“The Voice” Translation: What is it like?

I recently received a copy of The Voice Bible, a new English translation from Thomas Nelson. This translation has received hype in the mainstream media because of its abandoning of some traditional English renderings. For example, The Voice does not have “Jesus Christ,” but prefers “Jesus the Anointed” or “Jesus the Anointed One.” This is because of The Voice’s desire to translate rather than transliterate, a move I applaud.

As I begin to read, I notice another feature that may be of interest. The editors of The Voice have chosen to include many words that go beyond a literal word-for-word translation from the original texts. They have used an old technique to communicate this to the reader: words not in the original text appear in italics. The Voice seems to be very careful about this, and you will find an italicized word or two in high percentage of verses. As a completely random sample, I notice that 12 of the 18 verses of Ecclesiastes 1 have at least one italicized word, 66%. I have no idea if this ratio holds for the entire translation, but I would estimate that the total might be above 50%.

There is an important difference, though, between The Voice‘s use of italicization and what we might see in most editions of the King James Version and in the print editions of the New American Standard Bible. The NASB Preface explains its policy this way, “ITALICS are used in the text to indicate words which are not found in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek but implied by it.” In technical terms, this means italicized words are used to fill in elliptical expressions, such as when the verb from one sentence is implied to serve as the verb for the next sentence. The Voice editors go beyond this limited scope in many cases. Let me give you an example from Psalm 8:3, 4:

When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation–
on the moon, stars, and all You have made,
I can’t help but wonder shy You care about mortals–
sons and daughters of men–
Specks of dust floating about the cosmos.

Notice that “and all” and “and daughters” are within the flow of the sentences. “And all” goes beyond the literal intent of the verse, but does seem to capture the summary of “Your creation” from the previous line, and therefore we could see this as justifiable. To add “and daughters” to sons communicates the intent of the original text, which was not designed to exclude women. Both of these italicized additions are variations on what the NASB might do.

But this is not the case for Specks of dust floating about the cosmos. These seven words are created wholly by the translators as an interpretive help for the reader. They have no antecedent in the original Hebrew text. It is somewhat troubling to me that this expression imports a modern cosmology that would not have been shared or even understood by the original readers or the author of this psalm. The idea of “floating about the cosmos” sounds more like Carl Sagan than King David.

So what are we to make of this? I think The Voice is a bold experiment in Bible translation, truly unlike anything I have every seen before. There is a difference, though, between “this is what the Bible says,” and “this is how we think you should understand what the Bible says.” The Voice editors have crossed this line. It will be welcomed by some for its freshness and contemporary tone. Many readers will like is, as many have enjoyed Gene Peterson’s The Message. But I don’t expect it to be a favorite of scholars or be used in Bible College classrooms.

I am planning on reading out of The Voice for my own personal devotions for a couple of months. I will blog about that experience down the road.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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2 thoughts on ““The Voice” Translation: What is it like?

  1. I picked up a copy after your first short blog… or maybe it was a Facebook note. I any case I’ve been reading if for my devotional times for the past month or so. The goal of the authors it seems is to provide more story form, and give us something more readable. To be frank, I don’t find it more readable. There are parts that seem clumsy to me. I don’t know if I’ve been reading other translations too long to be able to make a mental shift. I don’t think that’s the issue, with Peterson’s paraphrase I don’t have this same problem. I simply sometimes get the feel reading it – and it actually becomes a thought in my mind – “You’re trying too hard here.”

    The other thought I had reading it was, though I also applaud the attempt to leave aside transliteration, they haven’t done so in every case, which is interesting. Also they have taken out words that have come to be commonly understood within the culture (relatively speaking) and replaced them with words that many don’t understand. Example: “Anointed” rather than “Christ.”

    So I wonder if they have actually accomplished their goal.

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