The Wright – Hart smackdown on idiosyncratic Bible translation

Three months ago I commented somewhat dyspeptically on the imminent arrival of yet another Bible translation, this time by David Bentley Hart.

Now it has appeared, and almost immediately its author is embroiled in a reviewing spat with Tom Wright. Wright offered a fairly scathing review of Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation in The Christian Century. Now Bentley Hart has responded by issuing an equally scathing rebuttal, and review of Wright’s 2011 translation on a blog run by fellow Orthodox scholar Fr Kimel.

Both scholars are unquestionably well read and highly regarded. Both are happily controversial in their positions and tendentious in their presentations of history. Wright is probably more critical of his own Evangelical tradition than Bentley Hart is of his Orthodox one, but both are equally ready to claim historical plausibility for their tradition’s understanding as well as their own.

In the end, I suspect the chief moral of this story of academic competition is quite simple. A translation agreed by a group of scholars drawn from different traditions may not be infallible, but it’s more likely to be a reliable guide than the ambitious efforts of individuals who work alone.

There may be significant continuities as well as differences between Hellenistic Greek and Modern Greek, but in the end, the harsh reality is that there are no native speakers of New Testament Greek, and there is room for even the most brilliant scholar to get it wrong. Collaboration offers a surer guide to more faithful rendition than self-belief.

8 Replies to “The Wright – Hart smackdown on idiosyncratic Bible translation”

  1. I haven’t done an in-depth comparison – it tends to be the best bits of Tyndale that regularly get quoted. I haven’t got anything against individual translations but a committee of diverse theological opinions agreeing is still more likely to be a reliable indicator of source-text meaning than a single mind, even that of a genius.

  2. I don’t disagree with your general principle – I just think there have been some honourable exceptions. J.B. Phillips is another example that comes to mind. And there have been some less-than-stellar committee translations too.

    I’m currently reading through Tyndale’s 1534 NT as part of my ‘One-Year Bible’ readings this year, having read and enjoyed a couple of bios of him last year. So far I’m really enjoying his take on the passages.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I agree with the honourable exceptions, but hew to my general principle! I would encourage you to blog your experiences of Tyndale from time to time.

    1. Thanks for the link. I won’t attempt to adjudicate an argument between two American Orthodox writers over their orthodoxy! I agree with many of your criticisms, but the reason I credit Hart’s Orthodoxy with some of his translation choices is his decision to translate in ways that undermine Augustinian thought (a point where Wright lands some good counterpunches).

    2. Thanks for the link. I won’t attempt to adjudicate an argument between two American Orthodox writers over their orthodoxy! I agree with many of your criticisms, but the reason I credit Hart’s Orthodoxy with some of his translation choices is his decision to translate in ways that undermine Augustinian thought (a point where Wright lands some good counterpunches).

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