Step into the Story of Scripture
Any literary project reflects the age in which it is written. The Voice is created for and by a church in great transition. Throughout the body of Christ, extensive discussions are ongoing about a variety of issues including which style of worship is most appropriate, how we distinguish cultural expressions from genuine expressions of faith, what it means to live the gospel, and how we faithfully communicate the essential truths of historic Christianity. At the center of these discussions is the role of Scripture. Instead of widening the division between culture and theology, it is time to bring the body of Christ together again around the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society together are developing Scripture products that foster spiritual growth and theological exploration out of a heart for worship and mission. We have dedicated ourselves to hearing and proclaiming God's voice through this project.
Previously most Bibles and biblical reference works were produced by professional scholars writing in academic settings. The Voice uniquely represents collaboration among scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and other artists. The goal is to create the finest Bible products to help believers experience the joy and wonder of God's revelation.
About 40 different human authors are believed to have been inspired by God to write the Scriptures. Most English translations attempt to even out the literary styles of the different authors in sentence structure and vocabulary. Instead, The Voice distinguishes the unique perspective of each author. The heart of the project is retelling the story of the Bible in a form as fluid as modern literary works while remaining painstakingly true to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. Accomplished writers and biblical scholars have been teamed up to create an English rendering that, while of great artistic value, is carefully aligned with the meaning inherent in the original language. Attention is paid to the use of idioms, artistic elements, confusion of pronouns, repetition of conjunctions, modern sentence structure, and the public reading of the passage.
To help the reader understand how the new rendering of a passage compares to the original texts, several indicators are embedded within the text.
We follow the standard conventions used in most translations regarding textual evidence. The Voice is based on the earliest and best manuscripts from the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). When significant variations influence a reading, we follow the publishing standard by bracketing the passage and placing a note at the bottom of the page, while maintaining the traditional chapter and verse divisions. The footnotes also reference quoted material and help the reader understand the translation of a particular word. Words that are borrowed from another language and words that are not common outside of the theological community (such as baptism, repentance, and salvation) are given expanded translations derived from more common terminology. For clarity some pronouns are replaced with their antecedents. Because Greek and Hebrew word order and syntax differ significantly from English, we have followed standard translation practices and altered these elements when necessary to help the reader achieve clarity in understanding Scripture and its meaning.
Our purpose in using these literary devices is to reveal the beauty of the Scriptures and to assist the reader in clearly and quickly understanding the meaning of the text. We are constrained to be faithful to these ancient texts while giving the present reader a respectful and moving experience with the Word of God.
The Voice Bible is a different sort of translation. It combines the relative strengths of scholars who are experts in the original languages and modern writers, musicians, and poets who are skilled in their use of English, our target language. Our idea was to set up a collaborative process whereby scholars and writers could work together to create a translation that was faithful and accurate to the original languages while at the same time beautiful and readable to an English-speaking audience. In some cases scholars and writers worked closely together; in others they worked at some distance or even anonymously. Members of the translation team from Ecclesia Bible Society and Thomas Nelson coordinated the overall process.
Whenever people render one language into another (whether ancient or modern), they are involved in translation. There are levels of formality in the translation process. Generally, these are described on a continuum between formal and functional equivalence. But these approaches are not followed strictly by any Bible translation team, and most translations must mix formal with functional elements in order to communicate clearly. Realistically, languages are too complex and fluid to be reduced to a single approach in translation. A strictly formal translation process will result in an unreadable text that obscures the meaning of Scripture rather than making it accessible. A strictly functional translation process will result in a text that might communicate to a reader well what the original text means but not what the original says.
With The Voice Bible we acknowledge the difficulties translation teams face and offer what might be described as a mediating position between the extremes. We describe our approach as "contextual equivalence." Recognizing that context is the most important factor in determining the meaning of a word, sentence, paragraph, or narrative, we have sought to create a Bible translation that preserves both the linguistic and literary features of the original biblical text. A "contextual equivalent" translation technique seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language. This particular translation approach keeps in mind the smaller parts and the larger whole. In endeavoring to translate sacred Scripture, The Voice captures uniquely the poetic imagery and literary artistry of the original in a way that is beautiful and meaningful.
