Webb Mealy contacted me a little while back to ask if I’d be interested in taking a look at a project he has underway — a new translation (SENT) of the entire New Testament. As the title indicates, the translation is undertaken to present the New Testament “in a spoken, not a written or literary style.”
The aim makes sense, and takes it to a new level. Past translations have given a nod to out-loud readability (NLT, The Voice) or to presentation in everyday English, but SENT seems to take this to a new level. The first thing I noticed was the use of contractions in dialogue. This is the way people normally speak, but few translations make liberal use of words like “I’m” or “you’re” or “she’s,” instead spelling out both words. Since our common mode of speech runs these words together, it makes sense to present them this way. Another notable feature that one doesn’t typically see is pronunciation keys set in footnotes where they are needed.
The translation uses an intuitive method to indicate words for which there is no corresponding Greek word in the original text. These are typically provided for English style, readability, or explanatory purposes. Almost all translations do this to one extent or another, and SENT does it fairly liberally at points. Consider Romans 12:6-8 (as highlighted in the preface) where greyed words are used to indicate those not in the original text:
And we all have gifts, according to God’s grace, which is given out in a different way to each person. If it’s prophecy, the grace comes out in proportion to their faith. If it’s service, it comes out in their service. If someone is a teacher, it comes out in their teaching. If someone is gifted with encouraging people, it comes out in their encouragement. The giver gives wholeheartedly, the leader leads enthusiastically, the person who serves the needy does it joyfully.
Compare this to your favorite translation, reading both aloud. The additions here are more than in most passages, but still serve to clarify and provide a natural flow in spoken English without changing the meaning.
I’ve not yet spent enough time with the translation to comment on the overall quality of it, so this post is simply to provide a few introductory observations. As I do whenever I pick up a new translation, I turned to a few of my favorite passages, ones I know well. Everyone has different favorites for this purpose, but the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus should be fairly familiar. Here’s an excerpt:
There was a man from the Pharisees, whose name was Nicodemus. He was a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you’ve come from God as a teacher. After all, nobody can do the miracles that you do unless God is with them.” Jesus said back to him, “I’m telling you very seriously: unless a person is born over again, they’re not going to see God’s Reign.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person be born when they’re old? Surely they can’t go back into their mother’s womb for a second time and be born!” Jesus replied, “I’m telling you very seriously: unless somebody is born from water and the Spirit, they can’t enter God’s Reign. What’s born from the flesh is flesh, and what’s born from the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be shocked that I told you, ‘You have to be born over again.’ The wind of the Spirit blows wherever it wants, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it’s coming from and where it’s going. Everybody who’s been born from the Spirit is just like that.”
Here the dialogue has much fewer textual additions to make it flow, yet the translation is very readable and sounds like a fairly natural conversation.
The Sent Press website offers more information on the translation, as well as links to samples for online reading (pdf), a discussion forum about the translation, and instructions on how to purchase a copy of the preliminary edition — the final version will appear later after revisions and editing has been completed. (The copy I received was a complimentary review copy, which Webb was kind enough to inscribe for me.) Based on my initial look at the translation and review of the website, I’m looking forward to spending more time with it and perhaps offer some further thoughts down the road.