The Deep Melancholy of David Bentley Hart

Dr. Hart has recently completed his translation of the New Testament, and it is now for sale at a book store near you. One naturally asks, “Why do we need another translation of the New Testament since so many translations already abound?” One could understand someone wanting to have another crack at translating the Old Testament, since the verbal concision of the Hebrew tongue and the corruption of the text at a number of places offer opportunity for a number of different readings—to say nothing of the question of how to factor in the Septuagint readings in a modern English translation. But the New Testament? Surely the field has been worked over pretty thoroughly and no real puzzles remain? And the versions offered by individuals have not always met with universal acclaim as worthy alternatives—versions such as those by William Barclay, J.B. Phillips, Ken Taylor, and Eugene Peterson.

Dr. Hart lets us know why he thinks we need yet another version of the New Testament—present translations are not sufficiently literal and serve to hide from their readers the radicality of what the texts actually say. Reading them in the old versions such as the RSV, the King James Version, and the New American Standard Bible, leave us too cozily at ease in Zion, and we might imagine that we are like the Christians of the first century when in fact we are utterly different. If we were to read the New Testament with the fresh and newly-opened eyes free from the bias foisted on us by centuries of tradition, we would see for ourselves how unlike the first Christians were from ourselves, and how utterly we fail to understand the New Testament’s radical message. Indeed, we comfortable Christians would regard our first century compatriots as “fairly obnoxious: civilly reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent”. Hence Hart’s title for his explanatory essay of 2016, “Christ’s Rabble”.

Hart begins his broadside on the reliability of the Church’s Tradition (for that is what it is) with a bit of personal history, including the fact that he suffered an extended spell of ill health. This, he said, forced him “to take an even more reflective and deliberate approach to the task”. It forced him to think more deeply about the world of the early church, which in turn surprised him by leaving him with “a deeply melancholy, almost Kierkegaardian sense that most of us who go by the name of ‘Christian’ ought to give up the pretense of wanting to be Christian”. By this he meant that if we truly understood what the New Testament meant by being Christian, we would reject it, for it would be too radical for us to accept. We would find it, (in his words again) “fairly obnoxious”. We misunderstand the New Testament that badly, but with the aid of his new New Testament, we can now at last see what the New Testament really says and what Christianity is really about.

Hart goes on to share that perhaps his melancholy at this discovery “was deepened by an accident of timing”—viz. his debate with Samuel Gregg over the intrinsic evils of capitalism. Hart had denounced wealth as “an intrinsic evil”, where Gregg argued with him that it was not wealth itself that the New Testament condemned, but a spiritually unhealthy preoccupation with it. I am not sure that the timing was as accidental as all that. I wonder rather if Hart’s diatribe against later Christian culture and its understanding of the New Testament was not simply a part of his ongoing personal quarrel with Gregg. Either way though, Hart’s arguments should be considered on their own merits.

Much of Hart’s broadside against the Church’s traditional reading of the New Testament focuses upon the teaching about wealth. And here Hart is not all wrong: there certainly exist happy and complacent capitalists who call themselves Christians who actually do pay insufficient heed to the New Testament’s warnings against the danger of wealth. If we have great wealth and are not always at least a little uneasy about whether or not we are generous enough with it, we are in some danger. But Hart overplays his hand, and in so doing misreads the New Testament. I suggest that his view that wealth is intrinsically evil forms the lens through which he reads the text, resulting in a forced and distorted reading.

It is true that Christ had some immeasurably hard things to say about the rich and the dangers of wealth (Luke 6:24-25, 12:33-34, Matthew 6:19-24, 19:16-26). But Hart seems to miss that Christ spoke similarly hard and radical things in all His ethical teaching—He warned that hellfire awaited those nurturing rage in their hearts (Matthew 5:21-22), that one should cut off one’s hand and gouge out one’s eye if these become occasions of sin, otherwise one would burn in unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43-48), that faith as small as a mustard seed was enough to uproot a mountain and hurl it into the sea (Matthew 21:21-22). When one addressed Him flatteringly by calling Him, “Good Teacher”, He rounded on him and asked him how he could do that, since no one was good but God alone (Mark 10:17-18). He counseled that if while in the middle of sacrificing in the Temple one remembered that someone had a grudge against him, that person should immediately stop what he was doing, leave the sacrificial animal there with the astonished priest, and run off to make peace. Only then could he return to finish what he was doing (Matthew 5:23-24). As Chesterton once observed, Christ always spoke in a kind of divine hyperbole. His aim thereby was not to instruct so much as to de-construct—to shake up His hearers and destroy their complacent presuppositions. We have been put together wrongly and need to be taken apart so as to be re-assembled properly. Christ’s hyperbolic style as intended to further this necessary and saving deconstruction and reassembly. We misread Him if we understand Him as teaching ethics or giving lessons in behavior. His intent was more radical than that. In telling us to gouge out the offending eyeball, for example, He was targeting not simply a single organ, but an entire vision of life.

But how to go from this painful deconstruction to actual instruction for living? That is the difference between Christ and His apostles. He had the sword which struck down our fatal presuppositions; they had the actual precepts for life. Or in Chesterton’s happy image, the Gospel was the riddle; the Church was the answer, and that answer may be found in length in the epistles. And here we must take issue with Hart’s exegesis. Three examples must suffice.

The first church in Jerusalem did indeed have all things in common (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37). But this paradigm was not regarded as necessary for all, and was in fact not followed by other churches. This is no trace of such “communism” (Hart delights in the word for its shock value) in the other churches found in Luke’s narrative. And Paul presupposes that the Christians of Corinth each had their own money, for he exhorts them to put aside a little of it each Sunday as each may have prospered during the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). Such instructions would make no sense if all wealth had already been turned over to a common fund. Luke offers the Jerusalem experiment in shared wealth as an extraordinary instance of their mutual love, not as a requirement demanded of all. Christ never commanded such communal ownership or renunciation of private wealth, with the result that the Church throughout the Mediterranean in the first century never practiced it.

Hart also misinterprets James’ denunciation of the rich in James 5:1-6. He dismisses the traditional view that it was “a dire warning issued only to wealthy persons who have acted unjustly toward their employees”, and says that this traditional view “inverts the text”, since James had previously denounced the rich simply because they were rich. Hearkening back to James 1:9-10, Hart says that the rich “should rejoice in being ‘made low’ or impoverished, as otherwise he will wither and vanish away like a wildflower scorched by the sun”. In Hart’s reading, unless the rich man gives away all his wealth, he will be doomed, for he “scarcely merits the name of ‘brother’”. However, this is not what the text actually says. There is no hint in it that the rich scarcely merits the name “brother”. The contrast is between the two types of brothers/ Christians. Both the poor and the rich Christian are told to boast: “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation and the rich in his humiliation”. Vanishing away like a wildflower is not mentioned as a threat which will overtake the rich if he refuses to give away his wealth, but as the reason for his boasting—he can boast of his inevitable humiliation and vanishing away because for him also his true wealth is in the Kingdom. When James considers the man who says “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” (James 4:13-16), James does not rebuke his intention to make money, but the boastful arrogance accompanying it. James does not counsel him to forego making a profit, but simply to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (v. 15). There is no hint that the wealth gained in profit was intrinsically evil; only that presuming one would live to see tomorrow was arrogant folly. Hart simply misunderstands the message of James.

He similarly misreads Paul. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul accepts that rich men exist among the Christians, and he does not tell them to give all their money into a communal fund. Rather, he tells them not to be haughty, but to trust in God rather than in their wealth, to do good, and to be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Hart translates the word often rendered “ready to share” (Greek koinonikos) and renders it “communalist” (the word “communist” comes in a footnote), on the slender basis that a koinonikos property is one jointly owned. It is clear from the entire passage that Paul is urging an attitude, not a change of financial state. If Paul were telling the rich man simply to dump all his money into the common fund, what then would be the sense of telling him to “be rich in good works”? For obviously after he had dumped his money he would be incapable of doing any private works of giving, since the money and the decisions of how to use it were no longer his. Paul’s advice presupposes the man retains control of his money. That Paul is urging personal generosity with private funds is apparent from how everyone else has translated koinonikos: the King James renders it “ready to communicate”; the RSV renders it “generous”. The English Standard Version and the New Revised Standard, “ready to share”; the New King James, “willing to share”; Young’s Literal Translation, “willing to communicate”; the Complete Jewish Bible, “ready to share”; Phillips, “to sympathize with those in distress”; the Living Bible, “always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them”; the New International Version, “willing to share”; the New English Translation, “sharing with others”; Douay-Rheims, “to communicate with others”; the Message, “to be extravagantly generous”. Here it is Hart contra mundum, and my money is on the mundum. As another bit of ancient wisdom has it: securus judicat orbis terrarium—the whole world judges rightly. Again, my money is on the orbis terrarium.