Two other related descriptors are used to situate a Bible translation in the field. Some claim their translations are "word-for-word" in contrast to those that are "thought-for-thought." Word-for-word translations generally claim to be more literal and therefore superior to those that are thought-for-thought. The critique is sometimes made that thought-for-thought translations reflect the interpretive opinions of the translators and are influenced by the contemporary culture more than word-for-word translations.
There are four primary objections to these claims. First, every translation is an interpretation. Anyone who has studied translation theory recognizes that it is impossible for translators to get outside their skins and objectively render a text. The Italians say it bluntly: tradutorre, traditore—"The translator is a traitor." Even if it were deemed useful to design a computer program to translate mechanically the Scriptures into English, human subjectivity and judgment would still come into play in various ways; for example, choosing which texts to translate and deciding which English word to use to translate a specific Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word. Subjectivity and interpretive opinions are impossible to avoid in the translation process and do not necessarily have a negative impact on a translation.
This leads to a second objection regarding the nature of words and thoughts. The strict distinction between "word" and "thought" must be questioned. After all, a word is merely an expressed thought, whether spoken or written. This becomes clear when dealing with people who are fluent in multiple languages. When they have a thought they wish to express, they must choose which language, then which word or words, then which word order. There may be a line of distinction between a thought and a word, but it is not a hard and fast line; it is at best a dotted line.
Third, words generally do not have a single meaning; they have a range of meanings—what linguists refer to as a "semantic field." Even the translators of the King James Bible recognized that words do not carry the same sense every time they occur in a text (see preface to the 1611 edition). For example, how should one translate the Greek noun dikaiosunē? In one place the word might mean "justice," in another "righteousness," in another "equity" or "integrity," and in another something that is "true" or "right." One must understand the context in which a word is used in order to render carefully its meaning in another language. This context is not just semantic but also historical and social. For example, our use of "God's Anointed" or the "Anointed One" as a translation of the title Christ—and in selected places expanded to "God's Anointed, the Liberating King"—captures something of the historical and social reality behind Jesus' identity. He is God's Anointed King who comes to liberate His people from sin, addiction, disease, oppression, and death.
To press this point even further, words don't just mean things, they do things. Words have both meaning and function; they function within clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and stories in ways that are different from the definition a person might find in a dictionary or lexicon. Beyond this, however, words also function in various ways to elicit emotions, actions, and responses from those who hear them. In order to translate a text well, one must consider not only what words mean but what they do.
Fourth, a word-for-word correspondence is difficult to maintain because translators may need multiple words in one language to express the meaning of a single word in another. Take for instance the Greek word sōthēsetai (Romans 10:13). Because of the way the English language works, it takes no fewer than four words to translate this single Greek verb: "he/she will be saved." Again, the context reveals who will be saved, what salvation entails, and when it is realized.
When all of these factors are taken into consideration, The Voice represents a hybrid of the word-for-word and thought-for-thought approaches. In some places The Voice follows a word-for-word translation; in others it expresses the meaning more in a thought-for-thought approach. This is necessitated contextually both by the original language and by our target language (English). Responsibility to render the biblical languages carefully and to create a readable translation for an audience is not an either/or pursuit; a "contextual equivalent" translation seeks to be faithful and realistic to both tasks.
