A Translation for Latter-day Saints

WaymentNT

Not only do we have the new Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy hot off the presses, we have now also been blessed with a study edition of the New Testament prepared by Thomas A. Wayment specifically intended for Latter-day Saint readers. The timing of this publication is particularly propitious, for tomorrow (i.e., December 31, 2018) begins our 2019 Sunday School curriculum focus on the New Testament. Further, under the new two-hour block system, individuals, families or informal groups will now bear more of the burden and responsibility for pursuing such study, so this new volume has the potential to be a primary resource that our people can turn to as they tackle our NT curriculum.

One reaction to this publication I have seen online is basically “Why do we need this?” The idea is that we have a bounty of solid, modern, non-LDS translations and commentaries on the NT, and people should be reading those instead of staying in a Mormon ghetto. I understand the impulse, but I disagree with it.

Let me tell you a story. The first time I was called as a GD teacher was in the early 80s when I was attending the student ward at the University of Illinois (where I went to law school). This was a group of highly intelligent young people, as you would expect of the student ward of a major research university. There was one (very sharp) young man who used a Revised Standard Version (RSV), and when called on in class would read out of his RSV. I loved it when he did this, as the variant language required explanation and provided wonderful teaching opportunities. But I’ve never forgotten the deer-in-the-headlights looks on the faces of the other students whenever this young man pulled out his RSV. People didn’t know what to make of the variant language, and it frankly freaked them the hell out. It spooked them. And keep in mind these were among the sharpest young people in the entire Church. So while I agree that it would be a wonderful thing if our young people felt comfortable using, say, an Oxford annotated New Revised Standard Version, except for a small minority that’s just not the lived reality on the ground right now. We need baby steps to slowly acclimate our young people to such a resource. I think Thom’s volume is very useful in its own right (particularly by directly addressing matters of specific LDS interest in the NT), but it is also valuable as a gateway drug. Here we have a scholarly, non-KJV translation of the NT being published by Deseret Book and the BYU Religious Studies ‘Center. Once a student works her way through this book, she’ll be much more likely to feel comfortable turning to other, non-LDS resources for her NT study.

Mormon reverence for the KJV is an inherent problem in attempting to move beyond the venerable translation, a topic I touched on here. Ironically, Saints who read other languages are not burdened by this problem; an unwillingness to move on from the KJV is of course specifically a problem for English readers. When a small group of us worked on Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints, we faced this problem  in making an initial decision as to how to proceed. One early participant thought we should do a new translation. The rest of us were skeptical that such a translation would be accepted, which is why we ended up simply footnoting the standard KJV, since Latter-day Saints were at least accustomed to such footnotes in their standard 1979 edition KJVs. I wrote the following explanation in the Preface:

Much of the need for this book would be obviated if one were simply to read the NT in a good, modern translation. It has been our experience, however, that the vast majority of Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable reading the Bible in any translation other than the KJV. Inasmuch as the Church’s commitment to the KJV seems unlikely to abate any time soon, the next best thing is to learn to read the KJV, as archaic as it now is, with full comprehension.

My preference was always that someone should do a new translation. To me, the fact that Deseret Book is involved in the publication of this volume gives it an excellent chance to succeed in the LDS marketplace, and personally I would be thrilled if the volume were well received. Time will tell.

Having written probably thousands of explanatory annotations to the text of the KJV NT, I am envious how much more efficient it would have been to simply do a new translation of the text. To illustrate, I’ll take some randomly selected text (Galatians 2:1-6) and present it first as it appears in Footnotes and then as it appears in Thom’s translation, bolding places where the concept in my footnotes was able to be presented directly in Thom’s translation. First, Footnotes:

Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.[1]

And I went up by[2] revelation, and communicated unto[3] them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation,[4] lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.[5]

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:[6]

And[7] that because of false brethren unawares[8] brought in, who came in privily[9] to spy out[10] our liberty[11] which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:[12]

To whom we gave place by subjection,[13] no, not for an hour;[14] that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

But of these who seemed to be somewhat,[15] (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter[16] to me: God accepteth no man’s person:)[17] for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:[18]

[1] See Acts 15:2.

[2] IE as a result of.

[3] OR lay out before.

[4] IE those of influence.

[5] OR to no purpose.

[6] Thus introducing the subject of this letter.

[7] The JST has “notwithstanding,” properly emphasizing the contrast between vv. 3 and 4. The RSV has “but.”

[8] OR surreptitiously.

[9] OR secretly.

[10]  OR on.

[11] IE from the requirements of the law of Moses.

[12] IE enslave us.

[13] IE we did not cave in to their demands.

[14] Idiomatic for a short period of time.

[15] IE influential.

[16] IE it makes no difference.

[17] IE God shows no favoritism among people.

[18] IE to my message.

To this compare Thom’s translation and notes:

2 1. Then after fourteen years, I went up agin to Jeruslam with Barnabas, taking Titus with me also. 2. I went up according to revelation, and I set out for them (though privately to those who were prominent among them) the gospel that I probleim among the Gentiles so that I might not run, or had run, in vain. 3. But Titus  who was with me, being a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. 4. And a discussion arose because of false brothers who secretly entered in order to spy on our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might enslave us, to whom we did not subject ourselves for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel might reside in you. 6. But from those who were prominent–whatever they were makes no difference to me, God shows no partiality–they added nothing to me.