What is most troubling about Hart’s view of the New Testament is that he asserts that the Church from the early third century has consistently misread and misunderstood its own Scriptures (“Clement of Alexandria may have been the first”), so that the error thus has gone on “throughout Christian history”. No wonder Hart was deeply melancholy. This is an astonishing charge for an Orthodox to make, and one that effectively sets at naught the reliability of the exegesis of the Fathers. If Clement and others throughout Christian history “apply a reassuring gloss to the raw rhetoric of Scripture” so that (for example) not even Chrysostom’s counsel to his congregation may be received as a reliable guide, then the Fathers’ guidance about pretty much anything in the Bible is worthless. If they can miss an obvious thing like the New Testament’s teaching that wealth is an intrinsic evil and Christians must therefore be communalists, why trust them about such complex matters as Christology? Hart says that the only real Christians were the Desert Fathers, and yet these men never ever said that Christians living in the world with property were not real Christians. That charge was left to Hart to make. Hart therefore stands in a long line of people telling the Church that its doctrine and practice throughout the centuries were wrong, and that only now by listening to them could the Church get it right. In the sixteenth century, such people were the radical Protestants. Hart seems to be of one spirit with them.

Next:  Hart’s New Testament; a Translation


  1. Acts 4:23 KJV
    And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
    I somehow doubt that the situation changed much between Acts and Paul writing his first Epistle to Timothy.
    Nonetheless, if you disagree with this translation you could always produce one of your own or better yet support the canonical Church actually doing a full translation using the best scholars available of the NT from the Greek.
    Otherwise this blog entry is more politics than actual translation criticism.

    1. Dear “Palamite”: I agree that the church situation at large changed little from the time Luke wrote Acts to the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy. My point (and the contention of other Biblical commentators also) is that the Jerusalem situation was unique in that time. It is odd that you should invite me to write a literal translation of my own, since this has available in my commentaries on the NT for some time. There however the translation was not offered as a new translation to be used beside other available translations, but simply as a blunt instrument to try to unpack the Greek. I agree that a full translation in English of the NT–and in fact of the entire Bible–from the best scholars is urgently called for. BTW, please do use your full actual name next time. I tend to refuse publication of comments from anonymous contributors (and of course comments that are simply verbal insults, and do not actually engage the piece). I write under my own name, and commenters are invited to do the same.

  2. Well said, Father. This is a good corrective to DBHs almost anabaptist view of wealth in the NT. His thoughts on the NT, interpretation, and church history reminds me of my days in a liberal, protestant seminary studying under Marxist liberation theologians.
    My question is this: Given that DBH Is Orthodox and a public intellectual, what is, or rather, should be the relationship with his work and the Church? That is, is he responsible to a bishop for what he writes, etc?

    Thanks, Father.

    1. The question of the accountability of lay scholars in the Church is a good one, and I think rather complex. Obviously the scholar’s should not have to be vetted by non-scholarly bishops (or perhaps even by scholarly ones). My own sense is that bishops need not step in to deny the teaching unless it is a matter of publicly teaching something clearly heretical/ contrary to the Church’s clear doctrine–which I don’t think Hart’s Christ Rabble does. One can be in error without being heretical. I would welcome other voices in this important question.

    2. “His thoughts on the NT, interpretation, and church history reminds me of my days in a liberal, protestant seminary studying under Marxist liberation theologians.”

      It is worth noting that careful distinctions are always needed, especially in discussions such as these. For DBH to make an argument that Christians should be “communalists” (if that is, in fact, what he is advocating) does not equate to that of Marxist, liberation theology (or anything similar). Those are radically different concepts.

      For example, I can implore everyone at the parish of which I am part that we should all pool our resources, eschew personal wealth, and live a communal lifestyle; at no point is that the same as advocating for a political policy that involves an outside, overarching authority that forces, individuals, via penalty of law and possible incarceration, to give up their money or property. Again, these are two very different concepts that all Christians would do well to understand.

      Regarding the question posed (that Fr. Lawrence addressed), I agree that it is highly important. Yet I see throughout history that these issues have a way of working themselves out; a dynamic that played no small role in drawing me to Orthodoxy in the first place. A singular voice never realigned the Church without a great deal of consideration; often occurring several years after the individual’s death!

      My point is simply that even when we see the great thinkers in Church history, although they had their detractors (St. Maximos comes to mind), over time their words, deeds, and teachings were carefully considered by The Church before being accepted wholly. In other words, the careful and (sometimes frustratingly) slow efforts of the Bishops will work these issues out; they will not be left to one or two voices debating one another.

      Or am I way off in my assessment?

      1. My comments were merely observational; DBHs reading of text is reminiscent of older hermeneutics than his (e.g. see Liberation Theology: The Recovery of Biblical Radicalism writtem by H. Mark Roelofs. Roelofs reflects on the biblical text in a fashion similar to DBH). Certainly, I am not accusing DBH of being a marxist liberation theologian; rather, i am simply reflecting on how one might find striking similarities between his thought and lib theology.


  3. You’re interpretation is much too simplistic. You have not grasped what Hart is doing. Reading him as a liberal who wants to discount the Church’s Tradition is a gross misreading.

    1. Gregory: I agree that Hart is not a classical liberal out to discount the Church’s Tradition (as e.g. Bultmann did in an earlier day). I do think that his underlying presupposition that everyone has been reading the NT wrongly since the days of Clement of Alexandria constitutes a denial of the reliability of that Tradition. I don’t fault Hart’s intention, just his conclusions. What is your take on his assertion that everyone has been reading the NT wrongly all this time?

      1. Saying that some have misread some of the texts on one (non-orthodox, i.e. not on the same level of importance as creedal statements on salvific and Trinitarian issues) issue is not anywhere near equal to undercutting The Tradition, which implies that Hart’s perspecticve To equate the two is logically incoherent and simply does not grasp what Hart is doing. If Tradition means “believing what the Fathers say on anything and everything” then what we have is not Orthodoxy, but rather an expanded form of Fundamentalism. The post is rhetorically misleading because it does in fact lead on who agrees with your reading toward aligning Hart with liberal scholars. The post does this when it states, “Hart therefore stands in a long line of people telling the Church that its doctrine and practice throughout the centuries were wrong, and that only now by listening to them could the Church get it right. In the sixteenth century, such people were the radial Protestants. Hart seems to be of one spirit with them.” This does not grasp what Hart is doing in this or other works. I don’t mean to be harsh or disrespectful, but I do wonder if you have an axe to grind. Futhermore, taking one quotation on melancholy as the exegetical key to the entire work is tendentious at best. If you had said that the key was apokatastasis is the key you would be much much closer to the truth. Thank you for engaging my comment. I appreciate you taking the time.

        1. Thank you again for commenting, and so irenically too. I am not an expert in Hart’s other works, though I did read and love his Atheist Delusions, as well as his wonderful bit on the atonement in his The Beauty of the Infinite. My “axe” or critique is with his assertion that the Church has been mis-interpreting and softening Christ’s teaching on wealth from the time of Clement of Alexandria. If it is true that all wealth is evil in itself and that true obedience to Christ in this matter involves putting all one’s earnings into a communal fund, then this indeed has repercussions to soteriological/ salvific issues. It also undercuts the Fathers as reliable guides. They of course don’t agree on everything, but if Christ’s teaching is as clear on this matter as Hart contends, then the Fathers have proven themselves to be blind guides who can’t see something in the Scriptures that is clear and emphatic. I am not sure I would characterize Hart as a liberal, and anyway such labels are too broad to be really helpful. I am just saying that he is wrong, and that he shares his jaundiced view of past Christian interpreters with others in the 16th century. I have no personal quarrel with Hart; for me this blog with the comments section is about ideas, not personalities. Hart is Orthodox in confession and has a very public profile. That makes it important to engage with him, both for agreement and disagreement.

          1. I am puzzled by the anxiety about Hart’s claim you express: “if it is true that all wealth is evil in itself and that true obedience to Christ in this matter involves putting all one’s earnings into a communal fund, then this indeed has repercussions to soteriological/ salvific issues.” Or more specifically why this claim appears to be novel or outside of the Tradition – Orthodoxy posits monasticism as precisely the living out of the Gospel without compromise. What Hart is saying seems to be obviously the shared and continual understanding of the Church in practice if not always in preaching. That being the case, it must certainly have soteriological implications. I am surprised this has not be raised in the comments already – unless we are willing to untangle the monastic life from “normal” Orthodox life, the teaching of the Church seems clear. Like divorce and other topics we may accept compromise as a matter of living in a broken world, but arguing this is not somehow compromise seems problematic, to me at least.

