Many people struggle with Bible reading and engagement in general, but this is particularly true with the first part of the Bible. We know that those who do read tend to spend more time in the New Testament. But there is no good way to understand Jesus without understanding what came before him—the stories, songs, and promises that shaped everything he said and did. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay wants readers to rediscover the original feel of these passages in his new translation, The First Testament. Glenn Paauw, senior director of content at the Institute for Bible Reading, spoke with Goldingay about how certain ways of rendering the Bible can usher us back into the Bible’s own world.
First, the inevitable question: Why does the world need another Bible translation?
I suppose the reason we make new Bible translations is the same reason we write new commentaries: It’s not necessarily that something brand new is being said, but more that you get to learn from someone else’s interaction with the text. Every translation is a collection of the compromises that someone is choosing to make. Translations must also change over time, as cultures change. Every so often we need to hear a fresh presentation of what the Bible is saying.
Most popular Bible translations have been done by committee. What is the value of having an individual do a Bible translation instead?
Of course, a committee approach is going to avoid the idiosyncrasies of an individual translation, and it provides some corporate safeguarding from the kind of mistakes an individual person might make. But when I worked on The First Testament, I was able to pursue my particular goals and work them through the entire thing. This was a rare opportunity. I’ve been living with this text for a long time, and it was good to work on bringing the fruit of that engagement to others.
Why call the Old Testament the “First Testament”?
When we talk about something being “old” in our culture, we typically mean that it’s out of date. It goes along with the idea that what’s new is what counts. This language of “old” and “new,” as applied to the Bible, comes from long after the time of Jesus—several centuries later, in fact. We can be misled by that phrase “Old Testament,” which doesn’t itself come from the Scriptures. I think that name inhibits people from reading it.
I hope that changing the name to “First Testament” can get people’s attention. I’m hoping to invite people into this part of the Bible so they can rediscover its huge significance for Christian faith.
Some Bible translations emphasize contemporary language, while others concentrate more on bringing readers into an ancient world that is somewhat strange. The First Testament seems to favor the latter approach. What are your reasons for not smoothing out all the rough, strange-sounding phrases?
I’ve mentioned that translation always involves a compromise, and this choice between emphasizing the ancient world or the contemporary world is an example of that. It isn’t that one of these approaches is completely right and the other wrong; rather, it’s a matter of choosing an emphasis. In fact, it is simply impossible to produce a completely faithful equivalent of one piece of writing in another language. One has to make choices, and I decided to help people hear the words as closely as possible to what they would have heard in the ancient world.
There are some advantages to using more paraphrasing, and the “dynamic equivalence” approach has been more fashionable. But I wanted to offer people something they haven’t encountered as much with their Bibles. I am trying to recover the advantages of a more word-for-word rendering, because this can help readers get back into the details of the language of Scripture. For instance, one thing I do is to convey the actual names of biblical characters by using transliterations of those names (like Mosheh rather than Moses). De-familiarizing the text like this allows the Bible to strike us all in fresh ways.
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Source: Christianity Today