The Passion “Translation” Debate: Brian Simmons Responds image

The Passion “Translation” Debate: Brian Simmons Responds

Blogs like this are intended to be places where we pursue truth together, not one where we merely score points off one another (though I sometimes fail on that score), so it is always a privilege to publish responses from writers whom we have critiqued. Brian Simmons, lead translator of The Passion Translation, contacted me personally a few days ago with one of the most gracious responses you could possibly hope for to my (fairly robust) review of his book, and when I asked him if he would like me to post it here, he said yes. I am very grateful to him for his response, and although we continue to disagree on various things - the addition of new thoughts to the text, the Aramaic underlying Brian's translation, and other things I mentioned in my original piece - his response is well worth hearing (and my guess is that when you've read it, whatever you think of The Passion Translation, you'll like Brian). Here's what he said:

I’ve read over your critique and would like to respond. First, I do thank you for considering me to be a “brother” in Christ. Indeed, I’ve followed him with all my heart since August 8, 1973 where I had a powerful conversion. I’ve been a worship leader, a pastor, a missionary (as you noted), church planter, overseer of a church network, a linguist, and a novice poet. The last 6+ years I’ve been quite busy translating the Holy Scriptures into a new, dynamic-equivalent translation. This is more than a mission or a dream to me, it is being obedient to the work the Lord commissioned me to do, which came by means of a supernatural encounter I had in 2009.

Let me take my observations in the order of your points.

1. “This is not really a translation.”

Every translation is, to a degree, a paraphrase. A truly literal translation would make no sense to today’s reader, since Greek phrases, clauses, word order and many other grammatical points are not the way we speak in English. So there is a necessity, at times, to change word order, phrases and even at times, clauses to fit English. This would be true in every translation that is more “literal.” So if they are moving phrases around, wouldn’t that be a para-phrase? To me, a literal translation would read more like a lexicon. The use of italicized word in most translations shows that there are words added to complete an ellipsis or to enhance the meaning for an English reader. I’m sure you’re aware of the sentence length of the Greek text of Ephesians 1:3-16. To write a sentence like that in English would little more than confuse.

Plus, the well known idioms of the Bible, such as “It is harder for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” becomes unintelligible to leave in a literal form. There is a cultural and linguistic aspect to appropriately translating this that is superior to leaving it in a literal form. The word “camel” is an Aramaic homonym that can also mean “rope.” To say “it is easier to force a rope through the eye of a needle” is the best way to translate it.

Let’s just use the meaning of the word “translation.” Here’s what Webster’s Dictionary states: “an act, process, or instance of translating: a rendering from one language into another; also the product of such a rendering; a change to a different substance, form, or appearance.” So TPT qualifies most definitely as a translation. Someone might say it’s not a good translation, and that is fine, but to deny TPT is not a translation is not accurate.

You listed seven examples of verses that I’ve translated. Apparently, you were given an old version, since three of the seven verses you highlighted I had already revised (thanks to my publishers who have allowed me editorial changes until we complete the New Testament next year). The other four examples I went back over and three of the four I made changes that will keep the translation accurate. I am thankful for your insights and wish you would be able to help me further.

Thankfully, not every “scholar” views this as less than a translation: “After reviewing the Greek and seeing how Brian Simmons translates words, phrases, sentences and how he references the Aramaic version (Syriac Peshitta 2nd-5th century AD) of the New Testament, it is evident that Brian is clearly a seasoned, well-trained translator. I’m glad Brian is doing this fresh translation for readers today. My concern is that in the sea of new English translations, new believers without a strong connection to Christ may lose a sense of the objective truth of God’s Word and may be tempted to buy into the relativism of the world and make passages say whatever their itching ears want them to say, which 2 Timothy 4:3 shows will be a problem in these End Times. But that is why The Passion Translation carefully reflecting the original languages-that is, carefully respecting the objective truth in the text of Scripture-makes this a really good translation. It provides fresh, new phrasal and lexical equivalents in English for all readers today that produce a deeper understanding of what God is saying in His Word today.” (Gary S. Greig, PhD, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago, and Former Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Regent University School of Divinity).

2. “Despite of….why it isn’t a translation, it presents itself as if it is.”

