(The following post is part 2 of the series titled Let’s talk about the Bible. For part 1, please click here.)
Now, you have The Voice which I recently learned about last week. This is not the singing talent show with Blake Shelton and the lead singer of Maroon 5, but a new version of the Bible. At first glance at what they have done with The Voice and what I heard from others, I was shocked. I went to the website and found many popular, famous names associated with it. Many of which are good, evangelical Christian scholars. Though, I was a little guarded when I saw the name Brian McLaren associated with The Voice and fully endorsing it. I noticed that some of what I’ve heard was true, and they have indeed done something quite bold with this “version” of the Bible. They have omitted the word “Christ.” This is a pretty bold thing to do with a translation or paraphrase. However, when I learned their reasoning for it it doesn’t sound as bad as it did. The reason is most Americans and modern readers do not understand what Christ means. Some think it’s Jesus’ last name which is completely off-base. Christ is simply the Greek rendering of Messiah which means the anointed one, referring to the promised king to Israel. The Voice has provided anointed one, promised king in place of Christ in their version which actually is incredibly helpful for the modern reader who doesn’t know the original languages or hasn’t studied biblical studies/theology. However, many Christians are in a great uproar over this latest “version” of the Bible. I will admit, I am not entirely sure what to call it. It isn’t really a translation and it’s possibly a paraphrase. I think the changes they have made could be better served in the margin or footer of the text, as opposed to changing the text. Thus, I cannot support this version of the Bible because I do sense they go a bit too far in their changes however noble some of them are.
I think ultimately it is important to go by some of the more basic concepts in approaching which translation/s to use in reading the Bible. You don’t have to know the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to read the Bible. Though, they will certainly help greatly and I encourage it. It is a challenge, but there are so many helps to make it easier to learn the languages. However, another option is simply to have a more literal version and a more free translation and compare the two. Some translations today are word-for-word, some focus more on the meaning/concept, and some are merely paraphrases/interpretations of the original wording. I think it is ideal to have a little bit of each and to use them to comparatively when studying the Bible. You can notice quickly that no 2 translations are alike and there are nuances that you might not catch with 1 translation.
I always translate the original languages when I study the Bible critically for sermons on Sunday or if I want to study something that interests me. I have a LXX, MT, NA-27/UBS-4 (Greek New Testament), and I also have a number of English translations. The goal is to better understand the author’s original meaning for me, and the overall purpose is to know God more and to help others know God more. When I study the Bible devotionally, I prefer to use the ESV. It is a good balance between literal and less-literal. I used to use the NASB and before that the NIV. I still check the NASB, NIV, and KJV to see what they have translated/interpreted, but I prefer the ESV.
I want to say outright that I do not endorse or recommend The Voice, and encourage Christians and non-Christians alike who might be reading this to look to the ESV, NIV, or NASB for a more accurate translation of the Bible. The KJV used other translations and late Greek manuscripts for their translation. It is a great achievement, but it is nearly incomprehensible in today’s modern world and English language. No doubt, some will still prefer the KJV and will die beside it. In the same way, I know there are many who prefer The Message, NLT, or more recently likely The Voice. I don’t prefer any of them, but I do not consider anyone who enjoys reading any of these heretical or an “anti-Christ.” These terms are being used for those who prefer such versions and I think we as the Christian community need to grow-up and be mature. The fact is that if you could not understand the meaning of Christ before I said something, The Voice might be helpful for you in understanding the Bible more than the translation you are using. I still recommend the ESV or other more formal translations though, myself, but I don’t count those who do not use what I use as heretics or “crazy liberals” or something.
I applaud the passion many Christian have over The Voice, but I wish that passion were spent in understanding the Bible more and not in pointing fingers at others or saying hurtful remarks which can only cripple the influence of the Gospel where you are. Don’t you know that the Bible is quite against such behavior!? How can you righteously oppose someone for reading a paraphrase of the Bible while disobeying the Bible yourself by not loving others, especially those you disagree with?! Again, I don’t endorse The Voice, I think they have gone a bit too far in their decisions and a definition of Christ could be provided in the margin or in the footer of the page to help the reader better, but I do not go around pointing fingers at people for reading The Voice or getting angry and complaining about it to others in the Christian community. Time better spent could be in pointing out in love the problems with The Voice to those using it and for those not using it maybe a quick loving comment in the spirit of grace and peace. Regardless, it is important to remember that all English versions of the Bible are not the original, all English translations are translations whether from other English translations, Latin, or the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek.
I just want to encourage the broader Christian community to choose your arguments well and to better know the history of the Bible. Do you know how many non-English speaker today would be terribly offended by your appeal to your own personal favorite English translation as the authoritative version over their translation? The truth is they are both translations and English is a great language, but it is no better a language than Mandarin, or Arabic, or Spanish, or others. There is an amazing history surrounding the Bible coming to your particular translation today. It is likely some other translation had some impact on it as well. Imagine if scholars wouldn’t allow the Bible to be translated into anything but the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of the original wording and held to it as the only authoritative version. How would that make you feel? It would actually be more justified being in the original wording and not being a translation too. Hopefully, instead of being frustrated, more people would learn Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Do you see how silly it is then when people hold to their particular translation of the Bible as if it were the original wording? Not only better than another translation, but as if it were better than the original wording? This is how many treat the KJV for whatever reason and people are starting to do the same with more contemporary translations as well.
What would the Church look like if it focused less on complaining about the abundance of Bible translations and started to actually read, memorize, and live the Bible? It would truly be an amazing thing indeed.