Now you may wonder why I decided to make my own translation of the New Testament. There were a number of motives behind this effort. Let me mention but three.
- At this point in my ministry I needed to devote a concentrated period of time to a close study of the Scriptures. Nothing I could think of would demand a more intensive effort from me. So the first motive was personal—I wanted to be confronted with every book, every passage, and every word of the New Testament in a vital, life-changing way. Few things that I have ever done have taken so much out of me, while at the same time putting so much into me. But to make a translation for one’s personal interests alone seemed selfish. So for whatever blessing and benefit it may have, I send it forth to others.
- I was not fully satisfied with the translations that were available. Either they were too wooden, stilted, and awkward, or they were too free and paraphrased. I have tried to steer a mid-course between these extremes. I have used everyday English throughout. I have spent over twenty years listening to spoken English, trying to analyze and understand what the koine (Greek word meaning “common” or “everyday”) speech of the American public is like. This I have tried to mirror in the translation. I think the Christian counselor will find that the contractions used in the negatives (e.g., “don’t for “do not”) especially help in communicating to modern Americans. I have omitted many of the Hebraic “ands” with which sentences begin (especially in the gospels), or have translated them “but, so, now, then.” This accords more fully with modern American usage. Moreover, the use of “for” has been brought into conformity with modern English by translating it “since,” or (frequently) treating it, according to its actual use, as a semicolon. Now that’s what a counselor needs—the Bible in a speech that communicates while it endeavors to be true to the original. Counselees don’t need difficulties with the English; there is enough in the Scriptures themselves for them to struggle with.
- Many important counseling nuances have been missed by other translators who didn’t have a counseling (or often even pastoral) orientation when translating. Translations typically have been the product of scholars (who have done great service for us), not pastors. As a result, something of the pastoral concern inherent in the original writings has been lost. I have tried to restore this wherever I could, constantly keeping in mind the danger of reading into passages things not there to begin with. Usage alone will determine whether I have succeeded.
Now let me say a few more things about this translation to help you evaluate and utilize it most effectively.
A translation isn’t merely a scientific effort; it also involves art and a basic understanding of people. And an essential quality of a good translator is his ability to sense the spirit of the writer in each book. It is not enough to translate his words faithfully in a purely lexical manner. The writer, together with his style and vocabulary, must be known and understood. Again, the circumstances under which he wrote and to which he addresses himself, as well as his total stance toward life and his work, are of great significance. Therefore, any translation in which there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the styles of Luke and John, or Paul and Peter, is unfaithful to the original. A smooth sameness, in which the whole New Testament comes across as the work of one writer, may please the reader; but as a translation, it is a failure. It may be grammatically precise, but it is a poor translation because it focuses upon grammar and syntax while masking much that is conveyed by the differences—in some places we may even say roughness—of the original.
Moreover, just as there are differences between Luke and Mark, so too there are differences between Galatians and Romans, or I John and Revelation. These differences must show in the translation as they do in the original text. If the large capacity for making a great variety of literary responses that Paul and John possessed is not apparent, it fails.
There is yet another sense in which the translator must be able to extend himself beyond the limits of scholarship: he must be thoroughly in touch with the spirit and language of the people for whom he translates. Men, sequestered in ivy-covered halls, who find their closest friends among the formless and faceless authors of stuffy tomes, who rarely mix with the common man in the supermarket, often will find it difficult to locate the everyday idiom that approximates the fish-market Greek in which the New Testament was written. They must be in touch with the reader.
There is also a tendency for the modern translator to usurp the place of the reader and the preacher. Without retreating to the woodenness of overly literal translation, the translator must be willing to disclose the obvious ambiguities of the original and let the expositor decide between them. He has no right to make all of the decisions himself. There will be times when, because of the nature of the translation process, he is forced into making certain decisions of this sort; but where he is free to be ambiguous or not, he must try to be as ambiguous as the text itself. In all such decisions, the governing factor should be the Greek text—what does it dictate, and how can I, in good English, come as close to it as possible? The impelling factor for making decisions about translations that must go one way or another is the nature of the language that the translator must employ. When he is forced to decide in order to translate at all, he may consider himself warranted in doing so.
“Ah,” you say, “But a one-man translation couldn’t possibly measure up to a translation by a committee, could it?” Certainly there are advantages to committees, such as the pooling of knowledge, etc. But there are disadvantages too—the need to compromise, a sort of leveling off of freshness, etc. A one-man translator also has the results of translations by committees available, so he is not altogether on his own. Moreover, he is able to hold an integration of personal conviction about the text that can never be achieved by a committee.
In making this translation of the New Testament, I have tried to keep all of these factors in mind. I trust that you will discover many of the differences of style and spirit of the New Testament books. I hope that you will be pleased with the middle course, taken between wooden literalness and too much freedom with the text. Above all, I want the deep riches of our many-faceted salvation to leap from its pages to help the reader personally and in his efforts to counsel others.
To those ends I send forth this edition of the New Testament with the prayer that God will use it to bring His blessings to many. That He will bless His Word I can be sure; that He will help Christian counselors to become more adept in the use of that Word in counseling through the other portions of this volume I most earnestly hope.
Jay E. Adams, Ph.D.