21st May, 2012
“For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction but will have everlasting life.” - John 3: 16
Sound familiar and yet…not? The verses come from a new translation of the Bible. Called The Voice, it has been written with the idea of creating a version that reads more like a story while still remaining true to the original text in a bid to engage more people in reading Scripture.
The Voice Bible
As far as I know, nothing like that has ever been done before – where you have this collaborative relationship with writers and scholars in putting together a translation.”
- The Voice lead scholar Professor David B. Capes
The translation project, which involved about 120 people based in the US and Europe and was a joint project between Houston-based Ecclesia Bible Society and publishers Thomas Nelson, kicked off in 2004 and was only completed in the second half of last year.
David B. Capes, Thomas Nelson Research Professor in the School of Theology at Houston Baptist University, was the lead scholar on the project. He says the idea for the new translation stemmed from a meeting he had with Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia Church in Houston at which the pastor expressed concerns that some of the translations they were using in church didn’t seem to communicate very well to people in a public forum.
“So he said ‘Look, there’s a lot of beauty in the Bible, a lot of poetry, a lot of good story telling but our translations don’t bring that out’,” recalls Professor Capes. “So what we did was we brought together scholars and writers and poets and some musicians…We brought these folks together and said ‘OK, let’s work together on a Bible translation.”
Professor Capes says the decision to include writers, poets and musicians was made to draw out aspects of the Bible which often get overlooked.
“Because so much of the Bible is poetry, we said why not have a poet assist in the translation of the text?…A scholar like myself, we’re good at the technical details but we’re not good at poetry. We don’t see the beauty or we are unable to discover the beauty in the language and the cadence and such.
“Likewise there are many good stories in the Bible. So why not have a good storyteller, a novelist, come along and help us with that. So that was really the idea. As far as I know, nothing like that has ever been done before – where you have this collaborative relationship with writers and scholars in putting together a translation.”
The name for the new Bible, The Voice, comes from the premise that God has been speaking to mankind throughout history via the prophets, Scriptures and “definitively through Jesus”, says Professor Capes.
“But we also wanted to understand that the Bible comes to us through the mediation and inspiration of many different voices from the past; human voices that God has used,” he adds. “In a sense, the incarnation is not a bad analogy because the Bible is fully God’s voice speaking to us but yet it also comes to us through the voices of many different people."
“One of the things that I was concerned about was the fact that when you’re reading through the Gospels, you’re reading Matthew and Matthew sounds like Mark, and Mark sounds like Luke, and Luke sounds like John. In other words, the individual writer's...voice is obscured by a committee of scholars, in a sense, who have done a good job in doing a technical translation but not helped us to hear the individual voice of the writer as well. Each Gospel is very different…but if you come to it as a reader who doesn’t know the text well, it sort of sounds like the same voice. And we wanted to be able to rediscover and hear Mark uniquely and Paul and Peter and such.”
Professor Capes notes that the purpose of the translation was not to replace previous translations but to provide something for what is known as the 'virgin reader'; someone who comes to the Bible for the first time.
“They don’t know anything about it and what do they need to know in order to read this Bible, this text, for all it’s worth? What are their assumptions as they come to each book? So we didn’t say, 'Let’s get a Bible that will replace the ESV and the NIV and all these others'…We’re trying to reach an audience of people who wouldn’t pick up a standard Bible and get them in a sense hooked on the story. And then we hope that they will find other Bible translations along the way.”
To that end, one of the criteria for the language used in the Bible was that it be accessible.
“There’s a lot of hard words in the Bible. If you’re an outsider, you don’t get words like expiation, a word like Apostle. If you’re an insider, you sort of know but even Christians, I’ve found, don’t know some of the technical (meanings). You say ‘What is an Apostle?’ and they know that it’s some kind of a leader, the head of something, but they really don’t know what the word means. So we translated the word consistently...as emissary because we think the word emissary gets at what the meaning of the word is. The word apostle means one who has been sent on a mission by another – that’s why Paul calls himself an apostle.”
The Bible has also courted controversy for not transliterating words. Instead of taking the Greek work 'apostolos', for example, and simply rendering it into English as apostle, the scholars have translated it to an English version of the Greek meaning - emissary. Other words like baptism and angel have received similar treatment.
The Bible has also courted controversy for not transliterating words. Instead of taking the Greek work apostolos, for example, and simply rendering it into English as apostle, the scholars have translated it into emissary. Other words like baptism and angel have received similar treatment.
As has the word Christ which is translated instead into several different words depending on context - a move which has led to claims that Christ had been taken out of the Bible. Explaining the reasoning behind using a translation of the word rather than the word itself, Professor Capes notes that many people mistakenly see the word Christ as just part of Jesus’ name.
“That’s unfortunate because what’s missing there is the fact that Jesus is obviously the name of a person but Christ is an honorific title…The meaning of Christ is really 'God’s agent descended from David who is destined to liberate the world from sin, death and oppression'. So how do you put that in a word? You can’t. So what we did was we used a number of words in different places. Because our focus here was on getting the story right. A person can quibble on this verse or that verse but any one verse doesn’t quite get the whole picture. So, for example, we would translate Christos, the Greek, as ‘the anointed’ in one place and then add ‘liberating king’ in italics to bring out the royal aspect and the functional aspect.”
As well as the use of italics for “supplementary information that is contextual but not scriptural to help the reader who is unfamiliar with the story or with the ancient world”, The Voice Bible also includes breakout notes and charts to help further explain the text. Dialogue is written as it would appear in a screenplay.
The latter was partly done with the public reading of Scripture in mind, something close to Professor Capes’ own heart.
“One of the things we wanted this (Bible) to do is to be pleasing in public reading,” he says. “We’re very concerned about the public reading of Scripture – that it be done well. I’m from a tradition where the sermon or the homily consists of about one minute of Scripture reading followed by about 29 minutes of the pastor’s commentary…
“I would love to see that turned around. I would love to see 25 minutes of Scripture reading in a church that would involve multiple people - let’s say in a dialogue, and then followed by the pastor or the leader of the congregation getting up and just urging people to listen to what they’re heard and reflecting briefly on it…”
Professor Capes says that while translating the Bible – which he believes will be revised at some point in the near future - involved thousands of hours of hard work, “it was beautiful experience." Prayer, he says, was key to the work.
“It’s got to be birthed in prayer and it’s got to be birthed in an attitude of heart that says ‘We want to get this right, we’re desperate to get this right’ because we’re hopeful that we’ll get people reading the Scriptures who won’t normally come to it…”
As for his favorite verses? Among them is a passage in Philippians 2:6-11, sometimes known as the Philippians Hymn.
“Though He was in the form of God,
He chose not to cling to equality with God;
But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
a servant in form
and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
obedient to death –
a merciless death on the cross!
So God raised Him up to the highest place
and gave Him the name above all.
So when His name is called,
every knee will bow
in heaven, on earth and below.
And every tongue will confess
“Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,”
to the glory of God our Father!
YOUR SAY : WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE VOICE? WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BIBLE TRANSLATION AND WHY? HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW...