Introducing A New Translation of the Bible, beginning with 3 John

Introducing A New Translation of the Bible, beginning with 3 John

One constant in my life has been the Bible and, more specifically, my obsession with it. I read it in Catholic preschool and kindergarten. I memorized it in Lutheran private school and throughout my homeschooling career. After my baptism through the Holy Spirit experience in sixth grade, the very next thing I did was start a middle school Bible study. I've now studied it "professionally" for eighteen years at the undergrad, graduate, and clerical levels. Most things in my life have had some level of topsy-turviness. My love of Scripture is something that has never gone away.

That love is sometimes hard to explain or talk about. It's like being the one friend who defends that awful movie that everyone but you hates. Or when you see a painting or hear a song and it brings up all this emotion and feeling within you, and you try to explain it to someone else, and all they can say is, "Huh?" When I read the Bible, I hear and see and experience things I want to share with others. It's what compels me to be a preacher and teacher and TikToker and Threader. I want people to see and hear and read what I see and hear and read.

But there is an incredible distance between us and a two- to three-thousand-year-old text. The more I study, I feel that distance more—not less!—acutely. Bible translations can help reduce that distance, but many translations are beholden to traditions, committees, denominations, and (quite frankly) donors, which keeps them from making translation choices that could increase clarity and readability.

Don't get me wrong. We live with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to good Bible translations. And the committee-based translations do an overall excellent job of making an ancient text semi-understandable to modern readers.

However, I've also become a lover of single-author translations (such as Goldingay's and McKnight's First and Second Testaments; the New Testament for Everyone by N. T. Wright; David Bentley Hart's New Testament or Sarah Ruden's Gospels; Altar's Hebrew Bible; or of course The Message by Eugene Peterson). Single-author translations are able to take interpretive risks that committee-based translations cannot. They can allow the weirdness of Scripture to shine through, but in a way that makes the weird readable. 

A Translation for a Certain Kind of Person

As the pastor of a congregation who thinks—and forces me to think—about God, Christianity, and theology in startlingly new, fresh, and (admittedly) controversial ways, I often find myself pushing back not against not the Bible but Bible translations and the usual suspects of traditional interpretations. Contrary to the popular detractors of religion, the Bible and the Christian faith have been instrumental to the liberation of many and the movement towards a more just world. My particular congregation seems to have a broad sense that this is true (or at least could have been true), but can struggle to articulate how a "more beautiful gospel that announces collective liberation and the renewal of all things" genuinely arises from these dusty pages called the Bible.

It's my contention that if we followed the trajectory of the Bible to where it's pointing, we would find ourselves in a world where "justice can make its home" (2 Peter 3:13). But to follow that trajectory, we must know what the Bible actually says. 

That's where I'd like to come in. As a pastor with training in biblical languages, an obsession with the Bible, and a personal mission of reclaiming the Bible for love and liberation, I think I may have something to offer in the already-crowded bookshelf of Bible translations. During Christmastide 2023, I decided to begin my own translation of the Bible. 

First, as a way to continue my love affair with its pages. 

Second, as a way to continue my work in not surrendering the Bible's interpretation or translation to those with harmful theology.

Third, as a service to my congregation and other similarly-minded folks.

About the Translator

I have no PhD in Hebrew or Greek and no career in academia. I am, first and foremost, a clergyman who is very much dependent on the work of other scholars of language and Biblical theology. I have a seminary-level grasp of Hebrew and Greek that I am, admittedly, dusting off after some time away from the lexicons and grammars of classes past. 

Therefore, this translation I am offering is very much a work in progress. I imagine that the translation decisions I'm making today may change as the work progresses and my mastery of the biblical languages increases. However, I believe in Steve Jobs's adage, "Real artists ship." I could not wait until my entire translation was finished to share it. In part because, at the rate I'm going, I'll likely be in my 70s. And, in part, because I am eager for feedback from actual readers. If a translation fails to communicate to normal-ass people without a bookshelf full of commentaries, then it's a bad translation. 

I am committed to a few bare theological minimums. My Christian faith is Nicene in nature, meaning I believe in a Trinitarian God; that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of God; that Jesus died, was buried, was bodily resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of God. For some, that makes me far too conservative to offer a "progressive" translation of Scripture. So be it.

However, my theological minimums also include a commitment to an anthropology shaped by the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people; feminism; antiracism; anticapitalism; Christian universalism (the belief that every creature will one day be reconciled with their creator, no exceptions); and an open and relational view of God (God's power is unable to be, in any way, coercive; the future is genuinely open and unknown to God). For some, this makes me far too liberal to offer an "accurate" translation of Scripture. So be it.

About the Translations

I will confess that I am composing my philosophy of translation as I go about the art of translating. However, I broadly agree with Eugene Nida's philosophy that the purpose of translation is to transport “the message of the original text … into the receptor language [such] that the response of the receptor is essentially like that of the original receptors.” In other words, a translation should aim to ensure that the people reading it have the same reaction as the people who read it in the original language.

I imagine I'll blog through the challenge of this. However, for this project, I'm actually offering two translations: a "literalistic" translation and a "natural language" translation. If this translation were to end up in print, the idea would be that the left side of the page would be the natural language translation, and the right side would be the literalistic.

The natural language translation is somewhere between the New Living Translation and The Message. It's not a paraphrase, and I'm not aiming to use up-to-minute slang and idioms. It is being translated directly from the original languages. However, I am willing to add words and phrases to increase clarity and "the sense" of what is being communicated. As Greek language expert and living legend Bill Mounce has said, "Meaning is conveyed primarily by phrases, and words gain their specific meaning in the context of the phrase. So accuracy has more to do with the phrase than the individual words."

The literalistic translation will, as much as possible, maintain a "formal equivalence" between the word in the original language and the word in English. I'll even aim to preserve word order as long as it can make some sense in English (though at times like Yoda it may sound). My hope is that a careful reader could read these two translations side-by-side and see the challenges of faithfully rendering an ancient language into something that strikes the ear of a modern reader the same way it would an ancient one. 

How This Will Work

This is slow work. All that is complete so far is 3 John, the shortest book of the New Testament. I will next translate Obadiah, the shortest book of the Hebrew Bible, and then proceed from there.

I'm doing this in stolen moments between my primary work of pastoring. Like I said, I may only be done once I'm deep into my 70s. I also find myself writing short glossary entries for important words. And I wish I could offer more substantial study notes. The more I go on, the more I want to go on, so that's something. 

As I complete a biblical text, I will add it to an ever-growing PDF and send it out to the world. I would happily receive feedback or questions and work to improve each translation in future revisions. As I said, I may blog about some of the more interesting problems and issues of translation.

I dedicate this first translation of 3 John to The Table Church congregation, who (unwittingly) compelled me to begin this task.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC