In 1970, while a senior in high school, major calamity befell my family. I struggled desperately to find my way, and friends at school said “Our church has answers!” So I started attending and studying the Bible with a vengeance. But their answers didn’t make sense to me, so I kept asking yet more questions. Finally, the pastor said, “If you learned Greek, you could read the New Testament in the original for yourself and answer your own questions.” Something in my head went Pop! ... “I ... CAN ... DO ... THAT!”
So I did. And because it’s too easy merely reading to let your eyes glaze over the hard parts, I decided to do my own translation.
What I discovered is that the mainstream translations of the New Testament leave out a myriad of ‘insignificant’ details. For example, consider the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6):
- “Our father in the heavens”: ‘heavens’ here is plural in the Greek, not singular. But in the very next verse: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. here ‘heaven’ is singular! Sometimes singular, sometimes plural. Why always translate it singular?
Also, Greek makes distinctions with its verb tenses that we don’t really have in English. One is the distinction between ’continual’ action vs. ‘one-time’:
- Be seeking and you shall find. (Matt.7:7) The usual translation “Seek and you shall find” suggests one need ‘seek’ only once, whereas the Original makes it clear that persistence may be required. (Because it’s good for us!)
And then there’s gender inclusive language. To be sure the New Testament was written in a time and place in which the genders were very unequal. (They still are in that part of the world.) Nevertheless, an additional layer of gender exclusiveness has frequently been added to the New Testament in translation that isn’t in the Original. For example, the word ἄνθρωπος/ANTHRŌPOS — translated by the King James et al as ‘man’ — is not gender specific and is better translated ‘humanity’ and synonyms. So although some modern translations translate ANTHRŌPOS/ἄνθρωπος as ‘humanity’ some of the time, it’s quite striking when ANTHRŌPOS is translated this way consistently:
- A major theme of the N.T. is that Jesus is both ‘Son of God’ and ’
Son of Man’ ’Son of Humanity’: “the Son of Humanity did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt.20:28)
ManHumanity does not live by bread alone, but by every word coming from the mouth of God." (Matt 4:4)
In short, I wondered what a translation might look like if one used English in a creative and sometimes unconventional manner to capture more of the sense of the Original, didn’t smooth over ‘rough edges’ — if that’s what they are, and didn’t discard ‘insignificant’ details —because they might not be insignificant after all. The mainstream translations bend the sense of the Original to fit easy and proper English, an approach which certainly has its place. But isn’t there room for a translation that unabashedly uses the power of English to capture more of the sense and detail of the Greek? ✣