The one thing we do not lack is variety in Bible translations available in English today. There is a veritable alphabet soup of versions available: KJV, ASV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NKJV, NRSV, NLT, NIV, CEV, TEV, HCSB, CEB, among many others. Now, in such an environment, another version has been produced: The Voice Bible. Why yet another version? What can The Voice provide that is missing in other Bibles?
The Voice Bible has some distinctive elements worth considering. Its translation committee involved Biblical scholars but also artists of other genres so that the translation does not sound so much like, well, a translation. The Voice is a dynamic equivalence translation, or a "thought-for-thought" rather than a "word-for-word" translation approach, and goes beyond with constant amplification of the text (thankfully always italicized) and many notes interspersed throughout the texts explaining the context and its meaning. The Voice also reads more like a screenplay than a text, exemplified (along with the note concept) here in John 4:8-9:
Jesus: Would you draw water, and give Me a drink? Woman: I cannot believe that You, a Jew, would associate with me, a Samaritan woman; much less ask me to give You a drink. Jews, you see, have no dealings with Samaritans. Also, a man never approaches a woman like this in public. Jesus is breaking accepted social barriers with this confrontation.
The Voice Bible, therefore, strives for maximum comprehension of the message of the text as its ultimate goal, and goes to great lengths in order to accomplish it.
In the past I have been very critical of dynamic equivalence translations ("thought for thought," e.g. CEV, NIV, NLT, The Message, The Voice) on account of the amount of textual distortion that takes place in the process. Some such distortion is confessionally/doctrinally motivated: baptism is frequently de-emphasized while faith "only" comes to the fore, since that is the strong doctrinal stand of many translators. Yet what is perhaps most problematic is the unintentional distortion that takes place precisely because comprehension of the basic message is the emphasis: in order to bring the basic meaning to the fore, the text is presented in such a way that conclusions drawn from it are at variance with the actual wording of the text. The example I use of this most frequently comes from 1 Timothy 3:2 in the description of the qualifications of elders:
The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach (ASV).
The American Standard Version (ASV) is a formal equivalence ("word for word") translation, and from it we can see that the bishop, or overseer, is to be, among other things, the husband of one wife (literally, "one woman man").
That's why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach (CEV).
The Contemporary English Version (CEV) is a dynamic equivalence translation. It accurately conveys the main point of Paul's message; for a man to be a husband of one wife, he needs to be faithful in marriage. But what happens if a man is a polygamist? He could be "faithful in marriage" and yet not be the "husband of one wife." And this is the challenge of dynamic equivalence translations: even when the text is not distorted by confessional or doctrinal bias, the emphasis upon the primary meaning could lead to difficulties in terms of secondary matters such as inferences and applications.
In terms of both confessional and doctrinal biases and secondary distortions, The Voice, especially in the New Testament, poses some difficulties:
Baptism is always a difficult subject for Bible translators since they are attempting to satisfy a diverse audience: those who sprinkle versus those who pour versus those who immerse; those who consider it necessary versus those who consider it optional; and so on. In an attempt to steer clear of such controversies The Voice ends up being a complete disappointment. The way "baptism" is translated demonstrates the patchwork nature of the version: in some books, it is rendered "baptism," in others, "ritually immersed," in others, speaking of the ceremonial aspect, and so on; all of them are footnoted indicating that baptism is under discussion, and often defining it as immersion, or as a cleansing. Many may make much of calling it a "ritual" or a "ceremony," but in New Testament usage, it is: just as the Lord's Supper is not a substantive meal but a ritual one, so baptism is not designed to be a physical cleansing but a spiritual one, and the act is a ceremony or ritual (1 Peter 3:21); that does not mean that baptism has no efficacy, just as the Lord's Supper as a ritual meal still has great spiritual significance even if it does not satiate hunger (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:22-30). Yet The Voice Bible's attempt at expanding the translation of baptism leads to ludicrous results at times, especially in Matthew 20:22:
Jesus (to all three): You don't understand what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? Can you be ritually washed in baptism just as I have been baptized?The expansion of "to be baptized" to "to be ritually washed in baptism" literalizes the metaphor. Jesus is not talking about His immersion in water by John; He's speaking of the immersion in suffering, misery, and pain He is about to experience. Better to translate as immersion or transliterate as baptism and let the notes explain what you want to explain.
More egregious examples are found in the textual expansions, especially 1 Corinthians 7:15 and Titus 1:5:
If the unbelieving spouse decides the marriage is over, then let him or her go; the believing partner is freed from the marital vows because God has called you to peace.
Here’s what you should look for in an elder: he should be above suspicion; if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife, raise children who believe, and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living.
