Pub Date 24 Oct 2017
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?”
“This scrupulous, knotty, learned rendering of some of the most familiar texts of our culture makes us see with new clarity just what was and is uncomfortably new about the New Testament.”—Rowan Williams, theologian and poet, Cambridge
“In this age of committee-generated translations of the Bible, a fresh and pointedly different translation of the New Testament by a single scholar is a remarkable achievement. Hart's approach is intentionally provocative, and strong reactions are sure to follow. Let the games begin.”— John P. Meier, author of A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
"David Hart's translation of the New Testament is a theological and ecclesial event of the first magnitude. By providing, for the first time, a literal English translation of the Greek (and demonstrating that the most literal can be the most strikingly beautiful rendering) Hart has shown, after 500 years, that the core of Reformation theology is un-Biblical and that certain currents of Latin theology are dubious or inadequate. This new version, which should become the standard one for scholarly use, also makes it clearer that, while doctrinal liberalism is wishful thinking, credal Christianity only emerged from a plausible but subtle reading of sometimes teasingly ambivalent texts. Hart's brilliant postscript amounts to a call for a more genuinely Biblical orthodoxy: universalist, synergic, participatory, cosmic, gnostic (in a non-heterodox sense) and communitarian."—John Milbank, University of Nottingham
A conversation with David Bentley Hart:
How was translating the New Testament different than simply reading it?
To translate a text is to be conducted into its mysteries in a way that no mere act of reading—however conscientious or frequent—makes possible. Writing this translation caused me to absorb certain conclusions about the world of the early church at a deeper level than I could have anticipated.
What insights into the texts themselves did you gain?
They are not beguiling exercises in suasive rhetoric or feats of literary virtuosity; rather, they are chiefly the devout and urgent attempts of often rather ordinary persons to communicate something “seen” and “heard” that transcends any language, but that nevertheless demands to be spoken, now, here, in whatever words one can marshal. The New Testament draws one in by the intensity, purity, and perhaps frequent naïveté of its language, not by the exquisite sheen of its belletristic graces.
How did translating change your perspective on the early Christians?
What impressed itself upon me with an entirely unexpected force was a new sense of the utter strangeness of the Christian vision of life in its first dawning. When one truly ventures into the world of the first Christians, one enters a company of “radicals,” an association of men and women guided by faith in a world-altering revelation, and hence in values almost absolutely inverse to the recognized social, political, economic, and religious truths not only of their own age, but of almost every age of human culture.
Praise for The Experience of God:
“Bracing and eloquent . . . fans of Hart’s winsome prose will not be disappointed . . . a fine work.”—Edward T. Oakes, S.J., National Review