Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review: The Voice New Testament


To warn you up front: I get free books from Booksneeze in exchange for honest reviews.  Click on the Booksneeze link up there if you want more information.  Read my Disclosures! post to see more details on book reviews on this blog!

Today, I've got a review for you of The Voice New Testament from Thomas Nelson Publishers:

The Voice New Testament

This is actually a tough review for me to write.  Why?  I have greatly enjoyed reading The Voice.  It does an excellent job making the story of the New Testament come alive.  The use of a screenplay format for dialogue, rather than "Peter answered and said unto him….." followed by "And then John answered and said unto him…." removes some of the redundancy that the original language used.  The reading is easy.  The chapter and verse notations of traditional translations are still present and can be used for reference, but the flow of thought is followed well across the artificial divisions.

Meanwhile, there are inline devotional and study notes that highlight the meaning of the text.  These are set apart by drop-shadow boxes that make it clear they aren't part of the text.  Also, blended with the text are italicized extensions on the wording used.  These help to clarify the meanings of various statements and are, actually, a normal feature of English Bible translations dating back to William Tyndale.  (If you didn't know this, there are phrases and words in Greek that don't translate directly into English.  English translators of certain versions, like KJV and NASB and others, have italicized the words that need to be added for English usage.  Typically, it's words like pronouns or verb tense helping words.)

However, it's with some of the italicized words that my trouble with The Voice begins.  Traditionally, translators have only added words critical to English understanding of a specific word.  The team that assembled The Voice have added words that guide towards a meaning.  Here's an example, from Matthew 14:31

The ESV renders it this way: Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The Voice renders it this way: Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.

Jesus: O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?

The difficulty I have here is that the translators of The Voice have put a lot of extra words in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There's no original text, based on the Greek NT I have with all it's textual criticism apparatus, that has anything about "dancing back and forth." It's not there.  Not that it doesn't make sense or that it doesn't make really clear what is being said.  I'm a preacher, and I see no problem in saying that Jesus was correcting Peter for "dancing back and forth between following and fear." It's a great word picture.

Yet it's not in the text.  That bugs me.  Another part of this that bugs me is new translations of traditional words.  Ecclesia, the Bible Society that sponsored the translation wanted to try and jettison language that had too much pre-loaded assumption.  The difficulty there is how you replace those words.  For example, John the Baptist is not referred to in Matthew 14:8 as John the Teacher and Prophet.  He is referred to as "John the Baptist."  There is a footnote in The Voice that says "literally, John who immersed, to show repentance."  Except that it is literally "John who baptized" or "John who immersed." 

Also, there is the substitution of "Liberating King" for "Christ" or "Messiah."  Again, I see the point, but "Liberating King" isn't the word, and is one aspect of the identity of Jesus, but not all.

These changes will introduce difficulty for a reader of The Voice when they hear preaching and teaching or take part in discussions with other believers.  One of the earliest confessions of the church was that "Christ is Lord," in contrast with the Roman cry that "Caesar is Lord," but if one reads The Voice exclusively, they'll not know who Christ is!

This is difficult, because I really did enjoy reading The Voice.  I think it's a valuable read for people who know the Bible and who need a fresher perspective on it.  I don't think it's as good for people who are shaky on Scripture.  Unless you move all of the teaching of your church, all of the literature and preaching, all of the people, to The Voice and begin to use its terms, new believers will be spending a great deal of time confused by the differences.  I'd rather have people learn to ask questions about what the Bible means by confusing words than to have them question if their Bible is right or if the other person's Bible is right.

I think perhaps it's time for a new category, or to rename the old category of "Bible Paraphrase" to "Bible Interpretations."  The Voice would make a great lead for that category, although it would also include works like The Message.  This is a genuine effort to make Scripture understandable by those who have no background in church or understanding of church language.  It's just not quite a true translation of the original.  As such, it shouldn't be your only Bible.  Unless it's the only Bible you can get.  Then get one….because it's a whole lot better than none.



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