Tom’s Targum image

Tom’s Targum

Robert Gundry has written an astonishingly thorough and insightful review of Tom Wright's Kingdom New Testament at Books and Culture. For Wright, the KNT is a translation, not a paraphrase. Gundry disagrees, and argues, tongue only slightly in cheek, that its genre is actually closest to a targum:

But there is a body of religious literature characterized by all those traits, viz., the ancient Jewish targums, which rendered the Hebrew Old Testament into the Aramaic language. So KNT’s similar combination of translation, paraphrase, insertions, semantic changes, slanted interpretations, and errant renderings—all well-intentioned—works beautifully as a targum. Which apart from the question of truth in advertising isn’t to disparage KNT. For the New Testament itself exhibits targumizing, as when, for example, Mark 4:12 has “lest … it be forgiven them” in agreement with the targum of Isaiah 6:10 rather than “lest … one heals them” (so the Hebrew), and as when 2 Timothy 3:8 has “Jannes and Jambres” in agreement with a targum of Exodus 7:11-8:19, which in the Hebrew original leaves Pharaoh’s magicians unnamed. Hence, Tom’s Targum. Trouble is, [ordinary readers] won’t know they’re reading a targum.

Gundry provides dozens of examples of “translations” which involve additions, subtractions, inconsistencies and (in his view) outright distortions of the Greek text it purports to translate, which the careful teacher (and pastor) may want to review. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that; how many of us have not found that The Message makes fresh what can often sound tired through over-use? But Gundry’s objection is that Wright specifically says that the KNT is a translation, rather than a paraphrase. And this, he argues, is an inaccurate description of what the KNT actually is.
Two brief excerpts, to give a sense of how Gundry substantiates his critique. Firstly, there is Wright’s striking, almost eccentric, translation of 1 Timothy 2:12:

Perhaps the most obvious example of a translation slanted by interpretation appears earlier in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which Tom renders as follows: “They [godly women] must study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.” Tom first replaces learning (from men) in quietness with studying undisturbed (by men). Then he imports “to God,” with no support in the Greek text, to make God rather than men the object of women’s submission—against the making of men, especially husbands, the objects of women’s submission according to Tom’s own translations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5. Finally, he changes Paul’s “I don’t permit [a woman to teach men or dictate to them]” into a wishy-washy “I’m not saying that…”

Gundry then points to a surprising inconsistency in Wright’s approach to textual criticism, and facetiously speculates as to why this might be:

One more textual matter requires mention. Tom rightly rejects what he calls “two extra ‘endings’ for Mark’s gospel,” because “[t]hey are not found in the best manuscripts.” Yet he includes these extraneous materials in translation, the shorter in single square brackets, the longer in double square brackets (the reverse of what he says in his preface). On the other hand, he includes the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) without noting its absence from the best manuscripts, without enclosing it in any brackets, and without mentioning that in the inferior manuscripts it occurs willy-nilly after Luke 21:38, 24:53, John 7:36, 7:44, 8:12, and 21:25 as well as after John 7:52. This inconcinnity may appeal to the nonjudgmentalism that’s prevalent nowadays even on moral matters (“‘Well, then,’ said Jesus, ‘I don’t condemn you either!’” [John 8:11, frequently quoted without the followup: “‘from now on don’t sin again!’”]). If only the inauthentic longer ending of Mark hadn’t encouraged snake-handling in the Appalachians, maybe that ending would have shed its square brackets.

It’s not often that textual criticism makes me laugh, but it did here.
I, for one, find the KNT fresh, original, helpful, sparkly and compelling. But I think Gundry has presented a very strong case that it should not be regarded as a translation, but as a paraphrase (if not a targum). In other words: read it, but check it.

← Prev article
Next article →