Monday, July 13, 2009

Voice Translation

The Voice translation is a new translation by Chris Seay and co. The group's goal in the project was to produce a “holistic,” “beautiful,” “sensitive” and “balanced” New Testament that present-day readers could identify with. In short their goal was to produce a modern liturgical version, designed to be read out-loud or at the chapter level. To be excellent for quick reading or public reading the bible needs to avoid complex vocal constructions, which generally means short sentences or clauses and connection of ideas. Also obviously contemporary language. Such a bible would not designed for line by line study.

In addition to the use of modern language and aggressive punctuation; the way The Voice translation creates a verbal flow is by using a a play-like format with italicized in-text explanations. There is also occasional commentary to pull the structure together dramatically. Each book in the New Testament is preceded by a brief introduction explaining its background and significance. You can see this in the free online version of the Voice's John.

What is interesting about this new translation is that “writers rather than the scholars were tasked with producing the first draft.” Then, scholars, “working from the Greek or Hebrew, adjusted the translation to capture the nuances of the original.” That is typically a bible is written by translators and then edited. This bible was written and then translational issues were corrected. The puts the focus is on flow not on detailed accuracy. I think the accuracy is fine I recommend this bible for its intended uses. In particular:
  1. This is a great choice for a first read of the bible. The text notes assume unfamiliarity which is rare in most study bibles. It reads as almost as easily as The Message and keeps the focus on the text itself unlike any study bibles.
  2. This is one of the very few bibles I know that work well for informal out-loud reading. There are huge differences between what is retained vocally vs. visually. For preaching through a large section of a chapter or any other reading outloud.
  3. This out-loud readability makes it a good choice for an informal liturgy.
So I fully concur with Thomas Nelson's press release:
And we have a significant change in the liturgy of many churches that excludes that appointed time allotted for the specific reading aloud of the Sacred Text (sometimes in concert with a Lexionary and sometimes just as a focus where the whole congregation stands for the reading of the Word). Both of these changes have been made at the sacrifice of the oral experience of the Bible....The Nelson team created The Voice translation with this perspective in mind. Specifically, the screen-play format, the linguistic and historical information included in italics, and the contextualization that is present in the commentary makes The Voice ideal for public reading and understanding. (Thomas Nelson press release)
This focus on flow and readability however does come at a cost. Since, there aren't many reviews of the The Voice I hope my regular readers will forgive me if I'm a I'll be a bit more pedantic than normal and assume some readers not familiar with translation philosophies might be reading this review. In translation the closer you stay to the text the more accurately you capture the original structure but the less you can accurately capture the meaning. As you move away from the original structure you are able to better capture meaning. As you move even further away from the original structure you in effect rephrase the ideas of the text in your own language. It ceases to be translation and instead becomes a paraphrase. The graphic below shows the major translations as they move from the most literal, interlinears which preserve Greek word order to formal translations which preserve the positions of phrases with a sentence, to dynamic which preserver the order sentences to paraphrase which preserve the order of ideas.

I personally put translation into 9 groups with the voice in the 8th group (loose dynamic):
  1. Hebrew/Greek, Diglot or Hebrew/Greek Reader (NA27, Majority /Byzantine Text, Textus Receptus, MT-Heb)
  2. Interlinear translation (Brown & Comfort, Marshall, McReynolds, Concordant interlinear)
  3. Highly literal (AMP, NASB, YLT, Mounce, Concordant)
  4. Formal (ESV, KJV, ASV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV)
  5. Balanced (TNIV, NET, NIV, HCSB, Price)
  6. Tight Dynamic (REB, NAB)
  7. Dynamic (NEB, NJB, CEV, NLTse, Gaus)
  8. Loose dynamic (NLT1ed, GNB, Voice)
  9. Paraphase (MSG, TLB, TAB, JBP)
I've bolded The Voice as a recommend loose dynamic translation preferring it to either of the two others that I'm familiar with, the Good News Bible or the 1st edition of the New Living Translation (note: the 2nd edition is what is generally available that appears under item 7 and is bolded). Loose dynamic translations like The Voice are very good at getting across "the main idea" but not so good at getting across secondary ideas in the text. So they are really not suitable for anything where verse by verse reading matters in particular this is a poor choice for expository preaching or bible study. As I mentioned above this was written than corrected so the translation philosophy is highly inconsistent. Finally, it goes without saying that the informal liturgical style is the exact opposite of what would be desired for formal liturgical church or function.