            (As an aside to the comment: I have read much of Hart’s translation and I find it difficult to argue against most of his choices: strictly speaking from an Orthodox standpoint, I can’t see any other translation matching up for study of the Scriptures themselves, irrespective of where one falls on the commentary of his introduction.)

          2. Thank you for your comments. My concern about Hart’s claim that all wealth is intrinsically evil so that Christ commands His disciples to give away all their wealth into a communal fund is that since no one has done this in the Church apart from the first community in Jerusalem and the monks, then all other Christians are living in express disobedience to the plain teaching of Christ–which indeed would have consequences for their salvation. The monks never say that wealth is evil, any more than they say that sex is evil; their choice of poverty and celibacy therefore does not constitute living out Christ’s commandments without compromise, but something else entirely, an experiment in pushing the boundaries to see what holiness is possible. The question is: what does Christ command for all of His disciples? Hart answers: refusing private ownership of wealth in favour of a common fund. The Church throughout the centuries has disagreed, and the monks do not say otherwise.

          3. Thanks for the reply. I need to re-read his essay I don’t recall Hart arguing that all Christians are commanded by Christ to give all their property to a common fund but if he argued that explicitly then I agree with you on this point. I am not sure that monasticism is best understood as an “experiment” or that celibacy is addressed in the same terms wealth by Christ, the Scriptures more generally or within the Tradition though.

  4. Fr. Farley, I appreciate you taking time to enter into the conversation , but I can’t help but think that this reads more like the musings of someone with an axe to grind rather than a charitable critique that seeks to understand the merits of the author’s work. The criticisms you offer read more like positions drawn from a certain ideological camp rather than claims that would be substantiated by biblical or theological scholarship. I anxiously await hearing what those with expertise in relevant fields (biblical languages, 1st century Near Eastern history, etc.) have to say about Hart’s work. I am sure that Hart’s translation will draw its fair share of criticism, mostly from fellow Christians who have difficulty reconciling his translation with their own understanding of Christianity. This, however, tells us nothing about the quality of Hart’s translation, which is why it is important for us not to let ideologies act as blinders to truth.

    1. Dear Cameron: Thank you for writing, and in such a measured and thoughtful tone. It will indeed be good to have scholars from the relevant fields weigh in. Meanwhile (as the comments section shows) those of us not in the academic world may still have opinions–especially the clergy, whose job it is to provide leadership for the people committed to their charge. Here it is not so much grinding axes, as leading flocks. Our own ideology must be, hopefully, that of the Church. My own (non-scholarly) critique of the actual translation will be in the next blog.

        1. The bit to which I was referring is Hart’s words, “Many translations down the centuries have had an emollient effect of a few of the NT severer pronouncements. But this is an old story. Clement of Alexandria may have been the first–back when the faith had just begun to spread widely among the more comfortably situated classes in the empire–to apply a reassuring gloss to the raw rhetoric of scripture on wealth and poverty”. Clement died about 215, at the beginning of the third century. So if I understand Hart’s words, he is saying that the Church was applying a reassuring gloss to Scripture–i.e. getting its plain message wrong–from that time, hence his remark about translations “down the centuries”.

          1. Before it was released, I heard Hart talking about his upcoming translation, at great length, on a podcast. I think that podcast was 60 minutes or 90 minutes long, and the focus of much of the discussion was the translation. It seemed obvious to me, from listening to that podcast, that what Hart means by “translations down the centuries”, is especially, even exclusively, English translations (and other vernacular translations), all of which come to us from the Latin and Protestant West. He talked about the atrocious and unabashed mistranslations, clear impositions of the translators’ (again: English translators’) bias, and he spoke mostly about issues like grace, free will, and especially justification — precisely those things that Protestants get wrong.

            He mentioned this thing about Christian rabble as a complete aside, as if to say “look how different they were in this way; if these people existed in this country today, we would judge them in all these ways” — at which point he mentioned about seeming naive, politically and fiscally irresponsible, etc. We wouldn’t count them as good upstanding citizens. I thought it was a very good critique of our peculiarly Americanized, politicized Christianity, and a reminder of how at-odds the early Christians were with their culture in so many ways. The Romans, especially, really did see Christians as rabble. Atheists, cannibals, not recognizing Caesar as god? Quite bad citizens. Then he kind of cast his line back to how the softening of this very first expression of Christianity (the Jerusalem church was the first, right?), specifically the Acts 2 communal aspect, was softened very early on as Christianity grew. It didn’t seem to me, then or now, like something he was harping on, as if he were trying to dogmatically say, “No, we are really not Christians, and the Fathers got it all wrong.” He said something to the effect of, “most of us would probably be very uncomfortable with the Acts 2 church,” and it was very obvious in the context of that podcast that he was speaking rhetorically. It’s shocking, it makes us assess whether or not we would be comfortable fitting in with that group, and if not, why not?

            Mostly because I’ve heard Hart talk at length about this, I feel like you might be misreading Hart and his intention. I would definitely not say he is trying to make a broadside against the tradition, as you suggest, but he is drawing out a certain point to make us think. Maybe I’m wrong. If he is insisting that all Christians always must give away all their wealth and live communally in order to be Christians, I don’t think I would agree (but again, why not?). Anyway, I don’t think that is what he is trying to say.

            I also don’t see him as having a jaundiced view of the Fathers just because of this one point. I’m not sure where you are getting that from, but I’m open to any citations you can provide where I can go check out what he is saying in full context.

          2. Fascinating and very valuable background. I was replying only to what he wrote in his piece. Thank you for sharing. My bit about his jaundiced view of the Fathers was based on his saying that starting from Clement of Alexandria “down the centuries” and “throughout Christian history” the Church got Christ’s teaching about wealth wrong. I extrapolated “the Fathers” from this, because our view of what the Church taught down the centuries and throughout Christian history can be found mainly in the Fathers. I do appreciate learning what he said also in the interview. If by “down the centuries” and “throughout Christian history” he meant only the Latin and Protestant West then I have fewer disagreements with him. But his reference to Clement of Alexandria being the first and of the “emollient effect” spreading widely among the richer classes “in the empire” leads one to think the misunderstanding of Scripture was thus confined to the later west. Anyway, thank you for situating his piece in the larger picture.

  5. Oh dear Father, you are looking so intently for ways to criticize Hart, in the guise of a criticism of Hart’s translation, that (either wilfully, or otherwise) you misrepresent Hart entirely. You accuse Hart of overplaying his hand and of a ‘forced and distorted reading’ (when Hart is evidently going for a plain and literal one). The irony here is stark when you who shamelessly expose your own prejudices and offer a basic misreading of what Hart is attempting to put across. You see Hart’s translation as no less than an affront to the Church Fathers and accuse Hart of being one spirit with the ‘radical Protestants’ of the 16th century… I’m afraid this is less of a review than it is an intentioned diatribe that attempts to give what he believes Hart stands for a good kicking.

    1. Steve: Thank you for writing. Could you interact more directly with my piece and cite specific errors in my exegesis?

  6. There are “Orthodox” teachers today (not on AFR) that say that in order to live the gospel, you need to give all your money away and die. So Dr. Hart isn’t the only one who has interpreted the bible this way (at least in the giving away all your money opinion). There is now an entire “school” of this theology that has it’s origins locally in the USA. These Orthodox teachers are insistent that sure their teaching is extremely difficult, but too bad, that is the gospel. BTW, I just finished reading your book of commentary on the Gospel of John, with my son. Our church library has many of our commentaries and I have enjoyed reading a number of them (perhaps 4 so far).

    1. Thank you for writing, Garabed, and for your kind words. I was not aware that there was an entire group promoting this (just one of the drawbacks of being a busy pastor with a flock, and not a scholar with lots of time to read and keep current).

  7. To those who respond in defense of Dr. Hart, I have only one question. What do you think possessed Dr. Hart to write his own translation of the NT?

    1. Hi Paula, Put simply, to offer a literal translation of the Greek, as an alternative to the compounded errors of many versions that take received solutions rather looking at what the Greek actually says. For now I’ll restrict myself to pointing out just one of the many very useful clarifications that Hart draws attention to in several places and as a sort of ‘acid test’ in Judas/Jude 1:19. There is a tradition of capitalising ‘Spirit’ in this verse and to even offer ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘Spirit of God’, whereas Hart states that the Greek is clear and offers no such association, but relates simply to the human spirit. The distinction is rather between ψυχή psukhḗ, or psychē (via Latin from the Greek, meaning soul in the sense of enlivening force, or conscious mind, or principle of life, or simply self) and pneuma (πνεῦμα spirit, meaning breath or wind). Hart asserts that it is not the Holy Spirit that is being referenced here, given the construction and reasoning of the sentence and the absence of a definite article. Hart’s aim for a literal clarity is often disarmingly beautiful in what already seems to me to be a wonderful translation, free of ‘the anodyne blandness and imprecision’ of a committee. The substantive psychē is rendered as ‘soul’ throughout and Hart is scrupulous in disassociating this from Spirit (i.e. God’s Spirit). Also, as above, ‘Spirit’ has been capitalised too often when in many cases (certain in some and less certain in others) it ought not to have been (e.g. throughout Paul’s Letters). Translators have often tried to turn such references to ‘Holy Spirit’, even though the syntax of the Greek text and the logic of the author’s argument make, as Hart puts it, such a reading impossible. This is but a single clarification there are scores of others which only become apparent when returning to what the text actually says.

