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.