Brief Book Review: How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, and Translation

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Stanley Porter makes another excellent contribution to New Testament studies in his most recent book, How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation. The book stems from a series on lectures in the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College during 2008. The purpose of the book is to serve as an in depth introduction into the origins of the New Testament and its subsequent translations. The book has three chapters, which cover these issues:

  1. The Text of the New Testament
  2. The Transmission of the New Testament
  3. The Translation of the New Testament

Text of The New Testament

The goal of this chapter is to introduce students to the text of the New Testament and the purpose of textual criticism in general. Porter explains the traditional purpose behind textual criticism in finding the original autograph of the authors (12–13). In doing so he introduces the student to the “major players” throughout the history of textual criticism. He then engages with Bart Ehrman’s, Misquoting Jesus, which he concludes “despite the bravado that accompanies his text, [Ehrman] provides lless-than-compelling arguments that the New Testament in fact misquotes Jesus, or any other text, in a way that presents destabilizing textual difficulties.”

I found this chapter particularly helpful in introducing the many aspects of textual criticism. This is a field that I am largely unfamiliar with but after reading I now have a base of knowledge that I can begin to engage in further research.

The Transmission of the New Testament

In this chapter Porter discusses the transmission of the text of the New Testament (hence, the title of the chapter). He does not enter into debates about the dating of specific books but the reader will be introduced to these in the chapter. Porter does believe that all the books of the New Testament were written in the first century. This chapter is helpful because it covers the manuscript evidence in a straight forward and succinct manner. One that has not been introduced to these issues would do well to read this particular chapter.

The Translation of the New Testament

This chapter traces the history of the translation of the New Testament covering the Septuagint (as a backdrop for discussing other issues), Syriac, Latin, and Coptic translations (149). He then begins a discussion on English translations with Wycliff, Tyndale, Authorized version, and others. The most fruitful part of the chapter is his discussion on the major issues in translation. He shows the convuluted history in theories on translation by providing quotes from history showing how many people thought differently of translations. For example, Cicero argues for a more thought for though translation by saying, “I did not translate them (orations) as an interpreter but as an orator…not…word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language (174).” Towards the end of the chapter he discusses the ever heated debate of “literal” versus “dynamic” translations. He argues that the formal equivalence method must “be done with the word group (or phrase) as the minimal translational unit-protests regarding the individual words notwithstanding—because it seems to be at this level that much of the translational work is being done.” Therefore, he concludes the “literal” versus “dynamic” debate has much more in common than is commonly purported.

Conclusion

Overall, I found this book extremely helpful. Porter has a knack for presenting difficult and often times confusing topics in a straight forward manner. I especially found his discussion on translation to be even handed. Often times in debates it is “literal” versus “dynamic” and Porter rightly diffuses this by saying that each are closer than they appear. He is open to different translation methods and says that this is an area where scholars can make much ground in the areas of discourse analysis for translation help. Overall, I highly recommend this book.

You can purchase the paperback copy here or the Kindle version here.

Thanks to Baker Academic for this free review copy.

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