Translating the Voice of God

David Capes, a professor at Houston Baptist, urged students during chapel last week to find “a part to play in worshiping God.”

Capes said one way he has discovered to worship God is as a scholar through a new translation of the Bible called the Voice.

“We never really get the big picture,” said Capes during chapel. “God didn’t give us a list of propositions. He gave us 66 books to put together to tell the main story.”

As a translation committed to narrating the story, the Voice uses a combination of poetry, narrative and literature to provide a fresh way to connect with God the organization’s website reports.

The website also explains the use of script-type format and the incorporation of the cultural and historical context from Biblical language into today’s language.

One way the translation does this is by showing when dialogue occurs within Scripture by putting it in a screenplay format.

Another example Capes described during chapel is a poem written by Paul to help believers remember keep aspects of Jesus’ life.

When the poem was translated to the English language, the poetry of the writing was lost.

Capes and his team of scholars worked together with a poet to rewrite each line to stay true to each point made in the poem line-by-line while reclaiming the lyrical quality of the section.

Capes recognized that the Voice translation is a paraphrase, though he believes such texts are necessary for the growing percentage of people in America and elsewhere who have never read a Bible before.

“Every language has so many features that no one translation can reproduce everything in the original language, except for perhaps some of the smallest and most routine communications,” said Jim Blankenship, a professor of theological studies.

Blankenship referenced Michael Nicholls, a former translator working in Tanzania with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

“They should follow the word order exactly, unless by following it changes the English focus, register, genre, style, illocutionary force, background/foreground info, participant reference, discourse unit, theme, climax, implicit information, collocation, key terms,
culture, tone, idiom, etc. …” Blankenship quotes.

One critic objects to using the Voice because of the possible spread of false doctrine.

“The Voice claims that it is ‘based on the earliest and best manuscripts from the original languages,” stated Christopher Rosebrough, a Christian apologist and radio personality, in a blog post reviewing the Voice. “However, it employs the use of italicized words that the translators admit are not in the original text…It is primarily through this device that The Voice smuggles false doctrine and teaching into the Biblical text.”

A reported 26 professors and pastors holding doctorate degrees were used in the translation portion of the manuscript.

An additional 52 diverse professionals from pastors to writers to poets to songwriters/singer participated in the writing/creative part of the translation.

Still, Rosebrough argues that too many representatives from the Emergent Church participated in the project, increasing the possibility of bias toward one particular viewpoint.

“Also, I generally trust translations from committees composed of members from different streams of the faith more than I trust translations from individuals or translations from committees that limit their membership to specific sub-groups within Christianity,” Blankenship said. “The more limited the input into a translation, the more the outcome can be determined before the translation ever starts.”

After chapel, Capes addressed critiques of the Voice using a story of a man he met in Portland.

“He was very much a ba-humbug,” said Capes.

The man, who read the King James translation of the Bible, argued with Capes about the necessity of modern translation. Capes gave him a Voice translation and asked the other man to try reading it that night in his hotel room.

After two hours of reading, the man went to bed and the next morning he told Capes he understood why they needed the Voice translation.

During chapel, Capes said the Bible is the most owned and least read book in America. He and other authors’ behind the Voice translation hope to use their gifts to change this by refocusing on the larger story.

“Human beings are hard-wired to hear stories,” said Capes.