Interview: N.T. ‘Tom’ Wright on Kingdom New Testament

N.T. “Tom” Wright concludes our interview, today, focusing on his second new book: The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation.
You are reading the third of three stories on Wright, published this week in November 2011.
Click here to read our first story, an overview of the two new books.
Or, click here
to read the beginning of this interview.
Either of these Wright books is a great Christmas present—The Kingdom New Testament in particular.
NOTE: ReadTheSpirit is not alone in recommending this New Testament. Veteran religion news writer Bill Tammeus also praised Wright’s Kingdom New Testament in a recent column.
Thinking about gifts? ReadTheSpirit began publishing holiday gift-giving ideas earlier this month.
Here is Tom Wright again in the conclusion of this week’s interview …


CLICK ON THIS COVER to jump to Amazon and order a copy.DAVID: This may surprise you, because you’re often cast in American news media as the opponent of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. But we’ve published interviews with both of them in which, much like you, they are working hard to help support church Bible-study groups. Your own new Simply Jesus is a great choice for small groups, but I think that your Kingdom New Testament is the new Wright book that’s most likely to show up soon in Sunday-school classes. Does it surprise you that Borg and Crossan, much like you, are trying to promote adult education in churches?

TOM: I have noticed that what they are doing these days seems to have changed. For 20 years or so, I’ve been debating Marcus and Dom. I have noticed that perhaps they have mellowed as they have aged. Yes, I think both of them are seeking to be enablers and supporters of the church. Of course, I would still disagree with them on many points about the Bible, but I certainly celebrate the church, too.

As I’ve said already, especially in America, people are hungry to learn more about Jesus and more about Christianity. I think we’re all trying to help them find what they’re searching for.

DAVID: I think there’s an urgency today in our pursuit of faith. There are many reasons. We are anxious, as a nation, about so many things: America’s role in the world, global warming and certainly the turbulent economy, among many other issues. Are you hearing these concerns raised as you crisscross the United States in your tours?

TOM: I am still hearing confidence—the sense that: “We are Americans. Our world will rumble on, no matter what happens. The system will keep working.” But I think I am also detecting another strand: “Are we so sure about those assumptions?”

I hear this when I am in congregations and we come to prayer time. I hear people praying intently for problems like unemployment. People are losing their homes. I hear people praying about not being able to pay their mortgages. I hear people praying about losing jobs—or fearing they soon will lose their jobs. I didn’t hear those concerns with that intensity in earlier years, when I visited America. From the political Right, I am hearing a certain desperation and a tendency to blame everything on President Obama. From my outsider’s perspective, I can tell you that what we are experiencing comes from a much bigger global context. Not all bad things can be one president’s fault. I don’t care who the president is.

Now, from a Christian perspective, it certainly doesn’t take rocket scientists to tell us that the rich are getting much richer and the poor are getting much poorer—and this clearly is not the Christian message.

DAVID: So, in this context, with millions apparently reaching toward their faith with more intensity, you are giving us this new contemporary translation of the Christian New Testament.

TOM: Yes, but I should point out that this translation took me 10 years. The first bits of it were done in the summer of 2000, when I was doing smaller Bible-study books called Mark for Everyone and Luke for Everyone. I prepared these translations, initially, to go along with the Everyone commentaries that I wrote over the years. In each of the Everyone Bible-study books, I included my own translation. Now, the complete New Testament is finished and we’ve put all of the translated books together in the form of this new book. I should also say that I did prepare this with editors and scholars who assisted. I had a brilliant Greek scholar, for example, who went through all of it with a fine-tooth comb. He raised a bunch of questions all across the texts. Then, sometimes I agreed to make a change, based on his questions, and sometimes I stuck with my original wording. But this process helped me sharpen it all.

DAVID: If someone has the original editions of the Everyone books on their shelf—and some of your fans, I’m sure, have collected all of those—will they find much of a different text in this new Bible?

TOM: No. I would say that, as a result of all the final editing, there may be a half dozen alterations in each biblical book. Most of them are so minor that most readers won’t notice the changes.

DAVID: I imagine that some readers of this interview may be getting nervous. Anytime a new translation is published, people worry that someone is making mischief with sacred texts. We just published a series of stories about the new Contemporary English Bible (CEB), published by an ecumenical team of Bible scholars here in the U.S. Among the responses we got from readers were anxieties. So, I was impressed that you start this new Kingdom New Testament with this sentence: “The first thing that happened in the church is translation.” You’re referring there to the original Pentecost, when Christian tradition says that Jesus’ followers were speaking in many different tongues.

TOM: This is a fascinating point, because in Islam, you know, the Quran is only in Arabic. You can make translations of the Quran but Muslim scholars tell us those texts are no longer the Quran. They are interpretations of the Quran. The Quran must be in its original language.

It’s true, too, that our scriptures are available in the ancient Hebrew and Greek. In my classes, students read the New Testament in Greek, for example. But the choice of Greek for the New Testament was made because Greek was an everyday language, spoken in many parts of the world. Just because our Bible was written in these ancient languages doesn’t mean that we are instructed to keep them frozen in those languages for all time. We have the freedom to read and constantly reshape the way we translate these texts. We need to keep nudging people toward new ideas for serving God’s Kingdom in each new era. This is a dynamic that comes right out of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus did not teach us to live on yesterday’s bread. Jesus taught us to pray for today’s bread—give us this day our daily bread. I don’t expect that my new translation will have much of a shelf life after, perhaps, one generation. I completed it because, in each new generation, we must keep focusing on the needs of the Kingdom today.

Looking beyond these two N.T. Wright books?

OTHER N.T. WRIGHT BOOKS are described in our Wright Small Group Resources page.
Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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