A new translation of Romans–awkward, clunky, and (hopefully) very helpful

As some of you know, I have started on a project of translating Romans.

“For God’s sake, why do we need another translation of any of the books of the Bible, much less Romans, a book that has been studied almost to death?” I hear the universe call out.

My reasons have to do with trying to teach NT to undergrads who have no Greek. There are certain goals that I have with this translation, goals that will likely result in a translation that is awkward and clunky but, I hope, also helpful.

The goals are:

1. Translate similarly-rooted Greek words with similarly-rooted English words so that students can see the connections Paul is making.
The place this really is important is with the translation of words with the δικ- root. For a term of this importance in Paul’s argument to be alternately translated with right– and just– roots (as is the common practice of English translations) is obscuring the connections that one ought to make. There are many other such verbal connections, too, however, and hopefully this translation will make it possible for English readers to trace those.

2. Translate words that have become freighted with the baggage of religious-ese in ways that make more clear their secular connotations.
Words like gospel, savior, and grace have become so spiritualized that it is very hard for students to hear them as anything other than “churchy” words. This cuts off many meanings and connotations that need to be intact.

3. Translate words indicating logical connections with appropriate force.
Much of Paul’s argument depends on the logical connections and conclusions he draws. Eliminating the connector words altogether (poor γαρ ends up in the bin a lot) or translating them with a weak, throw-away word like “So,” doesn’t help students see how Paul’s ideas hang together.

So, what does this look like? Here’s 1:1-7 for your amusement, consternation, and/or comments.

1:1 Paul, a slave of God, called to be one-sent-out/a messenger, separated out into God’s great-announcement 2 (which he announced ahead of time through his prophets in the holy writings) 3 concerning his son who was generated from the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 separated as “son of God” in power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus the Messiah, our master, 5 through whom we have received favor and sent-out-ness for the sake of his name unto the hearkening of faith in all the non-Jews, 6 in which you are, and you are the called of Jesus Christ;

7 To: all those in Rome beloved of God, holy called-ones—Favor to you, and peace from God your father and from the master, Jesus the Messiah.


6 thoughts on “A new translation of Romans–awkward, clunky, and (hopefully) very helpful

  1. Looks great, btw. I love the idea of keeping the root connections. I’ve tried the same thing in some translations for a house group I meet with. It’s a difficult thing to pull off. There’s always that tension between the natural feel and the potentials of the text in the original versus the readability of the translation. I’d love to see more of what you’ve done.

    I’ve also thought about a sort of open-source type translation attempt I’m not sure how to organize that, however.

  2. Yes, there is always that tension, but it is more acute when the translator is not going to be present with and teaching from the translation. Hopefully discussing it with the students will help them appreciate the complexities and connections of the text.

    As for more, I’m working on the next section tonight. Hopefully, I will have it up tomorrow.

  3. Plaudits for your efforts, Judy. In some ways, it reminds me of what I’ve tried to do with the Gospel of Thomas, primarily for folks unfamiliar with Coptic. I decided to go with ‘lord’ rather than ‘master’, though, because I figured that, in spite of its religious freight, ‘lord’ also had enough current secular usage (in England, e.g.) to make it acceptable. Best wishes.

    • Yes, the situation would be different in the UK. In some ways, the ambivalent connotations of that word/concept in the UK would be excellent for mirroring the ambivalence surrounding that term that no doubt existed in the ancient world. Here, the associations of “lord” are either religious or romanticized ideas of England’s past, so not as helpful.

      Good luck with your work on Thomas!

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