Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fr. John Whiteford Reviews David B Hart's Translation of the New Testament

You may read it here. If you would prefer just the executive summary... (WARNING: Spoiler Alert)...

It sucks.


123 said...

Fr. John's writing usually does.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

You have some specific points you would like to contest?

lannes said...

Whiteford's standards are sometimes rather dubious.

ofgrace said...

At first, I didn't understand if your "executive summary" referred to the content of Fr. John's critique or your opinion of Fr. John's content. I get it as the former now. Fr. John comes off in such pieces as too rigorist and acerbic for my tolerances, but a work such as DBH's also invites a robust critique. (I don't tend to like the way DBH sometimes comes off in his public critiques of others either.) I think some of Fr. John's points are well taken, but I also don't have such a pessimistic or contemptuous view of the usefulness of such an effort--idiosyncratic as it may be. Nothing that inspires a fresh look at the underlying language of the biblibal text is without its usefulness it seems to me, especially if it is being used in the context of the Church's Liturgy and teaching. Apart from that, well, even the NKJV or KJV can present hazards!

Pete said...

I read through DBH's NT during the Nativity Fast. His introductory notes are pretty fair to the reader when it comes to describing what he was attempting to put together. I think Father's critique is spot on in many ways, but there are moments when I feel like it leans toward KJV-olatry (I speak as a fool). I think the translation is an interesting reference for people already steeped in what I'll term "a classic" English translation, if not the Greek. It's a perspective, nothing more or less, and that comes with points of departure from existing translations, as one would expect from any new attempt. Anywho, I appreciate the review, as always.

Greg Pavlik said...

I think one can get a fair/accurate view of Fr. John's take on the Scriptures by perusing the material that he has published publicly for his class in the ROCOR seminary program. I don't know if the actual books used in the program are published or if they have changed since I took the course with him - one text we used for example was the Fee/Stuart How to Read the Bible for All It Is Worth: I found this book so ludicrous that I annotated it with a warning in case a relative found it in my study and suspected I had lost my mind. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say that he maintains a bias toward conservative protestant/evangelical sources, especially in contrast to modern scholarship. That said, as an educator and a person, I found Fr. John to be very fair and personable and I certainly do not regret taking the course. I have also been told he is a good pastor, though I have no direct experience in that respect.

I have also read Dr. Hart's translation (or most of it anyway). Hart's project is not intended to reflect the consensus of the Fathers, but to present the text as it is written. While surely there are failings in this regard, the long diatribe about the KJV seems utterly irrelevant as it is quite literally a project with quite distinct goals. Overall, I would consider this text to be particularly useful for Orthodox study, esp. if one has ready access to a Greek-English interlinear New Testament.

I would also note that Fr. John seems a bit loose with the facts when it comes to Dr. Hart. For example, in criticizing Hart's patristic universalism, Fr. John's claims around Bulgakov and heresy are misleading (to be generous). He has also mischaracterized the 5th Ecumenical Council and I really don't know what to make of his comments on Gregory of Nyssa (my own patron, so of course, he must have my sympathies). Hart's work is one calling out for critical review, no doubt, but we can do better.

Fr. John Whiteford said...

Greg, as you will no doubt remember, I did not use the Fee and Stuart book because I wanted the class to accept what it said, but because it provided some starting points for discussing the Orthodox approach to Scripture.

I can't remember how long ago you took the class, but now that it is a two semester course, it is expanded quite a bit, and for the 2nd semester, I am now about to use Archbishop Averky's book on the 4 Gospels, and when his book on the Epistles is out, I will be able to use his texts as the primary texts for that semester. I wish there was something usable for the whole course in English, but there is not. I certainly prefer conservative Protestant scholarship over the liberal unbelieving variety, but I critique both in the course.

Harts translation is simply inaccurate, particularly when it comes to universalism. I have not exaggerated Harts views on the question. The 5th Ecumenical Council did anathematize Origen, and that was at least in part because of his universalism. The Synodikon of Orthodoxy, recited every year in our Church. His translation of 1 Corinthians 9:6 is a joke, without any scholarly merit. No modern translation translates it in any way remotely like his, because serious Biblical scholars know better.

Hart is not a Biblical scholar. He is a scholar, and in many ways he is brilliant, but he has overreached here. He doesn't have the qualifications to service on a translation committee for a major translation today, much less to do a solo translation.

If you listen to the interviews he did on the crackers and grape juice podcast, it is clear at more than one point he was asked questions about contemporary Biblical scholarship, and rather than admit that he didn't know what the interviewer was asking he played it off instead: "uh... perhaps you could explain, for the benefit of your listeners, what it is you are asking...."

What about my claims regarding Bulgakov are misleading? He his Sophiology was condemned by both the MP and ROCOR. That is a fact.

And by the way, as a further example of how bad this translation is, I added this comment this morning:

Update: Someone drew my attention to this howler of a translation:
"And we have the still firmer prophetic word of which you do well to take heed, as to a lamp shining in a dreary place, till day should dawn and Phosphoros arise in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19 HIV).
As Bauckham points out, "as a substantive φωσφορος [phosphoros] normally refers to the morning star, Venus (TDNT 9,312); Spicq, Lexicographie 954), which accompanied the first glimmerings of dawn and could therefore be thought of as introducing daylight into the world" (Word Biblical Commentary: Jude - 2 Peter, vol. 50 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 225). Bauckham goes on to point out that most commentators agree that there is an allusion to Numbers 24:17 ("there shall come a Star out of Jacob"), which was understood as a Messianic prophesy by Jews and Christians alike.

As DBH translates it, what is fairly clear in just about any other translation, is obscured, and conjures images of phosphorus grenades, rather than what the word is actually intended to convey.

Fr. John Whiteford said...

This comments was incomplete:

"The Synodikon of Orthodoxy, recited every year in our Church."

I meant to go on and point out that it specifically anathematizes universalism, which is what DBH affirms.

Orthodox Christians don't get to pick and choose which anathemas they will respect.

Fr. John Whiteford said...

Pete, you wrote: " I feel like it leans toward KJV-olatry".

You haven't read or heard much of what I have had to say on the subject of translation if you think that I believe the KJV is perfect and in no need of revision or correction. I think it is a generally good translation that is exceptionally beautiful, and should be where we start from in future revision... but there should be future revision.