Another issue The Voice project team had to address involved inclusive language. Generally speaking, we have made no attempt to make The Voice gender neutral or gender inclusive. We have tried to follow the sense of the text and have made translation decisions based on the context. When, for example, Paul reminded the adelphoi ("brothers") of Corinth of the content of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), it is unlikely that he intended to include the "brothers" and exclude the "sisters." Since the apostle adopted typical letter-writing practices of his day, his manner of addressing the community was likely determined by cultural mores. In such cases, we have decided to render the text "brothers and sisters." However, in passages where it is clear that the admonition is addressed to one gender and not the other, we have taken seriously the historical situation and utilized the appropriate masculine or feminine nouns and pronouns. The warnings against loose women in Proverbs 5–7, for example, are clearly aimed at young men. Furthermore, Proverbs 31 does not describe a remarkable partner or spouse but a remarkable woman who happens to also be a wife. This perspective respects the particular situations that gave rise to the texts in their original historical settings and does not seek to exclude (or include for that matter) those not being directly addressed by the biblical writers. Commentaries and proper exegesis can make reasonable application of texts across gender lines in ways translations cannot.
Finally, although The Voice represents a new approach to Bible translation, we have intentionally avoided the tendency to use trendy language. Our goal was to capture the beauty and brutal honesty of the Scriptures in language that is timeless and enduring. In the process, we have come to recognize our profound indebtedness to the various strands of Christian tradition that have made these texts available. We stand in gratitude to a multitude of saints who gave their lives to preserve and transmit the Scriptures in their original languages from one generation to the next. We acknowledge the significant contributions made by the Reformers and their followers (not to mention their predecessors) to give us a common language and scriptural heritage in the English-speaking world. Although we have not always tried to imitate them, we have always learned from them. Our hope and prayer is that a new generation of people will encounter the Scriptures through The Voice and step into the story of Scripture.
In its original Greek language, the New Testament refers to Jesus hundreds of times as Christos. Most English translations of Scripture render this "Christ," which is not a translation but a transliteration. The unfortunate effect of this decision is that most readers mistake "Christ" as a kind of second name for Jesus. In fact, Christos is not a name at all; it is a title. It is a Greek translation of the Hebrew title Messiah. So when the New Testament writers call Jesus "(the) Christ," they are making a bold claim—one of the central claims of the Christian faith—that Jesus is the Messiah. While there was no single expectation about the Messiah in Jesus' day, many of His contemporaries would have recognized the Messiah as God's agent who comes in the last days to redeem God's people and repair our broken world.
Because we understand that no single English word or phrase captures the richness of the term Messiah or Christos, we made a strategic decision in The Voice to translate Christos and not simply to transliterate it. The root idea of Christos is derived from a Greek verb meaning "to anoint (with oil)." The act of anointing someone with oil is a way of setting that person apart for God's use. When people are anointed—kings and priests, for example—oil is poured over their heads, signifying God's Spirit coming upon them and empowering them for the tasks ahead. This is why we have decided to translate Christos as "God's Anointed," the "Anointed," or the "Anointed One," depending on context and narrative flow.
But there is another aspect of Christos we need to highlight. You see, according to tradition, the Messiah is to be a son of David, and as such He has a royal function to continue David's dynasty and to reign over a newly constituted kingdom. In order to become king, a person must have God's anointing. So from time to time, as we translate Christos as "God's Anointed," we have added the explanatory phrase "the Liberating King" to remind us of the primary mission and the reason God elects and empowers Jesus in the first place. Jesus comes as the King of a new kind of kingdom and exercises His royal power to rescue and liberate His creation. This liberation takes place on various levels, all of which are related.
Not long after Jesus begins His public ministry, He returns to the synagogue in Nazareth—where He had grown up—and reads the Scripture portion that day from Isaiah 61:
18 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.
19 In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim that now is the time;
this is the jubilee season of the Eternal One's grace.
From the way Jesus responds to the reading that day, it is clear that He understands His Spirit-enabled work to be about proclaiming the good news, releasing exiles and other political prisoners, healing the sick, and freeing the oppressed—in a word, "liberating" the poor, the captive, the sick, and the marginalized from whatever threatens them. But there is more. The Scriptures declare that Jesus comes to liberate those made in His image from the power and penalty of sin, which is the reason God's good creation is so fouled up and disordered in the first place. In fact Paul tells the Romans that all creation has been damaged by sin and longs for the day when God's children are revealed and set free from the power of sin and death. When that day comes, creation itself will be liberated from its own slavery to corruption (Romans 8:18-25). By translating Christos as "God's Anointed, the Liberating King" on occasion, we are reminded of the title's true meaning and an important truth: the extent of Jesus' kingdom and the reach of His liberating work extend beyond our hearts, beyond our politics, beyond our world.
