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Daniel Taylor

The Private Gospel of Reynolds Price

John Milton argued that all competent Christians should put in writing their own systematic theology. Given the proliferation of Bible translations in our day, it seems more likely each person will do his or her own private translation of the Bible. If so, novelist Reynolds Price's fascinating Three Gospels would be a good place to start.

Price is an important contemporary writer with a lifelong interest in the Bible-both for its claims on his life and for its challenge as a literary text. He first published translations of the Bible in A Palpable God (1978), which, like this book, includes wonderfully insightful reflections on the nature of story and of Scripture. In Three Gospels, Price offers a revised translation of Mark from the earlier book, a new translation of John, and a composite gospel of his own creation. The translations are interesting in their own right, but even more valuable is Price's fresh and insightful discussion of these eternal stories.

A translation of the Bible is, among other things, a work of art. As such, it should be judged by what it proposes to be, not by what other translations are. Price goes to great lengths to explain the goals of his translation of these gospels, and it is clear that his aims are different from those of the great majority of contemporary translators.

The mantra of Bible translation in the last 40 years has been accessibility. Most current translations put a premium on removing obstacles that separate the reader from the text. A translation of any text tends either to privilege the language of the original, preserving its features as closely as possible (including vocabulary, word order, figurative language, idioms, sentence length, and so on), or to shape the translation to fit the characteristics of the target language (in this case, English), reasoning that a successful translation must seem natural in the target language or it is not a genuine translation. Most contemporary Bible translations into English have moved ...

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