Bishop N.T. Wright and The New Living Translation (NLT)

In many ways, the New Living Translation (NLT), which is built on the Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible, fills a great void in the world of English Bible translations: it’s not too loose and not too rigid and wooden.

But if one is sympathetic to a let’s say Bishop N.T. Wright and his reading of both Jesus and Paul, as seen in their world, he or she may struggle with the NLT.  Two translation decisions in particular:

First, in the Gospel narratives, for Bishop N.T. Wright, when Jesus speaks metanoeō to the people, Jesus means for them “to change one’s mind about God and his kingdom.”  Wright contends that Jesus isn’t speaking about “repenting of sins and turning to God,” as reflected in the NLT.

Second, in Paul’s Letters, for N.T. Wright dikaiosunē theou, “the righteousness of God,” is not so much about how a person “becomes right with God” and then waits to die and go to heaven.  Rather, dikaiosunē theou is about how God is putting the world to rights, first through Jesus and Israel and then the nations. 

This concept of dikaiosunē theou, according to Wright is seen in three strands of thought: 1. Covenant Faithfulness; 2. The Law Court Imagery; and 3. Eschatological terms.

So the NLT’s rendering of dikaiosunē and its cognates as “How God makes us right in his sight,” will not work for the good Bishop.

At any rate, I still find myself processing N.T. Wright’s reading of both metanoeō and dikaiosunē

N.T. Wright might be right, in the end.

 

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This entry was posted in Eschatology, Jesus, Justification, NT Wright, Pastoral, Repentance and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Bishop N.T. Wright and The New Living Translation (NLT)

  1. Joel says:

    T.C., I am not fully prepared for a NPP convo at the moment – Dunn is changing my mind on a few things – but considering the separation due to sin from God’s kingdom which infects the mind must be first in both understandings, and since the result, which is that we come to God’s kingdom, does it matter?

    Not sure my opinion here, T.C., just joining the conversation.

  2. Joel: for Wright, the Jews of Jesus’ day needed “to change their minds” about how they wanted to bring about the kingdom of God.

    You’re in the conversation, my friend. 😉

  3. Iris Godfrey says:

    Our current evangelical concept of “repent” has some problems, both with translation of the text and in true meaning of “changing one’s mind.” In today’s understanding, it has boiled down to a self serving concept of being sorry for one’s sin(action), instead of the deliberate choosing to change one’s mind about the total direction of one’s thinking and living.

    The good Bishop just could be “right.”

  4. Scott W says:

    TC-

    A real issue which must be addressed is that explicitly and implicitly Evangelical translations of the Bible tend to “theologize” in their renderings when it comes to key tems. The problem is that ther tends to be a reflex that wants to equate the meaning of the concept/term with the accretions gained from dogmatic theological reflection over time, rather than the historical approach given pride of place. This is why N.T. Wright has some strong words about how the NIV tries to transform Paul into a proponent of Reformation theology, which doesn’t square with the text. The result has been to narrow and water down both the meaning and connotations of the dikai- and metana- terms, and skew the message of Paul and the Evangelists.

    African American NT scholar Guy Nave of Luther College, one of the translators of the Common English Bible, has written a major study on repentance in Luke/Acts in which he examines this term from the LXX, Classical and Hellenistic Greek texts to Jospehus, Philo and the NT. He finds a common meaning in every copora: a change of mind and heart which, in turn, leads to a change in behavior. In Luke/Acts, where the term is most prevalent, it has a definite social/ecclesial import: the call to repentance has the effect of people coming into the renewed people of YHWH and its vision of community from their diverse conditions and stations in life. This is a part of YHWH’s divine plan. So Pharisee and prostitute, Gentile and Jew change their way-of-being-in-the-world so that they become a part of what YHWH is doing in Kingdom building. EVERYONE has to repent! Remember, even Jesus went to be baptized. This is a word especially for our times!

    Below are links to a review and sample of Nave’s book.

    http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/2866_2824.pdf

    http://books.google.com/books?id=4CGScYTomYsC&lpg=PP1&ots=ex8JMFLyUx&dq=Guy%20Nave&pg=PT1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  5. Scott: I’m encouraged by such an extensive research. Yes, in harmony with what the good Bishop has been arguing. I do like the import of repentance in Luke-Acts that you have pointed out.

    Thanks for the links.

  6. Joel says:

    I would tend to disagree with any theology that denies that repentance includes a change of mind about sin and forgiveness of sins. I believe that Hebrews (8-10) seeks to give the idea that Christ who brought the (re)new(ed) covenant so also brought remission of sins which is connected repentance (Acts 2.38).

  7. Joel: Wright isn’t denying that “repentance” involves a turning away from sins, altogether. But he says this is not the central focus of the word in the Gospel narratives.

