October 21, 2020

IM Review: The Voice

In my fair city, Tulsa, Oklahoma, we see two types of buildings pop up with regularity: banks and churches. With each announcement of a new bank or a new church, we ask ourselves, “Do we really need another bank/church in Tulsa?” Yet it seems we do, for new ones are announced almost weekly.

And so I ask a similar question here today. Do we really need another English Bible translation? The answer is “Apparently so,” for publishers keep releasing them. Last year we saw the Common English Bible (rather bland) and NT Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament (too similar to other translations to make it stand out). So when I heard that 2012 would see the release of yet another new translation, let’s just say I was less than excited. Until I bought a copy of The Voice.

Now I am excited.

I’m not a biblical scholar, a Greek scholar, or really any scholar. If you want to know what manuscripts The Voice relied on most, or want to debate dynamic vs. formal equivalence, feel free to delve into those topics on your own. I’m not saying they are not important to discuss, I’m just saying that is not how I want to talk about this Bible.

We in America approach the Bible differently than just about any other nation. We can buy just about any translation or paraphrase of Scripture at both Christian and general market stores (like Barnes and Noble or Books A Million). If we don’t want to venture out of the house, we have an even larger selection available to us with the click of a mouse button. The average number of Bibles owned by those who call themselves “Bible readers” is just shy of four. And yet Bible readership has fallen every decade since the 1980s. Obviously, Bible ownership does not equal Bible readership.

It used to be that if I went to church without my Bible I was reduced to the role of spectator. It would be like going to class without your textbook. Now, however, I seldom see anyone in my church with their Bible—other than on their phones. And there I’m suspicious that they’re really playing Angry Birds. But I digress. Bible verses are now shown on the big screen. I understand this allows the speaker to use the version he/she thinks best fits the verse they are using, and that it also prevents “dead air” as they wait for the congregation to try and find Obadiah or Titus. Still, this is how I learned to find things in Scripture, and I’m sad that’s missing in many of today’s churches.

Back to The Voice. Our Bible did not arrive via angelic FedEx in written form. It was shared by storytellers for thousands of years before being written. As we’ve talked about many times here at iMonk, the Bible is a story with one plot: To reveal Jesus to us. And sharing that story is what Bible translators have aimed to do for hundreds of years. Some get it better than others. Some, like Ken Taylor’s original Living Bible and Eugene Peterson’s The Message, seek to retain the storytelling feel. Others, such as the translators of the NIV, NASB and NKJV, stick as close as they can to original sources, giving us a bit more of an academic feel. Then there versions that try to do both, and thus please neither crowd (such as The Kingdom New Testament).

The Voice is much more of a storyteller’s Bible. The translating team—which included both scholars like Darrell Bock and David Capes, and artists like Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep) and Sara Groves—liberally adds words and phrases implied, but not included, in the original documents to help in the flow of the story. Don’t panic when I say this. The King James translators did the same thing. Here’s an example from The Voice in 1 Corinthians 13:

I could give all that I have to feed the poor, I could surrender my body to be burned as a martyr, but if I do not live in love, I gain nothing by my selfless acts.

The words in italics are in italics in The Voice, letting you know they have been added. But are they a wrong addition? Let’s try another example from John 3.

Don’t be shocked by My words, but I tell you the truth. Even you, an educated and respected man among your people, must be reborn by the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

In the first example, only a few words are added. The second verse has more additions than original words. But do these additions harm the integrity of the verses? I think not. Then there is this verse from John 14:

I am the path, the truth, and the energy of life. No one comes the Father except through me.

The energy of life? No, I don’t like this one. The first job of a good editor is to realize fewer words pack more punch. Here, we take away from Jesus saying he himself is life by adding this modifier. Still, I don’t think anyone is going to lose their salvation over this.

A number of people have raised their blood pressure because The Voice doesn’t use the word “Christ.” Instead, they substitute “Anointed One.” Fine with me. That’s what Christ means. And instead of “angel,” the translators chose “heavenly messenger.” Good call. In Psalms, God at times is called “the Eternal One.” I have no problem at all with any of these word choices.

Bible versions are a personal choice. For me, a storyteller myself, I like The Voice. Somehow, I don’t think the translating team take themselves too seriously. And, somehow, I think this makes the Lord happy.



  1. I like The Voice, and bought a copy of the The Voice Bible shortly after the complete OT+NT came out, at 50% off at Mardel. There are problems, though, like the verse you quote from John 3. You quote:

    Don’t be shocked by My words, but I tell you the truth. Even you, an educated and respected man among your people, must be reborn by the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

    This is John 3:7. In the Greek, while the first “you” (literally, “Do not marvel that I said to you”) is singular, i.e., addressed to Nicodemus, the second “you” (“You must be born again/from above”) is plural – i.e., referring to the Jewish people, not just Nicodemus as being “an educated and respected man among [his] people.”

    • Jesus is not simply quoting back what he had said in 3:3 and 3:5, for in those verses he used the singular “unless someone” (or “a man/person”) is born….” rather than “unless y’all are born….”

    • Or Jesus could be meaning “Even all of you Pharisee leaders of the people.”

      • Thanks Eric. In reading and studying the Bible, you (plural) almost have to have several versions open at the same time. One also has to read in the eyes of those being written for not just us moderns who know ” all about science”

        I bought the Kindle version to refer to when I study. The more I learn and dig,the more questions I raise. But slowly I am learning and understanding the stories in the Bibl

        • Cool thing about Biblegateway is that you can pick out a passage and go from one translation to another very easily. It’s my preferred way of reading the Bible.