      1. Sorry, Steve, I can’t resist joining a discussion as fascinating as this! I am unclear as to what you think Jude means. He describes his opponents as psychikoi, sometimes rendered “natural”. It is hard word to translate. Paul uses the term in 1 Cor. 2:14 to denote the man devoid the the Spirit of God who regards the things of the Spirit of God as foolishness. Paul contrasts these people with those who are spiritual/ pneumatikos, and Jude goes on to describe the psychikoi and those pneuma me echontes–“not having pneuma“. Surely it is reasonable to suppose Jude makes the same kind of contrast as does Paul? The presence or absence of the definite article is not determinative: when Christ breathed on His disciples in John 20:21f, He said “Receive pneuma agion“–without the definite article. Admittedly all translators must make a choice when rendering the words into English, and the rendering “Receive the Holy Spirit” is an interpretation. Phillips famously translated it otherwise, as “Receive holy spirit”, but what exactly does this mean? Would not the first readers of the text have assumed that it meant the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit was clearly intended by the reference in John 7:39 “the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified”, but that text lacks the definite article as well. To what does the word pneuma in Jude 19 refer if not the Holy Spirit? I am not asking rhetorically; I really would like to look at other options if there are any.

        1. Thank you Steve, appreciate your reply. Interestingly enough, the EOB makes a similar distinction with the word S/spirit.
          The type of bible I use can be read in conjunction with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, is edited by Orthodox clergy, and recommended by our Priests and/or teachers. I primarily use the OSB and just recently purchased the EOB. I have no problem using these versions. I depend on our tradition for the literal/allegorical interpretation of scripture. In discussion groups, challenging questions are welcome as it offers an opportunity to delve even further into our teachings.
          I am one of “the flock” Father Lawrence speaks about. Within that flock, have yet to hear a discussion about the need of a new bible translation. But nevertheless, I sincerely hope Dr. Harts new bible translation helps you in your studies.

          1. Thank you Paula. Hart’s translation strives to be literal without embellishment. The example was simply one of many to illustrate the point. I’ve only just received my copy in the past couple of days and am still going through it. But the answer to your original question is dealt with at the beginning of Hart’s introduction to remain obedient to the unfamiliar diction of the original ‘despite any awkwardness that might ensue’. Hart believes that standard English translations render many concepts impenetrable and sets out to redress this.

        2. Jude 1:19 = human spirit ‘These are those who cause divisions, psychical men, not possessing spirit’.
          Elsewhere (as in John), where Holy Spirit is clearly the intention, it of course should be rendered so.

          1. Sorry, I still don’t “get it”. What does it mean to say that these men did not have “human spirit”? That they were not human?

          2. Perhaps something like C.S. Lewis talks about in “The Abolition of Man,” where he uses the term “men without chests,” who deny the “spirited part” of their own being. That might be a stretch, but just a thought.

          3. “Perhaps something like C.S. Lewis talks about in “The Abolition of Man,” where he uses the term “men without chests,” who deny the “spirited part” of their own being.”

            Where does that “spirit” come from in both Lewis & Orthodoxy – what is it’s source and essence? Why it is the “s(S)pirit of Christ” of course. Man (anthropos) certainly does not conjure it up in his own being (ontology) even if he has a creative and synergistic role (free will) to play. Rather it is a gift of God himself. So we circle back to the fact that the “committee” translation/interpretation of the Church is more insightful and “deep” than one mans (DBH) idiosyncratic emphasis…

          4. Thank you Christopher. I just listened to Hart being interviewed about this passage. He makes great weather of the distinction between the psychics/ psychikoi and the spirituals/ pneumatikoi and blames all other translators for rendering pneuma as “the Spirit”. But translators have a pastoral responsibility to make the text accessible (or “penetrable”, if you like) to lesser intellects than Hart, which inevitably involves some interpretation. In the early church, the Gnostics like the ones in Jude 19 claimed to be pneumatikoi in the sense that their possession of the Spirit of God put them in a higher category than the mere psychikoi below them in the general population. Since what made them “spiritual” was the possession of the Spirit, why does Hart rail against the translators for making this clear in their translations? It looks to me as if he cannot resist the temptation to nitpick in order to look down upon the psychikoi who produced their lesser translations.

          5. It seems to me that Jude 1:20 provides context. A contrast between those with and without the Spirit.

            Fr Lawrence, thanks for your review and maintaining a balanced and cordial comments section!

      2. I have my own issues with Hart’s translation (you may see a review popping up someplace soon), and don’t entirely agree with Fr. Lawrence’s approach to criticism here, but I had to comment on this issue because I think it reveals a basic problem with Hart’s translation. Namely, Hart is a philosopher and a philosophical theologian and has studied Greek to that end, but issues of textual criticism and even the finer points of the Greek language are a bit outside his wheelhouse. This issue in Jude is something of an ‘exhibit A’.

        The Greek article does not work the way the English definite article works, and there is no, and never was any, indefinite article in Greek. Greek in the Attic period had no article whatsoever, much like Latin. What we call the Greek definite article was originally the demonstrative pronoun (i.e. this or that), not ‘the’. This was still its primary function in koine Greek. This is why, for example, the definite article is often used in koine Greek before proper names, which are always definite by nature. It is essentially saying, ‘This Jesus’ or ‘This John’ meaning the one previously mentioned, and not another one. In koine Greek, if one wanted to make a noun indefinite, one attached a form of ’tis’, so to say ‘some man’ or ‘some thing’ rather than ‘this man’ or ‘this thing’. In modern Greek, this function is fulfilled by ‘eis’ or ‘one’. So rather than saying ‘a man’ in English, one would, in Greek, literally say, ‘one man’.

        So, if a Greek noun in anarthrous, it may be either definite or indefinite, and there are a long series of rules which you learn when you study the Greek language in depth determining which a given noun is based on usage and context. This is why it is uniformly translated ‘the Spirit’ by pretty much everyone in Jude, because it is taken to be a monadic use of the anarthrous noun. And this isn’t just a modern distinction, if you look at how, say Clement or Cyril of Alexandria, native Greek speakers, read this text, they all understood it as definite.

        This elucidates the difficulty here. There is a big difference between conveying the Greek in English the way Greek style appears to a native English speaker, and conveying the Greek in English the way varying Greek styles in the New Testament would have appeared to a native Greek speaker of the first century.

        1. Fr. Stephen: Thank you so much for sharing this! It good to hear such a scholarly voice on technical questions. I would love to read your review of Hart’s translation. Perhaps you could give us the link when it becomes available? I hope you won’t find my own comments on it next week too facile or off-base; they do not come from anywhere near a place of scholarship like yours. I read that CS Lewis once shared his lay thoughts on Biblical Criticism to an audience of seminarians, and telling them that his comments were simply the bleating of a sheep to shepherds so that the shepherds might know what the sheep out there were thinking. My review is like that: sharing what a non-professional thinks of the new translation. It will be good to have the real scholars weigh in.

    2. Hart’s self-described motivation was attempting to give English language readers a NT reading experience as close to that of a Greek-literate reader reading the original Greek as possible for a non-Greek reader. He was attempting to be as slavishly literal to the text as possible. As far as I know, all English translations have been produced by scholars in either Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions and are influenced by these theological biases. Protestant translations produced by committee have the added disadvantage of being required not to unduly offend any one particular distinct theological tradition within a range of rather diverse theological perspectives, which it seems to me can mean obscuring or dumbing down the translation or making it more ambiguous than the original language would indicate on some issues. Not being a Greek scholar, I’m not qualified to comment on how well Hart achieves his objective, but it seems to me to be a worthy goal.

  8. Fr Lawrence,

    Can you post a few of the controversial, unique readings in Hart’s translation and critique them? From your post I see mostly a critique on Hart’s beliefs about what the New Testament teaches. But I am interested in how those beliefs or simply wrong translations crept into his translation.

    As we know, just about all New Testament translations we use in the Church were produced by people whose understanding of the NT is very different (to say the least). But that does not mean their translations are unreliable (though at times can be misleading). So, I just want a few passages (if any) in which Hart’s translation are either faulty or misleading so I can get an idea of what to expect from the rest should I acquire it one day.

