A new Bible translation released by Thomas Nelson changes the nouns for God, Jesus Christ and angels to Eternal One, the Anointed One and a messenger of God. But critics say the project that supposedly is “attuned to the times” is just a Gospel that’s been “watered down.”
The Voice translation, a joint project between Thomas Nelson and the Ecclesia Bible Society, was released this spring.
The translation comes at the same time that critics contend Wycliffe Bible Translators is changing the names for God and Jesus to appease a Muslim target audience.
David Wells, a research professor at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, said debates over Bible translation are nothing new.
“This, actually, is an old debate,” he explained. “Do you translate Scripture word for word or sense for sense? The ESV is word for word (i.e. what we would call literal).
“I can tell that the Ecclesia Bible Society/Thomas Nelson version is sense for sense. It is more of a paraphrase like the old J.B. Phillips.”
Wells continued, “That’s OK if you read it as a paraphrase. But if you read it as a translation, it is not OK because there is always commentary in the paraphrase. Commentary is OK if it is read as commentary, but it should not be read as the text itself.”
Thomas Nelson gives its reason for the new translation on its website.
One of the byproducts of the information age in the church has been its focus on biblical knowledge. Many Bibles reflect this, packed with informative notes, charts, and graphs. While there’s nothing wrong with having a deep knowledge, a personal connection and deep relationship are far better. This is exemplified by Jesus’ comment to Martha, “Oh Martha, Martha, you are so … concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 The Voice).
A theologian and biblical scholar, who asked to remain nameless, said the Nelson comment reveals a major social trend.
“The statement is right in line with a trend in current evangelicalism – [a] trend that says experience with the Scripture is more important than actual knowledge of the Scripture,” the theologian said.
An example of what Wells calls the “Sense for Sense” translation in the Voice is God’s statement to the prophet, Zechariah, in Zechariah 4:6. The English Standard Version (the translation Wells cited) reads as follows:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
The same verse in The Voice reads as follows:
“Your strength and prowess will not be enough to finish My temple, but My Spirit will be.”
An example of the change in the names used for God and the emphasis placed on God’s law is seen in Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus is answering a question about the most important commandment:
And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The Voice version of the same set of verses is as follows:
Jesus (quoting Scripture): “Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes.”
Another example is from the scene where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4:18-19.
The English Standard Version renders the passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The same passage from the Voice reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord the Eternal One is on Me. Why? Because the Eternal designated Me to be His representative to the poor, to preach good news to them. He sent Me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free, and to tell the blind that they can now see. He sent Me to liberate those held down by oppression. In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim now is the time; this is the jubilee of the Eternal One’s grace.”
A second Christian ethicist and theologian who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “The differences may not seem significant. It’s a subtle and gradual effect.”
“Christians are correct in being concerned that versions like The Voice slowly contribute to a lessening reverence for the holiness of God,” the theologian said.
Evangelical cultural analyst and publisher of the Christian-based “Movieguide,” Ted Baehr, said he shares the concerns of those who believe The Voice will harm people’s perception of the holiness of God.
“These translations are undermining the Truth of Jesus Christ and His Word written,” he said.
Baehr, who is also a leader in the Coalition on Revival, said there’s a very basic fundamental debate going on within the evangelical community.
“There is a lot of theology going on here as you well know,” he said. “That said, even if the translation captures some of the meaning of the terms. It is dreadfully watered down. C. S. Lewis once said something like, ‘Watered down Christianity is nothing.’”
Wells said the likely motive for the new project is profit: “Why did Nelson do this? My guess – pure guess – is the dollar signs.”
His second another likely reason is due to weakness in the present evangelical community.
“The Christian faith of the evangelical kind is somewhat distant from where it started out, even in the immediate post-War period,” Wells said. “The Bible doesn’t make as much sense today in the evangelical world as it once did – isn’t that an irony? So, to a new translation more attuned to the times.
“Was it T.S. Eliot who said the less people read the Bible the more they translate it?”