Many people recommend that seekers read the Gospel of John and I’ve never figured out why. It is the most mystical and complex gospel of the four. Although I greatly benefit from reading it, I always suggest Luke as an introduction to Jesus. It’s filled with human interest stories that anyone can relate to.
But which version should a seeker read? I recently received an evaluation copy of The Voice New Testament — newly revised and updated. The complete Bible will be released in April 2012. This version was created specifically to help people “step into the story of scripture.” I have read eight books in The Voice to sample the different biblical writers and genres. There is much to commend it, although I did find some things that cause me concern, enough that I can recommend it for specialized use only. I think as a first introduction to Jesus it will work well. It is engagingly written and people will likely read a gospel right through. It is also a good resource for believers who want a “we were there” reading experience.
Probably the biggest surprise about The Voice is that it is the project of a single church. Ecclesia Bible Society is a ministry of Ecclesia Church in Houston. The idea for the book was born out of the ministry needs of the church, and the church partnered with Thomas Nelson to bring the project to fruition. I would feel more comfortable had the effort been a more broad-based project, but the book needs to be reviewed based on its own merits, not that of its origins.
The scholars and contributing writers
Twenty-seven scholars worked on the translation. There are another 53 contributing writers; a combination of artists, musicians, and writers.
I must say that with so many biblical scholars involved, I was surprised at the following statement in a note to Luke 1:
“Luke is especially skilled as a storyteller, so he isn’t presenting a theological treatise (as good and important as theological treatises may be); he’s telling the story of Jesus.”
Ever since I. Howard Marshall’s groundbreaking 1971 book Luke: Historian & Theologian, Lukan scholars have recognized Luke’s theological agenda as the foundation on which the gospel was written. (Darrel Bock, one of the 27 scholars, apparently is among them since his new book coming out next month is entitled A Theology of Luke & Acts.) In fact, New Testament scholarship today accepts each gospel writer as a theologian. Why then was this gospel, and none of the others, singled out for such a note? Yes, Luke is a masterful storyteller, but he is also a first-rate theologian. It makes me wonder how much of a particular theological bent is being inserted into the edition.
The goal of the translation
A translation can be reviewed on two levels:
- How well does it convey the accepted meaning of the original documents? and
- How well does it achieve its own stated goals?
The stated goal for this translation is “to help believers experience the joy and wonder of God’s revelation,” but there is a secondary goal — to introduce people to Jesus. As the president of the Ecclesia Bible Society writes: “This is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of us…You will hear God as He whispers of His love to you.”
This New Testament has quite a few innovations in it that make it come alive in a fresh way:
- It describes its translation method as ‘contextual equivalence.’ The editorial team followed a standard translation process and then edited the work into a readable literary structure using contemporary language.
- The Voice retains the author’s meaning while using modern, rather than ancient, literary conventions. For instance, if Paul writes “Brothers…”, he did not mean only men needed to heed his instruction, so that phrase is translated gender-neutral. However, other passages clearly refer to only men or women, and gender-based language is retained. These contextualizations are well done and help modern readers get to the real points being made by the biblical authors.
- There are words such as baptism and Christ that are actually not English words, but transliterations of Greek words. The Voice translates these words just as all the other words are translated. Thus Jesus Christ becomes Jesus, the Anointed. While it takes getting used to, these translations are helpful. Even though I know what Christ means, The Voice forces me to not gloss over its meaning.
- All narratives are told in the present tense using a screenplay format. I think this is probably the best feature of the book. It makes it very exciting to read, and it puts the reader right into the action.
- Scenes are introduced by a phrase such as “Imagine this…” or “Picture this…”
- Instead of saying “Jesus said…Peter replied…John said”, the text looks like a script
Not only is it clear at a glance who said what, but it takes fewer words to record the conversation and the reader can focus on the flow of the conversation. There is a greater immediacy and vividness with the screenplay format than there is with the usual narrative style
- Closely related to the screenplay layout for speaking parts are the lists. They allow people to read faster and highlight what is being said. An example is Luke 9:3-5:
- These were His instructions:
- Travel light…
- When you enter a house, stay there…
- If a town rejects you…
- These were His instructions:
- Material that would normally be found in footnotes is included right in the text, but clearly distinguished by position and colour from the actual biblical text. This makes for a very smooth reading experience (you don’t have to find the note and then find your place again). There are some things that a first-time Bible reader might find very confusing and this way they get the explanation at the same time they have the thought.
- In Mark 3:1-6 Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath in front of the Pharisees. The biblical text says Jesus asked them what the Law says about doing good or evil on the Sabbath and that he was grieved by their hard hearts. In a separate paragraph in a different colour, The Voice editorializes, “How can anyone care so much about the words of the Law and so little about the spirit of it?” The addition drives home the point of the story, which may not be obvious to a new reader.
- More extensive notes are also in a different colour, but are separated from the text by solid lines. Mark 3:31-35 is the story of how Jesus’ family comes to get him but can’t get into the crowded house. Jesus gives a short teaching that his true family is whoever does the will of God. Just before this passage, there is a note that explains why family and friends would become more concerned as Jesus’ ministry and fame grows. They are concerned for Jesus’ welfare and that Jesus will attract unwanted attention from the occupying Roman forces that can only end badly for him.
