Thinking Out Loud

February 10, 2022

Bible Gateway Pulls the Passion Translation

I wrote this to appear at a book trade blog I continue to write and edit, only to preview it and discover that I had formatted it for this one accidentally. It then struck me however that this a fairly major development, and it does speak to the sometimes awkward issue of “translation versus paraphrase” which I have covered here in 2018. So I think it’s worth sharing here as well. There are three links below and I encourage you to follow them.

The decision by BibleGateway.com to remove The Passion Translation (TPT) from the platform should, at the very least, give retailers pause. There have been a number of vocal critics of TPT since its inception, but Bible translation is always an emotionally-laden issue, especially in Bibles not the product of a large committee.

The decision, made at the end of January, came to our attention on February 9th, with a news article at Christianity Today. It noted that the original Living Bible and The Message — also single-author versions, as is TPT by Brian Simmons — remain on Bible Gateway, but added that,

“Eugene Peterson, was clear that he was putting the Bible into his voice—describing the project as a paraphrase, not a translation. He even said he felt “uneasy” about its use in worship and personally still preferred the originals in his devotions.”

The issue seems to be that TPT insists on calling itself a translation. However, an article on February 7th in Eternity Magazine, points out some striking differences, quoting their translation expert John Harris:

“The first is temptation is to add too much to the original text. This is the kind of thing The Message sometimes does, but Peterson does not claim that what he has written is the Word of God.

“The second temptation is to add things which were never there in the first place, to put explanations in the text itself. Here lies the real danger because there is always the temptation to add words which push the text towards a particular theological position.”

The Passion Translation is a good example of this, according to Harris.

“Philippians 1:2 says: ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)’

“In TPT, the same phrase reads: ‘We decree over your lives the blessings of divine grace and supernatural peace that flow from God our wonderful Father, and our Anointed Messiah, the Lord Jesus.’”

The issue is a bit obvious! Greek, 11 words. NIV 14 words. TPT 27 words.

“There are obviously many additional words. A relatively harmless addition here is the word wonderful. Yes, God is wonderful, but the original is not talking about the wonder of God and so to use the word is to add to what the Bible originally said. We cannot add words, even good words, and say it is faithful to the original text,” says Harris.

A very short time after TPT was published, a revised version appeared with significant changes. When quoting TPT, one needs to be clear if they’re quoting the first second edition.

Criticism was swift to arrive when early editions appeared, but at the website Escape to Reality, author Paul Ellis offers something positive:

There are plenty of critical reviews pointing out what TPT gets wrong, so let me point out some things it gets right. Let’s start with this well-known passage from John 15:2.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit…

  • He takes away (ESV/NASB/NKJV/Darby/Wuest)
  • He taketh away (ASV/KJV)
  • He cuts off (ISV/MSG/NIV)
  • He breaks off (GNB)

For years I have insisted that these are bad translations of Jesus’ words. Jesus doesn’t cut or remove unfruitful branches; he lifts them up. As far as I know, TPT is the only Bible that gets this right:

He cares for the branches connected to me by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches. (John 15:2, TPT)

Does this matter?

If you are an unfruitful Christian, would you rather hear that Jesus plans to cut you off and take you away (something he never said) or that he will lift you up? Bad translations hurt people; good ones encourage them to trust Jesus.

TPT is scheduled to be completed in 2026. The Christianity Today article quotes the publisher:

“An exhaustive and thorough review and update of the entire Bible will be undertaken ahead of its release in the next 5-6 years,” BroadStreet said in a statement. “The review of the text by our team of theologians and industry professionals will continue to address feedback, as has been our approach to-date.”

…One of the things which emerges from this at the retail level is the difference between Christian bookstore proprietors who got into the business because they saw some pretty décor items at a gift show, and those who are able to engage with the theological concerns of thoughtful customers. A store that cares about the potential impacts of the products you carry, needs to see the CT article in full because it raises important issues.

The article cites some people in the Neo-Calvinist/Reformed communities who are naturally going to be opposed to anything that’s not ESV, but bookstore owners need to weigh all the evidence and allow it to, at the very, very least, temper future ordering of TPT products. But let us be clear, Charismatic and Pentecostal customers have historically been a driving part of the Christian publishing business, and alienating customer segments is never a good idea.

This has all developed in the last few hours, but for Christian retailers, I would think it also presents the distinction between titles which are accepted only as custom orders, versus things carried in-stock. Store owners are investing their capital in their inventory and need to feel at peace with where those investment dollars are going.