While I think the formatting works very well in all aspects except one. The Voice footnotes aren't numbered in the text, instead a generic asterisk is used and the verse referred to in the note. You can see an example of this in the John chapter on page 161 (John 1:23-8). I think this format is difficult, it can be unclear which phrase the note is applying to. But even in the best case this requires looking backwards through the text for the verse number, looking down to find the associated note and then on a few pages having to looking up to find the chapter number. Given the demographics of The Voice I'd assume most people are comfortable with standard footnoting conventions, this seems like a mistake. Footnotes are used for translation commentary, glossary and cross reference so they aren't rare though not overwhelming either.

In terms of the internet, this is an emerging church product so basically conservative reformed Christians bash it. No one has really written a decent reply so, I guess I will. The most detailed and accurate review is a hostile one by Chris Rosebrough of Extreme Theology (review part1 part2). He's an ESV guy so not unexpectedly he hates the theology of the The Voice. A good example (using one from the free sample in case you want to check context) is John 1:13:
  • Brown & Comfort (literal): The ones not of bloods nor of [the] will of flesh nor of [the] will of a husband but of God were born.
  • ESV (formal): who were born, not of blood, nor the of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  • NET (mediating): children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
  • NLT (dynamic): They were reborn -- not of a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
  • Voice (12-13)(loose dynamic): He bestows this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God's will. Because we are born of this world, we can only be reborn to God by accepting his call.
If I were translating I personally would mix dynamic and formal here. I wouldn't want to lose John's clausal structure but I think the "bloods" to "blood" translation is far too literal, and men rather than husband is just plain wrong. The reference to bloods here is critical, but it relies on the Greek idiom that the fetus grows on blood which is not an American English idiom. You could translate it keeping blood with a technical term, something like "not from fetoplacental circulation" but that shifts the tone too much. The key is to retain the spirit vs. flesh theme from John while changing idioms i.e. being dynamic to be made more explicit. Anne Nyland's The Source Bible does a great job for this verse "children not born from a woman nor from the purposes of the natural realm nor from the purposes of a man, but born from God". Suzanne McCarthy goes similarly with:
children not born from the womb of a mother
nor from the will of the natural body
nor from the will of a father,
but born from God.
Incidentally I use the ESV here for the formal because Mr. Rosebrough does. The NRSV is similar, "who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh of man, but of God." I think it is interesting he picks this verse to defend formal because in my opinion it show the relative merits of both. The ESV's use of "man" over husband here, especially because they use man for so many other Greek words, and then being literal with blood desexualizes and thus loses the connection between the man and the birth. I also don't like the tense changes, the ESV is far too free with tenses for a formal translation. The NET and the NLT IMHO do a much better job in capturing the key connection lost by the ESV. On the other hand the NET/NLT is completely artless, this is a poem loaded with the height of imagery in Christianity and while they capture the meaning better their text is flat.

So what about The Voice? You get the gospel message without any of John's flavor. Those who accept the divine voice of God are reborn as children of God not children of flesh. Mr. Rosebrough in his critique blows a gasket because this is the Arminian gospel and not the Calvinist gospel. The ESV drops the sexual metaphor to emphasize unconditional election and irresistible grace, "not by the will of man", The Voice drops it to emphasize decision theology. From my perspective, both are equally bad. Flesh vs. spirit is one of the five main themes of John, I don't want either Arminius or Calvin to pollute John. But I think this sort of simplification is acceptable in The Voice, this sort of theological commentary in the text is much worse in a bible whose stock and trade is its "essentially literal accuracy" than in a bible whose stock and trade is "first time readers will get it, and it sounds good when read out-loud". By the time someone is ready to discuss limited vs. unlimited atonement I hope that they wouldn't use The Voice, and I believe Chris Seay would agree with me. So with Rosebrough (and again I picked his review because he did the best job in a hostile critique) by seeing what this looks like from the other side might appreciate "turnabout is fair play" and perhaps appreciate why the English Standard Version raises such strong objections.