2:1 For Barnabas’s role in Paul’s missions, see Acts 11:22, 25′ 12:25; 15:36-39. For Titus, see 2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6-14. 2:2 The prominent are almost certainly the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Paul’s description makes it appear that there were significant factions within the church and that he had to report his experiences in nuanced ways to different groups. 2:3 The issue of whether Greek-born converts were required to be circumcised was settled at a church conference (Acts 15:5, 11). The policy was for Jewish converts to undergo circumcision, but for Greeks it was not required.2:4 A discussion arose has been added to clarify missing words. Paul simply says because of false brothers, but in the context of having reported his missionary activity privately, the subject is clearly Paul’s reference to being required to make different reports to different groups. Paul seems to be drawing attention to the fact that the Jerusalem church had previously endorsed his mission to the Gentiles. The false brothers are separate from the leaders of the Jerusalem church. The Joseph Smith Translation reads at the beginning of this verse Notwithstanding there were some brought in by false brethren unawres. 2:6 An allusion to Deuternomy 10:17.

You should be able to see how much more efficient it is to represent the Greek text correctly in a direct way as opposed to attempting to correct the KJV translation by numerous annotations.

When I was studying classics at BYU in the early 80s (the Department Thom is  now a part of) I took a directed readings class, doing half of John and half of Luke. I would meet privately with the professor and he would have me translate verbally for him. He didn’t like it when I hewed too closely to the KJV, and would make me redo those portions. He didn’t do this because what I had done was necessarily a bad thing, but he wanted to make sure I understood what I was doing and not just subconsciously relying on my longstanding familiarity with the KJV. Thom’s translation is fairly conservative vis-a-vis the KJV, and my professor would probably have made him redo this or that expression. But my professor was sensitive to KJV usage in that specific context for pedagogical purposes only; Thom by contrast is an established scholar who knows what he is doing and is, I suspect,  translating fairly conservatively vis-a-vis the KJV on purpose. Non-KJV translations are still a touchy subject in some LDS circles, I assume. (Witness the BYU New Testament Commentary project for political purposes using the word “rendition” as opposed to “translation”).

Anyway, Thom is an outstanding scholar, and I liked this volume very much. I think it would be perfect for a family to use as the basis of a year-long study of the NT for Sunday School under the new largely home-based Come Follow Me program.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Why is it subtitled “A Study Bible”? Just because it is easier to read? That is not a bad reason; I am just curious.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I suspect that tag line is due to the fact that it is not only a fresh translation, it also has substantial notes (the bottom third to a half or so of each page is devoted to explanatory notes).

  3. Good stuff, Kevin. Having already given a copy as a gift, my second is on its way. So I don’t need a sales pitch. But I appreciate your thoughts about how this work might fit into actual Church member use in the coming year.

    For what it’s worth, I could tell similar stories about a non-KJV reading in Sunday School, but they would all be dated, i.e., 20th century. By whatever accident of place and time (_not_ moving to more liberal places) I have found a sentence or two of explanation and a sensitive-to-the-culture approach working pretty well in the 21st century.

  4. Interesting! About a month ago, I purchased The Augmented 3rd Edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV. I really like it. I bought one in new condition for $4 including shipping from a seller on Abe Books.

    In the last year based on what I’ve read here, I downloaded the Blue Letter Bible app for Kindle. The side by side parallel of two version made me think reading the KJV is like reading Canterbury Tales in Middle English junior year of high school. The KJV sounds sort of familiar and but fighting the words and syntax detracted from real understanding. If I can’t really understand the messages, how can I apply the principals?

  5. Richard King says:

    Wow, I need to get a copy of that to go through and mark all the places that it is miss-translated and anti-biblical.

  6. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent the last couple days calling and visiting various Desert Book stores along the Wasatch Front here in Utah to find a copy of this book. They are all sold out everywhere and I was told a second printing has already been ordered. I would think that bodes well for members accepting a new translation.

  7. Kevin, this book aside…what are your favorite New Testament study guides/books?

  8. Beware the Kindle edition. Kindle books can do footnotes adequately or badly. This book does the worst job of footnoting that I’ve seen on Kindle.

    Otherwise, this is an excellent volume.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Cory, here are a few things in my personal library that I use often:

    Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (and also The Death of the Messiah).

    I have many of the Anchor Bible commentary volumes.

    For textual issues, The Greek New Testament, Novum Testamentum Graece, and Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament.

    Anchor Bible Dictionary and Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary.

    Oxford Annotated RSV. (This is a little dated; I picked it up on my mission at a library used book sale for $1,00, but I have a sentimental attachment to it. These days one would get the NRSV version of this.)

    BDAG (Danker’s Greek Lexicon, which is the standard for this literature).

  10. I just ordered a copy for my mother as a birthday present, and then tried to order a copy for myself, but online it was all so sold out Amazon wouldn’t even let me add it to my shopping cart. YAY New Testament!

