When I was in bible school, I wanted to know the answer. I mean, The Answer to Everything. (Douglas Adams fans already know that it is the number "42") I just thought that the smart bible people would know the answer to everything "bible-related." They probably did, but neglected to tell me. After all, spoon-feeding is only good at the beginning and end of your life, or when you are incapacitated from jumping off a building because you thought it would be fun. But anyway, one of my burning questions was "What's the best translation of the Bible?" For those of you who have this question, let me give you an answer: "It depends..."
"What kind of answer is that?"
It's the only answer. The person who tells you confidently that the King James is "THE BEST," is talking rubbish. Ditto for the NIV (Nearly Inspired Version) or the English Standard Version proponents. The best version is really the one that meets your needs. And all modern bibles are pitched to meet different needs. Some accurately portray the sense of obscure words. Others are more "literal" and "wooden," (i.e., great studying + horrible reading). Still others have a lower reading level for people who hate reading. So, you see, "it depends..." It depends on what you are looking for.
Enter, The Passion translation...
Recently, a friend asked me what I thought about The Passion translation of the Bible. I have only read its website and actually have no experience with the thing. But I do know what The Passion website says about it. And there are some things I like. For one thing, they want it to really speak in today's language and communicate God's passion. Also they have dropped the practice of capitalizing pronouns that refer to God (e.g., "He...," "Him...") because the original languages don't capitalize divine pronouns. Further, The Passion people are totally correct in asserting that there is never really an exact translation of a word from one language to another. And I am intrigued by the idea of capturing the "emotion" of a translation as well as the intellectual meaning.
But I do have some reservations...
- There is only a single translator. Sure, there are experts who evaluate what he's saying, but the grunt work is done by one dude. And that is NEVER a good idea these days. Though it might have worked in the Middle Ages, today all major versions of the Bible are worked on by committees of people who are EXPERTS in the language and text of the biblical book they are working on.
- The translators credentials are suspect. To his credit, the translator has been to translation school, done mission work, and produced the Paya-Kuna New Testament for the people of Panama. Kudos! However, any person involved in translation from original languages into a modern English version should have a PhD in linguistics or something involving the Biblical text. A "doctorate" on "prayer" doesn't really count.
- There is an overstress on "Aramaic" and its new fabulous insights into proper translation. It is true that Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic and that parts of Daniel and Ezra are in the same language. And there are some insights that can be gleaned from knowledge of Aramaic. However, the New Testament was written in Greek and any Aramaic translation is just that: a translation of a Greek copy. God didn't choose to write the New Testament in Aramaic. Further, there is no manuscript evidence that Daniel and Ezra were totally written in Aramaic.
So this boils down to an immediate three-fold reservation: single translator, whose credentials are weak, and who stresses the Aramaic beyond reason. Does this make The Passion Version a bad translation? I don't know.