The Voice New Testament

April 21, 2010

bible / books

For the last month or so, instead of reading the NASB Bible I’ve had for the last few years, I’ve been reading The Voice New Testament, which I got through Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program for bloggers1. I’ve known about The Voice Project since it was announced a few years ago, and am excited about the (thus far unannounced) completion of the Hebrew Bible.

I wasn’t really sure how to go about reviewing this, so I decided not to read other versions for the sake of comparison, and also not to find out which authors were the contributors in any of the books I read. I got my copy during Passion Week, so I read the various accounts of the days of that week, and then continued through Acts and on to Romans, hoping to give myself a strong enough feel for the way the translation works.

So, to start: this Bible, if you are not familiar with it, is unique in the sense that there is a (fairly typical) team of scholars working to translate the Greek texts of the New Testament, and a (not at all typical) team of authors, pastors, musicians, artists, and so on working to write these texts into narrative, letter, or other form in current English, striving to maintain the personality and voice of the original authors as much as possible.

In doing this, steps are taken such as a screenplay format in narratives to show who is speaking, additions to the text (in italics) to provide information that would have been evident to folks to whom Scriptures were written, and some brief outline boxes that expand upon what is being said. This means that if you were attempting to be scholarly about a text you’d want to have another translation with which to compare things. Taking that to its logical conclusion, of course, you’d want to know Koine Greek and have a thorough knowledge of first century Middle Eastern culture.

I took a class in college where half was Greek and half was Hebrew. I made, by far, the worst grade I’ve ever made in a class. I have at least a decent grasp of first century culture, but there’s certainly stuff that I don’t know, and most people would also claim this limitation of themselves. In light of how far removed we are from the world of the New Testament (in this case) and how hard it is to get there, I’d take criticisms that talk about the additions and clarifications used in this translation with a grain of salt.

I’ll close by noting one of the greatest strengths I’ve noticed. Certain words that some folks may be really attached to are taken away and replaced with other things (“Christ” is replaced with “Liberating King,” for example, and “righteousness” is often replaced with “justice”). These replacements do two things: they get rid of words that have such historical and cultural baggage that they have become shallow and thoughtlessly used, and they bring us back to the sense that the original hearers would have had when they heard these words. It’s fascinating, and well worth getting the translation just for that.

As I said, I didn’t find out who the modern text of any of the individual books were “written” by while I was reading them, though there are wonderful folks from Brian McLaren to Chris Seay to Matthew Paul Turner and others. All of them do wonderful things with these texts in different ways, and I’d encourage you to get it.

  1. In the interest of disclosure, I received the book for free, and am not required to write positively about it. []