28 March 2019 Update: Since publishing this initial post, I have since revisited and changed some of my opinions on how God's Word translators chose to render traditional theological terms. On the translation of "justification" see here...and on the translation of "grace" see here.
In this third post in my multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), I will take a look at the New Testament as translated in GW. If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW and my second post on the Old Testament in GW.
As mentioned in my review of the Old Testament, GW has achieved excellent readability — balancing contemporary English style without breaking significantly from traditional English translations. What I said about the Old Testament holds true for the New in that I would place the ‘feel’ of GW (anecdotally) somewhere between the NIV and NLT. One thing I have noticed by spending time with this translation over the past couple of months is the consistent use of simple word choice and sentence construction. These facets are discussed in the “Guide to God’s Word Translation” booklet I received from Baker, and after reading large portions of this translation I appreciate what the translators were trying to accomplish. Additionally, some of the English and Evangelical colloquialisms found in other contemporary translations are absent from this translation. Far from creating a ‘dumbed down’ translation with respect to vocabulary and grammar, GW would lend itself very well to use in teaching the English language or in an ESL church context. I hope GW will be able to find a warm reception and be put to good use in this area.
The narrative and dialogue of the Gospels reads exactly how one would expect these genres to read. The flow is very good, interrupted only by section/pericope breaks common to most translations. The style in the dialogue sections reflects contemporary English, for example, in its use of contractions and lack of repeating ‘verily’/’truly’ phrases (which are very good Greek but very poor English). As in the Old Testament, poetic sections (primarily quotes from the OT) are formatted with multiple levels of indentation to show the Hebraic use of parallelism, effectively pointing out to English readers a poetic device we are largely unaccustomed to using. As a format note, all the of the editions of GW I have seen are black-letter editions. I do not think any red-letter editions exist, which for many of us is a stylistic bonus.
The language and grammar of the Epistles also makes for a very readable translation, even in the very lengthy sentences of Paul and difficult Greek used by Peter. As is customary in many English translations, very long Greek sentences are made into more manageable English sentences. As I’ve seen throughout GW, the translation team has done a very good job overall crafting an accurate and readable English translation.
In my review of the Old Testament, I pointed out three areas, both good and bad, where GW broke with long-standing tradition in the realm of English bible translation. There are more examples of non-traditional vocabulary choices in the New Testament, several of which are worthy of note, either positively or negatively. First, let’s look at some of what I consider to be good changes:
- Instead of ‘repent,’ GW consistently uses some variation of ‘change the way you/they think and act.’ While this is a verbose translation of ‘metanoeo,’ it accurately defines the Greek word in terms familiar to contemporary English speakers.
- Instead of ‘verily, verily’ or ‘truly, truly’ throughout the Gospels, GW uses ‘I can guarantee this truth.’ In sections where Jesus says ‘amen, amen’ repeatedly it can sound a bit mechanical, but it’s an improvement over either of the traditional renderings.
- In keeping with other contemporary English translations, GW translates the standalone use of ‘christos’ as ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘Christ.’ ‘Iesous Christos’ is still translated traditionally as ‘Jesus Christ.’ Even though Messiah and Christ are synonyms, I prefer to have ‘christos’ translated as Messiah to clearly link OT promise with NT fulfillment.
There are also a few choices made by the translators that I don’t like:
- GW tends to translate ‘trespass’ (‘opheilema’) and ‘sin’ (‘hamartia’) as ‘failure,’ which itself I think is a failure. In the typical usage of those with whom I interact, ‘failure’ connotes an unintentional shortcoming of my best efforts rather than intentional defiance or rebellion. While ‘failure’ can denote ‘trespass’ or ‘sin,’ I don’t find it used this way.
- Similarly to the NIV and NLT, GW translates ‘sarx’ as ‘sinful nature’ rather than ‘flesh.’ Lots of ink has been spilled evaluating this choice, and I won’t add to it other than to say I really don’t like it.
- Instead of ‘grace,’ GW consistently uses ‘kindness,’ which only partly misses the mark. God’s grace to us isn’t just kindness but his ‘undeserved kindness’ toward sinful humanity. Simply using ‘kindness’ weakens the impact of God’s grace (‘charis’).
- The most problematic vocabulary choice made by GW, in my opinion, is the use of ‘God’s approval’ instead of ‘justify’ (dikaioo). Justification is more than just God’s approval, which itself connotes God’s positive reaction to some work on humanity’s part. Justification is our acquittal from sin, God’s pardon of us (in Christ) in spite of ourselves. Considering this translation was done by a team that maintains that a proper understanding of justification is key to salvation, this choice is a real disappointment to me.
The New Testament is well done overall. As with the Old Testament, the narrative is clear, the dialogue contemporary, and the poetry well-presented. I love the single-column, black-letter text, both of which create an enjoyable reading experience. Also similar to the OT, some of the non-traditional wording choices are helpful but some, especially the translation chosen for ‘grace’ and ‘justify’ are poorly done. In fact, this last item is probably the one thing that keeps me from recommending God’s Word without caveat. Hopefully, the folks at Baker will take note of these items and revise the text, which would make this a truly solid, wonderful translation…not that it’s far from that mark today.