Book Review: The Story of the Voice (Capes, Seay, Couch)

The Story of the VoiceAs most Christians are well aware, new editions of the Bible are produced on a regular basis. Walk into any Christian home or institution and, upon examining their Bibles, you are likely to discover a variety of editions and translations. The King James Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, the Message, the New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Version; these are but a few of the popular Bible choices for English reading American Christians. One of the newest editions of the Bible to catch American Christianity by storm has been The Voice Bible. Though surrounded by controversy, this new translation developed out of a specific vision for a contemporary translation of the Bible, a vision that is recounted in The Story of the Voice.

Simply put, The Story of the Voice does just what its title suggests—it tells the story behind the creation of The Voice Bible. This work represents the perspectives of a number of people, notably those of three major contributors to The Voice translation itself, Houston Baptist University Professor David B. Capes, Ecclesia Church Pastor Chris Seay, and Thomas Nelson Associate Publisher James F. Couch Jr. in The Story of the Voice, these authors outline the basic history and thinking behind the formation of The Voice Bible, covering the formative considerations for a Bible translation designed specifically for the 21st century context. In comparison to other more recent translations/paraphrases (think of the NET Bible, the New Living Translation, or Eugene Peterson’s The Message), The Voice team sought to create a modern translation that came as close as possible to a literal rendering of the original texts in a way that moved Bible translation back into the realm of living art that appealed to contemporary readers.

The Voice BibleIn modern English Bible translations, there are essentially two major “schools of method” used: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. In formal equivalence translations such as the New Revised Standard Version or English Standard Version, most translation is done in a word-for-word manner. In dynamic equivalence translations such as the New Living Translation or Contemporary English Version, most translation attempts a thought-for-thought translation. In The Voice Bible, however, the translational philosophy was one of “contextual equivalence,” in essence meaning that the editors attempted to remain contextually accurate as possible while retaining the literary and word forms of the manuscript evidence.  In practice, contextual equivalence in the translation of the Biblical texts necessitates finding a balance between two contexts: the original context of the manuscripts and the contemporary American context of modern readers. To find this balance, The Voice team employed academic translation techniques, looking at the original languages of the texts and working with word-for-word static and meaning-for-meaning dynamic translations. Additionally, the team sought living artful representations in final translation, using poets, song-writers, and artisans of all sorts to convey the meanings of the songs, stories, parables, and literary forms that the Biblical text encompasses.

In addition to explaining the story behind The Voice Bible and the translational methodology, the authors meaningfully engage in explanations concerning some of the distinctive portions of The Voice translation, including their translation of the Divine Name, use of contextualized clarifying terms throughout the translation, and the methodology behind translating christos (typically just transliterated as Christ) as the more contextually accurate ‘Anointed’. The authors also explain the process of publishing The Voice in sections and then finally as a complete Bible, expounding upon the back-story of the controversy surrounding this translation as “the Bible without Jesus Christ.” Throughout these sections, the authors carefully explain the purposes and thinking behind their renderings of the text, using a combination of historical, text-critical, theological, and contextual methods to demonstrate the why behind the text of The Voice. Overall, it remains difficult to categorize The Story of the Voice, as it essentially stands as a historical account of the persons, methodologies, and considerations that went into publishing The Voice Bible, providing readers who are familiar with The Voice translation with a more complete contextualization of the Bible they are reading. The thought occurred to me more than once while reading The Story of the Voice that a slightly edited version of this account would provide an excellent introduction to The Voice Bible itself. Along similar lines, I wish that more Bible translation teams would publish or incorporate into their Bibles easy-to-understand explanations about their respective translations.

By way offering a few critiques of this work, throughout this work there was quite a bit of personal information—calling out specific people and specific events—that gave The Story of the Voice something of a “self-published” feel and make it less useful to a general audience. Similarly, in almost every chapter there was a “Blog Entry” or two that seems to be in need of modification. While the format appears to provide a more personable feel to the work and explain concepts and stories in greater detail, the entries often broke up the larger narrative of the chapter, making it difficult to follow the overarching argument being made. In my reading, the “Blog Entries” would have fit better at the end of their respective chapters, instead of scattered throughout.  Finally, worth commenting on are the mixed messages that seemed to come across concerning modern academics in Bible translation. There were several places (most notably on page 31) where shots were taken at unnamed scholars who refused to assist in The Voice project. Because of these critiques of modern translation scholarship, one finishes reading The Story of the Voice somewhat unsure of the views of The Voice team on the soundness of modern translational practices. Certainly part of the purpose of The Voice is to provide a thoughtful corrective to the relatively “un-creative” practice of Bible translation through the use of contextual equivalence. However, how this purpose is furthered by the anti-academic comments in this work remains perplexing.

Such criticisms aside, The Story of the Voice was a pleasure to interact with and provided a good deal of explanation and clarification on sometimes murky matters such as translational philosophy and the thinking behind certain renderings within modern translations of the Bible. The goal of contextual equivalence remains an admirable and use goal, especially in the world of contemporary American Christianity. In my reading of portions of The Voice Bible, I have been struck by the balance and beauty found by The Voice Team. I would recommend The Story of the Voice foremost to those with some experience with The Voice Bible or modern translation practices in general, though the contents provide numerous worthy considerations for thoughtful Christians and readers of the Bible everywhere.

I received this book free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishing. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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