To know a name is to know something special. When people tell you their names, they signal willingness to know and be known. It is often a prelude to their personal journeys, an invitation to relationships. This dynamic is certainly true in the story of Scripture when God chooses to reveal His name to His people.
While many titles are attributed to God in the Scripture (for example, "Lord," "God," "God-All-Powerful," and "Commander of heavenly armies"), He has only one name, the name He revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. It is used about 6,000 times in the Old Testament to refer to the one True God of Israel. The English transliteration of the Hebrew name is YHWH. Although we do not know which vowels would have been pronounced with these four consonants, we think the name may best be spoken as Yahweh. In the past, some translators rendered the divine name Jehovah; but this is actually a name made up from the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of Adonai, one of the Hebrew words for "Lord." Today most Bible translations render the divine name as "Lord." The capitalization of each letter tells the reader that the word appears in place of God's Hebrew name and is not just a title of reverence and honor. In The Voice we have taken special care to translate the divine name as the "Eternal One" or the "Eternal," depending on the context.
The translation of God's name is based upon a number of factors. First, the name YHWH is clearly understood to be God's covenant name. It was revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:13-15). Here is that classic exchange:
Moses: 13 Let's say I go to the people of Israel and tell them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to rescue you," and then they reply, "What is His name?" What should I tell them then?
Eternal One: 14 I AM WHO I AM. This is what you should tell the people of Israel: "I AM has sent me to rescue you."
15 This is what you are to tell Israel's people: "The Eternal, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is the One who has sent me to you." This is My name forevermore, and this is the name by which all future generations shall remember Me.
The revelation of God's name to Moses is associated with the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage and the institution of God's covenant with Israel at Sinai. The declaration affirms that this God is none other than the God who had already appeared and established a covenant of blessing with Abraham and his sons. Therefore, it is a covenant name that links past, present, and future: "I am the God who was with Abraham. I am the God who hears the prayers of My people now. I am the God who will rescue them in the future. I am the Eternal." It is a relational name that emphasizes God's saving actions and His dedication to His covenant people.
Second, the name YHWH appears to be built on the Hebrew verb meaning "to be." When asked His name, God responds, "I AM WHO I AM. . . . [say,] 'I AM has sent me to rescue you.'" The verbal idea has a timeless quality, particularly since it links God's past, present, and future saving actions on behalf of His people and the world. This is why we think the English word "eternal" helps to capture something of its meaning. Furthermore, God emphasizes that this name is eternal; it stands forever and must be remembered by future generations of God's covenant partners.
Third, while we have anglicized most other names in Scripture (Benyamin = Benjamin; Shemuel = Samuel; Jeshua = Joshua; Petros = Peter; Paulos = Paul), we have chosen not to do so with the divine name out of respect for that name and our deep appreciation for both Jewish and Christian traditions. The Ten Directives warn against using the name of God in any frivolous, self-serving way (Exodus 20:7). Over time—and under the influence of this directive—faithful Jewish communities spoke the name less and less until it was prohibited from use altogether except on the most solemn occasions in the temple. Even when Scripture was read aloud in the synagogue, the reader did not utter the divine name; instead, when he came across it in the text, he substituted a word for it. In Aramaic-speaking synagogues they would say Adonai ; in Greek-speaking synagogues they would say Kyrios. Many Jews today carry on this tradition of reverence by refusing to speak the name at all and indicating the presence of the written name in Scripture by saying HaShem, which means, "the name." Early Christians continued similar practices regarding sacred names and invented new ways to signal that respect. When, for example, scribes wrote and copied the Scriptures, they refrained from fully spelling out the names and titles associated with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Instead, they employed what we call today nomina sacra (that is, "sacred names"). When copyists came across these special names in the text, they would abbreviate them with two letters (generally) and draw a line above those letters to indicate to the reader that the word is a sacred name.