    I have learned throughout the years not to purchase any translation I have not at the very least seen some samples of, since they tend to just a waste of money and space (there are already reliable translations which faults or alleged faults are already known). Thank you!

    1. Yes, happy to to do. As mentioned briefly at the very bottom of the post, I will look at the NT translation itself in my next post.

  9. From your article here, Fr. Lawrence, I got the impression Dr. Hart had written his article in Commonweal in somewhat of a spirit satisfied assertiveness, preachiness even. But after reading his article, I got the sense he himself was somewhat surprised at the unified tone–the “leitmotif” as he called it–of the language about wealth that not only the Gospels, but also “the Epistles, the Acts, and the Revelation” all repeated. He said he found Chesterton’s delight in “beef and beer” very appealing. And at the end he admitted he wasn’t sure what to do with the unappealing result he came to in the translation. I don’t think he undermined the Church’s Tradition or “the Fathers” on the whole at all. He only brought up the fact that what he read in Clement (*specifically regarding wealth*) didn’t quite match the tone of what he read throughout the NT about wealth. That’s a far cry from calling into question the entire hermeneutical pedigree of all of the Fathers. Anyway, that was my impression of his article.

    1. My sense of the article (which I didn’t think offered in a spirit of satisfied assertiveness–I’m sorry if I gave you that impression) was that Hart’s alarm was not just with Clement of Alexandria, but with all that came after him–hence his words about translations “down the centuries” and people misunderstanding Christ “throughout Christian history”.

  10. Having spoken to, read, and listened to David on numerous occasions, I perceive he is a skeptic of modernism and it’s influences under atheistic secularism, not Apostolic Church Tradition. I disagree with Fr Farley: Humiliation of the rich IS in their denouncement or disbursement of personal wealth for the true religious corporal works of mercy. We see this example in the lives of many saints and the ascetic nature of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. This article reads as pretentious, simplistic, and adversarial.

    We who have been saturated, supported, and influenced by materialism and technology, seem to act aloof of the tragedies of capitalism that have even been acknowledged by many Roman Popes.

    1. A blog’s comment section is maybe not the best place for extended exegetical duelling. I will therefore only offer one quote from a commentary on James by Adamson in the NICNT series regarding the verse in question: “Abasement, like ‘humble yourselves’ (4:10 similar context) is self-abasement: it refers to the adoption of that new mind of humility which James also in 4:10, 13-16 enjoins upon some (obviously of the richer) of the brothers”. According this scholar anyway, the humiliation of the rich consists not in their disbursement of personal wealth, but in the adoption of a new attitude towards it. Biblical exegesis must center on the text, not on the lives of ascetic saints, however helpful their examples might be.

  11. @ Brendan Moran – thank you. I was going to comment, but I see now that I don’t have to – you said it better than I could have.
    We may have seen the same podcast, perhaps not. In a DBH interview on YouTube titled “David Bentley Hart – All Creation Afire As A Burning Bush.” If you check that out and start at minute 49:09 and end at 1:00:30 you will find his talk on his reasons for the writing of his translation of the new testament.
    He cites mistranslations to support theologies in English speaking countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, creating false categories and false notions that simply didn’t exist in the time of the Church fathers and their writing. His talk and understanding is quite Orthodox. Anyone that questions that has a) never read him or b) didn’t understand him when they did. I certainly understand apprehensions, after all DBH, though he is Orthodox, he is also brilliant. Reading him is not without its challenges, but he has always offered fresh vistas and renewal in my own life.

  12. David Hart has been swinging and missing lately. Similar to this essay, he found “exegetical” evidence in for Universalism in his “God, Creation, and Evil” essay that is strained and not in line with the normative Tradition (Nyssa perhaps aside). I watched his presentation at Fordham yesterday (not sure when it was recorded – recently I know), and I simply do not share his concern about the influence of “Evangelical” converts within Orthodoxy. I say this as a convert (from Episcopalian) of 20 years (David has been Orthodox for 30) who has been part of 7 different parishes, 4 jurisdictions, all in the south of the USA where this influence is allegedly the sharpest. On this subject, his understanding of a kind of communitarianism strikes me as more than a little idiosyncratic, and I agree with Fr. Lawrence that it is far enough out of the common Tradition to be more than a little suspect.

    I personally find this troubling, because David Hart has the potential to really be important in English speaking Orthodoxy. He is without any doubt the smartest man in every room he has ever walked into, and he has a style and spirit that has up until now been refreshingly free from the normal fads and strictures of “academic theology” as it is presently practiced in the Academy and Orthodox theological circles. Based on what he wrote and his talk, he obviously revels in his recent “heresy”. I know to do what he does takes a kind of willingness to be an outsider and a challenger of the status quo, but when you do this you can also be quite wrong and end up in places that is worse than what you are trying to deconstruct.

    We should pray that his next work is something more useful for the Body of Christ.

  13. As someone who can read koine Greek and has translated the NT myself I find it jolting to think that someone could come along and translate it so radically different that this person alone has come up with the greatest and best translation ever. This claim almost seems obscene given the finite realities associated with semantic range syntax etc. I mean if he was claiming to offer an annotated translation or something, that would be one thing; but he makes it sound like he’s gotten beyond all the muddle of all the other people in the world who can also, just like him, read Koine Greek (not to mention the multitude of translations done by cross checking teams and panels available to the English speaking world).

  14. Fr. Lawrence:

    I can’t really figure out what to make of this.

    Your original posting seems to be a full frontal attack on Dr. David Bentley Hart, “The Deep Melancholy of DBH,” which seems both uncharitable, unnecessary, and misguided. Then you downshift into backpedaling when your arguments are challenged in the comments.

    What, exactly, IS your argument here? What are you basing it on? Is it the fact that he has had the temerity to produce a new translation of the New Testament? Surely a scholar has that right, doesn’t he? Is it a critique of that scholarship? Is it a personal attack on Dr. Hart? Is it a critique on some sort of misguided understanding of first century holdings in common? In short, what is going on here?

    1. Lewis: my argument is that Dr. Hart is inaccurate in his understanding of the NT (based on his exegesis of it) and therefore inaccurate in his dismissal of the history of Christian interpretation of the NT. Of course any scholar may produce a translation of the NT. Even I, who am not a scholar, have produced such a translation. What is going on is my disagreement with Dr. Hart’s exegesis and his consequent dismissal of Christian interpretation of the NT “throughout Christian history”. I am misunderstood if one supposes that I have a personal axe to grind against Dr. Hart, whom I have never met and whose books I have enjoyed. My only “axe” is that of the Church, whose teachings I was ordained to promote and defend.

    2. “In short, what is going on here”

      Part of what is going on here is that we live in an individualist age. DBH is displaying a kind of double mindedness (don’t take that as a judgement – I too am a sinner) because on the one hand he wants to philosophize about “what is intellectually interesting” (as he put it in his Fordham talk) but on the other hand Christianity is to the very core a “death of self” and a humiliation of both (dialectical) mind and curiosity. Thus, he and his compatriots at Fordham are all concerned about a kind of intellectual retardedness in the form of a “fundamentalism” within Orthodoxy. However, it is actually they themselves who reason in a way that displays the “fundamentalism” of the age (i.e. the “expressive Self” and its apparatus in the form of the intellectual tradition of Schools of the west) more clearly than the very “fundamentalists” they oppose.

      DBH is even aware of this in some sense, because as he admits in his address it would be best if “all the theologians were systematically exterminated…every 20 years or so…”.

      What is really going on is that DBH has created a translation that has some strong individualistic emphasises that are from the point of view of the Church wrong.

      1. Wait, you read the translation and have discovered specific points there that are “from the point of view of the Church wrong”? I read much of his translation and I’d be very interested to know where you found that to be the case. I can point to translation choices in a few areas that I might question. I can point to problems in many other translations that seem to be flatly and deliberately importing a theology that the Orthodox Church would likely consider wrong. So far, with Hart, however, I have found absolutely nothing like that – since you have, can you share with the rest of the readers those portions that are at odds with the teaching of the Orthodox Church?

  15. Fr. Lawrence,
    I’d have to agree with you this time about DBH’s view of wealth. With his reasoning, we should all be celibate as well since so was Jesus and Paul said it best not to marry. Without wealth, who would pay for churches, fund charities, keep Christian colleges afloat, etc. No where in the OT does God eschew the enjoyment of things, just their worship or putting them about God/Christ. Also in the Gospels is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus feet with expensive oil. He didn’t object, and insist it go “to the community”. I’m selfish and materialistic and need to hear Jesus warnings to the rich (of which I am one compared to the rest of the world). But if I sell my house and give away all my money and try to live communally, I’ll just be another guy with three kids on the dole of the church. What is he really suggesting Christians do would be my question to him. My family is living communally and that is about all I can handle so God have mercy on me.

