Monday, October 16, 2017

The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart

For a First Things article on this new translation, go here.   To purchase the translation, go here.

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, and a philosopher, writer, and cultural commentator. He is a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Studies and has held positions at the University of Virginia, Duke University, and Providence College. He lives in South Bend, IN.

David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of “etsi doctrina non daretur,” “as if doctrine is not given.” Reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to an uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.
The early Christians’ sometimes raw, astonished, and halting prose challenges the idea that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are. Hart reminds us that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. “To live as the New Testament language requires,” he writes, “Christians would have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world. And we surely cannot do that, can we?”

 Eager to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to Cathryn for the link.


Bob said...

I've been interested in this ever since I read his article "Christ's Rabble" in Commonweal last year.

I'd say the introduction makes it worth the price of admission--although DBH's confrontational style would probably turn some off.

The translation is very interesting. It's raison d'etre is to get across some aspects of the New Testament which have been buffed clean by committee translations, the need for smooth liturgical language, later developments in theology, etc.

As an example, the writers in the new testament had a keen idea of the world existing in different ages. you might get that insight from the NAB footnotes, but just how often that idea appears in the NT is a bit concealed in less specific and technical words denoting future time. Not so in the David Bentley Hart translation.

This is meant, I think, more than any translation of the New Testament I know of, to be a reference volume to compare with what you're used to reading. I put it on my shelf next to an interlinear Greek-English bible.

I look forward to reading more of it.

Matthew Doe said...

From the First Things review:
"The difficulty is more vexing in the consideration of what is perhaps Hart’s most earnest and ambitious novelty: the translation of the Greek adjective aiōnios—where it has been conventionally rendered “eternal”—by the formula “of the Age” (with variants)."
So, is Hart an Annihilationist or a Universalist?

It's a a serious problem with translations by a single person. The translator may well impose their individual biases, misunderstanding and heresies onto the text. And these corruptions might slip under our orthodoxy radar, and subtly (or not so subtly) leads us up the garden path.

Of course, it's the same with "committee translations" that have been "smoothed" by history. However, they present a known (or at least much more easily knowable) threat. I'm pretty confident that I can catch most "typically Protestant" translation issues, for example. I'm not so sure that I would catch all the Hartian ones.

Anonymous said...

As a fan of unique translations, Hart's work sounds amazing to me. I can't wait to read it. I am attracted to the idea of waking folks up from their liturgical slumber. I like to be challenged in this way and perhaps see things from different angles.

- Keith S.

Bob said...

David Bentley Hart is a universalist--which to the surprise of many of us in the Christian West is acceptable belief in the Christian East.

While that will be enough to turn many away from anything he has written, I think its important to note that his reading of the New Testament when it comes to judgment and eschatology isn't that different from the Cappadocian Fathers, Origen, etc. (And not too much different from, say, Timothy Ware and Hans Urs von Balthasar.)

I'd hate to see that keep us from grappling with his ideas and (if we choose so) his translation. From reading his essays in Commonweal and First Things, it seems that rather than him planning a translation which would fit with his idea of the apokotastasis, he seems to have believed more strongly in the restoration of all things in the end as a result of his work translating the New Testament.

I say this as someone who sympathizes with his arguments and hopes and prays for the salvation of all, but remains happily and safely in the orthodoxy of the Church and has no intention of leaving this wonderful place.

Biblical Catholic said...

"David Bentley Hart is a universalist--which to the surprise of many of us in the Christian West is an acceptable belief in the Christian East. "

Unless you explain what eastern theology means by 'universalism' (which is something radically different from what western theology calls by that same name) a statement like this is likely to be profoundly misunderstood. In eastern theology, the idea that hell does not exist and everyone goes straight to heaven regardless of their sins (which is what Westerners mean by 'universalism') is regarded as heretical, same as in the west.

This is similar to the way that some Mormons think misunderstand the eastern concept of 'divinization' thinking that the Orthodox teach similar views of God as in Mormon theology, which is absolutely false.

Matthew Doe said...

You may wish to check this entry on "Apcatastasis", if you are interested in the status of the most common form of Eastern Orthodox "Universalism":

Generally speaking, these teachings have been rejected even where they appear in some of the well-known (Eastern) Fathers. And the anathemas against Origen (who is the origin of much of this) predate the Great Schism, and hence are fully upheld by the Eastern Orthdox Churches.

In my personal opinion, Eastern Orthodox theology tends to be both confusing and confused, and often hides stark realities behind pious verbiage. In particular so on the topic of heaven and hell, where I have found it difficult to get a straight word out of the various Eastern Orthodox I have known. So I'm not particularly surprised to see more "variation" concerning these things among the Eastern Orthodox faithful than perhaps among Roman Catholics. (Or at least, RCs tend to know that their personal opinions on the matter are at odds with what the Church teaches, whereas among EOs that's less clear.)