In short while I've read the hostile reviews, I don't think they address the core function of The Voice. Blow through at normal reading speed John 1:1-14 out-loud with a reader unfamiliar with the them from the ESV and see what someone is actually retains. Or if you want an actually accurate translation the same thing would happen with the NRSV. Then try it with The Voice, I think they would get a lot. This bible is designed for verbal retention from unfamiliar readers, the critiques aren't analyzing assuming the intent it was designed for.

Pieces of The Voice are available separately:
As a closing note Thomas Nelson also published The Truth War which is essentially an anti-Emerging church hate piece by MacArthur, as well as the MacArthur Study Bible. I'll give them a lot of credit for being open minded, but I wouldn't want to be around when they have author's Christmas party.

See Also:


Chris Rosebrough said...

Thanks for the heads up.

BTW, the purpose of The Voice is to smuggle a false, Emergent (Hegelian), theology into the text of scripture much the same way the New World Translation smuggles JW Theology into the Bible.

The agenda of the voice is theology not readability.

CD-Host said...

Hi Chris, welcome to the blog. It is interesting to see the emerging church identifies that closely with Hegalian thinking. There is a lot to be said for postmodernism and dispensationalism having some strong Hegelian elements so I could see it as a unifying theme.

Chris Rosebrough said...


Could you expound on that thought a little more. I would never put postmodernism and dispensationalism in the same bucket.

You said that you see strong Hegelian elements in both. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. You may be seeing something that I have not seen or have overlooked.

CD-Host said...

In terms of the emerging church its rephrase their ideas in terms that are almost Hegelian axioms. asserted there were 3 kinds of truths:

Immediate, Mediated, Concrete

So for example the bible might contain a concrete truth. But that is unknowable to any specific individual. Humans would only have access to an immediate truth. However culture and community would have access to the mediating truth from experience whose synthesis with the immediate would produce a new immediate truth closer to the concrete truth.

Hegel's view of truth, "to study things in their own being and movement and thus to demonstrate the finitude of the partial categories of understanding" sounds like it could directly from McLaren.

So that one I hope is clear. As for dispensationalism the idea is that there is some "concrete" pure divine revelation which has an immediate divine revelation that unfolds.

The Edenic divine revelations whose antithesis is the fall and this synthesizes into
the antediluvian revelation whose antithesis is the flood which synthesizes into
the patriarchal system whose antithesis is slavery from the inability to grow into a nation and so synthesizes
the mosaic system....

In other words in something like Reformed Christianity the Old Testament is current and reflects God's will, while in dispensationalism the old testament gives a record of a series of dispensations that is the previous stages which led up to the current system. Moreover, most dispensationalist believe that the contact with the "concrete" really can only happen from the fall of the millennial kingdom, which we haven't even entered yet. So they are Hegelian in terms of seeing themselves as part of a synthetic process without access to the final revelation.

Whew. So yeah I see them both as fundamentally Hegelian. Our access to truth comes from process not merely understanding.

Kevin Anthony Sam said...

In short, could we say that Hegelianism is almost like humanism?

CD-Host said...

In short, could we say that Hegelianism is almost like humanism?

Humanism is pretty broad. I would say that Arnold Ruge and Karl Marx certainly brought Hegel into the humanist mainstream. 20th century humanists like Sarte or Heidegger freely assume Hegel. As an aside postmodernism is heavily based on Sarte and Heidegger.

Right around the time Darby is inventing dispensationalism two Hegelians (David Strauss and Bruno Bauer) are going at it in the big debates with Christianity. Darby chairs the Powerscourt conference at the time. While I don't know his history well enough to know for sure I can't see how he doesn't end up coming in contact with Leben Jesu "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined" and Bauer's refutation. He's so far to the right of the Hegelian Christians that I don't think he would consciously identify but meme travel in culture.

I guess if you put my back to the wall, I'd make a more broad statement. Virtually every modern theory today is Hegelian or reacting to Hegel. Hegel, Nietzche and Darwin transformed all of western philosophy and there simply is no escaping their influence anywhere.

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