I try to always read the infancy narratives on Christmas morning just so I can keep in mind what Christmas is really about, i.e., celebrating the birth of our Lord. This morning I reached for my ESV Reader’s Bible but was diverted when I saw The Kingdom New Testament sitting right next to it. This is N. T. Wright’s translation of the New Testament, which he produced while writing his “For Everyone” commentary series. The translation from each individual volume has been bound together in one attractive book.
I’m no expert in Bible translation so I won’t be able to offer much insight into what Wright did well or did poorly. But I can say that his translation reads easily and seems quite idiomatic. He renders what Daniel Wallace calls possessive genitives and genitives of relationship with contractions (e.g., “God’s Son) rather than the word “of” (e.g., Son of God), which I find preferable. He’s also made a conscious decision to use “Messiah” in place of “Christ” in most instances, which is a good thing, but also at times he says “King” (e.g., Rom 1), which seems a bit odd to the eye/ear. One wonders if Wright isn’t reading more imperial ideas into the text than are actually there.
But translation is a tricky business based on all sorts of things like philology and exegesis as well as an underlying philosophy of language. I’m not qualified to speak to any of these things. What I am qualified to speak to is the readability of this Bible, and trust me when I tell you that it’s extremely readable. It’s interesting to note that it’s not the contemporary translation that makes this New Testament most readable. It’s actually its physical properties. Yes, Wright has purposely rendered a lot of the prose in the style of a modern novel, and he’s to be applauded for doing so, but the publisher has formatted the actual book in such a style as well.
Where the ESV Reader’s Bible I originally reached for this morning has done away with verse numbers in order to leave the text uninterrupted, the KNT has maintained them and yet they go by unnoticed until you consciously decide to make use of them when searching for a reference. Section headings are relegated to the outer margins and they too don’t interrupt the flow of the text. The thing that I appreciate most about this Bible is that it looks, feels, and reads like a regular book. Of course this isn’t any regular old book—it’s the word of God—but it provides the same experience you get from reading a novel, which aids in seeing the overall story of the New Testament; a project that Wright has made his life’s work.
When it’s all said and done I find the KNT to be more of a reader’s Bible than most of the reader’s Bibles available on the market today. We can of course complain about Wright’s translation decisions in any given passage but he knows that this isn’t the be-all-end-all of translations. He recommends having two English translations open before you at all times in the preface. A wise man once said that the best translation of the Bible is the one you’ll actually read. Of course he knew nothing of the popularity of The Message or the Amplified Bible, but the sentiment is generally true. This is a Bible designed to get people engrossed in the text, and on that level Wright and HarperOne have succeeded.
So now that I’ve read Luke’s infancy narrative it’s time to flip through Matthew’s before turning to John’s description of the Incarnation. Merry Christmas to all! May we celebrate the birth of our Lord in appreciation of the life that he lived, the death that he died, and the resurrection life that he now abides in!