Monthly Archives: November 2011

N.T. Wright’s New New Testament: A Review

N.T. Wright has published his translation of the New Testament under the name The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation.  The project is born of a series of commentaries Wright has done on each book of the New Testament, beginning with Matthew for Everyone and on down the line.  Wright, who for decades has been viewed as one of the top New Testament scholars and historians, wanted to write a line of commentaries accessible to the average church-goer, and so did not want to be always saying things like, “Now in the RSV it says, but another translation is…” so he provided a translation of each book within the commentary.  The Kingdom New Testament is (with slight adjustments) the collection of these individual translations.

Wright does not present this the Kingdon New Testament as the perfect, or even best available, translation available.  There is no best translation, and anyone wanting to do serious study of the Bible should sit down with “at least two respectable translations at hand,” Wright says in the preface.  Wright also says that translating the Bible is something each generation should “do for itself.”  Translation is always risky, he says, and he has taken several risks of his own here.  One is consistently translating the term Christ, which too often is taken as Jesus’ surname rather than a title he claimed: King, Messiah, savior.  Another is trying to shade out the various meanings of dikaiosyne into different terms based on the context, rather than relying on “righteousness/justify” to cover such a huge range of meaning.

All that said, I have read about 1/4 of the New Testament in the past three days to get a feel for Wright’s translation, and while I have quibbles about this or that rendering in places, overall I am more impressed than I expected to be (and I expected to be impressed).  One strength is that Wright emphasizes rather than minimizing the voice of each author.  Another is that he reworks the dialogue into traditional prose: “‘Follow me,’ said Jesus, ‘And I will make you fishers of men.'”

But Wright is primarily a scholar of the Pauline corpus, and the translations of Paul are where his clarity really shines.  Reading the dense, sometimes stuffy theology of Paul feels very coherent in Wright’s hands, feels like the sort of long rambling letter a passionate theologian would write, rather than a random list of theological statements that can be grabbed one at a time to prove this or that point.  To demonstrate, here is one of the most important and densest chapters of pure theology in the Bible: Ephesians 2, from the Kingdom New Testament

So where do you come into it all? Well, you were dead because of your offenses and sins!  That was the road you used to travel, keeping in step with this world’s “present age”; in step, too, with the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is, even now, at work among people whose whole lives consist of disobeying God.  Actually, that’s how all of us used to behave, conditioned by physical desires.  We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do.  What was the result?  We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else.

But when it comes to mercy, God is rich!  He had such great love for us that he took us at the very point where we were dead through our offenses, and made us alive together with the king. (Yes, you are saved by sheer grace!)

He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him – in the heavenly places, in King Jesus!  This was so that in the ages to come he would show just how unbelievably rich his grace is, the kindness he has shown us in King Jesus.:

How has all this come about?  You have been saved by grace, through faith!  This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift.  It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast.  This is the explanation: God has made us what we are.  God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.

So then, remember this!  In human terms – that is, in your “flesh” – you are “Gentiles.”  You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision – circumcision, of course, being something done by human hands to human flesh.  Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king.  You were detached from the community of Israel.  You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise.  There you were, in the world with no hope and no god!

But now, in King Jesus, you have been brought near in the king’ blood – yes, you, who used to be a long way away!  He is our peace, you see.  He has made the two to be one.  He has pulled down the barrier, the dividing wall, that turns us into enemies of each other.  He has done this in his flesh, by abolishing the law with its commands and instruction.

The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two, so making peace.  God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, through the cross, by killing the enmity in him.
So the Messiah came and gave the good news.  Peace had come!  Peace, that is, for those of you who were a long way away, and peace, too, for those who were close at hand.  Through him, you see, we both have access to the father in the one spirit.

This is the result.  You are no longer foreigners or strangers.  No: you are fellow citizens with God’s holy people.  You are member’s of God’s household.  You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with King Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  You, too, are being built up together, in him, into a place where God will live by the spirit.

How does this translation of Eph 2 feel to you?  Does to flow as well as other contemporary translations?  Are there elements you would take issue with?  Do you plan to look into N.T. Wright’s new translation?