Footnote: The issue of textual additions came up before with The Voice translation, however all of their supplemented words and phrases were placed in italics, a tactic which had precedent in the decision of the KJV translators to include extra words in italics to clarify meaning. True, in English we use italics for emphasis — see what I did there! — but they wanted to be careful to adopt an already existing convention. Readers knew what was core text and what was added. Because The Voice followed a dramatic/script formatting, transitional paragraphs were added, but they were also made visible by their lack of verse numbering. With TPT, it simply not clear where one ends and the other begins, and this appears to be one of the major issues scholars and academics have with TPT.


Another example of people adding to the Bible text is the Amplified Bible. There again, the use of parenthesis makes it absolutely clear when words are being used to amplify basic meaning. It occurred to me while re-reading the example in Philippians 1 above that Brian Simmons was doing the same thing in TPT, but again, there was no use of parenthesis or italics, so the less-informed reader would take away TPT’s rendering as “what the Apostle Paul says” in verse 2, when in fact, that is far from the case.

October 16, 2014

The Love Chapter Remixed

Filed under: character — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

Love Chapter UpdateThis appeared on The Blazing Center, the blog of Stephen Altrogge, who you can also listen to regularly on The Happy Rant Podcast.

If I status update with such insight, hilarity, godliness, or profundity, that I get a thousand retweets and likes, yet have not love, I’m a cellphone that won’t stop ringing, or a car alarm at 2 AM.

If I understand every nuance of every complicated doctrine, including eschatology and predestination, and am a constant defender of orthodoxy, and if I am renowned for my ability to communicate truth with passion, but have not love, I’m nothing more than a first grader in the kingdom of God.

If I am a fantastic worship leader, able to lead hundreds of people in passionate worship of God, yet have not love, my skills are worth jack.

If I am a blog warrior, constantly on the attack against those who would distort the faith, yet have not love, I’m that yippy dog next door who won’t stop barking…even at 3 AM.

If I live a life of radical sacrifice, crazy love, and wartime mentality, and sponsor lots of kids through Compassion International, and go on mission trips in “closed countries”, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If I am a great artist, able to capture a snapshot of the glory of God on canvas, or in song, or in prose, or on film, and yet have not love, my creative “genius” is utterly useless to God.

If I preach like Piper or Chandler or Chan or Platt, and yet have not love, I’m nothing more than a squawking parrot who likes to imitate others.

If I read all the books by all the smart theologians, and can quote them off the top of my head, yet have not love, WHO REALLY CARES!!!!

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

December 25, 2013

Christmas Story, Rough Edges and All

Rob Lacey was an actor and street performer in England who performed in inner-city London and Manchester, and wrote a book called The Street Bible which was a kind of “highlights reel” of all 66 Biblical books and later became published in America as The Word on The Street. Before passing away all too soon he also wrote a more complete free-style paraphrase of a harmonization of the synoptic gospels that was published in both countries as The Liberator.

Because my wife had taken the time to type out the text for a Christmas Eve service we did, I wanted to include them here for all to read. She made some minor edits to it, and the poem is of other origin, which I can’t trace right now. Remember, this was written for inner-city youth in urban centers in the UK and makes no pretense to be an actual translation.


So how’d it happen? Baby Jesus. The Liberator? You ready for this?

I’ll tell you: his mum, Mary, is engaged to Joe. They’d not had sex yet, but – weird! She’s pregnant! Courtesy of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on Joe. A good guy, trying to do the right thing and he’s desperate to keep this news quiet. The locals would come down so hard on her. He’s working out how best to deliver the “sorry, but it’s off” speech – without the gossip grapevine crashing from overload.

He’s smashing the billiard balls of his best options around his brain, well into the early hours. Finally he drops off and God downloads a dream: An angel saying:

“Joe Davidson, don’t you chicken out of making Mary your wife. I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby. She’ll have a boy, and you’ll put the name Jesus down on the birth certificate. Why “Jesus”? ‘Cause it means Liberator and that’s what he’s going to do for all his people…. liberate them from all the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.”

Joe wakes up and, yes, realizes it was all a dream. But he follows his Angel Orders to the letter and the wedding’s back on as soon as the baby’s born. Joe makes sure the birth certificate reads, “First name: Jesus.”

Meanwhile, in the depths of the Roman Empire, he-who-must-be-obeyed, Augustus Caesar, announces the Big Count. Caesar, the Big Cheeser, wants accurate population stats across the empire. Everyone is expected to trek back to their hometown for the registration.

So Joe Davidson sets off on the 130 km trip down the map, crosses the border and arrives in Bethlehem, Davidstown, in the south. He takes his fiancee Mary, who’s pregnant and showing. Three, four, maybe five days later they arrive and realize someone else is about to cross a border and arrive in Bethlehem.