There are many who believe 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows the abandoned Christian spouse to be able to marry another; there are many who think elders/bishops need not be married (I had one conversation with someone who was part of a liberal Protestant denomination who never thought of the idea that Paul meant in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:5 that the elder/overseer actually had to be married!). Nevertheless, neither text demands those particular interpretations, and they are actually quite suspect. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul says that in such circumstances Christians are not enslaved; nowhere in the Bible is the marriage bond considered as enslavement, but the yoke of slavery is precisely the metaphor used to describe the connection between believer and unbeliever in 2 Corinthians 6:16. If an unbeliever deserts a believing Christian, they are no longer enslaved to that connection, and should feel no compulsion to reconcile (as would be imagined based on 1 Corinthians 7:11). Yet that is far from justifying marriage to another; Paul says no such thing here and such would militate against Matthew 5:32, 19:9. The expansion, therefore, is entirely unnecessary. The expansion of Titus 1:5 is even less justified: there is never a hint in 1 Timothy or Titus or in any other text that elders/overseers were not married. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever considered themselves elders or overseers; Peter did, but Peter was also married (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4). Such an insertion is entirely unjustifiable and vindicates all those who find no value in dynamic equivalence translations since they thus distort what the original text is saying.
Nevertheless, there are many reasons why I want to like The Voice Bible, and they involve a lot of the reasons why I've softened a bit on dynamic equivalence translations. The goal of Bible translation cannot be just literalism; unless you have advanced training in Hebrew and Greek, the literal text is frequently barely comprehensible gibberish, especially in the most difficult and challenging texts. Hebrew and Greek have their own idioms and their own way of expressing things. As in most any form of communication, there is a tension in Bible translation between word and meaning: how to most appropriately convey what is meant while remaining faithful to what is said in the text? "Literal" translations like Darby's or Young's or the LITV sacrifice a lot of comprehensibility in order to remain quite faithful to the text (although even "literal" translations frequently flesh out idioms and many times are forced to flesh out the meaning in English of a very economical Hebrew or Greek text); formal equivalence translations are willing to sacrifice a bit more faithfulness in order to provide a more comprehensible text, and dynamic equivalence translations run the gamut from a slightly modified formal equivalence translation all the way to The Message and its ilk, willing to entirely abandon the text as written in order to enhance comprehension. Many of those who critique dynamic equivalence translations continually insist on the need for faithfulness to the text, and that is a strong argument and ought to be respected. Yet such an insistence, especially when texts like the KJV and ASV are the ones held in high esteem, entirely miss out on the other side of the issue, and that is comprehension. Yes, it is important that we hear the Word of God in English as close to what would be heard in Greek or Hebrew as we can, with a minimal amount of doctrinal/confessional interference, but it is all for naught if those who hear cannot understand what is being said! The Old Testament texts were all originally proclaimed or read out to Israelites, and understanding was at a premium (cf. Nehemiah 8:1-8). For centuries the Greek of the New Testament baffled scholars since it sounded quite different from the Attic Greek of the tragedians and philosophers; many suggested that the New Testament was written in "Holy Spirit Greek." That has all changed in the past two hundred years as discoveries of papyri in Egypt show that the Greek of the New Testament is the same as the commonly spoken Greek of its age: God communicated in Koine Greek so that the message of the Gospel could be understood (cf. Ephesians 3:1-12)!
The Voice Bible is a version meant to be understood. They handled the Old Testament excellently; there were a few notes regarding which I felt they went in the wrong interpretive direction, but on the whole, the presentation of the text with the interlinear notes do a great job of helping a 21st century American make sense of what is going on in 2nd and 1st millennium BCE Israel. For instance, I've read the book of Job in Hebrew and in many translations, but it was when reading through The Voice's translation when I finally mentally captured the flow of the arguments in the conversation. I grant that Job is hard to translate, and tricky precisely because there are many ways to understand what the speakers are saying, but there is value in having a translation that tries to simplify the discussion without overly compromising it. I did not mind the presentation of most of the New Testament, either, save for the matters discussed above and the times when the authors decided to add "only" to faith despite James 2:14-26. Revelation is presented and explained in a first century Roman context; most of the notes and explanations do help 21st century Americans, at least to some degree, make sense of the Gospel as proclaimed in the first century in both the Jewish and Greek worlds.
Therefore, there is value in The Voice Bible. I believe it would be a mistake to use it as one's primary study Bible, since its phrasing cannot be relied upon when making inferences or conclusions. Yet as one of many translations it can help in its insistence on coming to an understanding of what is being communicated. I could not recommend it to the youngest in the faith because they have not yet gained the discernment between what God has said and the interpolations of man, but for those with an intermediate or advanced understanding of Scripture, The Voice Bible can provide benefits in terms of coming to a clearer understanding of the primary meaning of the text and as a counterweight against the tendency to absorb Biblespeak without really thinking about what the words involved really mean.
**--book received as part of early review program