Listening to The Voice: Purpose of Translation

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The Voice™ is the product of the best minds in this emerging generation of Christian leaders. Together they are helping young people fall in love with the Scriptures. Instead of confining God’s Word in the framework of biblical criticism, The Voice™ highlights the beauty of God’s communication to His people. In The Voice™, the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth. This is the first-ever complete New Testament in The Voice™ translation. Writers include Chris Seay, Lauren Winner, Brian McLaren, Greg Garrett, David B. Capes, and others.

The purpose of the translation s the key to understanding the translation itself. I have found that many who disagree with the translation fail to understand the purpose of the translation itself. We should judge first the purpose of the translation and then the merits of the translation based on that purpose.

The Voice bills itself as ‘A Scripture project to rediscover the story of the bible.’ From the start, we have to realize that The Voice is not purely a translation, but a project which tries to focus on the grand narrative of the biblical story. It is a literary project for a ‘church in great transition.’ We should recognize from this, that The Voice is close enough to the Emergent movement to be said to be its translation, as much as the ESV could be said to be the translation of the New Calvinists. By that, I mean that many of the theological words are gone, replaced with interpretive phrases (Christ=Liberating King; Justified=Acquitted and made right) as well as conformation to previous translation styles (John 3.16). Their translation is goaled to ‘bringing the body of Christ together again around the bible.’

They describe their vision as:

  • holistic
  • beautiful
  • sensitive
  • balanced

In these last few items, I find their project admirable, but difficult. Christendom is not divided over the Scriptures, translation styles, etc… but over their use, their ability to lead and guide, and very much, their continued presence as a culture counter weight. Their desire to seek ‘balance’ means that they bring together diverse theological perspectives. Reading through The Voice, those theological diverse opinions are often regulated to footnotes.

As part of the literary device, they seek to allow the various voices which have written the bible to shine forth, and unlike other translation styles, I believe that The Voice actually comes close to accomplishing this, especially in Mark. Although I believe that they miss a few rhetorical devices in Paul, the translators seem to display the various voices as unique individuals telling a story. Further, in paying attention to these things, the translators have used italic type to highlight added thoughts and words which while  they feel the text requires, is not found in the original text. I found it difficult, however, to see how with their style of translation, more italics would not be needed.

As I said earlier, the purpose of the translation is key to understanding the style of the translation, the wording, the phrases, etc… The Voice requires the purpose to be fully understood by those used to more literal translations if The Voice is to be understood properly. Chris Seay, President of the Ecclesia Bible Society who worked with Thomas Nelson to put the project together, focused on uniting the biblical narratives to a post-modern culture. Indeed, we should remember just how much a ‘narrative’ ideology played into the Gospel accounts before we criticize this endeavor. Seay and The Voice translators starts with the premise that the mindset of people have radically changed to where they need connection to the source material before they can understand it. I do not believe  he is far off in his thinking.

Unlike the Message, I believe The Voice, while trying to create a vernacular translation, surpasses that goal by using language which is common to today’s speakers but not base.

As we go about this review, keep this purpose in mind. Remember,  The Voice is about setting the bible into a grand narrative method. While some of the translation choices made may not be to our liking, or even ‘correct’, the purpose will help us understand, perhaps, why they did what they did.

Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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