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My Own Translation of the New Testament?

Here’s a question I get on occasion, which I addressed fully six years ago on the blog.

QUESTION:

Do you have any plans to publish your own “best” version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer “translations” are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students produced a readable version you would recommend? (Thousands of footnotes do not make for a readable text!) I would very much like to see your translation/interpretation sitting on a bookshelf.

RESPONSE:

No, as it turns out, I have never written out a full translation of the New Testament.   For several reasons.  First, there are a number of excellent translations already available that have been done by some of the best NT scholars on the planet.  My translation would be different, but not necessarily better.  Of course, I would think that where mine differed it would be better:  otherwise I wouldn’t translate it differently!  But I don’t think I can personally improve on what is out there.  Relatedly, that is because the translations now available have, for the most part, been done by committees.  That has good and bad sides to it, but the good side is very good: it means that individual idiosyncrasies are taken off the table, so that one’s own unusual views that do not have widespread scholarly support do not enter into the translation.   Finally, I think it is more than a bit arrogant for an individual to think s/he can do a better translation than what is out there for a book so widely translated as the Bible.  That’s not true for every ancient text, of course, but there are lots and lots of Bible translations done by committees that have spent many years, in most cases, on them.

My preferred translation, by the way….

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Comments

  1. godspell  October 28, 2018

    As you’ve many times pointed out, ‘The Bible’, ‘The Old Testament’, ‘The New Testament’ are all after the fact anthologies, compiled long after the books comprising them were written, often over the course of many centuries. It’s a bit like asking one person to translate all the most influential Russian novels of the 19th century–at one go. Even Pevear and Volokhonsky do them one at a time.

    Would you consider doing (as many have done) your own translation of one book of the New Testament–say the Gospel of Mark? That, it would seem to me, might benefit from a more personal touch, since the individual works each bear the mark (unintentional pun) of a distinct style and personality.

    Obviously all important works from that period–not just Christian, not just religious–have been translated many times, and will be translated many times more. Not every translation can be definitive (and one that is may eventually be replaced in that estimation by a later one), but each can add to our overall understanding of the work in question.

    I’d read it.

  2. crucker  October 28, 2018

    What is your second most preferred translation after the NRSV? Do you feel there is a significant gap in quality/accuracy between these two?

  3. RonaldTaska  October 28, 2018

    Interesting and helpful, as your blogs always are. I recently spent some time studying the differences in the three different accounts of Paul’s conversion found in Acts. I was surprised to find that these differences are almost completely ironed out in the NIV Bible. I think that supports one of your points in the above blog.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      Yes indeed. It’s the most widely used translation but has some serious problems, imho.

  4. Silver  October 28, 2018

    You often speak of multiple attestation as a criterion for authenticity. However, could it, in fact, be argued that the reason Matthew and Luke copied so much of Mark was because there was absolutely no doubt in people’s minds that those passages were true and accurate and so it was necessary to’reinvent the wheel’?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      I think we can say that Matthew and Luke believed that in these passages Mark had gotten it “right.” But I’m not sure we can say much more than that.

  5. BryanS  October 28, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, the NRSV is sometimes described as less literal than its predecessor the RSV. If that’s so what characteristics make the NRSV preferable for study (more accurate in some respects, or does it more genuinely convey the original meaning)? For difficult or disputed readings does the NRSV tend to prefer specific manuscripts (e.g., Vaticanus, Sinaiticus), or manuscript tradition? Thanks

    My study bible for many years has been the NOAB (RSV w/Apocrypha) in part because of the reputation of its co-editor Bruce Metzger (I’m aware of his role with the NRSV as well). It’s insightful to compare translations when textual questions arise. Online bible translation tools are great, but for casual reference and comparison I prefer printed copies of the NRSV, KJV, and NAB. I actually find the extensive footnotes of the NAB (w/revised NT and Psalms), a Roman Catholic translation, quite interesting and useful.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      I had never heard that description. The NRSV translators worked hard to keep their translation as literal as possible, but as idiomatic as necessary. Yes, as all translations do, the NRSV tries to follow the best Greek text as established from the oldest and best manuscripts.

      • BryanS  October 29, 2018

        Thanks for clarifying. Zondervan (and others?) at one time published a widely-circulated “Translation Continuum” chart placing the NRSV more toward ‘thought-for-thought’ vs. ‘word-for-word’ than the RSV. I suspect that chart, which is no longer posted on the Zondervan site, was the source for many commentators mischaracterizing the literalness of the NRSV.

  6. Thomasfperkins  October 28, 2018

    But we could do a text analysis to discover your pount of view. Or, we could just read your blog posts.

