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Cantata BWV 178
Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält
English Translation in Interlinear Format
Cantata BWV 178 - If the Lord God does not stay with us

Event: Chorale Cantata for 8th Sunday after Trinity
Epistle: Romans 8: 12-17; Gospel: Matthew 7: 15-23
Justus Jonas (Mvts. 1, 4, & 7 after Psalm 124); Anon (Mvts. 2, 3, 5, 6)
Chorale Text:
Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (Psalm 124)

Biblical quotations in green font, chorales in purple


Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, Psalm 124:1
If the Lord God does not stay with us
Wenn unsre Feinde toben,
when our enemies rage
Und er unser Sach nicht zufällt
and if he does not support our cause
Im Himmel hoch dort oben,
in heaven high above,
Wo er Israel Schutz nicht ist
if he is not Israel's protection
Und selber bricht der Feinde List,
and does not himself break the enemy 's cunning
So ist's mit uns verloren.
then all is lost with us.


Chorale and Recitative [Alto]


Was Menschenkraft und -witz anfäht,
What human power and intelligence contrive
Soll uns billig nicht schrecken;
should not easily terrify us;
Denn Gott der Höchste steht uns bei
for God the highest stands by us
Und machet uns von ihren Stricken frei.
And frees us from their traps.
Er sitzet an der höchsten Stätt,
He sits in the highest place,
Er wird ihrn Rat aufdecken.
he will uncover their plan.
Die Gott im Glauben fest umfassen,
Those who embrace God firmly in faith
Will er niemals versäumen noch verlassen;
he will never abandon nor forsake;
Er stürzet der Verkehrten Rat
he overturns the plans of the perverted
Und hindert ihre böse Tat.
and hinders their wicked deeds.
Wenn sie's aufs klügste greifen an,
When they attack with the greatest cunning,
Auf Schlangenlist und falsche Ränke sinnen,
plotting with a serpent's cunning and false intrigues
Der Bosheit Endzweck zu gewinnen;
to gain their evil goal,
So geht doch Gott ein ander Bahn:
then God goes another way:
Er führt die Seinigen mit starker Hand,
he leads those who are his own people with a mighty hand
Durchs Kreuzesmeer, in das gelobte Land,
through the sea of the cross into the promised land,
Da wird er alles Unglück wenden.
where he will turn aside all misfortune.
Es steht in seinen Händen.
It is in his hands.


Aria [Bass]

Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo

Gleichwie die wilden Meereswellen Psalm 124 : 4-5
Just as the wild waves of the sea
Mit Ungestüm ein Schiff zerschellen,
tempestuously dash a ship to pieces,
So raset auch der Feinde Wut
so also the fury of enemies rages
Und raubt das beste Seelengut.
And steals the soul's best possession.
Sie wollen Satans Reich erweitern,
They want to make Satan's kingdom greater
Und Christi Schifflein soll zerscheitern.
and the little ship of Christ would be wrecked.


Chorale [Tenor]

Oboe d'amore I/II, Continuo

Sie stellen uns wie Ketzern nach,
They persecute us as heretics,
Nach unserm Blut sie trachten;
and thirst after our blood;
Noch rühmen sie sich Christen auch,
they boast that they also are Christians
Die Gott allein groß achten.
who greatly esteem only God.
Ach Gott, der teure Name dein
Ah God,your precious name
Muss ihrer Schalkheit Deckel sein,
has to be a cover for their wickedness,
Du wirst einmal aufwachen.
One day you will wake up to this.


Chorale [S, A, T, B] and Recitative [B, T, A]


Auf sperren sie den Rachen weit,
They open wide their jaws,

Nach Löwenart mit brüllendem Getöne;
like a lion, with sounds of roaring;
Sie fletschen ihre Mörderzähne
they bare their murderous teeth

Und wollen uns verschlingen. Psalm 124 :3
And would swallow us down.

And yet,

Lob und Dank sei Gott allezeit;
Praise and thanks to God always;

Der Held aus Juda schützt uns noch,
the hero from Judah still protects us,

Es wird ihn' nicht gelingen.
They will not succeed.