    Otherwise I’m in agreement with you. 😉

  8. I have to admit I have fundamental disagreemments with Wright on the issue of dikaiosunē theou, but that is me. I see it first as a salvific issue (God making us right with him through the Cross of Christ) then an issue of God making things right in the world, but only in and through his people, the Community of the King.

    I am not conviced most Christians see the righteousness of God as meaning to get saved and then wait to die and go to heaven. Maybe that is or was the case in his Anglican circles but I am not convinced that is the case in the larger Evangelical world (either locally or globally).

  9. Michael Metts says:

    God’s righteousness ‘δικαισυνε θεου’ is the basis for salvation (compare the connecting word ‘γαρ’ in Rom. 1:16-17), and this righteousness is only attained through faith, which argues against the idea that God’s righteousness should be understood as his covenant obligations (cf. Doug Moo, Romans NICNT).

    It’s all there in Romans 1 vv 16 and 17. There is nothing missing. Salvation, faith, and God’s righteousness — all connected, without the context of covenant.

    Scott W, the Luke/Acts study looks excellent. It should be mentioned though, that sin is closely related to the repentance passages in Acts.

  10. Brian: for Wright dikaiosunē theou is about “creation and covenant” and God’s actions to put things right.

    But in a sense everything is salvific. It doesn’t matter how you look at it.

    For most Christians, it’s how to be saved and so on. I think Wright’s critique is correct. The emphasis becomes the issue.

  11. Scott W says:

    Michael Metts writes:Scott W, the Luke/Acts study looks excellent. It should be mentioned though, that sin is closely related to the repentance passages in Acts.

    Michael, undoubtedly that’s true. The problem is that through the theologizing of churces for the most part what has happened, like I said earlier, is a truncating and abstracting of terms such as dikaiosyne, metanoia, hamartia by taking them out of the broader theological narrative of LXX and the socioreligious context of 1st century Judaism(s).

    For example, repentance language must be understood in the context of the prophetic promises of the renewal of the nation as an eschatological phenomenon, which had implications for the world. The preaching of the Reign or Dominion of God and the preaching of John the Baptizer and Jesus only make sense in this frame of reference. Similarly, Pauline “soteriology” cannot be understood outside of this ecclesial context. This is why, NT Wright shows, whenever dikai-root terms appear it is in the context of the issue of the ekklesia as the Jew-Gentile people of God, and this as the fulfillment and manifestation of YHWH’s saving justice (dikaiosyne). The call to “salvation” in Luke/Acts and Paul is a call to become a part of the ekklesia/Body of Christ which has its communal stipulations and mores. It’s first and formost focused on the individual salvation motif as much of our preaching as on what is means to be in the renewed people of God, the Church; the former only makes sense in terms of the latter. The Church is the “theological indicative” of the gospel while evangelism is the “moral imperative”.

  12. The Church is the “theological indicative” of the gospel while evangelism is the “moral imperative”.

    Scott, if the above excerpt is what you really believe, Why do you oppose the Reformed soteriology?

  13. Michael Metts says:

    Scott W:

    Some of Paul’s grandest theological discourses and highest Christology result in ethical exhortations — not in ecclesial doctrine. This radical ethical exhortation seen in Paul is obviously being contrasted with previous lifestyles of unethical behavior — Gentile behavior — and the basis for this radical change is found only in the cross of Christ (cf. chs. 2 and 3 of Colossians). It will not do to suggest that repentance has no moral basis with regard to hamartiology.

    Some of the concepts of the NT simply cannot be accounted for in Second Temple Literature. We are talking about a revolutionary prophet (Christ) speaking radically new things which had never been heard before. It will not always do to rush to extant Jewish or pagan literature for further study. Wright makes this same point on several occassions in Jesus and the Victory of God. Christianity and her Christ should be allowed to express some originality. Gospel passages such as the Sermon on the Mount, which are difficult to be understood along Wright’s exhaustive paradigms, make better sense in this light.

  14. Scott W says:

    Robinson
    The Church is the “theological indicative” of the gospel while evangelism is the “moral imperative”.

    Scott, if the above excerpt is what you really believe, Why do you oppose the Reformed soteriology?

    TC-
    Principally, the Augustinian legacy of Original Sin and the emphases which have followed from that.
    -Scott W

  15. Scott W says:

    Michael Metts writes:

    Some of Paul’s grandest theological discourses and highest Christology result in ethical exhortations — not in ecclesial doctrine. This radical ethical exhortation seen in Paul is obviously being contrasted with previous lifestyles of unethical behavior — Gentile behavior — and the basis for this radical change is found only in the cross of Christ (cf. chs. 2 and 3 of Colossians). It will not do to suggest that repentance has no moral basis with regard to hamartiology.

