Have you ever been tempted to change a word of the Bible to make it communicate something you wish it said? Ever been inclined to leave out certain verses that make you uneasy … or add ones that make you feel a little more comfortable? That's exactly what Old Testament scholar and NIV Translation Committee member Dr. Andrew Shead believes has happened with The Passion Translation (TPT) of the Psalms. In a recent international, evangelical, peer-reviewed theological journal, Shead describes TPT as:
Those are strong words to describe a best-selling Bible translation (1) that has some well-known church leaders raving. However, Shead and other highly regarded Christian scholars respond differently. (2) Here are three quick points:
1. TPT was not translated by credible scholars who have a command of the biblical languages.
Bible translations are typically written by teams of scholars who are well-trained in the original languages. There have been single-author exceptions such as the Wycliffe Bible, the Tyndale Bible, and The Message Bible (see update below). However, the writers of these works were qualified and respected in the field of biblical translation. In contrast, the sole translator of TPT, Brian Simmons, is not trained in the biblical languages, and lacks the credentials necessary to produce an accurate translation of the Bible.
Another thing that sets TPT apart from these other single-author translations is that Simmons claims that Jesus visited him personally, took him to the library of heaven, and asked him to write the translation. He claims to have received "downloads," and "secrets of the Hebrew language" from Jesus Himself. Simmons even admitted that he has minimal background in biblical languages and needed the Lord's help to translate.(3)
If all of that isn't troubling enough, in the television interview cited above, he claims that Jesus promised to bring him back to heaven and give him a brand new chapter of the gospel of John that has never yet been discovered—John chapter 22.
Although the website for the Passion Translation states that a team of "respected scholars and editors" evaluated the material, no names are given. Trustworthy versions of the Bible are safeguarded from the insertion of individual biases, interpretations, denominational backgrounds, theology, and personal preferences by utilizing teams of scholars who have one goal in mind: faithfulness to the original words and meanings of the text.
2. TPT adds to the text or changes the meaning.
In his review of TPT of the Psalms, Shead noted that the end result is at least 50% longer than the original. Here is an example:
NIV: "I love you Lord, my strength."
ESV: "I love you, O Lord, my strength."
KJV: "I will love thee, O LORD, my strength."
Compare these with Simmons's translation:
TPT: "Lord, I passionately love you! I want to embrace you, For now you’ve become my Power!"
At first glance this rendering may not seem very objectionable—loving God with passion is a good thing. However, Shead explains that for a translation to be faithful, it must not "add or subtract from the original words, or change their meaning." He goes on to warn that even if a translation is generally faithful, these additions can cumulatively add up to a picture of a different God—much like in the New World Translation used by Jehovah's Witnesses.
Along with adding words, TPT also changes the meaning of the text in several places. Shead notes that TPT frequently changes the conversation of speech about God or others into speech to God, concrete images into more abstract ones, and removes historical references—even deleting about half the references to enemies and nations.
Bible scholar Dr. Andrew Wilson noted:
3. The manuscript sources are sketchy.
Without getting too deep in the weeds about the science of textual criticism, the standard among scholars is to use the earliest and/or most reliable manuscripts when translating the Bible. (Sometimes the earliest manuscript is not the most reliable, but scholars who specialize in this field endeavor to discover the best manuscript evidence for a given text.)
Contrary to the consensus of the vast majority of scholars, TPT claims that the New Testament may have been written in Aramaic, rather than Greek. (4) Thus, Simmons translates some of his New Testament from the Aramaic, rather than the earlier and more reliable Greek manuscripts.
In his review of TPT of the book of Romans, Dr. Lionel Windsor wrote:
Andrew Shead sums it up, "The Passion Translation shows little understanding, either of the process of textual criticism, or of the textual sources themselves."
Shead's closing words are succinct:
The Word of God is perfect and doesn't need any embellishments, changes, or added emotional flourish. In the original languages, the Scriptures are exactly what God communicated to us, and our translations should endeavor to convey His words as faithfully and honestly as possible. TPT fails to capture the purity, intended meaning, and tone of the biblical texts, and therefore it should not be called a “translation,” nor should it be used as such.
*Since this article was originally published, I have become more informed about some problems with The Message Bible. See JR Miller's post here for more info.
(1) At the time of the writing of this post, the PT translation of the New Testament was #23 on Amazon in the Bible category.
(2) See Dr. Andrew Wilson's review here, and Dr. Lionel Windsor's review here. Also see author Holly Pivec's series of posts on TPT here.
(3) In an interview with the Welton Academy's Podcast, Simmons stated, "I had minimal background in biblical languages, so yeah, it was something that, honestly, something the Lord has really helped me with." (14:52) **UPDATE** Since the publishing of this article, the Welton podcast has been taken down. However, the audio is saved and can be listened to here: https://videopress.com/v/dDTilIPH
(4) In the introduction to the 2013 edition of Letters From Heaven by the Apostle Paul, (Five Fold Media) Simmons wrote, "Some scholars now lean increasingly towards the thought that Aramaic and Hebrew texts of the New Testament are the original manuscripts, and that many of the Greek texts are copies, and a second generation from the originals! This is radically changing translation concepts, and will result in many new translations of the New Testament based on Aramaic."