The Voice translation of the divine name as the "Eternal" and the "Eternal One" carries on the church's long-standing tradition of reverence for God and His name. It also attempts to translate the meaning of the name and recontextualize it for our culture. We wish to emphasize both the covenantal and everlasting aspects of God's name. It is covenantal in that God is revealing His special name as a prelude to an enduring relationship with Him, a relationship in which He promises to be with and for us. It signals God's willingness both to know us and to be known by us. It is everlasting in that God's name, like God Himself, is timeless and unchanging. Although existing outside of time and space, God has revealed Himself in time and space in order to engage His people—past, present, and future—in a loving and faithful relationship. The "Eternal One" stands in sharp contrast to everything else in the universe which is temporary and constantly changing.
Chris Seay (president of Ecclesia Bible Society) first recognized a need for The Voice more than 20 years ago during his early attempts to teach the whole biblical narrative as the story of God's redemptive work in God's Anointed, Jesus of Nazareth. Chris observed that the way this postmodern generation processes ideas and information raises obstacles to traditional methods of teaching biblical content. Instead of primarily propositional-based thought patterns, people today are more likely to interact with events and individuals through complex observations involving emotions, cognitive processes, tactile experiences, and spiritual awareness. The result of Chris's observations is a retelling of the Scriptures in a narrative form: this is The Voice, not of words, but of meaning and experience.
The Voice is a fresh expression of the timeless narrative known as the Bible. Stories of God's goodness that were told to each generation by their grandparents and tribal leaders were recorded and assembled to form the Christian Scriptures. Too often, the passion, grit, humor, and beauty have been lost in the translation process. The Voice seeks to recapture what was lost.
From these early explorations by Chris and others has come The Voice: a Scripture project to help readers step into the story of Scripture. Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society have joined together to develop Scripture products and resources to foster spiritual growth and theological exploration out of a heart for the mission of the church and worship of God.
Putting the Bible into the language of modern readers is a painstaking process that involves correlating ancient languages and cultures with the English vernacular. Scripture is filled with passages intended to inspire, captivate, and depict both the beauty and the ugliness of the world; but earlier translations have not always been successful in communicating the beauty, grit, and story of Scripture. The Voice is a translation of the Bible's collage of compelling narrative, poetry, song, truth, and wisdom. The Voice will call you to step into the whole story of God with your whole heart, soul, and mind.
Step into the Story of Scripture
The book you are reading is no ordinary book. The Bible is a veritable library, a book of books, but not just any books. These books are inspired by God, written by people flush with their encounters with Him, shaped by communities of faithful believers, and recognized by the church universal as an authoritative account of God's activities in the world. Speaking of the first part of the Christian Scriptures, Paul reminds Timothy that these books are in fact "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). Generations of Christians have sensed the warm, sweet breath of God as they thumbed through the pages and breathed in the enduring message it contains. If you allow His breath to wash over you, you will hear the authentic voice of the one True God addressing you, correcting you, and training you for what is ahead.
The Christian Bible is the most translated and retranslated book in all history. All or part of it is available today to the vast majority of the world's population in nearly 2,300 of the world's 6,909 languages.1 When the Scriptures were published in English in 1611 under the auspices of King James I of England, they provided the English-speaking world a common language and a shared heritage which shaped Western culture in significant ways. In America the first book read by children and adults was the King James Bible. The memorable stories in its pages entertained them, trained their minds, formed their consciences, and fashioned their societies. No book has had a greater impact on so large a group of people. However, the English language has changed in the last four centuries—as all languages do over the course of time—so we arrive at a new moment with a fresh opportunity to retell these classic stories in the common language of a new generation.
