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In the short time since The Gospels for Hearers has been published, it has been enthusiastically received by scholars, church leaders and lay people from a broad theological spectrum.

Below are a couple of reviews that have appeared in church magazines.

Paul W. Barnett

theologian, historian and author of many popular books
review Published in Southern Cross Magazine, NSW, Dec 2013

Only in recent centuries have three developments occurred which we somehow assume were part of the world when Christianity began.

One was the capacity of ordinary people to read; in reality that ability was confined to a tiny minority (perhaps fewer than 10%). The second was that reading was done silently; even when someone was reading alone it was done audibly. The third was that books - including the Gospels - were then freely available; that possibility only existed since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century and has only become a reality in the past century or so.

Thus, apart from the letters directed to individuals Philemon, Timothy and Titus, the writers of the remainder of the books of the New Testament wrote their texts (a) to be read aloud, (b) to groups of assembled Christians, (c) by the church lector. These observations are made based on Mark 13:14; Colossians 4:16 and Revelation 1:3; see also 1 Timothy 4:13.

Accordingly, the original authors wrote their texts to be heard, and to be heard in groups, and not to be read silently in private.

We are indebted to Elizabeth for translating the Gospels based on these and other insights that she had worked out many years ago. It is possible she has produced the first translations based on these insights, at least to my knowledge.

The gospels have been subject to various ‘criticisms’, e.g. Source Criticism, Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Reader Response Criticism. Commentators have analysed every syllable in these texts. The result has been the sterilisation of these inspired oracles through over-reading, over-analysing and over-interpreting. Perhaps Elizabeth Edwards has restored the originality, simplicity and power of these unique texts that sit in wonder at the words and deeds of the One who came among us.

There have been many attempts to paraphrase the Gospels so as to make them accessible, often based on existing translations with passing reference to the Greek. Elizabeth, however, begins and ends with the Greek text. Those other paraphrases sometimes descend to the quirky if not maudlin to shock the reader. But you do not get that sense with Elizabeth’s honest and patient work.

The large format, big print and line-by-line layout combine to enhance the vision that inspired this publication, for which all parties deserve our great appreciation. This is a significant achievement that deserves widespread application and use. I can envisage Bible Study groups and churches simply reading the gospels to each other, to their great enjoyment and blessing from above. Then they begin to imagine in a new way the impact of the One about whom these texts were written.

Philip Harvey

librarian, carmelite library, melbourne
Published in the melbourne anglican, vic, oct 2013

In churches everywhere the Gospels are read aloud and sung every day. Not just in church either, but at home, in classrooms, hotel rooms, and unlikely public places. These words - unfamiliar to some, familiar in part to most, overfamiliar to some of us – are at the heart of our language and culture, whether we think ourselves secular or not. But how do we hear them? And how are they meant to be read?

The translator of this new version of the Gospels, Elizabeth Edwards, knows they were written to be read aloud. Her translation is “writing for speaking”, though she is motivated too by a desire for freshness, passion, and transparency, as well as a belief in the adult intelligence of the listener. She is a kindred spirit with the translators of the King James Version, their intention being to make a version of Scripture that spoke directly to any listener, with a true sense of the force and immediacy of the original. Like them, Edwards brings a lifetime of faith and scholarship to bear on the text. Her respect for the sources is paramount, her drive to make the sentences have their own impact is creative and learned. Listening brings inspiration.

The results are impossible to quote at length here, suffice to say Edwards throughout knows how to balance meaning and modern usage without straining for effect or playing to the gallery: “It is more feasible for the sky and the earth to disappear, than for one comma of the Law to fall.” (Luke 16, 17) She may prefer plain sense to traditional use: “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22, 21). She says of the Ten Virgins, “Five of them were silly and five were sensible.” (Matthew 25, 2). She shows how sometimes it really has to be spelt out: “He was in the world – the world which owed its very existence to him – and yet the world did not recognize him.” (John 1, 10)

Edwards’ husband, Bill Johnston, is a minister, poet and actor, a fortunate combination, for his skills in setting out the translation on the page for public reading are a secret of its success. Each phrase is given its own space, breath and pacing, consistent with contemporary English speech. Line layout catches the attention, builds momentum, or presses emphasis. Johnston delivers the craft of scripting while avoiding the pitfalls of theatricality.

The translator was also fortunate in having, like the Gospel writers themselves, a community of faith on which to try out her latest efforts. In this case it was the Montrose Uniting Church and blessed indeed were the members of that congregation to have heard for the first time renderings of the Koine Greek that get the urgency of the Gospel language in an idiom that is natural and vernacular.

Can anything good come out of Montrose? The Gospel itself, in a grammar and vocabulary, a form and presentation that speaks to us, anew. ‘The Gospels for Hearers’ is available for use in worship, theatre, school performance. But I find the text useful too for study of individual passages, due to the spacious page layout. Each verse is given its due, so I can consider the play and purpose of the words on their own. And perhaps most rewarding of all for the first-time reader of Edwards, there is the sheer shock of the new. Lovers of the Gospel enjoy being confronted and there is plenty here to make us think again about the beauties and paradoxes of the Greek, as well as the joy and wonder that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John (in that order in this version) were trying to tell their listeners, as though it were a matter of life and death.

The Gospels for Hearers is published by Dianggellia Press

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