The Word

The Word

On the Translation of the Bible


The Bible is held to be both universal and specific, the source of fundamental truths inscribed in words that are exact and sacred. For much of Jewish and almost all of Christian history, however, most believers have understood scripture not in the languages in which it was first written but rather in their own - in translation. This book examines how saints, scholars and interpreters from antiquity to the present have negotiated the difficult task of producing usable versions of the Bible in their own language while remaining faithful to the original. It traces the challenges they faced, ranging from minute textual ambiguities to the sweep of style and stark differences in form and thought between the earliest biblical writings and the latest, and explains the bearing these have on some of the most profound questions of faith: the nature of God, the existence of the soul and possibility of its salvation.

Reading dozens of renderings alongside their Ancient Hebrew and Greek antecedents, John Barton shows how the passage of meaning and ideas across linguistic borders has been far from straightforward, and draws out the place of this at critical junctures in the history of religion, from the separation of Christianity and Judaism to the Reformation and beyond. The product of a lifetime's study of scripture, The Word offers a rare and original perspective on the central book of our culture, as it was written and as we know it.

About the author

John Barton

John Barton was the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford from 1991 to 2014 and since 1973 has been a serving priest in the Church of England. He is the author of numerous books on the Bible, co-editor of The Oxford Bible Commentary and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2007 and is a Corresponding Fellow of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

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