Goldingay, John. The First Testament: A New Translation. Downers Grove Ill..: IVP Academic, 2018. 262 pp. Pb; $24.00. Link to IVP Academic
In Goldingay’s recent Reading Jesus’s Bible (Eerdmans 2017) he argued Jesus and the writers of the New Testament not only read the First Testament, but use it as the bedrock for their theology and practice. In two other recent publications from IVP Academic, Do We Need the New Testament? (2015) and A Reader’s Guide to The Bible (2017) Goldingay argued the First Testament is foundational for a proper understanding the New Testament. Although he said few Christians would actually question the need for the First Testament in Do We Need the New Testament?, recent comments from Andy Stanley on “un-hitching” Christianity from the Old Testament reflect the struggle of the modern Christian reader to see the relevance of the first two thirds of their Bible. Or worse, they are embarrassed about much of the content in the Old Testament, preferring the loving God of the New. John Piper responded to Andy Stanley (as did virtually every blogger under the sun), forcing Stanley to clarify his views and un-hitch himself from his own comments.
In order to further his goal of bringing the First Testament alive for the church today, Goldingay has produced a new translation of the Hebrew Bible. The title of the translation reflects a modern allergy to the phrase “Old Testament” since the title implies antiquated or out-of-date. It is not the “we do not need it anymore testament,” but the first three-quarters of the canon of Scripture. As I have often said to my students we need a thorough knowledge of the literature and theology of the Hebrew Bible in order to fully understand the New Testament.
This translation had its origins in Goldingay’s Old Testament for Everyone series published by Westminster John Knox. The translation done for those popular commentaries was “substantially revised.” In the preface to the volume he lists a series of principles for the translation, beginning with his desire to stick as closely to the original Hebrew and Aramaic as possible using everyday English as much as possible. For example, he uses contractions and other colloquial expressions, but this is not a paraphrase. For example, most traditional Bible translate the euphemism for sex as “he knew his wife.” In Genesis 4:1, the man “slept with his wife” and in Isaiah 8:3 it is “I had sex with my wife.” Since the goal is a translation which reflects the underlying Hebrew, occasionally there are rough or jerky sentence; but that is the nature of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, he sets poetry out to look like poetry, a common practice in modern Bible translations. The goal is accurate translation while preserving the ancient Hebrew flavor of the First Testament.
For the name of God, Goldingay chose to use Yahweh rather than the common circumlocution Lord. Goldingay transliterates most names so they appear more akin to their Hebrew equivalents. Most of these will be apparent to readers, Mosheh for Moses, Yehoshua for Joshua, etc. For others, the first occurrence has the traditional name in brackets: Havvah for Eve, Qayin for Cain, or Ha’ay for Ai in Joshua 8. Seeing names like Iyyob (Job) and Hisqiyyahu (Hezekiah) are quite shocking, but reflect the actual pronunciation of these names which have been blended through translations of the Hebrew into Greek, Latin and English. Fortunately he uses the traditional names for the book titles. This practice moves away from traditional spellings but also traditional (easier) pronunciations. This may present some difficulty for some readers, but it is important for Goldingay’s goal of allowing the reader to hear the Hebrew sounds in the Hebrew Bible.
Although this is not a study Bible, Goldingay includes a short introduction to the history of the First Testament as well as for each book. He is not particularly concerned with traditional introductory issues in these single-page prefaces. Instead his focus on the main themes of the book and how the book fits into the overarching canon of Scripture.
Like most modern Bibles, Goldingay has added a short title to sections. These are often mini-interpretations, such as “How to stand tall” (Psalm 52) or “How to weave a sanctuary (Exodus 26). Exodus 1:1-19 is labeled “On how not to render to Caesar,” an appropriate title with a New Testament allusion. Others are tongue-in-cheek, such as Esther 5:6-6:4, “The girl who knows how to work her man” or Ezekiel 37:1-14, “Dem bons, dem bones, dem dry bones.” Some may not be helpful for someone who does not know the story. For example, Ruth 4:1-10 is entitled “how not to get overextended in property ownership.” Although that is what happens in the section for Boaz’s rival, someone reading just the heading might be led to believe this is some legislation on taxation.
As observed above, Goldingay uses traditional names for the books of the First Testament. He also chose to use the traditional order of the books. This order is based on the Septuagint and reflects that Greek translation rather than the order of the First Testament itself. Perhaps it would be too jarring to see Ruth, Esther or Daniel moved out of their traditional place in the canon. On the other hand, this translation is intended for Christian readers so the order of the Christian canon is understandable.
Conclusion. Some will be as skeptical of this new translation as they were when N. T. Wright released his The Kingdom New Testament or David Hart Bentley’s recent translation which highlighted the “fragmentary formulations” of the New Testament “without augmentation or correction.” Others will receive this new translation for what it is, one scholar’s attempt to produce a readable translation which is faithful to the spirit of the First Testament. As Goldingay says in the preface to The First Testament, there is no such thing as a “best translation of the Old Testament.” Goldingay’s translation is an example of a faithful translation which comes from a scholar with a deep passion to see Christians read the First Testament in a form as close to the original Hebrew as possible.
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.