Tom Wright has now given us a fresh translation of the New Testament: The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation.
In the preface, Wright explains that this is a translation, not a paraphrase. However, he also explains that, since “Greek often goes quite easily into English, but not always,” translators must make decisions about how to present things in the receptor language.
With regard to “little words” like “for” (Gk., gar), Wright says that we don’t always use connecting words like this in English because it makes our communication sound formal and stilted, especially if we repeat it as often as Paul did. So, he explains some of the alternate ways he provides connections between clauses in his translation. I find this to be a weakness in many contemporary English translations. Often the connecting words are simply left out, leaving one to wonder about how one phrase, clause, or sentence relates to another. Wright, on the other hand, seems committed to making those relationships clear.
Then there are “big words,” such as “righteousness.” This is an important word (which has caused much controversy) for Wright in his NT studies. “We want a word that can pack ‘justice,’ ‘covenant faithfulness,’ and ‘right standing or relationship’ all into the same hold, and can set off, with this cargo safely on board, to sail around the world,” he writes. This sentence is significant for those familiar with Wright and the “justification” debate, because it shows that he does not eliminate the “old perspective” while advancing a so-called “new perspective” on this subject. Since there is no one word in English which conveys all those meanings simultaneously, he uses different words in different contexts to bring out the nuances in each case. You can see this in some of the sample passages below.
Similarly, he sometimes renders “Christ” in the traditional way, but at other times he uses “Messiah” or “King.”
N.T. Wright believes each generation should be about the task of Bible translation, for each new generation must go to God’s Word for itself, while continuing to learn from those who have gone before us.
This particular translation arose from Wright’s “everyone” commentaries, and he says plainly at the outset, “I have taken a particular view on point after point of interpretation, and my understanding of the many controversial passages in the New Testament shows up, naturally enough, in the translation as well.”
Here are a few samples of passages from the various NT authors, as rendered in The Kingdom NT:
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the hillside and sat down. His disciples came to him. He took a deep breath and began his teaching:
“Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.
“Blessings on the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.
“Blessings on the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.
“Blessings on people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.
“Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.
“Blessings on the pure in heart! You will see God.
“Blessings on the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.
“Blessings on people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.”
So, just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, in the same way the son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may share in the life of God’s new age. This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved by him.
They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Great awe fell on everyone, and many remarkable deeds and signs were performed by the apostles.
All of those who believed came together, and held everything in common. They sold their possessions and belongings and divided them up to everyone in proportion to their various needs. Day by day they were all together attending the Temple. They broke bread in their various houses, and ate their food with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and standing in favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being rescued.
But now, quite apart from the law (though the law and the prophets bore witness to it), God’s covenant justice has been displayed. God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith. For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory — and by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus.
God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice, because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of 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.
My beloved ones, I beg you — strangers and resident aliens as you are — to hold back from the fleshly desires that wage war against your true lives. Keep up good conduct among the pagans, so that when they speak against you as evildoers they will observe your good deeds and praise God on the day of his royal arrival.
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I’m sure that I will be consulting N.T. Wright’s translation often (as I do his commentaries) in my own study of the New Testament.