Crisis! Her waters break! “No vacancy” signs in every B&B window. Decision. Mary has a ‘home birth’ in a livestock shed. She wraps strips of cloth round the baby and uses an animal feeding trough as a cot.

Noisy night, chaotic night
All is alarm, all is fright
Rounded virgin, now mother to child
Wholly infant, so other, so wild
Awake at an unearthly hour
Awake at an unearthly hour

Pull back to the fields outside the overpacked town, focus in on a local Sheep Security Team sitting through their night shift.

One of God’s angels turns up, with brilliant supernatural special FX packing the fields with God’s radiance. The guys are scared stupid.

The angel delivers his standard, “Don’t panic” line then hits them with, “I’ve got great news, great news to bring a smile to every shape of face on the planet. Mark the date in your diaries. Today over in Davidstown there’s a new baby born. Not just any baby – The Baby! The Boss, Liberator God himself, turning up for you in baby shape. You’ll know which baby – he’ll be wrapped up snug and lying in a feeding trough that’s caked with old animal grub.”

Cued to make their entrance on the last line of the breaking news, the whole angel choir turn up and blast out the song:

“Celebrate! Elevate! And on planet Earth, serenity. In your earthly home, shalom for all who have known God’s smile.”

Once the angel choir scoots back up the Heavenly HQ, the Sheep Security Team come out with, “Let’s check it out”. “Yeah, let’s hit the town.” “Search the whole of Bethlehem for this baby.” “God’s put us in the picture – let’s go!”

They leg it and, sure enough, they track down Mary and Joe, then find the baby in his makeshift cot. The next days they fill the pubs with echoes of what they’d been told about this baby. The public pulse is breakneck pace as “Liberator Talk” bounces round the walls of the town. The reactions range from amazed to – well, amazed.

The Sheep Security Team go back to work, talking up God for letting them in on the whole adventure.

And Mary’s reaction? She’s quietly storing away all of this in a safe place in her heart, bringing memories out when ever she has some space to wonder.

September 2, 2011

CT Comments on Bible Translation Long on Emotion, Short on Rationality

When the piece says “A Christianity Today Editorial,” you know that it was the joint product of the editorial staff, not one rogue writer.  It also means, “this is serious.” In this case, it’s a thoughtful piece that explains the balance that one finds in the 2011 edition of the New International Version (NIV) and the total hypocrisy of the SBC in proposing to ban the translation from its churches, while its bookstore chain is ringing copy after copy after copy through its cash registers.

However, over in the comments section, here’s some of the venom and misinformation that’s out there [with some responses from myself]:

  • Translations, like NIV2011, that distort the original language to facilitate a theological agenda that is contrary to God’s Word should not be promoted, encouraged, or tolerated in the church.  [actually, the Committee on Bible Translation represents scholars from various churches]
  • Well, this article is deceptive with it’s generalizations rather than specifics with its closing statements … [no actually the closing paragraph is fairly specific, the SBC as a whole is talking one thing and doing another]
  • Bible sales have gone up, but what is the major translation that has flooded the market? NOT the NIV spoken of in this article, but the NKJV & the ESV [actually some people in the publishing industry would care to differ with your interpretation of the ESV stats — if you have any — and the NKJV is fairly flat right now as well]
  • I am even more concerned that there seems to be no author credited for this editorial.  [see my comment in the introduction…don’t you just hate it when there’s no individual to attack?…]
  • The dissatisfaction with this latest, “gender-accurate” translation of the NIV is widespread, crossing denominational lines.  [uh, actually it’s relatively limited to the SBC]
  • I will not use the NIV 2011 version in our ministries and I’m afraid the NIV folks have lost many people like myself. Simply put, they have lost my trust.  [but did you actually read a single chapter of it?]
  • The NLT and NCV never made themselves out to be anything but paraphrases with a more gender inclusive nature. [first of all, there’s no such word in linguistics as ‘paraphrase;’ secondly, with 128 translators — not paraphrasers — the NLT is the most translated Bible on the market.]
  • …As a pastor, I will not allow a TNIV nor an NIV2011 cross the threshold of my home or office. They are theological poison! Personally I’m a KJV kind of guy… The KJV presents to us the perfect and finished work of the cross. Other translations make faith an outward working which leads us into bondage. [and I hope when you get to heaven, you get to meet people who were saved through the new NIV — this ‘poisonous’ translation — because they will certainly be there…]
  • An example is Romans 1:17. The NIV translates that in the gospel “a righteousness from God is revealed.”  [talk about missing the point…yes the 1984 edition does say that, but the NIV 2011 moves much closer to what the author of the comment wants — too bad he didn’t bother to check before posting the comment]
  • The author must have attended the same seminary as Brian McLaren- Oh wait, he never went to seminary and has no theological education of any kind. Why do we let people like this represent us. Christianity Today is out of touch with what Christians believe. This is not about translation methodology, but politically correct tinkering with the text to sell more Bibles to liberal denominations.  [this comment is a fail on so many grounds: (a) the senior staff at CT have sufficient training — including seminary — to do their job and (b) the NIV market has always been Evangelicals; the “liberals” the author describes aren’t going to touch it no matter how hard anyone tries]
  • For a critique of modern translation theory and practice, see Leland Ryken’s… pamphlet, Choosing a Bible. [probably one of the most overt examples of ESV propaganda out there, and published by the ESV’s publisher within weeks of the ESV translation’s release]
  • I’m most worried about the true motivations of publishing houses feeding the 80-90% of the world where we already have reliable modern translations with newer translations when those same scholars and publishing houses could be actively partnering to translate and publish for unreached and under-reached people groups.  [on the surface, a good point, but you have to have learned those languages to do that work; instead English translators wrestle with issues that provide background to foreign language translators]
  • …Tinkering with one thing today is a prelude to tinkering with many more things later depending on one’s own interpretation.  [but actually, if you read Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee’s How to Choose a Translation for All It’s Worth — admittedly published by Zondervan — you learn that with the TNIV, the translators actually reverted back to older forms and poetic structures]
  • Are we going to rename “Manchester” to “Personchester”? (and any way Chester is a man’s name….)  [Manchester. Yes. That’s where all this has been heading all along]
  • …more to follow, I’m sure…

