I think one of the best way to make the Bible feel fresh is to try reading it from a different translation. I have amassed a collection of many Bible translations, but I wanted to mention a few that I have enjoyed, or am preparing to engage soon for my personal devotional reading.
David Bentley Hart’s New Testament Translation
In fact, after taking my time for the last 1.5 years or so, I finished reading through Hart’s translation of the New Testament this morning. I have been doing this at a slow pace, not trying to meet any specific schedule for reading. My only criteria for how I’m moving through is that I want to stay engaged. I have been actively underlining and adding notes and reflections to get the most of the experience.
I have to say, I absolutely loved Hart’s translation. Hart intentionally tries to select wording that he believes reveals some of the original sense of the text, often without trying to provide the nuance that many modern translations offer as a way to smooth out the readings.
Sometimes this is in the form of using specific technical words for things people encounter in the stories. Specific parts of boats, military, and other equipment, I occasionally had to look up. Hart’s precision prompted me to learn more about the context. In other cases, Hart simply has such a large vocabulary, I had to look up words in the dictionary, only to be delighted he had expressed the idea of the text so precisely. In short, I feel like Hart’s translation challenged me to get smarter. Look, for example, at what he does with Romans 1:21-23:
For, knowing God, they did not give him glory and thanks as God, but instead grew inane in their reasoning, and their witless heart was darkened. Having pretensions to be wise, they became imbeciles, And exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for a likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of quadrupeds, and of reptiles;Romans 1:21-23. David Bentley Hart, The New Testament (2017).
Something I really love about Hart’s translation is that even though this isn’t a Study Bible with guides, notes, maps all over the place, when Hart thinks a passage needs better clarification for the reader, he feels free to weigh in through useful footnotes. They were so good, I read them all.
His footnote on Romans 5:12 was so helpful in explaining this often misunderstood and misused passage. He explains how the Latin version of this verse has really misguided the Western church over the centuries, lending the impression that in Adam’s sin, all people are guilty of sin. Following specific insights into how the Greek beneath this passage actually works, he says:
Hence what became the standard reading of the verse in much of Western theology after the late third century: “in whom [i.e., Adam] all sinned.” This is the locus classicus of the Western Christian notion of original guilt–the idea that in some sense all human beings had sinned in Adam, and that therefore everyone is born already damnably guilty in the eyes of God–a logical and moral paradox that Eastern tradition was spared by its knowledge of Greek. Paul speaks of death and sin as a kind of contagion here, a disease with which all are born; and elsewhere he describes it as a condition like enslavement to an unjust master, from which we must be “redeemed” with a manumission fee; but never as an inherited condition of criminal culpability.David Bentley Hart, The New Testament (2017): 296 footnote.
This brings up another interesting thing about Hart: that he is Eastern Orthodox. As much of my education and training has involved considerably more encounters with Western thinkers, I found his perspective–sometimes unusual to my ears and preconceptions–to be at best refreshing and at worst a useful challenge.
Next On My List
There are downsides to using a translation by one person, but because of how much I’ve enjoyed the stretch, I intend to keep reading several more of these. Here are the next few I plan to read:
John Goldingay’s The First Testament
I have purchased this one, and have it on my desk ready to begin tomorrow morning. Goldingay is on my radar after I used his The Theology of the Book of Isaiah a couple of years ago when I preached through Isaiah. It was the single best resource I found. He’s a great thinker and writer, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his translation.
N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament
I’ll openly confess to being an N.T. Wright fanboy. He’s an enormously popular author and speaker, and he’s put out so much excellent and influential work. For example, his book Simply Christian is intended to do for postmodernism what C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity did for modernists. I still see people engaging Lewis’ book regularly and I usually say, “You need to know about N.T. Wright’s follow up…”
I’m interested in anything and everything that Wright writes. What makes this translation especially interesting is the very public disagreement between Wright and Hart over their translations. Both came out around the same time, and both are highly critical of what the other did with his approach. I wanted to make sure that the next two New Testament translations I read are by these two titans. I’ve already told you that I love Hart’s. I look forward to seeing what Wright does with his.
Robert Alter’s 3-Volume The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
This is an award-winning translation of a deeply respected scholar, that has been praised for delivering the “stunning literary power of the original.” People I respect love this one, and I know it will be worth my time to work through.
I bought that Hart’s translation and am using it in your study of John…. interesting subtile linguistic shadings which deepen the meaning of scriptures… thanks
Yes! Lots of interesting things he does! Many other one-person translations, I don’t feel measure up to what he’s accomplished.
Mark, when you call someone really smart, it intimidates me, but I am going to get Hart’s translation based solely on the footnote you included about Romans 5:12. I love that! I feel like he sheds a new light on the issue of original sin. I have an entire bookshelf of various bible translations. What’s one more? Thank you for these blogs!
Good for you! Hope you enjoy it. It’s a really unique piece.