When words become too familiar they can lose their impact

The First Testament: A New Translation
Translator: John Goldingay
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 924

For some odd reason I have always remembered a family member mockingly repeating my mother’s pronunciation of the word Yisrael. My mom must have learned this from someone like Zola Levitt, who being Jewish had insight into the original languages of the Old Testament.

If my mom were to read The First Testament by John Goldingay she might be pleasantly reminded of what she learned long ago and feel a slight sense of vindication. Yisrael is the translation throughout. Jerusalem becomes Yerushalaim. Judah is Yehudah. If I understand the author correctly, it is because he is translating from the original languages rather than a subsequent rendering in Latin, Greek, or some other language.

It makes some terms quite unfamiliar: Egypt is Misrayim. Personal names become less recognizable. Mosheh for Moses. Yaaqob for Jacob. Occasional brackets contain clarification. Continued reading helps to form associations between the new and familiar readings. When I come to come to Pelishtites I know it is referring to the Philistines.

Some readers might appreciate that instead of LORD for God’s personal name, Yahweh is used. Instead of LORD of hosts, we get Yahweh of Armies.

I like how instead of “fear,” which can represent more than one word in the original language, Goldingay uses “for you who are in awe of my name ...” (Malachi 4:2).

As with any new translation there may be questionable choices. The “supernatural man” for “man of God” is a curiosity. “Smart” instead of “wise”? “Dimwits” instead of “fools”? Other questions may arise but this leans more towards word for word instead of sentence by sentence, and does not attempt to smooth over difficulties. Its aim is to bring readers in closer proximity to the original autographs.

I like the arresting nature of it all! When the words become too familiar they can lose their impact. It becomes too easy to gloss over something that we have read many times before. This is a definite aid for study; for contrast with other translations.

There is an introduction to each Bible book providing insight into God’s purposes in light of the texts. Though brilliant in its presentation, the one in Genesis gives pause. Goldingay suggests the events should be taken as more than “simply historical.” It’s important to read the context of his comments but he casts doubt on some of the literalness, “Noah putting specimens of every animal species into a giant box in which they survive a worldwide flood? Lot’s wife turned into a column of salt?” Whether right or wrong, hopefully readers will not be dissuaded from giving this resource a try. No translation is perfect. It’s probably indisputable to say the same about one’s theology.

The First Testament! Old has negative connotations. Goldingay writes, “The ‘New Testament’ did not regard the ‘Old Testament’ as ‘old’ in the sense of antiquated or out-of-date; hence my referring to it as the First Testament rather than the Old Testament” (xi). I applaud the name change. The author goes on to say that despite these texts being a living resource for Jesus and the New Testament writers in understanding God and all of his ways, “Christians don’t read them very much.”

God forbid! They may be eclipsed in glory but are still glorious. They look forward; the other looks back. Both reveal Messiah, providing a complete picture. The Church would be impoverished if we had one and not the other.

The First Testament is never more beautiful than in the Psalms. It is fitting that it shines brightest in these inspired expressions of Hebrew poetry.

I use Logos Bible Software and have access to many different versions of the Bible but none quite like this. I submitted a suggestion that they consider publishing this book in their format. Reading and consulting a variety of translations is instructive and helpful. This is a worthy addition to any library.

Michael Dalton