- Some words are added to the text in italic type to provide nuance to the text or to complete the idea of the original text. These additions put the modern reader on par with the ancient readers, who would have understood the nuances and thoughts.
- Luke 11:34 has an addition in italics that helps explain the meaning of the verse.
- The NASB reads: “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.”
- The Voice’s translation is: “Listen, your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place.” Although The Voice translates soma as “outlook” and “whole life” when it actually means “body”, I think there is justification for this translation. The plural of soma means “corporate life” and even though this is not a meaning for the singular in Danker’s Greek-English Lexicon, it is a reasonable use based on the context and the meaning of the plural.
- Acts 2:45 has a more debatable insertion. The NIV is almost a word-for-word translation of the Greek and it reads: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The only improvement on this is a Greek word in the sentence that means “to the extent.” So it could read “They sold property and possessions to give to the extent that anyone had a need.” However, The Voice translates the verse as: “They sold any possessions and goods that did not benefit the community and used the money to help everyone in need.” This seems an unwarranted limitation on the sacrificial generosity of the believers. The Greek does not say anything about whether or not the assets sold benefitted the community in their present form. The Voice’s version may be a reasonable assumption, but it should be a note rather than italics in the text.
- Luke 11:34 has an addition in italics that helps explain the meaning of the verse.
- By involving artists, poets and writers in the project, the publishers have tried to recapture “the passion, grit, humor and beauty” of the original language and culture.
- A great example of recapturing the passion and the sarcastic humour of the original text is 1 Corinthians 15:55. The familiar reading is “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”. The Voice says “Hey, Death! What happened to your big win? Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?” I loved this ‘in-your-face’ triumphal cry of the redeemed.
- One example where there is a surprisingly bland translation that misses the thought of the original text is Romans 8:37. The NASB translates it as “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us,” accurately conveying the superlative nature of the conquest. The Voice has a rather anemic choice of words that gives no hint of the extent of the conquest: “But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us.” Now, let me say there is victory, and then there is VICTORY! The Greek verb is hypernikao, which is a heightened form of the verb nikao. Nikao means to prevail, conquer, overcome or be victorious. Hypernikao means to prevail completely. It was used by secular authors writing in biblical times to mean “we are winning a most glorious victory” and “victory and more than victory.” To translate this word as mildly as “to taste victory” is to miss the overwhelming, comprehensive nature of our victory in Christ. It lacks the emotional intensity of the Greek.
Let me answer the two questions posed above.
How well does The Voice convey the accepted meaning of the original documents?
After reading eight books, I thought it was a fresh and very meaningful translation that I would use for reflective and meditative reading rather than for study. Christians who already know the Bible well will find it ideal for this purpose.
The reason I would not use it as a study Bible or for regular Bible reading is due to the number of times I read a verse and thought “Does it really say that?” An example is Luke 11:3, which the NIV and NASB translated exactly the same, “Give us each day our daily bread.” The NKJV says, “Give us day by day our daily bread.” Ten other versions all say either daily, day-by-day, or each day. These are all correct translations of the Greek word kata which means, in this context, x period by x period (eg., year by year, month by month, day by day). Yet The Voice translates it as “Give us the food we need for tomorrow.” The Greek word for tomorrow is aurion, which is not in this verse. It appears the translators are using kata in one of its other meanings, which is as a marker for a definite time (at, on, or during a specific time) while everyone else translates it in its distributive meaning (over time). The translation team included experts in biblical Greek, so I’m sure they had their reasons, but they are not explained in a footnote. I’m no Greek scholar (although I took two years of Greek at seminary so I know the basics), but it seems the editors have taken a ground-breaking position on translating this verse that subtly changes the focus from our needs today to our needs tomorrow. When it comes to caring for ourselves, scripture tends to say “Pray for what you need right now, not what you will need tomorrow” (eg., Mat 6:34). Is this a significant issue? I’m not sure. Praying for our food to be provided day-by-day is also praying for the future, so maybe it’s nothing to get worked up over. It’s just that there were a few places where I had the same question about why they had an unusual interpretation. That is why I suggest this version not be used as a study Bible.
How well does it achieve its own stated goals?
The Voice has to be rated an ‘A’ for achieving the publishers’ goals. Will believers “experience the joy and wonder of God’s revelation?” Absolutely! It’s like his revelation is unfolding in your presence. Will seekers find a good introduction to Jesus? Absolutely! He comes alive in this version.
Reading the gospels was a delight. I can’t overstate the significance of putting the narrative in the present tense. This is a powerful technique that bridges two thousand years to draw us closer to Jesus. Combine that technique with the in-line explanatory notes, and the reader will see Jesus in a fresh way that will invigorate the spiritual life of both experienced believers and neophyte seekers. The love of God permeates this version – the notes constantly remind the reader that God’s love is behind every verse.
I recommend The Voice to believers as a Bible that will make scripture fresh and draw them right into the action. It will be good for lectio divina and meditation. But they still need a study Bible such as the NASB and perhaps a Bible for daily reading such as the NIV (although I’m fine with the NASB for that purpose too).
I also recommend The Voice to seekers as an introduction to Jesus and the Christian faith. They will find it an easy and enjoyable read that piques their desire to seek God. Just be sure to let them know that words in italics are explanatory and not in the original text. I doubt they will read the Preface where that is explained.
“Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller.”