    Having said that, I’m sure you will be rebutting his universalism. But on that point, I agree strongly with DBH and I think he makes a strong case for it in the afterwords of his new translation. We’ve disagreed regarding this before on-line.

    I will say, Father, that I respect the way you respond to your critics: with grace and peace. And not with counter attacks. I’ve thrown some hostility at you in the past and you handle it with grace. That speaks highly of your character and commitment to Christ.

    1. God bless you for your kind words, dear brother. As always, thank you for your comments on the topic at hand.

  16. Fr. Lawrence Farley,

    You mention above that you have read Hart’s books and have enjoyed them. Understanding that you have read Hart and knowing your background, I am very disappointed that you offer such a weak critique of him and this work.

    To say in your critique that Hart’s view of the New Testament is “troubling” and to say he is “one spirit with them”, referring to “radial” Protestants, is naive and borderline adolescent (pastorally speaking) in that it does not give a big picture critique of the whole work nor of his theology but only offers an opinion of mostly one aspect of Hart’s thought (on money and wealth) and so throws out the translation with a disagreement in opinion. You do not offer an honest critique of his work but instead make cheap shots. This is shown by the title you selected of the article, your focus of his view of money and wealth and not on more dogmatic issues, and in lumping Hart in with “radial Protestants.” In one weak stroke, you throw out Hart and his translation without considering the benefits of such a work.

    You even say things like “But Hart seems to miss that Christ spoke similarly hard and radical things in all His ethical teaching…” Where does Hart say otherwise?

    You should have offered more evidence to give you cause to try and “defend the Church” (in your comments) as you say from such works. Or you should have critiqued his essay from Commonweal instead of this work until you provided a more thoughtful, holistic response for his translation.

    It would be better to “promote and defend the Church” as you say by encouraging a work like this from someone embedded within an Orthodox perspective and background that encourages us to read our Holy Scriptures which challenges our thoughts and theologies instead of offering a weak critique that encourages throwing out the entirety of Hart’s work.

    Your critique is not only disappointing and surprising but pastorally lazy. I hope your future critiques of books will be more thoughtful.

    (For those of you who are not familiar with David Bentley Hart, see his article in First Things, “Saint Origen” which gives a good glimpse into his knowledge and love for the Early Fathers, the Church, and the Holy Scriptures to which he has given his life’s work.)

    1. Just a few words in reply. Replying to all of Hart’s considerable work is quite beyond what is possible in a blog post. That is why I concentrated my critique on a piece from Commonweal that I indeed found erroneous in its exegesis of the NT and troubling in its presuppositions about the inability of Christian exegesis down the centuries to detect the clear meaning of the NT’s teaching on wealth. His article concentrated on wealth, which is why I did in my examination of it. I am clearly not “throwing out the entirety of Hart’s work” since I said in a comment above how much I enjoyed two of his previous books. His actual translation of the NT will be examined in my next post, as the final line of this one indicates. I suspect though that you will find my next piece equally disappointing, and possibly weak, lazy, naive, and adolescent as well. Or you might really love it. But I expect the former.

  17. Father Lawrence,

    Thank you for your response. I am thankful to hear that you are not throwing out the entirety of his work.

    I look forward to your examination of his translation in your next post.

  18. Paula (some number of replies above), you wrote, ‘I am one of “the flock” Father Lawrence speaks about. Within that flock, have yet to hear a discussion about the need of a new bible translation.’

    That is rather unfortunate, because we seriously need one. Let me give you a couple of examples:

    The evangelist Mark uses the word “artos” (“bread”) 21 (i.e., 7 x 3) times in his gospel. All but one of those occurrences are in the first half of his book; the only other is at the last supper (Mk 14.22). Bread is a major theme in Mark, appearing an average of about 3 times in each chapter, and in fact (among other strategies) Mark builds the first half of his story around it. On the other hand, he uses the term “potērion” (“cup”) 6 times in 6 verses, all but one of which (7.4) are in the second half of his story— and again, he builds that half of his Gospel around this theme. Not entirely surprisingly, the two themes come together only in 14.22-23 (the last supper). So if you want to understand the Gospel of Mark, you have to recognize that he chooses his language very deliberately as he tells his story.

    In light of this, you can see that it’s really not going to be helpful when translators decide to translate “artos” as ‘bread’ one time, as ‘loaf’ another time, and leave it out altogether a third time. I’ve been studying Mark for more than ten years now, to the point where i have nearly memorized the entire book and even give workshops on it, and i can certainly assure you that despite his seemingly “rustic” style, Mark never ever uses a word carelessly— most especially his theme-words!

    So with this in mind, i invite you to compare Mark 2.26; 3.20; 6.8, 37-38, 41, 44, 52; 7.2, 5, 27; 8.4-6, 14, 16-17, 19; and 14.22 in the various translations that are available (you can readily compare quite a few of them at You might argue that “loaves” means the same as “bread”, and that “bread” is ok in the singular but “breads” sounds odd in English— and you’d be right to argue that about English. But using “loaves” half the time and “bread” the other half of the time suppresses a key auditory echo and obscures Mark’s thematic precision. And note in particular Mk 3.20, where NRSV and others just leave it out, presumably because “so that they could not even eat bread” seems odd. Well, it might indeed seem odd, if you weren’t alert to the theme, and no translators really were alert to “themes” in the text in this way, when any of our existing translations were published. For what is now called narrative criticism has developed only in the past 30 years or so, and holds enormous promise for the church. The Scriptures disclose depths we just never saw before! So it’s desirable to have a bracingly literal translation, as free as can be of other people’s theological or stylistic “decisions”.

    Another example is the famous and somewhat controversial expression, “pistis Christou” found in Rm 3.22, Ga 2.16 (twice), 2.20, 3.22, and Ph 3.9; but contrast, e.g., Ga 3.26 and Col 1.4. We need to understand first of all that the Greek word “pistis” basically means “trust”, and may be translated as “faith [in]” or “faithfulness [toward]”, the latter often being more precise. We also need to recognize that when Paul wants to specify the object of this trust, he uses the words “en” (“in”) or “eis” (“toward”); but of course when he wants to speak of whose trust or faithfulness it is, he uses a possessive such as “Christou” (“of Christ”), to refers to its subject. The KJV almost gets this correct, in that it has “the faith of Jesus” in the passages i mentioned; this could be improved only by rendering it as “Jesus’ trust (or faithfulness)”, but the case is no different than saying something like “pistis paulou”— i.e., “Paul’s faithfulness”— and you would never even think of translating this as “faith in Paul”!

    But just about all modern translators have decided that what St Paul “really means” by the expression “pistis iēsou christou” is not “Jesus Christ’s faith(fulness)” but “[our] faith in Jesus Christ”. You see the difference? St Paul is talking about Jesus’ faithfulness to God, by which he saved us, whereas the modern translators have Paul talking about our faith (or even belief) in Jesus, by which we are saved. And here there arises a very serious problem, which causes a lot of abandonment of faith: How can i come to have this faith (or worse: this “belief”)? etc. Can i make myself believe something i don’t already believe? But St Paul never demands that we have something called “faith”. He says over and over that Jesus’ faithfulness to God— his trust in God— is what saves us. This is a huge difference, and many modern translations get it wrong because they import certain evangelical ideas related to what they call “justification” into the text. Oh, and by the way, all the fathers i’m aware of agree with me and the KJV, but not with the modern translators. The Greek is quite obvious; it’s only ideology that led people to view it as i’ve described.

    One final example: I haven’t read Hart’s translation yet, so i don’t know what he does with this, but he loses my vote if he doesn’t do what i’m going to say now: In our Bible translations, we need to stop using the word “Christ”. Of course, “Christ” is a perfectly legitimate translation of the Greek “christos” (“anointed”), but we have to take into account the histories of words when we use them formally. For the New Testament writers, the word “christos” was simply the Greek equivalent of “Messiah”. If you read the NT— especially perhaps Acts and St Paul— and every time you come to “Christ” you back-translate it as “Messiah”, you’ll quickly come to realize what the whole argument was about, in the apostolic church: Who is the Messiah?

