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Scot McKnight’s Translation of Romans

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First of all, thank you for responding to my last (now-deleted) post verifying that you saw it. A plug-in was apparently causing some of my posts to crash, but I couldn’t replicate it with any consistency, so diagnosing the problem was tough. Regardless, I think we’re on the right path now, so let me know if you notice it breaking again.

Last month, I ordered Scot McKnight’s new translation of the New Testament called The Second Testament, and let me say at the start that I absolutely love it. I spot checked a few passages when I first picked up the book and was impressed with how they were rendered.

For example, Hebrews 13:17 is excellent: “Be persuaded by your leading ones and yield [to them], for they are alert for your selves…”

Typically, this verse is translated with a bit stronger language: “Obey them that have the rule over you…” As my friend Dallas Burdette has explained, this translation has led to much abuse in the church and has been used by some leaders to demand complete submission from members of their congregation.

Another passage I went to right away was 1 Corinthians 14 along with 1 Corinthians 11. In both sections, McKnight indicated which parts were original to Paul and which were quotations of some contentious people at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 11:1-16; 1 Corinthians 14:20-25, 34-40). An excellent book on this interpretation is Unveiling Paul’s Women which was written by Lucy Peppiatt.

While there are more I’d like to share, today I’ll focus on his translation of Romans, which, as I’ve already mentioned, I found superb.

The Introduction

One of the key features of McKnight’s translation is the introductions to each book. The introductions set the tone of the different books of the Second Testament while also providing helpful background information and reading suggestions. While Scot supplies all of the relevant information concerning the date and occasion for the letter to the Romans, my favorite part of the introduction was his comments about Phoebe and how her role in the delivery and communication of the letter might impact how we read it 2000 years letter.

McKnight suggests that we pause after each question to consider the answer before reading on to Paul’s conclusion. To assist one in following this strategy, he has formatted all of the questions posed by Paul in bold type so that they can be easily spotted as one thumbs through the pages. McKnight also suggests that in order to really understand the context of the epistle as well as some of the style and vocabulary choices Paul made, one should consider starting their reading with Romans 12-14. I followed his suggestion and definitely saw the impact in my first reading of his translation.

The Language

In the preface, McKnight explains the theory behind his translation. Following John Goldingay’s First Testament, McKnight prefers to transliterate proper names and places from their Greek counterparts instead of their Latin ones. This brings out important connections one might miss, such as the relationship between James and the patriarch Jacob. Similarly, his work in “de-theologizing” pet terms like “salvation” and “holy” has helped me to revisit these concepts without bringing so much baggage to the text.

In Romans, one of the stylistic choices is the capitalization of terms like Sin, Death, and Flesh. I first became aware of this idea in Tom Holland’s commentary on Romans called Romans: The Divine Marriage. To see this stylistic choice show up as I read through Romans, made the text come alive and put names and faces to the “principalities and powers” Paul boldly claims that Jesus defeated.

A Few Likes

I say “a few” because I only have time for a few… not because the examples are lacking!

McKnight’s translation style made a few passages stand out for me that are harder to pick up on in a standard English translation. For example, in Romans 1:17, 18; 2:5; 8:18-19, Scot transliterates the word apokalyptō as “apocolypsed.” This created a thread that ran through the book and tied the two dimensions of the revelation together: right judgment apocalypsed on one hand and anger apocalypsed on the other… which led to some other observations that I might write on later.

Thanks to McKnight’s suggestion, I read Romans 12-14 first which helped to bring out the power of Romans 2:8 – “But to those who act of of status seekings…” Again, consistently translating these words helps really bring the whole epistle together.

I also really enjoyed his translation of Romans 8; it was probably my favorite chapter. The three-fold repetition of the idea of “impatiently waiting” for the apocalypse brought out just how intense their exception for the parousia was, which explains the triumphalism of the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and some in Ephesus (Romans 8:19, 23, 25). Again, capitalizing Flesh throughout this chapter helped to move one’s mind away from skin and bones and focus it on where it seems to be intended: the realm of the Flesh or the system dominated by the Flesh.

Two Questions

Let me first say that I am not qualified to write this section, but I don’t have any other way of pointing out two small questions I had.

First, in Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26, Paul talks about the “obedience of faith.” In the first chapter, McKnight renders it “obedience of faith,” but in chapter 16, he translates it “obedience of allegiance,” which is more consistent with his pattern of “de-theologizing” of the word “faith” throughout the book. Out of the six times pistis is used in Romans 1, this is the only place it is rendered “faith” and not “allegiance.” My question is whether or not this was intentional, and, if it was, why was the choice made? My guess is that it is the totally understandable byproduct of translating the New Testament in two years during a pandemic while teaching, writing, and working in other areas.

The other question I had was about the word mellō. It is used five times in Romans. In Romans 4:24, 5:14, and 8:13, McKnight translates this word “about to…” But in Romans 8:18 and Romans 8:38, the idea of imminence is not conveyed. I can understand why verse 38 would be rendered as it is, but verse 18 puzzles me. The NRSV, for instance, includes the “about” in verse 18 but doesn’t in verse 13. In verse 18, the word apocalypse is in the infinitive, which, as I understand it, means that the rendering “about to” is preferred as suggested by BDAG: “…be on the point of, be about to…” (Arndt, William et al. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000: 627. Print.).

Conclusion

This translation is an incredible resource. It makes the letters come alive, and I look forward to exploring more of it. The consistency of the word choice, the intended awkwardness of some of the wording, and the transliterations forced me to slow down, and it helps the Scripture to become a subject, not an object, in my mind once more. Reading this alongside the book on head coverings mentioned earlier as well as Re-Enchanting the Text by Cheryl Bridges Jones was an excellent choice.

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