The New Testament in the strange words of David Bentley Hart

I have posted other reviews of this new translation of the New Testament by David Bentley Hart. N.T. Wright has also written a review: The New Testament in the strange words of David Bentley Hart.

This article is from the Christian Century. N. T. Wright is the former Anglican Bishop of Durham and is currently a research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

(I asked my library to get this new translation and they have it on order. I don’t think I want to own a copy, though!)


This came up on one of the translation discussion boards. Hart wrote a response to Wright’s review: A Reply to N. T. Wright | Eclectic Orthodoxy

1 Like

This is my Previous post on the new translation. It included 3 reviews.

here is an update on the translation, it is really interesting when you look at the various ways translations are done:


Our local library ordered it (at my suggestion) and I’m looking through it now. Fascinating, lots of notes. I might post some verses in his translation.

1 Like

@AMWolfe @jpm @ManiacalVesalius Post a verse or passage you would like to see in Hart’s translation.

Beat me to it, I was just going to post this article. :slight_smile:

I’m curious how he handled John 1:1-5

Good question. Will get back to this. Don’t let me forget.

Please pardon my delay.

Here is John 1: 1-5 in Hart’s translation (note his use of caps):

In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god;

This one was present with GOD in the origin.

All things came to be through him, and without him came to be not a single thing that has come to be.

In him was life, and this life was the light of men.

And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not conquer it.

Hart has plenty of notes in his translation, and an entire section on John’s prologue. When Hart says “GOD” he means God in the fullest and most unequivocal sense. So the prologue is ambiguous…

However in John 20:28, Thomas sees the risen Christ and says,

“My LORD and my GOD”

Hart explains that Thomas addresses Jesus as o theos, which unambiguously means “God” in the absolute sense. He also addresses Jesus as o kyrios , which is also the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Adonai in the Septuagint.

Hart speculates that this might be John’s final theological statement of the Gospel at its “first ending.”

As I mentioned, Hart has a whole section on the Prologue of John’s Gospel, and its subtitle is,
“An Exemplary Case of the Untranslatable”

All in all, this translation is well worth checking out!


Haha. True! Odd that he would not capitalize “the Logos was god.” I was more curious about how he handled John’s many double entendres, such as katelaben/conquered, or anothen in John 3:3, which can mean “again” or “from above”. Looks like he’s going with one or the other and then footnoting, which is probably the best that we can do in English.


Because the word Hat translates as “god” (small letter g) could mean a variety of things, including a god or a divinized human. Hart thinks that John deliberately leaves it ambiguous there, because by the end of the Gospel there is no ambiguity.

1 Like

In other translation news, there are plans to Review and Revise the New Revised Standard Version, a project which will be overseen by the Society of Biblical Literature. The NRSV was first published in 1989.

This overhaul is welcome news, but what will this new NRSV be called? the Updated New Revised Standard Version?

It may be worth noting that during Christ’s ministry the disciples were often shown to question the status of Christ, and they reached a finality (Christ is GOD in the absolute sense) at the end. I think John may reflect this in the way it is written.


Or New Improved RSV? Or just the Newer RSV, which could be NRRSV.
Actually, I have been using the New Interpreter’s Study Bible in
NRSV and have enjoyed it. Probably the only NRSV in our Baptist church. I think it was Enn’s that recommended it. It is on the academic side much like the Oxford Study Bible, and Harper Collins, and I haven’t gotten to many funny looks at Bible study. The commentary does a good job of discussing some of the finer points in the text without the fluff and agenda you see in some commentaries.
Sorry to have gotten of on the commentary side, but it seems that some extra-textual help is needed in many areas to understand what is happening in the text.

1 Like

It almost reads like the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation, “and the Word was a god.”

In the meantime, I got off my lazy behind and found this on the Google machine:

The online version of the NET Bible contains pretty extensive translator’s notes. I linked to John 1 if you want to check it out. It’s not as comprehensive as a good commentary, but it does give a little bit of a “peek behind the scenes” of their translation decisions.

By the way, I’m with Wright when it comes to translation theory. Make it understandable first and foremost.

EDIT: Sorry, I should make this easier for everyone. Here are the NET Bible’s footnotes on John 1:1, which they translate opposite of Hart, “and the Word was fully God.” tn is a translation note, and sn is a study note:

tn Or “and what God was the Word was.” Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (qeos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when placed ahead of the verb. A definite meaning for the term is reflected in the traditional rendering “the word was God.” From a technical standpoint, though, it is preferable to see a qualitative aspect to anarthrous θεός in John 1:1c (ExSyn 266-69). Translations like the NEB, REB, and Moffatt are helpful in capturing the sense in John 1:1c, that the Word was fully deity in essence (just as much God as God the Father). However, in contemporary English “the Word was divine” (Moffatt) does not quite catch the meaning since “divine” as a descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God. The translation “what God was the Word was” is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons. However, in surveying a number of native speakers of English, some of whom had formal theological training and some of whom did not, the editors concluded that the fine distinctions indicated by “what God was the Word was” would not be understood by many contemporary readers. Thus the translation “the Word was fully God” was chosen because it is more likely to convey the meaning to the average English reader that the Logos (which “became flesh and took up residence among us” in John 1:14 and is thereafter identified in the Fourth Gospel as Jesus) is one in essence with God the Father. The previous phrase, “the Word was with God,” shows that the Logos is distinct in person from God the Father.

sn And the Word was fully God. John’s theology consistently drives toward the conclusion that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is just as much God as God the Father. This can be seen, for example, in texts like John 10:30 (“The Father and I are one”), 17:11 (“so that they may be one just as we are one”), and 8:58 (“before Abraham came into existence, I am”). The construction in John 1:1c does not equate the Word with the person of God (this is ruled out by 1:1b, “the Word was with God”); rather it affirms that the Word and God are one in essence.


Exactly. That’s what Hart thinks.

1 Like

Hart’s section on the Prologue at the very end of his NT translation is very good.

He says, “There may perhaps be no passage in the New Testament more resistant to simple translation into another tongue than the first eighteen verses–the prologue --of the Gospel of John.”

It seems that it can’t be translated to make its meaning clear without airbrushing ambiguities out. (Note that Hart’s intention all along was to be literal without pity.) He says that the Gospel of John “intentionally in all likelihood, leaves certain aspects of that theology [of the person of Christ] open to question, almost as if inviting the reader to venture even deeper into the text in order to find the proper answers.”

[emphasis added]

All parties in the Trinitarian debates seized upon these passages to bolster their own sides! But again, we have only to look at John 20 to confess along with Thomas that Christ is both LORD and GOD.

1 Like

True. And the disciples growing understanding of Jesus’ identity is a common feature of all the gospels. The reader is taken along on that same journey. The turning point in the synoptics comes when Jesus asks his disciples: “And who do you say that I am?” John’s parallel comes after a large number of disciples turn away, and Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you want to leave, too?” Which prompts Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Holy One of God. From that point forward, Jesus is re-educating them about exactly what that means … suffering, death, and being raised to life.

My Lord and my God, indeed.