    But our translations don’t make it easy for us to see this, because the NT word “christos” had a subsequent thousand-year dogmatic development whereby it came to be defined not so much by Old Testament notions of the “Messiah” so much as by the Greek metaphysical questions that led to the great conciliar dogmas about the Three Persons, the Two Natures, and the Virgin Birth. Those are, of course, completely correct and unimpeachable and necessary dogmatic formulations, but they are not the ideas that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and others had in mind when they were writing. They are the implications of what they were talking about, but they were not what they were talking about. When they said “christos”, they meant the eschatological figure prophesied in Isaiah, Daniel 7, and so forth. So, when it comes to our translations, when we hear “Messiah”, we can’t help thinking of the Old Testament. But when we hear “Christ”, we really do tend to think of the Three Persons, the Two Natures, and the Virgin Birth. Just read any Orthodox commentary that might come to hand, you’ll see what i mean. But if our New Testament translations (and any new commentaries we write) are to accurately reflect what the New Testament writers were in fact occupied with, they will need to be explicit about it. So i hope DBH uses “Messiah”. I haven’t read NT Wright’s translation yet either, but I suspect he does, and i look forward to comparing both translations.

    Two new translations by two major scholars— exciting times for those who love the Scriptures!

    1. Thank you for such a fascinating comment. FWIW, in my own commentary on Mark I translate artos/ artoi as “bread/ breads” in all the instances you mention, precisely because I want to reproduce the Greek as literally and consistently as possible, and precisely for the reason you give. I also take your point about Christ/ Christos/ Messiah, though I rendered Christos as “Christ”. It is important to realize that “Christ” means the Messiah of the OT hope before it means anything else. I am told that Hart renders Christos literally as “Anointed”, though I may well be wrong. The problem with such a literal rendering (IF he uses it) is that it fails to capture the cultural history of the term from Daniel 7, etc., exactly as you said. But I may be wrong about Hart’s rendering of the term.

      1. Thank you Father Lawrence for offering a platform to discuss these issues, especially being more than a bit off track from the topic of your blog post. These comments are so very helpful. I really do want to understand other points of view.
        John Burnett…thank you so very much for your comment…you gave me some very interesting homework this morning! I clearly see your point in the use of the word “bread” in Mark. It ties together beautifully with the Eucharist, as well as the meaning of the sacraments, the Incarnation…so many concepts that I have in mind that I find difficult to put into words.
        Another point…after 12 years of study in the Protestant church, I was left with tons of unanswered questions and doubts…one of which was the slogan “just believe”. I had read somewhere during that time the very same thing you bring out about the faith “of” Christ. I recall one day in a bible study in church suggesting something similar to your comments regarding this. It was met with stark silence. I really didn’t know what to make of such a reaction. I thought I must be way off base and never bought it up again. Now I understand the silence was a reaction to a concept that was never taught, so it just didn’t “compute”. So, for me, all this re-learning over the past (almost) two years is just beginning to sink in…but it is more than to “re-learn” for, instance, the meaning of justification, sanctification, salvation, faith, how we approach scripture, who Christ is, God as Trinity, “being” as in personhood, the Church, the Liturgy, life vs. death, good vs. evil, heaven, hell, judgment…it is an understanding, a “sinking in” of these concepts…truths, I should say…not just to “parrot” words but rather have them become part of me. That is what I see as living the faith, as being “in Christ”. As God’s gifts to us, I take this very seriously. In that respect I can understand why you say we seriously need a new bible translation. The reason why I greatly hesitate in accepting yet another translation is that I have barely touched the surface of what we already have in our tradition! That is why, at this point, I mostly concentrate on those people who have formed the faith (in the past), and those who carry on this same faith (now, in our day and age). But as you know, that list is long…my pile of unread books is getting larger…so for now I have to draw a line (unfortunately) somewhere! (however, I must admit, it is a rather thin line!) But I am with you John…it is exciting times to learn scripture. The depths are endless.
        Also, looking up the definition of “narrative criticism” it says:
        “Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences.” This is pretty much what I was trying to say about the “sinking in” of scripture and “living the faith”! Thanks for mentioning that phrase!
        I do not want to finish here without acknowledging your point about the word “christos” and your last paragraph. You are correct in saying that Christ as the three Persons, two natures, Virgin birth trumps use of the word “Messiah”, leaving out much of the where the OT (the only scripture the writers of the gospels had) points to Him as such. I now see that are of equal importance.
        Anyway, this is getting a bit long, so I thank you once again for taking the time to respond to my comment. It was very helpful.
        (oh…one more thing, on Amazon, there is a preview, the “Look Inside” thing, of DBH’s NT, to get a peek, if anyone is interested.)

    2. John Burnett,

      Thanks for the post – you had me looking at the Mark and Gal again. As far as your last paragraph and separation of “Christos” *meaning* into a periodic and thus differing rendering (i.e. “Messiah” as opposed to “Christ”), does this not itself rest on an “ideology”, namely one that alleges that a translator can penetrate the mind (as it were) of a historic author (or community) and accurately distinguish “implications” from “what they were talking about”? Could you say more on your “theory of translation” and/or Orthodox Tradition and “development of Dogma” – putting aside the negative connotations of that last phrase, I mean it like you mean it which is to simply point to the fact of later Dogmatic precision/explication.

      It occurs to me that it is the Church and her Fathers, pious Tradition, etc. that defines the epistemic methods & limits of translation – what we can know about “what they were talking about” and what we can not. What is your basis for asserting that you know “what they are talking about” and thus “Messiah” is more appropriate than “Christ”? Are you using some (historical?) critical method to peer into the text in such and such way that allows you this insight? If so, how does this method integrate into Orthodoxy/Tradition as such?

      If the above comes across as combative I don’t mean it that way at all – I am sincerely interested in your direction on this.

  19. “Of course any scholar may produce a translation of the NT. Even I, who am not a scholar, have produced such a translation.”

    Fr. Lawrence: I do agree that it is best to leave translations to scholars. Where may I read your translation of the New Testament? Did you publish it?

    1. I quite agree that translations (i.e. alternative versions of the Scriptures to be used as “the Bible” in church or for private devotional reading) is best left to scholars. My own work was a literal rendering of the NT published as part of my Bible Study commentaries from Conciliar/ Ancient Faith Press. It does not purport to be a translation or version like the AV, the RSV, or any of the others versions. Rather it is simply a tool to try to penetrate the Greek text, so that it is quite inelegantly literal. A section explaining all this is in each of the commentaries as part of the introduction. As I said in that introduction, “The task of producing a flowing, elegant translation that nonetheless preserves the integrity and nuances of the original I cheerfully leave to hands more competent than mine.”

  20. I don’t believe DBH purported his translation to be used as “the Bible” in Church or for private devotional reading. Like you, he is attempting to “penetrate the Greek text,” and he *is* a scholar. Again, I’m left baffled as to your point of contention here. You disagree with his conclusions? Why not write your own scholarly book to refute them? Perhaps Fr. Whiteford could co-author?

    1. My guess is that Dr. Hart indeed intends his own work precisely for private study and not for congregational use, since he speaks of re-translating the NT for his students in class. My point of contention is that his work is flawed by idiosyncratic and erroneous renderings. Though not quite a book, I have written a blog post about them, to appear next week. Alas, there is no co-author; all the blame for it must be mine alone.

    2. “I don’t believe DBH purported his translation to be used as “the Bible” in Church or for private devotional reading.”

      I confess that I read this with a sense of befuddlement. Why publish it, then? Why discuss it in public forums? If anything is done by a Christian without the Church or her members’ edification in mind, what is its purpose? Given the that it was, in fact, published and discussed by its author/translator in very public forums, what other purpose could be intended? Am I missing something?

  21. “Custom without truth is the antiquity of error.” Bishop Cyprian, 3rd Century AD.

    Arguing from tradition merely on the basis that it is tradition is never a good argument. It might merely mean that people have been getting something wrong for a long time. It is vitally important to understand, and indeed to re-examine, the reasons behind the tradition so that one can be confident that it is not merely old, but correct.

    1. Quite right. By “tradition” I meant the holy Tradition of the Church, stretching back to the first century. It is good not simply because it is old but because it is apostolic.

  22. I took the time to read CHRIST’S RABBLE with an open mind before commenting on it specifically.

    A few observations come to mind.

    Taken AS A WHOLE, it is a fully justified, stinging critique of Western Christian capitalist culture in that it is quite true that we have grown comfortable with ignoring what our Lord and His apostles said about our wealth and acquisitiveness. Nevertheless, there are quite a few specific commentaries on passages cited that are simply untrue.

    “Thus the first converts in Jerusalem after the resurrection, AS THE PRICE OF BECOMING CHRISTIANS (emphasis mine), sold all their property and possessions and distributed the proceeds to those in need…
    …Barnabas, on becoming a Christian, sold his field and handed over all the money to the Apostles (Acts 4:35)—though Ananias and Sapphira did not, with somewhat unfortunate consequences.”

    Whereas Peter said,,,

    “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, WAS IT NOT IN YOUR OWN CONTROL? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not LIED to men but to God.”