          And I wish the rest of y’all had caught up to the obvious usefulness and necessity of “y’all” as a word, like we Southerners did, a long time ago. So many things would be more clear.

          For me personally, I can skip the commentary unless it is a historical or linguistic note. All of the italics would bug me. In the three examples given, I don’t see anything really useful added. Is it done to make the sentences flow better? To sound more colloquial?

    • “(“You must be born again/from above”) is plural”

      Cool, I did not know that. Guess I need to read in the greek more. 🙂

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        I think that’s why we need the Texas Bible, where all the 2nd-person plurals are translated as “y’all.” Or the VERY Texas Bible, where they’re translated as “all y’all.” And in my parish… it’d sound about right 😀

        • Being in Texas, I indeed use “y’all” for 2nd-person plurals when I read or teach 1st-year NT Greek.

          The KJV and ASV retain the 2nd-person thee/thou/-est (singular) and ye/you (plural) distinction:

          John 3 (ASV):

          * = 2nd-person singular in the pronoun or verb/verbal
          ** = 2nd-person plural in the pronoun or verb/verbal

          1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that

          *thou art

          a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that

          *thou doest,

          except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say

          *unto thee,

          Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say

          *unto thee,

          Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said

          *unto thee,


          must be born anew. 8 The wind bloweth where it will, and

          *thou hearest

          the voice thereof, but


          not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him,

          *Art thou

          the teacher of Israel, and


          not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say

          *unto thee,

          We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and

          **ye receive

          not our witness. 12 If I told


          earthly things and

          **ye believe

          not, how shall

          **ye believe

          if I tell


          heavenly things?

  2. Steve Newell says

    I view books like the Voice or the Message not as bibles but as bible commentaries.

  3. Tim Becker says

    I’m an NIVonlyist.

  4. I just got myself a copy of “The Books of the Bible” which I ordered directly from the International Bible Society. It’s a TNIV with NO chapters, verses, or other artificial breaks. Been looking for something like it for awhile – something which gives the “story” feel just like Jeff describes – and so far I am very satisfied.

    (And if TNIV gives you the heebie-jeebies, I believe an NIV version is on the way)

  5. The only problem I have with some of these newer, more casual translations is that the more up-to-date they are, the sooner they go out of date. I’m working through an older one right now, An American Translation, and some of it’s colloquialisms have already passed from common usage. However, I find the fact that The Voice puts its interpretation in italics to be fascinating. “Anointed one” for Christ doesn’t necessarily bother me, but it ain’t gonna catch on. We’ve been calling him Christ for 2000 years, it’s probably gonna continue to stick. It’s good to make the point, but in about 25 years we might look back on it and think it was rather silly.

    I think I’m gonna just wait and let some of the newer translations vet for about 10 years before I invest in them. If they’re still around, they may have some enduring qualities. I just don’t read the Bible enough to keep up with all the differences in all the various translations coming out. I’m sure the Voice is refreshing, just like the Message was, but as much as I liked that one I never spent much time with it. I just haven’t found anything that appeals to me more than the NRSV, which is the easiest read of the formal-equivalency camp. How I wish it wasn’t so darned liberal…

    • Liberal? NRSV? Seeing as my evangelical seminary made it the required version for paper writing…

      • Which school was this? Odds are, it’s probably a bit left of myself. I’m not one of those “burn the liberal Bible” guys, I obviously love it and use it regularly, but some of the interpretational choices are just disheartening. I’m not a conspiracy theorist who thinks they’re trying to deny the virgin birth or anything, but I wish they had just stuck with the traditional rendering on those passages. And they killed Psalm 22. Unforgivable. Perhaps I should try the Roman Catholic version of the NRSV.

  6. The “energy of life” is way too New Age for me. I have too many friends who think of God as a power, an energy that can be “tapped into” through whatever works for you. From Yoga to Vegan to Labyrinths to Deep Breathing techniques etc. They think I am too narrow with my Jesus is The Truth, The Way and The Life.

  7. Looks interesting. Gotta stick with my ESV, though. I do like The Message, because I’m a big fan of anything Eugene Peterson writes. I agree, “the energy of life” is a little too new age sounding…I picture Jesus handing out smooth, warm rocks for people to rub between their thumbs and index fingers while they repeat those words. Followed by a couple of passionflower pills and a shots of tequila for everyone!

    One of my favorite “translations” is Clarence Jordan’s “Cotton Patch Gospel”, which places Jesus in Georgia in the heat of the civil rights movement. It’s powerful stuff, and when you see place names that are communities and cities you’ve been to, it puts the Gospel narrative in a whole new light.

  8. Thanks for this post. I was the lead scholar on the The Voice Bible project. I appreciate each of your comments. The translation is not meant to replace anyone’s favorite translation. It is aimed at those who have never read and would likely not read other translations. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said once: “I read the Bible sometimes, but I find it deadly boring.” We did this for people like Keith Richards who don’t read and don’t understand the Bible. If we can get them started by reading THE VOICE and help them enter in a relationship to God through Jesus, then we will be happy. We’d also be thrilled if they went on to more technical translations like the ESV one day.

    I’m working on a book called THE STORY OF THE VOICE. It will be published in 2013 by either Thomas Nelson or Zondervan. It will tell the story behind THE VOICE translation, its missional purpose, and provide some rationale for the decisions made in translation.

    Our website is http://www.hearthevoice.com. Take a look at some of the videos we’ve done related to the project. While I like them all, my favorites are Psalm 150 and Life is Fleeting/ Ecclesiastes 1.