After an entire summer of studying Greek, my husband said something surprising to me. He said that the more he studied Greek, the greater appreciation he had for the variety of bible translations available. He had always been a proponent of the literal (word for word) translations – such as the NASB and ESV – over the dynamic (thought for thought) translations – such as the NIV. The more he studied Greek, however, he realized that there is a dynamic element in all translation efforts.
It was in this context that we agreed to review a new Bible translation called The Voice. Here is what Thomas Nelson’s Marketing folks have to say about it:
The VoiceTM Bible translation is a faithful dynamic translation of the Scriptures done as a collage of compelling narratives, poetry, song, truth, and wisdom. The Voice calls the reader to step into the whole story of Scripture and experience the joy and wonder of God’s revelation. Created for and by a church in great transition, The Voice uniquely represents collaboration among scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and other artists, giving great attention to the beauty of the narrative. The heart of The Voice is retelling the story of the Bible in a form as fluid as modern literary works yet remaining painstakingly true to the original manuscripts. This translation promotes the public reading of longer sections of Scripture-followed by thoughtful engagement with the biblical narrative in its richness and fullness and dramatic flow.
So since February, periodically when Jonathan read the Bible for family worship, I followed along in my digital review version of The Voice. When we reached variations of note Jonathan would pull out his Greek New Testament and we’d evaluate the text. After some time to really live with it, here are our conclusions:
First, from a purely technical perspective, the digital version I was given to review was terrible. It didn’t have any way to navigate from book to book apart from paging through. It also contained randomly blank pages and premature new chapter numbering. Even if the rest of the work was flawless, the digital presentation (at least in the review copy) was bad enough to make me never use it again after writing this review. That, however, may only be because I was given a copy for review. I don’t have any idea what a purchased digital version would look, or navigate, like.
As far as faithfulness to the original text, Jonathan found the gospels to be very faithful. In the Pauline Epistles, however, there were some significant differences not indicated in the Greek.
For instance Romans 8:28 is a pretty familiar passage for most:
(NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.
(ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(The Voice:) We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.
Here 2 Timothy 3:16:
(NIV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
(ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
(The Voice) All of scripture is God-breathed: in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction and training for a life that is right,
Another significant concern with the Voice as a whole is the way they have included commentary into the body of the text. The publishers call it delineated material and identify it with a different color and type face, but in the end it presents two issues.
First, for a translation that purports to “read like a story” and draw people into the narrative of scripture, these delineated portions can be jarring breaks in the flow of the text. In fact, there are places where the delineated text interrupt the middle of sentences. Some of that may be explained by my having a review digital edition, but not all of it.
The second, and more concerning, effect of the inclusion of midstream commentary is the blurring of the line between inspired word and human opinion. While the text is identified, when it is surrounded by the breathed out words of God, it would be easy for a reader – especially someone for whom the Bible is a new thing – to begin to take the commentary with the same weight as the text. Where do the words of God end and the words of man begin? My fear in our postmodern world is not that a new reader would take the commentary as the very word of God, but that he would read the words of God with the casual ease of another form of commentary.
In the end, we can’t recommend The Voice as a Bible Translation.
I received no compensation for this post. I was provided a digital New Testament edition for the purpose of review. I was obviously not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.