This is apparently a rehash of what you shared in point 1, but again, it would be more accurate for you to say, “This is a poor translation.” I’ve heard that more than once. But to deny that is a translation leaves me with no defense to give you. Your point is made so vigorously I’m doubtful that I could sway you differently. However, virtually every thought-for-thought translation calls itself a “Version,” “Translation,” or “Bible.” I’m surprised you didn’t broaden your critique to those who similarly call their work a translation (i.e. NIV, NLT, Message Bible, etc).

3. It is “translated” by one man.”

So was N.T. Wright’s New Testament, which I noticed on your website that you have hosted (or mentioned) him. [Editor’s note: my link to Bob Gundry’s critical review of KNT, “Tom’s Targum,” is here.] That is surprising, since he has done us all a great service. And, I mention that throughout church history there have been groundbreaking translations, all done by one man, such as John Wycliffe (a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation), William Tyndale (whose work comprises approx 80% of uniformity to the KJV - apparently the 50+ scholars copied from the work of one man), John Purvey, William Carey—not to mention the early church fathers who each did translations of portions of the Scripture. Additionally, in nearly every technical commentary written over the last 100 years, scholars have all chosen to present their own translation (i.e. Yale Anchor Bible Series, NIGTC, etc). And we owe a debt of thanks to modern translators such as Moffat, Weymouth, JB Phillips, and N.T. Wright for their contribution.

Also, I ask you about all the modern day translators that are working in the far off mission fields to translate the Scriptures into the indigenous languages. I was a co-translator with a Wycliffe friend who worked with me to translate the Paya-Kuna New Testament. Are we to tell the tribes and tongues that have to wait until we get a “committee” to do their translations? We did have field consultants who worked with us in doing the New Testament, just as I have consultants and theologians who are assisting me. Often there is only one or two speakers of the language that have sufficient linguistic skills to spearhead that translation project. Are you to deprive them of the precious word of God, or should we do the best we can to hand it to them in their native tongue.

4. The much-vaunted Aramaic approach to “translation” is built on very shaky foundations.

TPT is a Greek based translation project that implements the Aramaic, just as the Greek manuscripts use Aramaic words and concepts. This is not the best format to argue for the need of Aramaic, but I will ask one question: Are we truly “scholars” if we refuse to even consult and consider the Aramaic texts which convey the very language of Jesus and His disciples? I will overlook your other comments about this, since again, I’m not sure it would be fruitful to counter every statement you’ve made. I have done my best to always mention in a footnote if or when I use an Aramaic expression or nuance. Countless readers of TPT are gleaning new insights from the text. And I think we all have much to learn, since we have none of the original autographs.

5. “Highly misleading.”

I would be troubled if I thought we were “highly misleading” people in any measure. I do appreciate your opinion, and I do plan on asking our publisher to revise and reword statements on our website to reflect some of your thoughts. And references to Keener and Bird will be removed, per your conversation with Mike Bird. I didn’t misquote them, but if they feel like it’s being used improperly, they will be removed.

6.  “Statements like this.”

My friend, there is no “floaty self-endorsement” taking place. I will look it over again and re-phrase if necessary.

7. “Proliferation of new translations.” 

Hmm, I think that’s a train that you will unable to stop. For the next 100 years I would expect we would have at least 100 more translations that bring more significance and meaning to our Bible reading. If your argument were true, we’d all still be reading the King James Version. You might want to see that I’m not the only one who believes this.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, Andrew. I had tried to put this response directly on your blog, but found there was no way to do that (or at least I was unable to discover how).

Every translation is imperfect. Every translator is imperfect. I acknowledge that and know that my work is but an offering to God, not the final word, or a perfect translation. I do have so much more to learn (not just about translating) and would hope that you likewise would be willing to consider different opinions about translation as being valid. I look forward to any response you may chose to make. Additionally, if you find other passages in TPT that cloud the meaning of the text (other than 7 or so that you mentioned), I’d be honoured to hear your thoughts. Our publishers would be glad to send you a copy of the 10 volumes we have available for your critique. I hope to be in the U.K. this year and would love to meet you.

Blessings in the love of Christ,

Brian Simmons

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