Sie werden wie die Spreu vergehn,
they will perish like chaff,
Wenn seine Gläubigen wie grüne Bäume stehn. Psalm 1
while his faithful followers stand like green trees.

Er wird ihrn Strick zerreißen gar
he will break asunder their traps
Und stürzen ihre falsche Lahr.
And destroy their false doctrine.

Gott wird die törichten Propheten 1 Kings 18 : 20
God will kill the foolish prophets
Mit Feuer seines Zornes töten
with the fire of his anger
Und ihre Ketzerei verstören.
And completely destroy their heresies.

Sie werden's Gott nicht wehren.
They will have no defence against God.


Aria [Tenor]

Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Schweig, schweig nur, taumelnde Vernunft!
Be silent, be silent,reeling reason!
Sprich nicht: Die Frommen sind verlorn,
do not say: the devout are lost
Das Kreuz hat sie nur neu geborn.
The cross has given them a new birth,
Denn denen, die auf Jesum hoffen,
for to those who hope in Jesus
Steht stets die Tür der Gnaden offen;
the door of mercy stands always open
Und wenn sie Kreuz und Trübsal drückt,
and when cross and affliction crush them,
So werden sie mit Trost erquickt.
they will be refreshed with consolation.


Chorus [S, A, T, B]

Corno e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Die Feind sind all in deiner Hand,
Our enemies are all in your hand
Darzu all ihr Gedanken;
along with all their thoughts;
Ihr Anschläg sind dir, Herr, bekannt,
what they attempt is known to you, Lord,
Hilf nur, dass wir nicht wanken.
Help us only so that we do not waver.
Vernunft wider den Glauben ficht,
If reason fights against faith,
Aufs Künftge will sie trauen nicht,
in future we will not trust it,
Da du wirst selber trösten.
since you yourself will give us consolation.
Den Himmel und auch die Erden
the heaven and also the Earth
Hast du, Herr Gott, gegründet;
have been founded, Lord God, by you
Dein Licht lass uns helle werden,
make your light become bright for us
Das Herz uns werd entzündet
and let our hearts be enkindled
In rechter Lieb des Glaubens dein,
in true love of your faith,
Bis an das End beständig sein.
constant to the end.
Die Welt lass immer murren.
Let the world go on complaining forever.

Note on the text:

BWV 178 is a chorale cantata from Bach's second Leipzig cycle. It was written for the eighth Sunday after Trinity and first performed on 30 July 1724. The text is based on a hymn by Justus Jonas which in turn is based on Psalm 124. Both chorale and cantata text echo the warnings in the Gospel reading about hypocrisy and the enemies of Christ. The unknown author of Bach’s text has retained six out of the eight strophes of the hymn and the movements which do not quote the hymn directly still refer to it. To understand this cantata text it is therefore necessary to consider both the Psalm and the hymn. Both texts are available with translation at:

The short Psalm has a forceful brevity . It is a national celebration of some unspecified deliverance from danger in the past. In a world of more powerful nations the continued existence of Israel was often precarious. Looking back the Psalmist sees that without God’s help Israel would have met with disaster. He uses varied imagery to convey the magnitude and intensity of the danger yet the description is too general to make clear the particular occasion.

Imagery of being swallowed up by enemies may recall primaeval monsters (Jer 51:34) or even Sheol (dwelling place of the dead -Proverbs 1:12) . The torrents of water should be thought of as the rush of water in a wadi after a sudden storm rather than a sea or a flooded river.The description recalls mythological language of storms which describe God’s combat against the primaeval waters. The image of the escaped bird changes the emphasis from danger deliverance and leads naturally to the formulaic but effective concluding mention of God's help and his power. The psalm moves swiftly and effectively from the arresting opening statement of danger escaped to the conclusion that dependence on God is essential.

Reading through the two later texts it is difficult not to feel that much of the Psalm’s force is dissipated by the paraphrase of Justus Jonas and then further weakened by the verbose expansions of the cantata text . But a closer examination shows that Jonas has purposefully adapted the ancient poem to make it relevant to his own times.