  11. My family and I love it. We’ve even gifted it to our local congregation and leadership. So grateful to be able to use this. Too bad it’s on backorder everywhere. Hopefully Deseret Book gets the picture, and maybe in can be in the new quad!

  12. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thanks for the review, Kevin. I’ve been reading this as I prep to teach my first Come Follow Me lesson in GD. It’s fantastic.

    John, thanks for the warning. We bought a paper copy of Thom’s translation already, but I’ve been debating if I want a kindle version too. I hesitated b/c I’ve yet to find a study e-bible that does footnotes well, and you confirmed that this book isn’t the one to solve that problem.

  13. I used the Kindle version of the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV) this last year for the OT. I haven’t dipped into the NT sections yet. I found the notes at the beginning of each book and the footnotes chapter by chapter well done. I don’t have a lot to compare with on Kindle but the Harper Collins version exceeded my ((admittedly low) expectations and was genuinely useful.

  14. Raymond Brown also has a volume called An Introduction to the New Testament. Really, it’s hard to go wrong with Brown.

    And this may sound silly, but I’d recommend Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. It’s old, and Asimov wasn’t a Biblical scholar, but he’s very readable and excellent at providing historical background. Just read him with a grain of salt and don’t look to him for theological insight.

    (And yes, he was an atheist, but not the proselytizing sort.)

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah yes, tsengtsz, I too have Brown’s intro, and I agree you simply can’t go wrong with him.

  16. Any plans for a book review of “Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families”?

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    I think my only comment on the new manual is that it makes the old manuals look like the Summa Theologica by comparison.

  18. Kevin, my assessment as well.

  19. Brown has two editions of Introduction to the New Testament, with a shortened version (by around 500 pages) that came out a few years ago. The original was released in the early 1990s as one of the earliest volumes in the Anchor-Yale Bible Reference Library.

    I’d add the Jewish Annotated New Testament to your collection as well. Its the NRSV, but the annotations and essays (especially the 2d Edition released by Oxford last year) is excellent.

    Alas, I too found the Kindle version to be one of the worst I’ve dealt with. NOT RECOMMENDED. But the print version is everything Kevin says (if not more).

  20. I’ll echo what John Jenkins said about the Kindle version, which I bought yesterday because I didn’t want to wait until a second printing. The notes are inconvenient to use, and entire volume is difficult to navigate. But otherwise, I’m impressed with what Wayment has done. This is a much-needed resource for Latter-day Saints who want to get beyond the KJV.

  21. Kevin –

    Thanks for the excellent write-up. I just ordered one and hope the 2nd printing doesn’t take forever. What are your thoughts on Jesus the Christ by James Talmage?

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Sean, Jesus the Christ was for its time a pretty good summary of general Protestant thought on Jesus with a Mormon overlay. But it was published more than a century ago, and so of course is badly dated. A better start with an LDS-centric introduction would be Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament.

    You also may find this article of interest: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/063-08-13.pdf

  23. Thanks Kevin that article was really interesting. I didn’t know anything about the Victorian tradition of the life of Christ before.

  24. One other thing about Jesus the Christ, is that Talmage intermixes materials from all four Gospels together. (He’s far from alone in doing this, of course.) The net effect, though, is a ransom note Gospel where the voices of the individual Evangelists is suppressed. There are many insights to be gained by letting them each speak for themselves.

  25. I think I’ve mentioned this in other posts. One of my friends, a son of Elder McConkie, told me that his father used the Victorian commentaries on the Life of Christ (similar to Talmage) when he wrote his Mortal Messiah series in the 1970s because they were written by men of faith, whereas he didn’t feel the same about the scholars of that time. That was true of most of the scholarship of his time. Shortly after, particularly in the 80s and 90s, that changed (with a few notable exceptions) and much of the top scholars since that time have been believers and those who have faith (I’m thinking of Raymond E. Brown, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado among others.)

  26. I used an NRSV during Sunday School in a YSA branch in Chicago in the 00s. A Sunday School teacher asked me not to read from it during class, but no one else ever gave me a hard time. It was regarded as an idiosyncrasy that I used it. I was sometimes asked why I was bringing a dictionary to church. Once the verse I read out loud was exactly the same as the KJV, and a bunch of people laughed.

  27. So…is this sort of a Mormon equivalent of the JW’s NWT?

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    John, no, I don’t see this as a Mormon NWT. The translation is very responsible and not going way out of its way to support idiosyncratic Mormon readings.

  29. I haven’t seen idiosyncratic readings. It is, however, conservative in the sense that it often uses traditional vocabulary that is understood by Latter-day Saints. For example, unlike most modern translations, it translates “agape” as “charity” rather than “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, but it does point out in a footnote that “love” would also be a good translation.

    Many notes also run counter to traditional thought in the Church — for example, in contrast with the “Come Follow Me” manual, notes provide reason to believe that Matthew the tax collector wasn’t the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Overall, I’ve been impressed by the translation and commentary, and I see the book as a breakthrough for the Church in that it finally will expose some members to historical criticism and readings that have long been familiar to Christians in other denominations.

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