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There are many excellent translations of God’s Word that grace our shelves. Some versions translate the original form of words in the biblical languages to their new form in English (formal equivalence), believing the literal word-for-word rendering of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek should have priority. Other versions translate the function of the original biblical words in English (functional equivalence), believing the original thought-for-thought message should have priority.
There is no such thing as a truly literal translation of the Bible, for there is not an equivalent language that perfectly conveys the meaning of the biblical text except as it is understood in its original cultural and linguistic setting. Yet, to transfer the meaning of the biblical narrative from one language to another requires interpretation. As Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss explain, “If the goal of translations is to reproduce the meaning of the text, then it follows that all translations involve interpretation.” Since every translation interposes a fallible human interpretation between the reader and an infallible text, a translation can be a problem. However, the problem is solved when we seek to transfer meaning, and not merely words, from the original text to the receptor language.
That’s the governing philosophy behind The Passion Translation: to transfer the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern English. We believe that the essential meaning of a passage should take priority over the literal form of the original words, while still ensuring the essence of those words is conveyed, so that every English speaker can clearly and naturally encounter the heart of God through his message of truth and love.
The Passion Translation is distinct from other modern English Bible versions in that it is an essential equivalence translation. TPT maintains the essential form and essential function of the original words. It is a true meaning-for-meaning translation, translating the essence of God’s original message and heart into modern English. We agree with Fee and Strauss: “Accuracy in a translation relates to equivalent meaning.” This was the basic philosophy Martin Luther used when he translated God’s Word into German for his people: “I must let the literal words go and try to learn how the German says that which the Hebrew expresses. . . . Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it—once he understands the Hebrew author—that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself ‘Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?’ . . . Let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows.”
We have prayerfully followed the same model, seeking to understand the essence of the text and express and reproduce its meaning in the best English we know. We have worked to remain faithful to the original biblical languages by preserving the essence of their meaning, going further at times than “literal” translations to capture ancient idioms and definitions. Yet we remain flexible to convey the essence of God’s original message in a way that expands its understanding for English readers. Incorporating Aramaic adds another layer to convey the essential message of God’s Word and heart. TPT is a balanced translation that tries to hold both the essence of Scripture’s literal meaning and original message in proper tension, resulting in an expansive, fresh, fiery translation of God’s Word.
You will notice at times we have italicized certain words or phrases. These highlighted portions are not in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts, but are implied from the context and their essential meaning. They expand the essential meaning of the original language by highlighting the essence of God’s original message. This practice is a common one, used by many mainstream translations including the King James Version and New American Standard Bible. Where the original language requires clarification, such translations have added English words.
Following in this translation tradition and mainstream practice, we have made implications explicit for the sake of narrative clarity and to better convey the essential meaning of the Bible’s message. Without distorting or detracting from the Word of God, expanding upon the original text serves the reader by clarifying the original language and making God’s original message more understandable. In this way The Passion Translation is an expansive translation, expanding the essential meaning of God’s original Word in order to make God’s essential message to you and the world clear and readable.
Fee and Stuart in their book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth say:
Our view is that the best theory of translation is the one that remains as faithful as possible to both the original and receptor languages, but that when something has to “give,” it should be in favor of the receptor language—without losing the meaning of the original language, of course—since the very reason for translation is to make these ancient texts accessible to the English-speaking person who does not know the original languages.
Furthermore, Dr. Simmons used the same widely-used standards marked by mainstream Evangelical translations to make The Passion Translation an accurate, faithful, clear, and readable translation for twenty-first century English readers. A passage was adjusted if required by grammar, correct meaning, clarity, and readability.
First, grammatical correctness had priority over literalness of form, given the differences between Hebrew and Greek and English grammar. Second, the essential meaning of a passage took priority over the form of the original words. Sometimes in order to communicate the correct intended meaning, words needed to be changed. Third, while correct meaning is important, so is clarity. Every translation makes frequent adjustments to not only ensure a passage’s meaning is correct, but that it is also clearly understood. Dr. Simmons made the same adjustments in favor of clarity. Fourth, adjustments were often necessary for the sake of readability, or naturalness. Like other translators, Dr. Simmons made adjustments to make a passage or verse reflect more of the way we speak modern English. These four criteria are standard for the process of converting the essential meaning of God’s original words so that people can understand the essence of God’s original message.
The resulting translation is one that remains faithful to both the original form of the ancient biblical languages, while functioning in a way that preserves the essential meaning of God’s original message for English readers. It follows in the tradition of mainstream functional, dynamic equivalent translations, while also transferring the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern-day English. We believe that the essential meaning of a passage should take priority over the form of the original words, so that every English speaker can clearly and naturally encounter the heart of God through his message of truth and love.
As Gregory Clapper rhetorically asked: “Is the great range of scriptural language about the ‘heart’ dispensable ornamentation which only clouds the real message of the Gospel, or does this emotion-language itself convey and constitute, in large measure, the real message?” Brian Simmons believes Scripture’s emotion-language is at the heart of God’s Word, because it fully manifests the heart of God.
The heart and mind are not opponents in God’s Word, but allies and supporters of each other. If we want to grasp the fullness of God’s character and his passion for our lives, we must recapture this lost language. The genuine message and fullness of God’s good news in Christ is laid bare in and through the Bible’s emotion-language.
God refuses to meet us in a merely intellectual way. God wants to meet us heart level, so we must let the words go heart deep—which is what we’re trying to do with this translation project. There is a language of the heart that must express the passion of this love-theology. That’s why The Passion Translation focuses on drawing out Scripture’s heart and emotion language—and benefit peoples’ devotional and spiritual life with Christ.
Simmons undertook this translation project because he felt a calling from God, and because he has always wanted to bring people into a greater understanding of the wealth and treasure contained in the Bible.
A paraphrase version of the Bible utilizes an existing English-language translation as its base text. It paraphrases one version into more contemporary language. For instance, in 1971 the creator of The Living Bible paraphrased the existing American Standard Version of 1901 to create a new English-language Bible version.
A translation, however, uses the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts as the base text for a new version of the Bible. It translates these original languages into a modern language. For example, the translators of the New International Version in 1978 worked off the original ancient-language manuscripts to produce a new English Bible by translating those ancient languages into the modern language.
Similar to such functional or dynamic equivalent translations as the New International Version and the New Living Translation Bible versions, The Passion Translation is a new version of God’s Word that is considered a translation because it uses the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts to translate the essential message of the Scriptures into contemporary English.
- cultural and historical aspects lost to modern readers;
- important readings of Old Testament verses in light of Jesus Christ;
- variations in ancient manuscripts;
- alternative translations;
- cross references to other Scriptures in the Bible;
- renderings which depart from traditional expressions;
- contextual implications;
- and verses which use the lens of Aramaic for greater insight.
I realize this explanation may not be satisfactory to some, but we want readers to know this decision was made after much thought, prayer, and struggle. Even if you do not agree with our final decision, we trust you can see it is not a simple issue. We also trust that this heart-level translation of the Bible will deepen your passion for God as you experience God’s passionate heart for you.