This is clear from the first strophe. The psalm looks back at danger in the past from which the nation of Israel with God's help has definitively escaped, but the present tenses of the chorale present the danger as threatening now and continuing -therefore God's help is also needed both now and in the future. What the danger is becomes clear from the terms in which the enemy are described: such words as List (cunning), Witz (intelligence) and Rat (plans ) make clear that the threat is intellectual and in the fourth strophe it becomes clear that the enemy to whom the striking imagery of the Psalm is being applied are Christians who hold different views.

Justus Jonas, as his colourful and interesting biography makes clear, was passionately involved throughout his life in promoting Luther's reforms. This hymn dates from 1524 and so in the midst of years of struggle for the reformed religion. From the perspective of our pluralist society where many people have no religious belief and others are, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, “light half believers of our casual creeds” it can seem difficult to understand the passionate certainty and commitment that made people ready to die for their faith and -human nature being what it is -also to kill others for their faith. But for Jonas and those who first sang his hymn what was at stake was more than a matter of life and death - it was a question of eternal salvation or everlasting damnation. In such circumstances it would have seemed natural to apply to their opponents the words of the life and death struggle depicted in the psalm. Seen from this perspective the differences between the psalm and the chorale can be understood.

Two centuries later, when the author of the cantata text adapted the chorale, Luther's reforms had become established and were no longer threatened in the same way. But a different threat was perceived in the rise of rationalism in the 17th century, which gave supremacy to reason instead of accepting revealed religion and led ultimately to the Enlightenment( Aufklärung). Already in the chorale Jonas sees an opposition between reason and faith. Bach’s librettist takes this notion further in the additional comments he adds to the chorale in movements 2 and 5, and the two arias – (3, for bass : Christ’s little ship the church, is threatened; 6 for tenor : reason is told to be silent).

These contexts of a small nation struggling to survive in a world of great powers, of religious reformers fighting for their view of truth, of established religion uneasy at the rise of rationalism help us to understand the texts. What remains inexplicable is the music Bach produced. In John Eliot Gardiner's words: “what on earth was Bach on when he sat down to compose this astonishing cantata.... What can have spurred Bach to invent music of such density, vehemence and highly charged originality?”

In the 5th movement the hero from Judah is of course Christ and the phrase is familiar from its startling appearance in the Es ist vollbracht aria from the Saint John Passion (BWV 245). References to chaff and trees recall Psalm 1. Foolish prophets etc recalls Elijah’s conflict with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20) .

Ketzer, Ketzerei (Heretic, heresy) are not common in modern German and have an interesting history. The words come from the Cathars, a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were brutally suppressed by the church. The name is derived from katharos –“pure” in Greek - but according to the Grimm brothers’ DWB this origin was soon forgotten and the name was derived from Katze, since cats were supposed to be the devil's creatures. A 12th cetury writer said : catari dicuntur a cato, quia osculantur posteriora cati, in cujus specie ut dicunt apparet eis Lucifer. Alanus ab insulis (s. myth. 1019)[They are called Catars from cat,because they kiss the bottom of the cat in the likeness of which –so they say – Lucifer appears to them]. Not surprisingly most of the later examples cited are perjorative .

'Lahr' is an alternative form of Lehre.


This Translation in Parallel Format

English Translation by Francis Browne (October 2008; revised and notes: September 2011)
Contributed by Francis Browne (October 2008, September 2011)

Cantata BWV 178: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
German Text | Translations: Catalan-1 | Chinese-1 | Dutch | English-1 | English-3I | English-3P | English-5 | English-6 | English-10 | French-4 | French-6 | Hebrew-1 | Indonesian | Italian-2 | Russian-1 | Spanish-3 | Spanish-7
Chorale Text:
Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (Psalm 124)

English Translations in Interlinear/Parallel Format (English-3): Sorted by BWV Number | Sorted by Title | Sorted by Event | Note on English Translations

Texts & Translations: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Other Vocal 1081-1089 | BWV Anh | Chorale Texts | Emblemata | Sources | Poets & Composers
Discussions: Texts | Translations: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


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