The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation
N. T. Wright
544 pp., $29.99
Time was when everybody understood a translation to be a more or less word-for-word transfer of meaning from one language to another—"or less" because grammatical constructions differ in languages foreign to each other and therefore sometimes require renderings looser than word-for-word. On the other hand, everybody understood a paraphrase to be recognizably freer: more thought-for-thought than word-for-word. But translation of the Bible increasingly into languages featuring grammatical structures far different from those of biblical Hebrew and Greek, and carrying cultural freight far different from that of the Bible, made word-for-word transfer a lot less feasible.
Along came the dynamic (or functional) equivalence theory of translation. For the sake of languages and cultures exotic to those of the Bible, this theory incorporated paraphrase into translation, so that even in English versions of the Bible the boundary between translation and paraphrase became as porous as the border between the USA and Mexico. You can even hear Eugene Peterson's The message, a paraphrase if there ever was one and self-identified as such, quoted as a "translation." The incorporation of paraphrase into translation may best be illustrated by the shift from the marketing of Kenneth Taylor's The Living Bible originally as "a paraphrase" to its being marketed now as The New Living Translation, though those who revised it (I was one of them) were told at the start to keep it recognizable as a paraphrase by Taylor.
In the wake of this development arrives The Kingdom New Testament (from here on KNT) by N. T. Wright, identified effusively in its back ad as "the world's leading New Testament scholar (Newsweek)" and accurately in its gatefold as "one of the world's leading Bible scholars." Duly distinguishing between translation and paraphrase, Wright asks, "Is this new version really a translation or a paraphrase?" and answers, "It's a translation, not a paraphrase." Why a new translation? Because language is constantly changing, so that "translating the New Testament is something that, in fact, each generation ought to be doing." (I leave aside the question whether for the present generation enough new translations have already been produced.)
KNT originally appeared in Wright's series of popular commentaries on the New Testament—Matthew for Everyone et al.—and therefore sports a colloquial style. I'll call Everyone "Joe the plumber" and "Jane the hairdresser." Or to suit today's American culture, should I say "Jane the plumber" and "Joe the hairdresser"? Either way, "J&J." And since Wright calls me "Bob," I'll call him "Tom." Colloquialism all around, then, so that KNT is to be evaluated at the level of J&J's everyday speech.
Tom's preface helpfully alerts J&J (1) to translators' often having to take interpretive stances on controverted passages; (2) to the use of gender-neutral English in KNT when referring to human beings in general; (3) to the omission of some verses because they're missing from the best manuscripts, undiscovered as yet when verse-by-verse numbering was instituted; (4) to the desirability of reading in one sitting large chunks of the New Testament for their "flow and pull"; and (5) to the need in careful study for two or three English translations, not just KNT, even if you know the original Greek (as J&J do not).
KNT sparkles with many gems of spirited English. My favorites, in no particular order: "Were completely flabbergasted" (Matt. 19:25). "Mr. Messiah" (Matt. 26:68). "Hey, you!" (Luke 4:34). "Swapped" (Rom. 1:26). "Get this straight" (James 1:19). "The real stuff, not watered down" (1 Pet. 2:2). "Well then" and "There you are, then" (Matt. 5:48; 7:11; Mark 10:8) instead of "Therefore." "Play-acting" and "play-actors" (Matt. 6:2, 5) instead of "hypocrisy" and "hypocrites." "Fuss about" (Matt. 6:32) instead of "seek after." "A tight squeeze" (Matt. 7:14) instead of "narrow." "We're done for!" (Matt. 8:25) instead of "We're perishing!" "Tell him off" (Matt. 16:22) instead of "rebuke." "Salt is great stuff" (Mark 9:50) instead of "… good." "Eventually, Paul got fed up with it" (Acts 16:18). "God won't have people turning up their noses at him" (Gal. 6:7). "Put Jesus on the spot" (Luke 10:25). "Face it" (Luke 11:13) instead of "If therefore." "You have no idea" (James 4:14) instead of "You don't know." "Wine … fine" (Matt. 16:2). "Refused … used" (Luke 20:17). "Guzzling and boozing" (Matt. 11:19, though "guzzling" is rare for eating, as required here). "Silly … sensible" (Matt. 25:2). "Legion …. there are lots of us" (Mark 5:9). "He hadn't the guts to refuse her" (Mark 6:26).