Martin Luther produced a partial edition first in 1516. At that time Luther thought the work might have been written by John Tauler. In 1518 he produced a more complete edition on the basis of a new manuscript that had come to his attention. It was Luther who gave the treatise its modern name; in the manuscripts it is known as Der Franckforter (The Frankfurter). Luther found much that was congenial to him in this late medieval text.
Theologia Germanica proposes that God and man can be wholly united by following a path of perfection, as exemplified by the life of Christ, renouncing sin and selfishness, ultimately allowing God’s will to replace human will. Luther wrote,
Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learned more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are.
Another goal of Luther in the publication was supporting his thesis that the German language was just as well-suited for expressing theological ideas as the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages. The treatise itself does not discuss or reflect on the fact that it is written in German.
Theologia Germanica gained immense cachet in the Radical Reformation, and in later Lutheran and Pietist traditions. In 1528, Ludwig Haetzer republished Theologia Germanica with interpretive "Propositions" by the Radical Reformer Hans Denck. Towards the end of his life (1541–42), the radical Sebastian Franck produced a Latin paraphrase of the Haetzer version. Sebastian Castellio published Latin (1557) and French (1558) translations, after his break with John Calvin over the execution of Michael Servetus (1553). Just over a decade later, Valentin Weigel studied the work in his Short Account and Introduction to the German Theology (1571). The mystic Johann Arndt reedited an earlier printing based on Luther in 1597; this version was endorsed by Philipp Jakob Spener and had over sixty later printings. In total, about two hundred editions were published between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.