The people behind The Voice claim it is a “dynamic translation that brings the Biblical narrative to life, representing collaboration among scholars, writers, musicians, and other artists.”
Currently a free copy of The Gospel of John can be downloaded from the project’s website. A reading of this version shows that while attention has been paid to presentation, the content leaves much to be desired.
Scripture Gets a New Voice
David Capes, a professor at Houston Baptist University, and Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia Church, put together a team to collaborate on a new translation of the Bible called The Voice.
David Capes relishes the recent comment by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards: “I read the Bible sometimes,” the gnarly Richards said, “but I find it deadly boring.”
“What we’re trying to say is, Keith, we understand,” Capes says. “But don’t give up yet. This is a beautiful story, an amazing story.”
Bringing people like Richards to the Bible requires a new way of presenting Scripture, Capes contends. It requires a translation that speaks to modern sensibilities, to modern ways of processing information, and to modern ignorance of many Biblical terms.
To that end Capes, a professor of Greek and New Testament at Houston Baptist University, together with Chris Seay, pastor of the nondenominational Ecclesia Church in Houston, put together a team of more than 80 writers, scholars, poets and songwriters to collaborate on a new translation of the Bible. They’ve titled it The Voice. The complete New Testament will be released next week by Thomas Nelson, the Nashville-based Christian publishing house. The goal is to release the Old Testament by fall 2010.
“There are great translations out there, but we live in a new day, with a new audience,” says Capes, also an elder at Ecclesia. “So this is meant to address that audience.”
What motivated Seay was his feeling that existing translations didn’t capture the uniqueness and literary beauty of the Bible and didn’t convey the narrative force of the original.
Both he and Capes say they want to break people’s habit of viewing the Bible as a set of principles and prescriptions. It’s a story, a grand drama of redemption, Capes says. “What we have in Scripture is a great story of love and forgiveness, of a great fall and how God is going about repairing the world. Jesus himself was a master storyteller.”
Seay echoes that, calling the Bible “a grand narrative, filled with beautiful stories. Pastors have to become better at telling the story of Scripture.”
The target audience comprises believers who are left cold by traditional styles of worship and Bible-reading, particularly people in their 20s and 30s.
Capes notes that about 20 million Christians participate in alternative Christian communities — they meet in theaters and storefronts instead of traditional sanctuaries and they approach worship differently.
“They have a different way of thinking about these things spiritually,” he says. Traditional Bibles with their black covers, abstruse notes, and page after page of dense type can be off-putting to them.
“We realize that younger people, whether they’re Christians or not, long to read the Bible,” Seay says, “because they realize it’s historically and culturally significant — and I believe the greatest literature you could ever read.”
Seay emphasizes he doesn’t equate accessibility with voguish slang or fourth-grade-level prose.
“What we’re looking for is almost like the King James version,” he says. “We’re looking for a more literary rendering that will stand the test of time. Our take is, if it’s written beautifully and calls you into the narrative, that when you finish a chapter you really want to read the next chapter to see what’s going to happen, then more people in their 20s and 30s will end up reading the Bible.”
Here and there the translators add words and phrases not in the original to clarify something. The introduced language is italicized so readers can recognize it for what it is.
“It’s way to get people reading the Bible,” Capes says of the format changes. “The Voice is also intended to encourage the practice of reading the Bible aloud, and making that an important part of the worship service.”
So why call it The Voice?
Initially the idea was to call it The Word, says James F. Couch Jr., vice president for translation development at Thomas Nelson. Couch, along with Capes and Seay, went over every word of the text.
But as organizers discussed the title, they decided The Voice “really did reflect hearing God’s voice through Scripture,” Couch says.
The Voice’s New Testament project brought together 11 Bible scholars and more than a dozen writers. Contributors communicated sometimes in person, often via e-mail or videoconference. The writers include Brian McLaren and Lauren Winner, best known for their popular books on religion and spirituality, as well as Greg Garrett, who has written secular fiction. Capes and Seay are also contributing writers.
Surprisingly, the writers rather than the scholars were tasked with producing the first draft. “We asked the writers to get started, to work from the original if they could, or if they couldn’t, to work from translations, and to provide their own version,” Capes says.
Then a scholar, working from the Greek or Hebrew, adjusted the translation to capture the nuances of the original. The draft went back and forth several more times between scholars and writers and reviewers. Typically more than 14 people looked at a book before it was pronounced ready for print.
Seay and Capes say the translation doesn’t hew to any narrow denominational or theological line. Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and nondenominational Christians participated. Capes says he’s talking to Catholics about joining the work.
Thomas Nelson is releasing the complete New Testament in a healthy first printing of 65,000.
Seay, who has just returned from a tour in which he introduced The Voice in churches and at a conference, says he’s been overwhelmed by the response. The book’s format makes extended reading-aloud easier. People can sit around and each take the part of a biblical character.
“In small groups and Bible studies that seems to be really catching on,” he says. “We’re glad that it gives people a new way to interact with the Scriptures.”
– Source: Fritz Lanham, Scripture gets a new voice (no longer online), Houston Chronicle, Oct. 24, 2008