Tom Wright’s New Testament Translation

Tom Wright’s New Testament Translation January 19, 2012

I’m not hearing much chat about Tom Wright’s new translation of the New Testament, called The Kingdom New Testament, but it sure does deserve careful consideration to be on your desk or chair when you read the Bible. I hope everyone gets a copy and puts it next to the Bible they are now reading — read them together for a month or so, take it to church, and see what you think. I think you will like it.

Before I say any more about Tom’s splendid achievement, I want to make one observation about all translations.

Who has been reading The Kingdom New Testament? What are your judgments on this translation?

There is room for someone — or a team of someones — to translate (at least) the New Testament into the specific idiom, syntax, and style of individual authors. Matthew doesn’t sound like Mark, though those two would be much closer to one another than either is to Luke. And John’s an entirely different author, and then Acts belongs with Luke so those two books ought to sound alike (though Luke 1-2 is a bit of its own kind of style). Of Paul’s letters there is some dispute about authors and secretaries writing for Paul but that’s not the point: Romans and Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians are more alike, while those prison letters and then the pastoral letters deserve to have their own stylistic translation. Then Hebrews, well, there’s a book that is unlike anything else in the New Testament … I could go on. You get my point. One of the decisions of translation committees is to make every author sound like the host language — in my case, American English. Translation committees have been amazingly successful, then, at making the Bible readable and, because that is their intent, at hiding the styles of the authors.

On to Tom Wright’s KNT.

Better than any translation I know today, other than the most literal of translations (which have an entirely different problem), I hear the author’s Greek behind Tom’s translation. Still, Tom Wright is much more in tune with rendering the Greek NT into contemporary English, and that’s the subtitle of the KNT: A Contemporary Translation. He does so with elan at times. The translation is brisk and energetic, it’s gender neutral, and it has some real surprises that will make you smile — and provide insight at the same time.

I’m writing a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and thanks to the many who have inquired where I am in the process — I’m done, but am reading a bundle of items I just don’t want to ignore though one could read on and on … in reading Tom’s Sermon translation I found the following notable renderings:

Instead of saying Jesus “opened his mouth” and said in 5:2, Tom has “He took a deep breath…”
We get “Blessings” and not “Blessed.”
He turns it all into a I’m-talking-to-you promise when he has “You’re going to be comforted” instead of the 3d person plural passive “They will be comforted.”
“… hunger and thirst for justice…”
On the bad salt … “and walk all over it.”
As I said, “… unless your covenant behavior is far superior to that of the scribes…”
“to the ancient people”
We get “foul and abusive language” in 5:22.
He uses “Gehenna” instead of hell, and this is puts us in 1st Century Jerusalem.
“If your right eye trips you up…” in 5:29.
The exception clause: “unless it’s connection with immorality” (5:32).
At 5:3: “say yes when you mean yes.”
5:47: “Even Gentiles do that, don’t they?”
6:1: “When you are practicing your piety, mind you don’t do it with an eye on the audience!”
He uses “play-acting” and “play-actors” for “hypocrite.”
And when you pray, “don’t pile up a jumbled heap of words” (6:7).
“Give us today the bread we need now” … “don’t bring us into the great trial.”
In the fasting passage, “tidy your hair and your beard…”
“Show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is” (6:21).
“If your eye is honest and clear…”
“Take a tip from the lilies in the field” (6:28).
And “you little-faith lot” (6:30).
“Make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life” (6:33).
Golden Rule: “So whatever you want people to do to you, do just that to them. Yes: this is what the law and the prophets are all about” (7:12).
“He was teaching them, you see, on his own authority…” (7:29).

There is something quite distinct about Tom’s translation: he wants the reader to feel the 1st Century, to hear a Jew call Jesus “Messiah” or “King” and he wants his readers to know that the word “righteousness” just might not cut through ecclesial thickets and deserves to be translated at times a “justice” and (I observe in Matt 5:17-20) as “covenant behavior.” So, yes, there’s a touch of the new perspective, or as Tom calls his approach, the “fresh” perspective, but it’s very even-handed and not at all overdone.

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