Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog (at no cost to you).
OT John Goldingay has written a new translation on the Old Testament, what he calls the First Testament. His translation style is closer to word-by-word rather than sentence-by-sentence. If something is vague or unclear, it’s because Goldingay has followed the Hebrew text. He avoids traditional English words such as salvation, holiness, covenant, eternity, justice, and righteousness because he thinks these words don’t correspond well with their Hebrew counterparts. Some names are transliterated, others are translated (more comment on that below). He tries to use the same Hebrew word to translate any one Hebrew word. This way, for example, you can see how the word “serve” shows up throughout Exodus without that Hebrew word being obscured by a different English word.
Below I give examples of Goldingay’s translations.
1:7: ‘Expanse’ or ‘firmament’ becomes ‘dome.’
3:24: the cherubim become ‘sphinxes.’
A few names that are transliterated:
- Cain = ‘Qayin’
- Isaac = ‘Izshaq’
- Abel = ‘Hebel’
4:5: God’s acceptance of Hebel’s offering “really enraged Qayin and he went into a huff.”
There is not a mistake in Genesis 4:18: At first you read ‘Mehuya’el,’ but then ‘Mehiya’el.’ This is what is written in Hebrew, and Goldingay has transliterated it accordingly.
Noah’s ark = ‘chest.’
The flood = ‘deluge.’
9:9: the noahic covenant = ‘pact.’
In some ways more literal (word for word). In Genesis 1:3, instead of ‘Let there be light,’ God simply said, “Light.” I’m not sure why he doesn’t leave it the way it is since יְהִ֣י (the jussive form of היה) comes before ‘light’ (אוֹר). “Let there be light” wouldn’t be wrong.
In other ways his translation is still dynamic (thought for thought). In Genesis 9:2, the animals don’t ‘fear’ man, they have ’reverence’ for man. (See Job 41:25 for the only other occurrence of this word, which seems to imply fear more than reverence.)
Sometimes Goldingay translates names (Nod = ‘Drifting’). Other times he gives the Hebrew of someone’s name and/or how it puns on a nearby word. In Genesis 9, Japhet is written as ‘Yephet’. Goldingay translates 9:17 as, “May God extend [yapht] Yephet and may he dwell in Shem’s tents” showing the pun on Japhet’s name.
In some verses he translates one name but not another. In Genesis 12:8 he shows that ‘Ha’ay’ (=Ai) means ‘The Ruin,’ but not that ‘Bet-el’ (=Bethel) means ‘House of God’ (though he may explain this later on. Still, he normal gives the translation on the first occurrence).
Goldingay’s section headings are pretty interesting, with some humorously getting the point of the passage across. For example, Goldingay titles the section on Babylon in Genesis 11 “Babel becomes Babble-on.”
Some phrases are odd, and that’s probably because they remind me Hawaiian Pidgin translation of the NT, Da Jesus Book. In Genesis 12.1–3, God will make Abraham to be a ‘big nation’ (instead of a great nation).
In Numbers 14.18, Yahweh is not steadfast in love but ‘big in commitment’ (see also Num 14.12). The translation is fine, but why not leave ‘great’ as it was.
As I said above, Goldingay doesn’t use certain words like “righteousness” because he thinks these words don’t correspond well with their Hebrew counterparts. What does he use instead of “righteous”? He uses “Faithful.” But that has a different connotation to it. A righteous person is faithful, but a faithful person isn’t necessarily righteous. This shows up in Genesis 18:25a: “Far be it from you to do a thing like this, putting to death the faithful with the faithless, so the faithful and the faithless are the same.”
Genesis 18:25b is just clunky, “Isn’t the one who exercises authority over the entire earth to exercise authority.”
Here I’ll compare the ESV translations with Goldingay’s.
11:1 ESV: ‘And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord’
11:1 JG: ’veritable complainers in Yahweh’s ears’
12:10 ESV: ‘Miriam was leprous, like snow.’
12:10 JG: Miriam’s leprousy is described as being ‘scaly, like snow.’
14:28 ESV: “Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you:”
14:28 JG: I think Goldingay is too literal here. This line doesn’t make enough sense to even be helpful. But I think that might be the point. He is very literal, it is as if you are reading the Hebrew (but in English).
14:44 ESV: ‘the ark of the covenant.’
14:44 JG: the ark of the covenant is translated as a ‘pact chest’ (see above about Noah’s ark and the noahic covenant).
1:8: Joshua is to “murmur” the Lord’s ‘instructive document’ (his law) day and night.
I think a different word besides ‘murmur’ would have served the reader better because in the ESV, ‘murmur’ is always used negatively (the Israelites murmur and rebel against God).
2:1:, The ‘angel of the Lord’ is referred to as ‘Yahweh’s envoy.’
1:31, 36: The names of some lands or areas are transliterated. In Judges 1.31, Sidon= ‘Tsidon.’ Other names are translated, such as the ascent of Akrabbim, referred to here as ‘Scorpion Ascent’ (1:36).
2:16–17: The judges are referred to as ‘people who exercise authority.’
If you want to get a taste of what it’s like to read Hebrew, this is a very interesting translation to pick up. I don’t know Hebrew well, but I had Hebrew I and II in seminary (my favorite classes). I find that I have to pay extra attention while I read because the wording is so strange. This is especially so when it comes to names. Characters such as Isaac, Hezekiah, Zedekiah, Isaiah, and others require me to slow down while I’m reading to remember who’s whom. (Honestly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with people in 2 Samuel in English!) I tend to think, Why don’t I just read this in Hebrew? (Oh, because it would take a long time.)
Goldingay doesn’t intend for his translation to overshadow any others. He admits there is no perfect translation. He wants people who don’t know Hebrew to get a taste of the Hebrew text. And in that I think he succeeds. I will note that Goldingay is a moderately critical scholar so I don’t agree with all of his views. Even though Amazon says that “In The First Testament the language of Zion comes to us unbaptized in pious religiosity.” Instead, the language of Zion comes to us in Goldingay’s moderately critical views. No man is an island, and even Goldingay is influenced by others. He is not a computer and can’t give a perfectly neutral translation. If you pick this up, don’t make this your main translation. That said, it is still interesting and helpful.
- Author: John Goldingay
- Hardcover: 924 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (September 4, 2018)
Find it on Amazon
Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.