    Some of the concepts of the NT simply cannot be accounted for in Second Temple Literature. We are talking about a revolutionary prophet (Christ) speaking radically new things which had never been heard before. It will not always do to rush to extant Jewish or pagan literature for further study. Wright makes this same point on several occassions in Jesus and the Victory of God. Christianity and her Christ should be allowed to express some originality. Gospel passages such as the Sermon on the Mount, which are difficult to be understood along Wright’s exhaustive paradigms, make better sense in this light.

    It seems like you want to press the issue in an either-or manner without looking at the implicit story which frames and contextualizes these concepts. I think some of this comes from the ways Protestant theology frames Paul and Jesus into categories commensurate to its theologies.

    Accordingly, the “newness” of Jesus arises within broader 1st century Palestinian Jewish views, that is, a transmogrification of Jewish thinking and praxis.

  16. Michael Metts says:

    Scott W,

    My apologies. It is not either-or. If I sounded too reductionistic in my response it was only because the paper you first mentioned allowed no room for hamartiology.

    Great discussion!

  17. Iris Godfrey says:

    WOW what a good discussion. Much, much to ponder.

  18. Scott: How would you have framed things in respect to our sin nature?

  19. TC: How so? As I understand it, hamartiology is the study of the doctrine of sin. A Pauline hamartiology would be the study of how Paul articulated that doctrine. Not sure how a society being geared towards an honor/shame paradigm (much like modern day Japan, or almost all of the middle east) is not in line with that.

    Dave: I took off on that “guilt” concept, as you know, has to do with this whole discussion of “Original Sin.” My bad.

  20. Michael Metts says:

    TC and commenters

    See below:

    One of the discussions that seems to be largely missing from the New Perspective camp is how other first-century writers viewed Paul’s view of salvation. I’m not speaking about the apostolic fathers, but other New Testament authors. We have probably three books that interact with Paul’s view to some degree: James, 1 Peter, and Hebrews. The New Perspective folks put such an emphasis on God’s covenant faithfulness as the essential meaning of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ that they consciously place notions of forgiveness, individual salvation, and final eschatological realities as quite subordinate to this motif. But an examination of Jas 2:14–26, 1 Peter 1:3–9, and Heb 10:1–25 clearly shows an emphasis on ‘salvation’ and ‘forgiveness of sins.’ In Jas 2, the author is most likely reacting to Pauline slogans that made their way into James’s churches devoid of their actual content. But the key point is that James is talking about final salvation and its present evidence among believers. First Peter was written in conscious imitation of Paul’s letters, most likely because Peter used one of Paul’s associates to help pen it. The emphasis on Gentile salvation, forgiveness of sins, and even heaven, are evident in verses 3 through 9 of chapter 1. Hebrews was probably penned by an associate of Paul after Paul had died, and has the earmarks of being a theology of the cross in which obedience to the Law is viewed as belonging to a previous dispensation. (These points will not be elaborated here, but see my introductions on each of these books, posted at bible.org.) In other words, all of these authors put an emphasis on soteriology more than sociology. This is not to say that Wright’s sociological emphasis is wrong, just that it is overdone. If other Jewish Christian authors did not read Paul the way that Wright does, perhaps the claim of the NPP folks that only their view adequately deals with the Jewish background for Paul is, in the least, overstated.

  21. Scott W says:

    Michael-
    In reference to the quote from the Daniel Wallace, John Piper, etc., the terms and exegetical frameworks within which they are working have already been hijacked by Reformation theological concerns. We cannot simply assume we know what terms like sin, the dikai-root words, etc. mean and go from there.

    Some of this is generated by our degenerated worldviews and belief systems which are rife with binaries like sacred/secular,flesh/spirit, political/spiritual, etc. They, as many in more traditional societies, have what I would call a more “sacramental” view of reality in which the divine is other but interpenetrates the world and it workings in society and culture. This does not diminish or swallow up the “natural” but becomes the key hermeneutic to exegete reality. The problem we are faced with is that we, as responsible exegetes, have to bring to the fore the material, historical and cultural realia to really understand the “theological”. For instance, in order to understand Paul and his conception of sin, you must read it against Jewish eschatology, not simply some ruminations arising from Augustinian (and Protestant) notions about religious interiority. In doing so you end up distorting and actually watering down Paul’s powerful insights. It’s not so much that they are categorically wrong but often it’s not what Paul is getting at.

  22. MM: Has Dr. settled on the date of James? In respect to James 2, such would fall in line with Wright’s eschatological outworking of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ.

    Perhaps there’s a bit of overstating in Wright and others.

    For instance, in order to understand Paul and his conception of sin, you must read it against Jewish eschatology, not simply some ruminations arising from Augustinian (and Protestant) notions about religious interiority. In doing so you end up distorting and actually watering down Paul’s powerful insights. It’s not so much that they are categorically wrong but often it’s not what Paul is getting at.

    Scott: precisely the contention of the NPP.

  23. Dave says:

    No worries. Just thought there was another facet I hadn’t thought about! 🙂

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