Christ lag in Todesbanden

"Christ lag in Todes Banden"
Hymn by Martin Luther
Christ Jesus lay in Death's Strong Bands.
"Christ lag ynn todes bande" in Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn of 1524
EnglishChrist lay in death's bonds
Melodyby Luther and Johann Walter
Published1524 (1524)

"Christ lag in Todesbanden" (also "... in Todes Banden"; "Christ lay in death's bonds") is an Easter hymn by Martin Luther. Its melody is by Luther and Johann Walter. Both the text and the melody were based on earlier examples. It was published in 1524 in the Erfurt Enchiridion and in Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. Various composers, including Pachelbel, Bach and Telemann, have used the hymn in their compositions.

Text and melody[edit]

In early editions the hymn, in seven stanzas, was indicated as an improved (German: gebessert) version of "Christ ist erstanden".[1] The hymn is in bar form. The Stollen, that is the repeated first part of the melody, sets two lines of text for each repetition, with the remaining four lines of each stanza set to the remainder of the melody.


The hymn celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, with particular reference to a struggle between Life and Death. The third verse quotes from 1 Corinthians 15, saying that Christ's Atonement for sin has removed the "sting" of Death. The fifth verse compares the sacrifice with that celebrated by Jews in the Pascal Lamb at Passover. The sacrificial "blood" ("Its blood marks our doors") refers to the marking of the doors before the exodus from Egypt. The final stanza recalls the tradition of baking and eating Easter Bread, with the "old leaven" alluding again to the exodus, in contrast to the "Word of Grace", concluding "Christ would ... alone nourish the soul."

Christ lag in Todesbanden,
für unsre Sünd gegeben,
der ist wieder erstanden
und hat uns bracht das Leben.
Des wir sollen fröhlich sein,
Gott loben und dankbar sein
und singen Halleluja.
Christ lay in Death's dark prison,
It was our sin that bound Him;
This day hath He arisen,
And sheds new life around Him.
Therefore let us joyful be
And praise our God right heartily.
So sing we Hallelujah!
Den Tod niemand zwingen konnt
bei allen Menschenkindern;
das macht alles unsre Sünd,
kein Unschuld war zu finden.
Davon kam der Tod so bald
und nahm über uns Gewalt,
hielt uns in seim Reich gefangen.
O'er Death no man could prevail,
If mortal e'er came near him;
Through guilt all our strength would fail,
Our sinful hearts did fear him.
Therefore Death did gain the day,
And lead in triumph us away,
Henceforth to dwell emprisoned.
Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn,
an unser Statt ist kommen
und hat die Sünde abgetan,
damit dem Tod genommen
all sein Recht und sein Gewalt;
da bleibt nichts denn Tods Gestalt,
den Stachel hat er verloren.
Now Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
For our defence hath risen.
Our grievous guilt He hath removed,
And Death hath bound in prison.
All his might Death must forego.
For now he's nought but idle show,
His sting is lost for ever.
Es war ein wunderlich Krieg,
da Tod und Leben 'rungen;
das Leben, behielt den Sieg,
es hat den Tod verschlungen.
Die Schrift hat verkündet das,
wie ein Tod den andern fraß,
ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden.
How fierce and dreadful was the strife
When Life with Death contended;
For Death was swallowed up by Life
And all his power was ended.
God of old, the Scriptures show,
Did promise that it should be so.
O Death, where's now thy victory?
Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm,
davon wir sollen leben,
das ist an des Kreuzes Stamm
in heißer Lieb gegeben.
Des Blut zeichnet unsere Tür,
das hält der Glaub dem Tode für,
der Würger kann uns nicht rühren.
The Paschal Victim here we see,
Whereof God's Word hath spoken;
He hangs upon the cruel tree.
Of saving love the token.
His blood ransoms us from sin,
And Death no more can enter in.
Now Satan cannot harm us.
So feiern wir das hoh Fest
mit Herzensfreud und Wonne,
das uns der Herre scheinen lässt.
Er ist selber die Sonne,
der durch seiner Gnaden Glanz
erleucht' unsre Herzen ganz;
der Sünden Nacht ist vergangen.
So keep we all this holy feast.
Where every joy invites us;
Our Sun is rising in the East,
It is our Lord Who lights us.
Through the glory of His grace
Our darkness will to-day give place.
The night of sin is over.
Wir essen und leben wohl,
zum süßen Brot geladen;
der alte Sau'rteig nicht soll
sein bei dem Wort der Gnaden.
Christus will die Kost uns sein
und speisen die Seel allein;
der Glaub will keins andern leben.
With grateful hearts we all are met
To eat the bread of gladness.
The ancient leaven now forget,
And every thought of sadness.
Christ Himself the feast hath spread,
By Him the hungry soul is fed,
And He alone can feed us.


Comparison of Victimae Paschali Laudes, "Christ ist erstanden" and "Christ lag in Todesbanden"

The melody as set by Luther seems to have strong correlations with parts of the Eucharistic sequence for Easter, Victimae paschali laudes,[2] believed to have been written by Wipo of Burgundy in the 11th century. This was transformed, gradually into a "Leise", a devotional German pre-Reformation song with a number of stanzas, but maintaining strong characteristics of plainsong. A new version was published in the Erfurt Enchiridion of 1524 and adapted the same years by Johann Walter in his choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. This was subjected to many minor alterations in later hymnbooks, but the melodic shape remained the same in later additions, which include the addition of passing notes and modification of rhythmic patterns to conform the chorale to emerging styles, and to fit the chorale into a regular time signature.


In 1524 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" was published in the Erfurt Enchiridion and in Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. The 1524 Erfurt Enchiridion presented the melody and text of Luther's hymn on two pages:

Enchiridion geistlicher Gesänge 32.jpgEnchiridion geistlicher Gesänge 33.jpg
Hymn in the Babstsche Gesangbuch

In 1545 the hymn appeared as No. 8 in the Babstsche Gesangbuch. In the Protestant hymnal Evangelisches Gesangbuch (EG) it appears in modernised language as EG 101.[3]

Use in other compositions[edit]

Bruhns, Böhm, Scheidt, Scheidemann, Pachelbel, Kuhnau and Telemann are among the composers who included the hymn in their work.[2][4] As one of the principal Lutheran hymns for Easter, it appears in several vocal and organ compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach:[1]

Melody from soprano part of Bach's setting of the seventh and final verse in BWV 4



External links[edit]