We have not arrived at this moment on our own. We stand upon the shoulders of countless dedicated sinners-made-saints who gave the best of themselves to God and passed the Scriptures along to their sons and daughters. For 1,500 years the Christian Scriptures were meticulously hand copied, checked, and rechecked in order to ensure the accurate transmission of these vital books in their original languages. Others gave themselves to the study of those original languages and translated the Scriptures into the languages of the people, often at great risk to their own lives.2 So now it is our turn. Our scholars have worked from the best Greek and Hebrew texts available.3 We have wrestled with the languages—the original languages and English, our target language—debated every decision, and taken inordinate care to make sure we are passing along to the next generation a readable, personal, faithful, creative, and transformative version of Scripture.
The heart of the Christian Scriptures—both Old and New Testaments—is the story of God's covenants with and promises to His people and the world. Concerned with the proliferation of evil, sin, and its dire consequences to His good creation, God decides that the best route to reclaim and repair His broken creation is to reveal Himself to one person, then another, and then another on the way to redeeming the entire world. Each book of the Bible tells part of the story. Each chapter fits into this grand scheme. Each verse contributes some fact, some detail, some nuance to the overall drama. You will notice that the content of some books overlaps (for example, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles), and that is because they are written from different perspectives with unique interests.
Now let us be clear. The Scriptures offer more than an account of God's past actions in history. They also speak of a future that has not yet been fully realized, a future when all things will be made new. That vision of the future is what drives the church and directs its mission. It reminds us that things are not now as they are supposed to be, not now as they are destined to be. It tells us what the world will be like when the one True God finally reigns supreme over a restored creation and evil, suffering, sin, and death are things of the past.
The Scriptures invite us to begin or deepen our connections with God, repair our relationships with each other, take our rightful places as stewards of God's creation, all while discovering what we are made to do. Properly understood, the Bible is deeply relational and must be read in relational terms. It is not just a story about people "way back when." On each page we read about our spiritual ancestors: Abraham our father, Sarah our mother, Paul our brother, Deborah our sister, and a host of other siblings. These books may well have been written by different people to different audiences, but in them we hear God addressing and wooing us. When we immerse ourselves in its story, we find our places in the world as men and women have been doing since the church was born during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-6).
Some well-meaning people tend to reduce the Bible to a set of manageable propositions. They select certain verses to memorize and judge for themselves which parts to read, which rules to follow. But the Scriptures are not meant to be stripped of their storied context. They are meant to be read as chapters in a larger drama of love and redemption. To read part of the Bible is to know only part of the story, not the grand sweep of sacred history. The Scriptures demand that we read and re-read them, that we study and dig deep in order to discover the truth about God, ourselves, and the world. Had God wanted us to have only a few dozen verses to memorize or a set of rules to follow, He could have provided that. Instead, He decided to disclose Himself in the messiness of people's lives, the intrigues of political power, the occasional miraculous deed, and the inescapable still, small voice. Now don't misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with memorizing verses or following the rules, but these must be selected carefully and understood for what they are. It is always unwise to abridge the greater story of Scripture with our own chopped-up versions. Read Obadiah as well as Isaiah. Read Jude as well as John, for you will find in the smallest books a generous portion of the story as it drives toward its fulfillment.
As you read through The Voice and consult the helps provided, we invite you to step into the story of Scripture, hear the authentic voice of God, and experience the beauty, power, and grace resident in each book. Unlike other stories you may hear—ancient and modern—this story is completely true.
David B. Capes, PhD
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The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.
The text from The Voice™ may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio), up to and inclusive of 500 verses or less without written permission, providing the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible, nor do verses quoted account for 25% or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted, and the verses are not being quoted in a commentary or other biblical reference work. This permission is contingent upon an appropriate copyright acknowledgment as follows:
Scripture taken from The Voice™. Copyright © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For churches requesting to use a small selection of material for church bulletins, sermons or classroom use that falls within our “gratis use” guidelines, formal written permission is not necessary. Churches may use stand-alone quotations/scriptures in sermons, bulletins, newsletters, or projected in a worship setting without asking written permission provided the translation is correctly cited.
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