystical sympathies. Saur maintained his independence from German religious factions.

At Job 19:25-27 it contained two translations, that of Luther and that of the Berleberg Bible.There was also an appendix to the New Testament prepared by Saur himself. In IV Esdras Saur's Bible contained seventy verses after 7:35, which emphatically deny the value of prayers for the dead. It had once been cut out of the Codex Sangermanensis, from which all subsequent Latin manuscripts derive. At the time of Saur scholars viewed these verses as an interpolation. These verses had been restored from the Arabic to the Berleberg Bible and hence were included in Saur's Bible. In 1874 a Cambridge University professor discovered these verses in a 9th century Latin manuscript, and scholars came to accept the authenticity of these verses.

On March 6, 1745 Muhlenberg Wrote: "The German printer here, named Christopher Sauer, had sought up to that time, both in private and in public, to make both myself and my office odious. His reason was that I had...advised my congregation to be very cautious when they purchased any of the Bibles which he had lately printed and carefully to examine whether he had not interpolated some notions of his own, for he is wont to embrace every other opportunity, in his almanacs and in his newspapers, to traduce the Lutheran Church." The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, 1:96.

In 1748 Muhlenberg wrote: "The Quakers...have on their side the German book publisher Christopher Sauer, who controls the Mennonites, Separatists, Anabaptists and the like with his printed works and lines them up with the Quakers. All of these speak and write against the war and reject even the slightest defense as ungodly and contrary to the command of Jesus Christ." The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman, 30.

On June 12, 1778, Muhlenberg wrote: "A short time ago the German printer, Christoph Sauer, was taken prisoner in Philadelphia and brought to the American camp because his sons in Philadelphia, have been treating the Americans very unreasonably and abusively in the German newspapers. A German general in the camp said a good word for him, which brought about his release after he had sworn the oath of loyalty to the state. The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, 3:163.

Saur's Printing Shop, Painting by Barnard Taylor

Saur's Printing Shop, Painting by Barnard Taylor

A second edition of 2,000 copies was printed by Saur's son Christoph (1721-1784) in 1763. This was the first Bible printed in America on American-made paper. The third edition, in 1776, was the first Bible printed from American-made type. Christoph Saur II became an elder in the Dunkers (modern Church of the Brethren) and would neither take an oath or bear arms. Saur was arrested as a spy and, despite the long feud of the Saurs with Muhlenberg, appealed to General Peter Muhlenberg, the son of the pastor. Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1787) interceded with Washington and saved his life. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the pacifist Saur was treated poorly. His neighbors seized his property. Saur ended his life in poverty, earning income by binding books.

Due to the terms of the Bible Patent, the printing of Bibles in English was restricted to Oxford and Cambridge universities. Printers in the American colonies were not allowed to print the Bible in English.

Many legends are associated with the 1776 Bible. One story says that many unbound pages of this edition were used to make cartridge paper during the Battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777. Hence it is called the "gun-wad" Bible. Another legend states that after winning the battle, British soldiers seized many of the unbound leaves to make litter for their horses. Another legend: one of Saur's daughters gathered enough leaves to make a copy for each of her ten children.

When Saur was writing in English, he spelled his name Sower, which his descendants use. In 1738 Saur published the first German almanac in America. A farmer, planning on making a trip, noted that the almanac promised fair weather and so traveled in an open wagon. When he was drenched with rain, he complained to Saur, who replied, "My friend, I made the almanac, but the Almighty made the weather."


Gruber 245

Gruber 245.

Gruber 245 Biblia, das ist die Heilige Schrift Altes und Neues Testament.... Germantown: Christoph Saur, 1743.


Gruber 246

Gruber 246.

Gruber 246 Biblia.... Germantown: Saur, 1763.


Gruber 247

Gruber 247.

Gruber 247 Biblia, Das ist: Die ganze Göttliche Heilige Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments....Dritte Auflage. Germantown: Saur, 1776.


Gruber 248

Gruber 248.

Gruber 248 Another copy of 1776 edition.



The Gruber Collection was assembled by L. Franklin Gruber, President of Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, Maywood, Illinois.

Annotation prepared by Ralph W Klein