Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Passion Translation

A new Bible translation? Yes, and this one is different from others I've read. The aim of The Passion Translation is to express the original language in a way that shows the emotion behind the text. The translation team incorporated the ancient Aramaic scripture, overlaying it with the Greek. The root meanings of words are revealed in a fresh way, with an emphasis on the original emotive intent of the text. The translation team leader, Brian Simmons, says, “We want English speakers to have the same response as the original hearer...”

I was provided with the gospel of John and The Psalms to review. From the very first verse in the gospel, I could tell this translation was different. Here are the first two verses:

  In the very beginning
  God was already there.
  And before his face
  Was his Living Expression.
  And this “Living Expression”
  Was with God, yet fully God.
  They were together – face to face,
  In the very beginning.

Here are some surprising texts I found in my reading. When Jesus spoke to Nathanael, “Nathanael was stunned.” (John 1:48) After Jesus cleaned the temple and spoke to the Jewish religious leaders, “the Jewish leaders sneered.” (John 2:20) Those phrases give a whole new idea of what the individuals were feeling. Now, those feeling words aren't necessarily in the specific text but footnotes reveal that the emotion is implied in the original language.

This footnote on the last verse in the gospel of John gives an idea of the impact of the Aramaic on translation. “21:25 The Aramaic is very poetic, 'The world itself could be emptied out into the books that would be written.' An alternative translation of the Aramaic could read, 'I suppose that forever is still not long enough time for all the books to be written!'” (108)

The poetry in the Psalms surprised me. Here is Psalm 19:1

  God's splendor is a tale that is told;
  His testament is written in the stars.
  Space itself speaks his story every day
  Through the marvels of the heavens.
  His truth is on tour in the starry-vault of the sky,
  Showing his skill in creation's craftsmanship.

Here is how Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Fierce Protector and my Pastor.” Here is the first line of Psalm 40, “I waited and waited and waited some more.” Here are some phrases from Psalm 104. In verse two, “You wrap yourself with a shimmering, glistening light. You wear sunshine like a garment of glory.” And verse three, “You build your balconies with light beams...”

How about this from Psalm 73:7,8, Asaph writing about the wicked?

  Pampered and pompous, vice oozes from their souls;
  They overflow with vanity!
  They're such snobs – looking down their noses
  They even scoff at God!

This translation gives an idea of the emotion of the biblical writers that I've not seen before. I have read other dynamic-equivalent translations but this one reveals more emotion than I've ever experienced in reading the Bible. That the Jewish religious leaders “sneered” really gives the reader an idea of what those leaders felt. When some of the disciples didn't like what Jesus taught, they said, “That's disgusting!” The translation gives an expression of emotion generally not seen in Bible translations.

It is important for readers to remember that this is not a word-for-word translation but a thought-for-thought interpretation of the original language. Simmons has included lots of footnotes, explaining how the interpretation is implied in the original language.

The uniqueness of this translation is the use of the Aramaic in addition to the Hebrew and Greek. Simmons says the Aramaic speaks more to the heart and in that sense, using it allows for a better expression of the original passion.

As with any thought-for-thought translation, it should be used along with word-for-word translations to obtain a good overview of how a variety of scholars interpret the original languages.

You can find out more about this translation at http://www.stairwayministries.org/ or http://thepassiontranslation.com/. There are videos you can watch and comments from other readers. The entire translation is expected to be finished in 2017.

The translator is Dr. Brian Simmons, a former missionary, linguist, minister, and Bible teacher. He is now working on completing The Passion Translation.

Broadstreet Publishing Group, LLC. John, 112 pages. Psalms, 303 pages.

I received complimentary copies of John and Psalms through the Icon Media Group for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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