Bob said...

I'm not sure there was anything said on the internet that WASN'T profoundly misunderstood, but here goes:

The deposit of non-negotiable faith in the Christian East is the ancient creeds and the first seven councils. After that there is much more wiggle room than we are used to as Catholics. This allows ideas that strike us as strange to continue for quite a long time, e.g. aerial toll-houses and whatnot.

"Universalism" in this context isn't some "all the religions are right" attitude, but the New Testament and patristic idea that the work of Christ in his death and resurrection was powerful enough that it somehow affects the whole cosmos taken to one of its logical conclusions.

The word used in the east is apocatastasis, which refers to the restoration of all things in Christ.

Rather than everyone going straight to heaven, one view of the mechanics of the situation is Paul's seemingly suggesting in 1 Corinthians that there are two classes of people: those who will be saved and those who will be saved as if through fire.

It seems to be a controversial idea one would be unlikely to hear preached about, yet the theologians and even bishops feel quite comfortable discussing it. There is none of the defensive mode that was necessary for a Western theologian like Hans urs Von Balthasar to write "Dare we Hope That All Men Be Saved".

Eastern theologians like Sergius Bulgakov went much further than that. In fact the only thing that many theologians seem to find beyond the pale in Bulgakov and others is the idea that perhaps the fallen angels might in some way be redeemed.

Two good things to read if you are still confused and what things explained by real-live Eastern Christians: Bishop Kallistos Ware's essay "Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All" and David Bentley Hart's article "Saint Origen". Both of these can be found online for free via a search engine.

Steve Molitor said...

As the reviewer and Bob suggested, this sounds like it could be a really good secondary translation, to use in conjunction with another translation(s).

With that in mind, I hope this translation eventually makes its way to sites like BibleGateway and BibleHub, to make it convenient to compare passages.

Michael Demers said...

I enjoy reading this one. It's literal, quirky, and not too polished or boring. The weird thing is that I'm going too fast with this book as if was a thriller.

R. Gregory said...

If anyone is interested, the following is a link to a review of this translation by an Orthodox priest:

Matthew Doe said...

R. Gregory, that's a very helpful review. And it confirms with concrete examples the fears I voiced above about individuals translating.

I note that the reviewer mentions two positive translation examples at the start, probably in a conscious attempt to balance the rather lengthy negative collection that follows. But as it happens, I think there is a problem even with those... I quote from the review: "Thus Hart’s rendering of diabolos as “slanderer” rather than “devil”, and his rendering of ekklesia as “assembly” rather than “church” are certainly to be welcomed, for such renderings open up what the Greek words actually meant to their original readers and avoid later unhelpful accretions of meaning."

Concerning the first, I would point out that this is only helpful if one actually knows that this term is rendered "devil", e.g., by reading other translation. If a reader has a limited background in Christian teaching and/or bible study, he or she might well assume that this is just someone who happened to slander on this particular occasion. (This could be partly addressed by turning it into a name "the Slanderer", but I do not know if Hart does that...) Perhaps a footnote clarifies things in the actual text here, but not everybody reads footnotes...

Concerning the second, I would point out that everybody who assembles forms an assembly, but mostly the term is used to describe the assembly of the faithful in the bible, and again generally it is in a formal assembly (for worship / decision making / ...), not just a random gathering of whoever happens to be around. What hierarchical structures these early assemblies had, and what these structures have to do with ours today, is obviously worth a discussion. But I doubt that switching from "church" to "assembly" provides an easy shortcut there... Maybe again turning this into a name "the Assembly" would work better, and indeed would fit the historical adoption of the term ekklesia.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

This sounds like something worth reading.

Jason said...

What an excellent and well balanced review!

Thanks for the link

Anonymous said...

"...anathemas against Origen (who is the origin of much of this) predate the Great Schism, and hence are fully upheld by the Eastern Orthdox Churches."

This is incorrect on two counts - the anathemas against Origen condemn a specific idea surrounding the pre-existence of souls and do not address the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis. As a secondary note, it's almost certainly untrue that Origen held the view condemned; it's unclear those anathemas were propagated by the Council.

On count two, Origen hardly "originated" the idea that all will be saved. It's very much the center of Paul's thinking (evident simply by reading the New Testament), for example. We have it from St Augustine that this was the common, perhaps dominant, view of the early Church.

A more general observation is this: the Greek simply doesn't say what conventional translators seem to want it to say when the term "aionos". Hart's choice of "of the Age" can in fact be read as a reference to an endless or timeless age. Or not, often depending on the context. The trouble, however, is that the Greek can be read the same way. His choice is a good one. Like any translation, there are renderings to take issue with, but overall, this is an outstanding work - in many respects we have nothing like this outside of the Greek texts. Hart's commentaries - his intros, his digressions in the post-scripts - are unfortunate choices for what ought to have been a sober context.