With all of this taking place, there’s been little notice of a quietly growing — now in its third printing — new translation, The Common English Bible (CEB).  Has anyone taken any time to look at the same issues in the CEB? 

November 19, 2009

The Word on the Street

I originally blogged this back in April of 2008, when this blog was hosted at e4God.com, but after speaking with someone today about Rob Lacey’s Street Bible and The Liberator, I thought I’d take one more run at this topic while you can still buy copies of both in remainder bins at Christian bookstores.

Ever since my parents gave me a copy of Get Smart, a youth edition of Living Proverbs (forerunner to The Living Bible) and the related Reach Out New Testament, I’ve been a huge fan of Bible paraphrases that arrest you in your tracks, bring the story to life, and say old things in new ways. (Note: Technically The Message is not a paraphrase, but a loose translation, since Peterson worked from original languages.  Not to mention that linguists don’t really buy in on the paraphrase terminology at all.)

My current favorites are the two works by Rob Lacey: The Liberator (synoptic gospels) and The Street Bible (highlights from all 66 books, published in the U.S. as The Word on the Street.)  Rob once said that if a regular Bible is “the movie,” his Street Bible is the “coming attractions trailer.”  Sadly, the world lost Rob to cancer several years ago.  He was only 43.

Books like these don’t pretend to be all things to all people. They usually are written for a specific culture living in a specific place at a specific time. I’m told that Rob had in mind inner city youth in major UK cities like London and Manchester. (Fortunately, living in Canada we get a lot of British Television, so many of the figures of speech were known to us. The U.S. edition — which someone at Zondervan actually consulted me about before publishing — has explanations printed sideways in the margins.)

More recently, a friend from New Zealand introduced us to Chris Grantham writer of The Kiwi Bible (gospel story) and the newer The Kiwi Bible: Some of the Early Stuff (brief sections from the Old Testament). While I’m not part of the NZ audience this is intended for, I’ve found things in these versions that I missed in the more traditional ones. I’ve also seen the Australian Bible Society’s The Aussie Bible. (If you’re one of our Canadian readers, you can get both Kiwi books at our book store. Elsewhere in the world check out www.kiwibible.co.nz )

Here’s a Kiwi rendering of Psalm 23. Enjoy.

My Best Mate
(by Dave)

God’s my best mate, I’ll do all right for sure.
He gives me a breather when I need it,
He knows just the best place for a cool, refreshing quiet one.
When I’m feeling really knackered, he picks me up.
He’s got me heading down the right track, he knows what’s best.
Even when life totally sucks, no worries — you’re right there with me. I reckon that’s real cool. You know just what it takes to keep me going.
You put on a fantastic feed for me, right in front of my enemies, complete with an awesome relax-making massage. I’m stoked!
I reckon all your love and good stuff will be my lot from now till when I cark it. I’ll sure be living in your outfit forever — and then some.

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