  7. Mizraim Martínez  October 28, 2018

    Hi.
    Now that you mention about the differences in translations I would like to ask about how the Jehovah’s witnesses in their New World Translation bible Luke 23:43: And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
    They have inserted a comma after today because their bias is that the paradise is in the future not the day Jesus died. Besides their bias do you see any other indication that that rendition would be probable?
    Something else in John 1: 1 was the difference between “ho theos” and just “theos”?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      Ah, I’ll be dealing with that in my new book. Maybe I should post on it! On John 1:1, there are technical grammatical reasons for thinking it means “The word was God” (rather than “a god”)

      • Lev
        Lev  October 29, 2018

        I understand some have translated John 1:1 to read “and the word was divine.” (Instead of God, a divine being, like angels.)

        A Greek Orthodox biblical commentary argues: “This second theos could also be translated ‘divine’ as the construction indicates “a qualitative sense for theos”. The Word is not God in the sense that he is the same person as the theos mentioned in 1:1a; he is not God the Father (God absolutely as in common NT usage) or the Trinity. The point being made is that the Logos is of the same uncreated nature or essence as God the Father, with whom he eternally exists.”

        How do so many translations get to “God” (presumably referring to Almighty God, the creator) instead of divine?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2018

          Even those who translate “the word was God” do not think that this means “God the Father” since in teh preceding clause it says “the Word was with God.” So it is a separate being, but is also God. The key theological question involves figuring out how that can be. (Note, though, it is “through” this one that God creates the universe)

  8. doug  October 28, 2018

    As Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

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  9. brenmcg  October 28, 2018

    Hi Bart,

    Not a translation question on the bible – but in the Testimonium Flavianum;

    “πολλοὺς μὲν Ἰουδαίους πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν”
    do you think its possible to translate “ἐπηγάγετο” as “convinced”?

    that way the translation would be “he convinced many of the Jews and many of the Greeks he was the Christ”.
    And therefore Josephus himself wouldn’t be declaring him Christ.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      No, I don’t think so. ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν is a new sentence, not the object of ἐπηγάγετο. You would expect/need a οτι to precede it if it were to mean that it was the content of the persuasion. It simply means that Jesus “won over” many Jews and Greeks.

      • brenmcg  October 29, 2018

        Is it “won over” to an opinion or cause? Does It not seem strange that the passage doesnt say what jesus is winning them over to (interpolation or not)?
        Is he not winning them over to the view (that) he was christ?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2018

          It’s usually assumed that he won them over to his side of things.

          • brenmcg  October 30, 2018

            How about Luke 20:6?

            ὁ λαὸς ἅπας καταλιθάσει ἡμᾶς, πεπεισμένος γάρ ἐστιν Ἰωάννην προφήτην εἶναι
            all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.

            But the “οτι” is missing here. Like English its usually used but not always necessary.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 31, 2018

            The conjunction in this case is the γαρ; it serves the same function.

          • brenmcg  October 31, 2018

            γαρ is the conjunction for “all the people will stone us” and “they are persuaded”.

            there’s no conjunction for “John was a prophet”.

            If we translate Luke 20:6 like the Testimonium Flavianum we’d get

            “All the people will stone us for they are persuaded. (new sentence) John was a prophet.”

            and come to the false conclusion that the chief priests claimed John was a prophet.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 2, 2018

            It’s not clear to me if you know Greek? Your translation has left out the conjunction, which is precisely the important point I’m trying to make.

          • brenmcg  November 2, 2018

            No just learning a bit of greek – but I am including the conjunction, translating it as for/because, and do understand your point.

            There are three clause here:
            all the people will stone us
            they are persuaded
            John a prophet to be

            but only 1 conjunction γάρ. This is used to conjoin, “all the people will stone us” and “they are persuaded”. Which then forms a complete sentence in its own right – “all the people will stone us γάρ/for/because they are persuaded”

            and leaves the third clause without a conjunction “John a prophet to be”

            But translations of Luke 20:6 shows us we can add this third clause to the sentence without a conjunction.

            Which would then imply we can add “ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν” from the TF to the preceding sentence without a conjunction?

        • Robert
          Robert  October 31, 2018

          brenmcg” “How about Luke 20:6?

          ὁ λαὸς ἅπας καταλιθάσει ἡμᾶς, πεπεισμένος γάρ ἐστιν Ἰωάννην προφήτην εἶναι
          all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.

          But the “οτι” is missing here. Like English its usually used but not always necessary.”

          In addition to the γάρ connecting this clause with the preceding, note also that Luke uses the infinitive to indicate the content of what the people believed, where as Josephus/interpolator simply has a finite verb creating a new sentence. The ἐστιν in Luke is part of a periphraistic construction applying to the people, not to John (πεπεισμένος … ἐστιν), whereas the infinitive εἶναι shows that Luke is giving the indirect content of what the people believed about John.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 2, 2018

            That’s right. The conjunction doesn’t *have* to be οτι. It could be γαρ, δε, και etc. (as you know!)

