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.

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