More than twenty years ago, while in seminary, I set out to translate the Gospel of Mark. The project went in fits and starts over the years, with more than a couple of complete resets and restarts as I changed my mind about what approach I wanted to take and what conventions I wanted to follow.
But at long last, I have finished the first draft. There’s still plenty of work to be done in editing, revisions, and additional material and sourcing, but for the first time I have something like a final work product after all these years. If you like, you can download the draft in PDF form with the link below. Information about the format and content of the book follows the link.
About the Book
The Bible suffers from two problems simultaneously: its familiarity and its unfamiliarity.
On one level, the Biblical narratives are familiar: they have been heard and read over the course of a lifetime. They have become so familiar that at times, we take them for granted, no longer shocked or surprised by the lessons they contain.
On another level, the Biblical narratives are unfamiliar: written thousands of years ago, in a different culture, in a different language, with different assumptions about the world and faith embedded into them. In addition, the language of most English language translations has a hard time getting away from the translation conventions of the past. Try as they might, the translators of most English-language Bibles are unable to shake the influence of the King James Version.
In addition, even when written in modern English, the English of the Bible isn’t quite English. It uses English words but the echoes of the underlying Hebrew and Greek can too often be felt, leading to a kind of English that is found only in sacred texts and religious liturgy.
All of this means that a major challenge of translation is that it is difficult simultaneously to address both the Bible’s familiarity and unfamiliarity—to make the Bible more accessible and to remind us of its alien nature. This book attempts to do just that.
First and foremost, this book is about translation. Although there is textual analysis and commentary, the primary aim of this book is to put before the reader a presentation of different levels of translation for this sacred text. In so doing, the book aims to allow the reader to see the fundamental strangeness of the text, and the familiarity of the text at the same time.
I. The Presentation
The translation in this book is less about the end result than the process. In the course of this book, I hope to give the reader a sense of the complexity of this, or any, Biblical text through a creative presentation of the text, its translations, and commentary.
This is done primarily through the layout, borrowed from the 16th century Dutch-Venetian printer Daniel Bomberg, who developed the format for his publication of the Talmud. The layout has the virtue of presenting both the central text and its translations and commentary alongside one another for easy reference and comparison.
This layout also serves another purpose: to remind the reader that the text they are reading is a translation of a Greek original. And so, the layout places the Greek text at the center, ringing it with translations, notes, and commentary.
II. The Greek Text
The text that appears at the center of each page is from the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 28th Edition (NA28). The NA28 text is an “eclectic” text, reflecting the best scholarly reconstruction of the original New Testament.
No original copy of any book of the Bible has been found. Instead, we possess only copies of copies, many of which do not agree with each other in various details. Biblical scholars, using the best tools of textual criticism, have compiled what they believe to be the most authoritative reconstruction of that long-lost original. As a result, the final text represents some editorial judgements as to which versions to rely on and which to discount.
In the printed versions of the NA28 and its predecessors, variant readings and textual discrepancies are identified in the critical apparatus that accompanies the text. In supplemental texts like Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, the scholars’ decisions about the selection of variant readings are dealt with in detail. Without referencing every last variation in every papyrus scroll, this translation will make reference to the more notable ones in the text notes in the margins.
III. The Translations
A. Hyper-literal Translation
The Hyper-Literal translation is meant to accomplish two things simultaneously: make the text more familiar, and make the text more unfamiliar.
Over the centuries, particular conventions have arisen regarding the way the text has been rendered into English, and these conventions have persisted regardless of whether the word or phrase still has any currency in English. Think, for example, of the last time you heard anyone use the word prodigal in ordinary conversation. In those cases, my hyper-literal translation seeks to make the ideas more familiar by looking to the roots of the word for a similarly-rooted English word that makes the point more clearly.
The same is true for wordplay. The Bible was not written in English. It was written in Ancient Hebrew, Palestinian Aramaic, or Koine Greek. In addition to the basic problem of translating meaning from one language to another, what is often missed is the wordplay that each text utilizes.
For example, in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is told, “She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The connection between “Jesus” and “save his people” is lost on the English reader. In fact, it would have been lost on the Greek reader as well. But the Aramaic speaker of Jesus’ day, upon hearing Jesus’ name Yeshua would have recognized the root y-sh-‘ as related to y’shuaḥ “salvation.” A good study Bible with footnotes and commentary will explain this and the reader can make the connection. All this serves to underline the fact that the Bible is an alien text, written in a language very different from our own.
