The Kingdom New Testament by N.T. Wright (In Review)

Derek Ouellette —  November 10, 2011 — Leave a comment

I believe it was D.A. Carson who said something to the effect that it is impossible for Wright to write a dull sentence. Translate that into a Wright’s own translation of the New Testament and we get a delightful, fresh and unique read.

Strengths:

The Kingdom New Testament has several strengths going for it.

The first and foremost strength is its strangeness. The uniqueness that Wright brings to the text and pulls out of the Greek as he translates will feel totally fresh to the person who – like probably most of us – have become all too familiar with the way our Bibles read.

I think the biblical waters get stale for most of us. We need the waters stirred and made fresh from time to time. This was one of the strengths of Eugene Petersons paraphrase, The Message, and I think it is a strength here as well.

The second strength is very close to the first. The wording of the text is most often quite eloquent and even often downright poetic. Combined with its uniqueness together makes The Kingdom New Testament very enjoyable to read.

Its emphasis on the Kingdom – as its title suggests – is also a great thing. Most translations translate the Greek word Christos as “Christ”. Contemporary readers have gotten used to that rendering and often assume that “Christ” is Jesus’ sir name or that it’s a reference to Jesus as savior. Broadly it is a reference to Jesus as savor. But more specifically it is a reference to Jesus as the king of the Jews. The theological significance to this fact is quite rich, and I’ve explored that elsewhere and won’t rehash that here.

For fans of N.T. Wright this translation will become a must. Wright’s theology – particularly his theology of Justification – has landed him in hot water. A part of the controversy is how Wright has insisted that the phrase “righteousness of God” means “God’s covenant faithfulness”, and in The Kingdom New Testament that is precisely how he translates it: “The Messiah did not know sin, but God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Weaknesses:

The weaknesses of this translation are actually the same as the strengths. This is not a literal translation by a long shot, but in its “thought for thought” approach it stretches almost to the point of paraphrase at times. The reference of 2 Corinthians 5:21 above represents a good example. The Greek literally reads “dikosaune theo”. Neither the word “covenant” nor “faithfulness” are in the text and the question of whether Paul intends to denote “covenant faithfulness” by “righteousness of God” is widely contested. This will call into question for most people whether Wright is translating Paul’s thought, or his own. Of course Wright believes that he knows what Paul’s thoughts are here since he wrote a book on it (“What Saint Paul Really Said?”), and I happen to agree with him.

Because this translation is so unique its not very helpful when following along in Church or small groups. You could imagine – for example – how a group of simple Christians might be confused if sister Smith’s reading of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is so different from everyone else.

Conclusion:

The Kingdom New Testament is a treat for me. I do bring it to church. I will use it in small groups. I will quote from it on my blog from time to time. I will source it when I preach, and it has already become a part of my devotional routine. I think that Wright’s translation captures the gospel – the Kingdom message – beautifully. I think translating Christ as Messiah is correct and I love the way it reads from the Gospels to Revelation.

I highly recommend you add this translation to your shelf and incorporate it into your devotional routine.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.