David Bentley Hart’s Translation of the New Testament

a6d5fbb1c9109c7fd92f5a00c8baba99This may not be news to anyone else, but today I discovered that Yale University Press are about to publish a new translation of the New Testament by David Bentley Hart, the noted essayist and theologian whose work usually stands pretty squarely in the love-it-or-hate-it category. Here is the publisher’s description:

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?”

The last sentence of that description is unpacked in detail by Bentley Hart in an essay here, which gives a small example of the translation (of James 5:1–6). It includes the following:

I do not mean merely that most of us find the moral requirements laid out in Christian scripture a little onerous, though of course we do. Therein lies the deep comfort provided by the magisterial Protestant fantasy that the apostle Paul inveighed against something called “works-righteousness” in favor of a purely extrinsic “justification” by grace—which, alas, he did not…Rather, I mean that most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.