    While it is not entirely false that our Lord, His apostles, and nearly every subsequent Saint of the Church taught that “To be a follower of the Way was to renounce every claim to private property and to consent to communal ownership of everything,” it is simply impossible to conclude that even for the early Christians this meant selling everything they owned as “the price of becoming Christians.” Every subsequent command made to the early Christians would be rendered meaningless if this were true. One cannot allocate property that is not within the control of one’s own stewardship. The message preached to non-Christians was “repent and be baptized” not “repent, sell all that you own, and be baptized.” Moreover, the term “communal” is imprecise, if not altogether false. The goods entrusted to the rich are specifically intended for distribution to the POOR in order that the poor may give thanks to God for the rich man and that the rich man may find the poor man to be the means of his salvation, effectively overcoming the economic divisions of THIS world, restoring a concrete communion between them in which both are fruitful and God is glorified.

    DBH writes:

    “I did indeed say that the New Testament, alarmingly enough, condemns great personal wealth not merely as a moral danger, but as an intrinsic evil.”

    Whereas Paul said…

    “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”


    “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.”

    Marriage, weeping, rejoicing, and the use of anything in this world, along with possessions, would ALL be intrinsic evils if this were true. One could also wonder how it is that God, Who made all things good and Whose life we are called to share and to imitate, can remain free of this intrinsic evil whilst owning everything – or why the meek (those who willingly submit to God’s commands) are blessed in that they will inherit the earth.

    Having made thee observations I am nevertheless glad when anyone draws attention to the utter seriousness of God’s commands concerning the stewardship of HIS wealth. As a rich man (as are any who possess in excess of his need) I need to be reminded of it over and over again. Wealth is, quite literally, either the means or the obstacle to my salvation; and I ignore it or gloss over the subject at my own peril. It bothers me when, especially during Lent, our primary focus is on prayer and fasting while ALMSGIVING (which “delivers from death” [Tobit 4:10]) is typically mentioned only in passing with little or no emphasis on its critical importance. Not to minimize prayer and fasting, but almsgiving is perhaps THE most needed discipline for most Christians captive to our culture. Thus I find words such as these…

    “Even those verses from 1 Timothy 6 that I mentioned are not nearly as mild and moderate as we tend to think they are. Earlier in the chapter, the text reminds us that we bring nothing into this world and can take nothing with us when we leave it, and tells us to content ourselves with having enough food and clothing. It also tells us that all who seek wealth—not simply all who procure it unjustly—have ensnared themselves in desires that will lead to their ruin: because “a fondness for money is a root of all evils,” and those who reach out for wealth have gone astray (apeplanēthēsan) from the faith and girdled themselves about with piercing pains (6:7–10). True, verse 17 merely advises the rich not to be “arrogant” or “in high spirits” (depending on how one interprets it), and not to put their trust in wealth’s “uncertainty” (or, better, in “the hiddenness” of their riches) rather than in the lavishness of God’s providence. But verse 18 goes further and tells them not only to make themselves rich in good works, but also to become—well, here the customary translations are along the lines of “generous” (eumetadotous) and “sharing” (koinōnikous), but the better renderings would be something like “persons readily distributing” their goods, in the former case, and something like “communalists” or “communists” or “persons having all their possessions in common,” in the latter. (A property that is koinōnikon is something held in common or corporately, and therefore a person who is koinōnikos is certainly not just someone who occasionally makes donations at his own discretion.) Only thus, says verse 19, can the wealthy now “store up” a good foundation for the age that is coming, and reach out to take hold of “the life that is real.” And this would seem to have been the social philosophy of the early church in general. When Christianity arrived in Edessa, for instance, its adherents promptly became a kind of mendicant order, apparently owning nothing much at all. In the words of that very early manual of Christian life, the Didache, a Christian must never claim that anything is his own property, but must own all things communally with his brethren (4:9–12).”

    …to be among the most needful of our time, although I truly wish he would avoid being sidetracked with ideas of “social philosophy” and thoroughly inappropriate terms like “communalism” and “communism.” Regardless of what he he might intend by using these terms, they are unnecessary distractions and obstacles to the communication of a critically important matter.

    Finally, it seems that DBH is on a journey of discovery in his own life for which I cannot fault him, as we are ALL on this same journey in one way or another. All of us have been jarred by the truth from time to time and have had to rethink our prior assumptions. It is interesting to me that the discoveries he has shared in these more recent days speak of “onerous prescriptions and harsher judgments” – not quite the pleasant and reassuring topics of discoveries past.

    “There are no comfortable medians in these latitudes, no areas of shade. Everything is cast in the harsh light of final judgment, and that judgment is absolute.”

    “WHICH BRINGS ME back to where I began. I confess I do not really know what to make of these observations, or how to deal with the more onerous prescriptions and harsher judgments of the New Testament. Most of us in the modern West, by comparison to other peoples and times, might well think of ourselves as rich. Nor can I pretend ever to have embraced poverty myself—except in the sense that an unguarded jaw might be said to embrace the fist that strikes it. I do know, however, that I have no good grounds for treating those prescriptions and judgments as mere hortatory hyperbole.”

    1. Thank you for your comments Brian. Just a tiny note from me, about Hart’s citation from the Didache. A careful reading of the chapter cited reveals that it does not mandate that a Christian “must own all things communally with his brethren”, but rather mandates generosity of personal almsgiving. The passage of 4:5-8 presupposes personal ownership of money; the counsel to “share everything with your brother or sister” refers to the poor to whom one gives alms, not the community pot. The line in 4:6 about this giving being “a ransom for your sins” refers to such teachings as that in Tobit 12:9, “Almsgiving delivers from death and will purge away every sin” and confirms that the sharing refers to almsgiving, not communal ownership.

      1. Father,

        You use a good word – the word “mandate.” It is a command, not an option. “Command the rich…” Not teach, not even entreat, but “command.”

        The complacency to which I and our Western Christian culture are so prone is that we have been deluded into understanding it as purely voluntary. It is here that DBH seems to “get it,” although his ‘better translation’ wasn’t required for him to do so and seems to have led him astray on the specifics. The translations we have are sufficient for understanding this if we would but read them and/or listen to the Church’s consistent teaching since the beginning until now.

        I say “purely” voluntary with purpose. All things that are required of us are voluntary – obedience, fasting, prayer, almsgiving…everything. If we don’t do them voluntarily they are meaningless and have no share in the Kingdom of God. But the fact that they are voluntary doesn’t make them optional. They are necessary for our salvation because they are the things that make us like God, – as well as the things that, by doing them (and not merely thinking about them), free us from the bondage that prevents us from being like God.

        There was no need for him to speak of social constructs, even though he may think he finds it in the original texts. They only lead us astray from the point of it all which is the beauty and glory of sharing in the Kingdom of God. That with which I am entrusted belongs to those in need – literally belongs to them – and I rob them if I fail to understand and to act upon this truth. My life/my salvation is bound up with my neighbor and not to be confused with any ideological idea.

  23. Languages outside of English are not my forte. I’m better trained as a chemist than theologian, despite being a priest. One thing I might add to this discussion is to draw a distinction between a high wattage intellect ie “smartest man in any room he’s ever walked into” and wisdom. Calculation of correct (bonus if they are precise, too!) answers is one thing. Knowing what to do with them is another. It’s hard to imagine that an Orthodox scholar could really think the church ignored a plain meaning of scripture or went soft on the dangers of wealth (I’ve read a bit of Basil and John Chrysostom, neither pull punches!). I’ve found Fr. Farley’s books helpful personally and for parishioners, before reading this post I’d never heard of DBH. Anyway, my main point is beware of too much reliance on mere intelligence. I’ve known some powerfully intelligent people who lacked wisdom and were leading people in dangerous directions. Worship of Intellect is a common modern form of idolatry.

    1. Thank you, dear Father. In my experience it is a wonderful thing to be the smartest man in the room (probably; I never was smartest man in any room), but knowing that one is the smartest man in the room brings it own peculiar temptations. And at the end of the day it is still true that God reveals His wisdom to babes so long as they seek Him in humility (Luke 10:21). Part of that humility involves preferring the received wisdom of the Church’s tradition to one’s own individual opinion, even if one is brilliant. We live in an age that rejoices in individualism, which is a poor place from which to receive divine wisdom.

    2. “Worship of Intellect is a common modern form of idolatry.”

      Amen and Amen. I have this habit of throwing Orthodox “theologians” (as modern Orthodox “scholars” – a better term but not without its problems – sometimes call themselves) this ‘intelligence’ bone, particularly when accurate as in DBH’s case. I suspect (from a distance) that his IQ must be off the charts. That said, it is just a gift (from God) and perhaps no more or less important than a good singing voice in the context of Salvation and the ecclesia as such.

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