Like many conservative evangelical Christians, I hold a certain amount of scorn for The Message. People have lots of reasons: the language is too breezy and contemporary; there is more of Eugene Peterson than of God; it’s a paraphrase, not a translation; and so on. If you’re going to read the Bible, read an actual Bible, right? At least, that’s how the argument goes. I really admire what Peterson set out to do, but don’t have any use for the results myself.
On the other hand, I have recently come across a new translation (and I think it’s entirely accurate to characterize it as a translation and not a paraphrase) called “The Voice.” The tagline is “Step Into the Story of Scripture”, and they describe it as, “A new Bible translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God’s Word.” All I know is that I love it.
Here’s the basic layout. Starting with our best manuscripts, the translators labored to come up with a solid English equivalent. That’s not new. What is new is that if there’s information that you might need to understand the cultural relevance of something, it’s right there in the verses. Not in footnotes, not in commentaries, not in sidebars. Right there in the verse. To distinguish it from actual Scripture, that material is is italics. Further, the translators didn’t always feel compelled to be as literal as possible. Frequently, they use some artfully constructed phrases that just resonate in your heart and mind. Here’s a passage from Isaiah, rendered first in my “Sunday Bible”, the Holman Christian Standard Version:
On that day people will throw
their silver and gold idols,
which they made to worship,
to the moles and the bats.
They will go into the caves of the rocks
and the crevices in the cliffs,
away from the terror of the Lord
and from His majestic splendor,
when He rises to terrify the earth.
Put no more trust in man,
who has only the breath in his nostrils.
What is he really worth?
Here’s the same verses, as rendered in The Voice:
When that day arrives, people will leave behind
the idols they made to worship — even those made of silver and gold.
The things they felt were so important —
to the moles and the bats.
They hide themselves away in rocky caves and clefts,
in the face of the Eternal’s terrifying Self,
In the face of His dread and enormous majesty,
when He comes forth to overwhelm the earth.
Stop believing in human beings as so amazing, so capable!
We are short-lived, only a breath from death and worth as much.
What makes us think we’re so special?
Throughout the text, they refer to God (at least wherever the YHWH name appears) as the Eternal. Similarly, they actually translate “Christ” to “Anointed One.” Whenever someone is talking, it’s laid out in a screenplay format, so that it’s clear who is speaking and a lot of those “he said to him” kinds of phrases are eliminated. A number of really talented creative, artistic types were involved to make the English words in the text as engaging as possible. There are passages that grasp your heart in any translation — I think of Psalm 23 or Romans 8:38-39 or Isaiah 40:31 — but The Voice manages to make even the OT prophets that engaging. I love the Word, but every time I’ve tried to do a “Read Through the Bible in a Year” program, I’ve always gotten bogged down in the Prophets. My wife is the same way. But I’ve been reading through Isaiah in The Voice and have been just loving it. It engages my mind and heart in new ways and makes me fall in love with the Scripture all over again.
I don’t think I’ll ever use The Voice as a primary study tool. I don’t think that’s what its purpose is anyways. When I just want to read the Word, this translation is going to be the version I reach for. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages, the well-known verses of the beginning of John’s gospel:
Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light —
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.