          • brenmcg  November 2, 2018

            *In addition to the γάρ connecting this clause with the preceding*
            Yes “γάρ” connects it to the preceding clause “all the people will stone us” not the succeeding clause “John a prophet to be”

            *note also that Luke uses the infinitive to indicate the content of what the people believed, where as Josephus/interpolator simply has a finite verb creating a new sentence.*
            Yes but content of belief or persuasion can be expressed in any mood – there are plenty of examples in the NT where the indicative is used as in the TF.
            The question is is a conjunction needed or does lack of one imply a new sentence. Luke 20:6 lacks a conjunction for the content of the people’s belief/persuasion but this doesnt imply a new sentence.

    • Robert
      Robert  November 2, 2018

      brenmcg: “If we translate Luke 20:6 like the Testimonium Flavianum we’d get

      “All the people will stone us for they are persuaded. (new sentence) John was a prophet.”

      and come to the false conclusion that the chief priests claimed John was a prophet.”

      You cannot translate Luke that way. Note that whereas Josephus has a finite verb (was), signaling a new sentence if no indication of a dependent clause, Luke has an infinitive indicating the content of what the people believed. An infinitive cannot support a new sentence.

      See my earlier comment on the syntax and if you still have questions, start a thread in the forum.

    • Robert
      Robert  November 3, 2018

      brenmcg: “… do you think its possible to translate ‘ἐπηγάγετο’ as ‘convinced’?”

      Aside from the question of syntax, on lexical grounds alone ‘to convince’ or ‘persuade’ is not a very natural way to understand ἐπάγω, which generally has a rather concrete physical sense of ‘to bring with/upon’. Josephus uses this verb many times in this typical sense. I noted one occurance where he used the word more figuratively with a sense of ‘convince’ but that sense was brought forth not by this word alone but by accompanying words: ἐπῆγεν ὁ βασιλεὺς λόγῳ τε πείθων (Antiq 15.126), hyperliterally ‘the king was inducing by means of a word (speech/reason) and persuading. One can also see a sense of ‘induce’ in 15.179 but here the verb is followed by an infinitive clause describing what Dositheus was induced to become and do, not the content of what he was persuaded to believe. See also 17.327: ἐπηγάγετο εἰς πίστιν ‘he induced into belief’.

      If you want to look at all of Josephus’ 100+ uses of ἐπάγω to see if you can find a truly comparable usage, you would be in a better position to say whether your suggested translation is truly feasible. Of course the stylistic language of an interpolator would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to identify.

      • brenmcg  November 4, 2018

        Yes can I see it now – whenever the conjunction is excluded the infinitive will be used.

        Thanks for all the replies!

    • Robert
      Robert  November 4, 2018

      brenmcg: “… Luke 20:6 lacks a conjunction for the content of the people’s belief/persuasion but this doesnt imply a new sentence.”

      You’re missing the point. Lk 20,6 cannot start a new sentence regarding the content of what the people believe because this clause merely has an infinitive verb, not a finite verb as appears in the the text of Josephus and/or the later interpolater.

      It would be a lot easier to discuss if you start a thread in the forum

  10. mkahn1977  October 28, 2018

    Are you familiar with the “Complete Jewish Bible” by David Stern? I seem to recall reading him say in his introduction that his was the best for the Hebrew Bible/old testament and new testament, but this was the same guy who authored the Messianic Jewish Manifesto- so he totally has an agenda.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      He claims that his own book is the best? OK then!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 29, 2018

      As far as Pentateuch translations go I recommend Richard Elliot Friedman’s The Bible With Sources Revealed.

  11. dankoh  October 28, 2018

    The NRSV, HarperCollins Study edition, is my go-to translation. I particularly appreciate the introductory pages and the footnotes, both of which I find are generally written the way a historian would write them, not a theologian. As for its “liberal bias,” it is well known that reality has a liberal bias (Stephen Colbert).

  12. James Chalmers  October 29, 2018

    If you’ve had a chance to look at David Bentley Hart’s new translation, what do you think of it?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2018

      It’s interesting and graphic, but rather idiosyncratic. I’m afraid I haven’t taken any notes on it though.

  13. paul373  October 29, 2018

    Is the NRSV HarperCollins Study Bible still your recommended Bible for a lay person?

  14. craig@corbettlaw.org  October 31, 2018

    In my seminary course, History of Christian Thought, one day, the prof needed to have a text read, and asked if anyone had a Bible. One student did, and apologetically said it was the KJV. Prof replied, “That’s all right. He was a nice guy. You know, he and Paul wrote the Bible anyway.” Laughter ensued. I was never a great biblical scholar, and was fascinated to learn of all the different translations.

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