In order to make the deeper meaning of the text more familiar, all the names have been rendered in a literal English translation in order to draw out their meaning. For example, the verse of Matthew referenced above would be translated, “but she will bear a son, and you will call his name Jahsaves, for he will save his people from their errors.” In this way, the significance of Jesus’ name is made clear and one realizes a layer of meaning not obvious in most translations. The hope for this translation is to remove the “strangeness” of the text and to replace it with “ordinariness,” to make the text something that was actually meant to be read and understood without too much effort by an audience.
Paradoxically, the effect of this translation may be strange in and of itself. People will not be used to the names and a certain familiarity will be lost. But it is my hope that in so doing, a familiar text can be re-encountered in a new way.
For this too serves a purpose: the Bible should not be read as if it had been written by a 21st Century White Christian middle-class male. The literal-translation will simultaneously offer deeper insight and clarity and will have the effect of making the text feel unfamiliar.
B. The Reader’s Translation
The Reader’s Translation is a much more dynamic translation, trying to follow the wording of the text without being bound strictly to the peculiarities of Koine Greek syntax. The Bible was not written in English, but if it had been, it would not have been written in the English of the Bible. At times, the reverence had for the text precipitates a translation that creates a much greater distance between the reader and the English text than that of the reader and the original.
This translation is not a paraphrase, but it is certainly more dynamic than most literal translations. Many of the parts of speech are adapted so as to conform with good English style. Greek has no problem with a sentence that reads “And after entering, coming up to him they said to him, saying…” But if you were to have written that sentence in English from scratch, it would have been closer to: “After they entered, they came up to him and said…”. English just doesn’t use as many participles as Greek does.
The purpose of the Reader’s Translation is to make as natural an English sounding text as possible. Whereas the literal translation is designed to shock the reader out of complacency with the text through unconventional translations and odd grammatical constructions reflective of the Greek (e.g., “He came to that place and says…”), the purpose of the reader’s translation is to provide a new experience with the text free from the conventions of past translations or the desire to track the underlying syntax and word choice closely.
Attention has been paid to providing more commonly used expressions rather than the traditional ones found in most English bibles. For example, he cried out is a perfectly acceptable English phrase, but no one really uses it anymore. People are far more likely to say he shouted or he yelled. Cried out is one of a number of “Bible-y” expressions that we encounter in scripture or in worship but rarely anyone else. To the extent that a contemporary English speaker would use cry it would be in the sense of “to weep.” Translation decisions such as these are the basis of the Reader’s Translation.
One consequence of a familiar translation like this is that it, too, can make the text feel more unfamiliar. Sometimes, rendering a classic text in accessible language increases its strangeness, as we realize that the narrative is far from a ceremonial, liturgical text—it is a living story about people not unlike ourselves, who were seeking to express their encounter with divinity and mystery in ways that ordinary people could understand. An effort has been made to use contemporary language and style, but not to use expressions that would date the text before too long.
One additional element of strangeness is with some of the names in the text. Here I have sought a kind of middle ground between rendering names like Jesus, Simon, and Judas as Yeshua, Shim’on, and Yehudah, and the hyperliteral Jahsaves, Obedience, and Jahpraise. I’ve opted to use the traditional English renderings of these names as found in translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: Jeshua, Simeon, and Judah. This allows some greater transparency through to the original name without losing complete connection to the traditional English version.
C. Translation Notes
This section of the page explains the translation choices made in the Hyper-Literal Translation, and occasionally the Reader’s Translation, with reference to the Greek or the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic. If a term’s translation has been explained already, the Translation Notes will include that term with a reference to the verse where that translation choice can be found.
D. Scripture References
In the margin, these notes will provide the passages from the Old Testament referenced in the text. Depending on the reference, the note will provide the reading from the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (HMT) or from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint (LXX).
The New Testament text is not the text of a single document. The Nestle-Aland text is an eclectic text, comprising many different ancient manuscripts and papyrus fragments. In some cases, the editors have had to make a choice about which reading among different manuscripts they prefer. In those instances where such editorial choices have been made, a marginal note explaining the variant readings will be provided.
The bottom of the page contains commentary on the text, often reflecting on issues raised by the translation, but also on the narrative itself or the theological issues raised in the text.
On occasion, an excursus will be inserted as a chance to reflect on a broader theme of Mark’s gospel, particularly as it is identified in the neighboring text.
The layout of this translation is based on the Bomberg design used to publish the Talmud. Below is a diagram explaining the layout.