Thinking Out Loud

March 14, 2013

The Voice Bible: The Rest of the Story

I have to admit here that while The Voice Bible translation has been something I’ve been aware of for a decade, it has largely been flying under my radar. For that I apologize, because The Voice is exactly the type of thing I like to celebrate here at Thinking Out Loud. This is a translation, but one that involved a mix of theologians and academics with the likes of poets, playwrights and music composers.

The Story of The VoiceWhat has sparked a change in my perspective is twofold. First, the announcement from that they would be including The Voice among their list of online translations. If nothing else, this establishes a certain legitimacy. But then, an offer to review The Story of The Voice, a behind-the-scenes insider peek at the making of this new Bible.

Such books are often propagandist. Leland Ryken’s little booklet, Choosing a Bible is basically an unabashed self-promotional tool for the ESV. The book equivalent of paid programming, with all the hyperbole you would expect. But others, like How to Choose a Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss are like a crash course in translation, allowing you to peer over the shoulder of translators as they wrestle with difficult passages, sentences, phrases and even single words. The Story of The Voice fits into that latter, more balanced and informative category.

Again here, I have to say I’m sorry for arriving late to this party. This translation is due all the expectancy we had a decade earlier when The Message came to print. It’s a milestone in Bible translation and possibly the first translation dedicated wholly to meeting the needs of a generation that is not Bible-literate. In many ways The Message paved the way for a Bible like The Voice.

But the companion book also shows that the translators did not exactly treat the King James Version with disdain; often referring back to how its phrasing reverberates even in a contemporary culture. There are frequent references to the NIV as the currently most popular, to the NASB for its status the most ‘literal,’ but also to the KJV for being perhaps the most pervasive of any Bible in the last five hundred years or more.

Ironically, like the KJV, the aims of The Voice translators were literary as well as theological, but The Voice team felt that similarities in style in previous Bibles has robbed them of the unique style with which each Bible book speaks; the background and intent of each author. So in the case of the gospels, to provide an authenticity to each writer, translators were chosen with backgrounds complementary to the Biblical book they were assigned.

In addition, The Voice has added some words and phrases — in italics, as did the KJV — to make passages clear to people unfamiliar with the story. In many cases, these insertions are quite liberal in terms of length. But even more surprising to some is the use of embedded commentary; notes that are placed in indented boxes within the core text, rather than at the bottom of the page.

In my excitement over all this translation brings, my task at hand is reviewing the companion book, and I must say that it is a story unto itself, which defines Chris Seay’s original vision and the ups and downs of the process by which The Voice came to market. Containing chapters which focus on particular aspects of the project, The Story of The Voice is available now in a 150-page paperback from Thomas Nelson at $9.99 US. The Bible itself is what you really want to get your hands on, especially if there is someone in your sphere of contacts who has had no previous exposure to church or scriptures.

Read an excerpt from The Voice: Click here.

June 21, 2012

A Bible for Today in the Spirit of the ’70s

My instructions that Sunday morning were clear. Look for a man with a long beard, he has a case of the new Bible everyone’s talking about. It turned out there was also another guy in what was Canada’s only megachurch running copies through an underground economy.

The Bible was Reach Out. It was a New Testament using a new translation, The Living Bible. I’d seen Living Letters and Living Epistles on my parents’ bookshelf, but this was a youth edition with over a hundred pictures and graphics. A Bible that was cool. Who would have thought? (I later received a copy of Get Smart, an equally youth-targeted version of Proverbs; more on that here.)

My Reach Out was well read. At a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania, I obtained a couple of bumper stickers and used them to keep the book intact. Here was a Bible that talked like I talked, and looked like other books I would read. And I did read, discovering that when the text is flowing and easy to follow, one of Paul’s epistles only takes five minutes; a gospel might be read in 20 minutes. The book that had intimidated me for years was suddenly accessible.

Later, a full edition with both Old and New Testaments was released as The Way; and now, in 2012, The Way returns in the same spirit, with sidebar stories and black and white pictures. Spearheaded by Mark Oestreicher, the goal of this particular labor of love was to capture the spirit of the original but with new Bible book introductions, new sidebar stories, and of course, substituting the NLT for the Living Bible.

(I should say at this point that the publisher, Tyndale, has kept the original Living Bible in print. They even added a second anniversary edition last year, effectively doubling the number of formats available.)

In a world where Bible publishers have gone overboard adding color pages, The Way is very counter-cultural in black and white. I wasn’t sure how one approaches reviewing a Bible, so I jumped into Leviticus. (Rob Bell would be proud.) I enjoyed the intro, which is empathetic to non-Bible-readers.

The list of contributors to this is not exactly a Who’s Who of Christian writers, though you might recognize a few names like Luke MacDonald, Matt Maher, Austin Gutwein, Charlie Peacock and Dan Kimball. For the most part, these are younger writers. (Christian blogosphere types will also recognize UK photographer Jonny Baker.)

There are many features in this single column NLT including smart phone QR codes [sample]; but probably its greatest distinctive is a selection of “laments” that runs throughout set in white on black.

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

The paper is thin and sometimes the print is small, because there’s a lot packed into the nearly 1600 pages; but overall, I think this is probably the best of all the NLT editions to give to someone under 30, even if they have not yet crossed the line of faith. I was given a paperback; it’s also available in hardcover and imitation leather.

Watch the promotional video

Dave Wainscott remembers the original The Way cover

A copy of The Way was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Canadian company representing key U.S. Christian publishers for promotion and publicity.

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