The Voice

This "translation" of the New Testament is billed as "A scripture project to rediscover the story of the Bible" "As retold, edited, and illustrated by a gifted team of writers, scholars, poets, and storytellers". Words like "holistic", "beautiful" and "sensitive" are used in the preface to describe it. The Voice is the culmination of Chris Seay's vision for a different kind of biblical translation that puts the bible into everyday language and uses common English words that can be understood by the average Joe on the street.

On face value this seems to be a noble endeavor and one that may work for many Christ followers that flow in the Emergent stream of Christianity. I say that because prominent among the contributors is emergent sensei Brian McLaren. So I guess before I looked too much into the book I was already on my guard about how The Voice would be "translated".

Before you throw any emergent stones at me you need to know that I generally like much of emergent theology and my critique is not about that stream of Christianity. Mostly my thoughts are around the idea that a "translation" of the bible should be precise.. if it is not then it should be called a paraphrase. So with that backdrop I will give you a few of my impressions of The Voice.
  • It is an annotated presentation. I don't like these types of bibles because, unlike study bibles, they offer embedded commentary rather than factual information. To me this skews the reader to a specific, dare I say emergent, point of view.

  • It changes the way that the text is presented. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit's leading of the original authors it reformats the stories a bit in more of a novel format. I am generally okay with this in a paraphrase format but I am a bit uncomfortable calling it a "translation".

  • I don't like the way that understandable words are "translated" into convoluted ones: baptism becomes "ritual cleansing", repentance becomes "rethink their lives and turn to God" and salvation becomes "rescue us". John the Baptist is called John the Immerser. I don't think that these changes were warranted or needed.
So, given this, you might ask if I would recommend The Voice to others.. well.. maybe if I had more time to thoroughly study it along side of other translations? I'll leave that for other smarter folks :)

I think that there is a place for works like this one. I often enjoy reading from The Message.. interesting how these types of works use "The" to preface the title.. and I think that this work falls into a Message category. What I am a bit concerned about is the people that did the translating. I am uncomfortable with non-scholarly folks "translating" the scriptures.. especially those with a distinct and overt theological bent. In closing I thought that I would simply quote a few familiar passages from John 3 and let you decide if you like it or not.

"I tell you the truth, if someone does not experience water and Spirit birth, there's no chance he will make it into God's kingdom." (John 3:5 The Voice)

"For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life." (John 3:16, The Voice)


  1. Looking at the two examples, there is at least one theological problem in the first one.

    One does not "experience" baptism, one is baptized. It's an experience from the outside. It cannot be perceived. It must be performed. By another person. Using precise language. Scripture says so. But if a new person came upon the "The Voice" they might decide that they FEEL baptized, and the text wouldn't naysay that, and they might miss all the other references, as in "repent and be baptized" - "go out and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" and so on.


    Based on how many new translations/interpretations come out each year, I am no longer surprised at the fierceness of the KJV-only camp - they must feel like the rug keeps getting pulled out from under them! and how do you know how much to trust the abilities of the translators/interpreters?

  2. Hadn't heard of this one. I like, and use the paraphases, The Message, Phillips NT, but being raised on King James and doing all my early Christian life memory work in King James I Love and Think King James. It is my choice if I had to have just one. Guess at my age I don't find the "thee's" and "thou's" offensive :o)

    Thanks for posting this and giving me a heads-up, Bob. I am not for the Emergent movement, what little I know about it. I believe we have to be careful about throwing out too many things and grasping for "new" all the time. Again, probably a sign of my advanced age.

  3. Hey KB,

    I've not read the Voice. I'm annoyed by translations that break up the flow of standard English to use standard English words. I'd rather hear good sentences than good words.

    Still, I'm not such a fan of "exact word for word" translation. I've been hanging out at Better Bibles Blog so long, they've converted me to dynamic equivalence. Thought for thought translation is used by all professional translators everywhere, so why would it not be the right idea for the bible? It makes sense to me.

    But it sounds like the Voice is straining too hard to me. John the Immerser is hilarious, because it's so very literal. I've been hearing it for years, so to me it sounds kitchy to hear it in a translation. John the Cleanser/Washer/Bather all are totally misleading. Immerser just adds another syllable to the mix. John the Dunker might have worked. :-)

  4. Great review... what you list as concerns about The Voice I share. They should be forthright and call it a paraphrase. Most translations are done with committees filled with people with a bunch of letters behind their names :).

  5. I'm right there with Shane. Great review.

    Coming from a church tradition that emphasized immersion baptism I saw many callisthenic attempts to say "immerse" where the text reads "baptize." One of our denomination publishers even printed a NT in the early 70’s that replaced the one word for the other. They had no idea how emergent and ahead of the times they were!

    Well before he became famous (or infamous as some may prefer) I got to know Brian McLaren pretty well. I really love and appreciate him as a brother. He has a heart of gold and loves the King as well as the Kingdom. I surely don’t agree with him about everything, but I don’t agree with Paul about everything (sometimes multi-layered attempts at humor go awry, forgive me if that one missed the mark). I appreciate the grace you showed Brian in your review.

    All in all "The Voice" is a better fit as a paraphrase, not a translation. With all the over reaching word swaps, how in the world did they miss that one?

    Merry Christmas Bob!

  6. Think I'll stick to the NIV right now. I can read one passage three days in a row and come away with something new every time.

  7. For those of you that would like to check out The Voice translation for yourself you can get a free download of the entire Gospel of John at


I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply.
You can click here to see my comment policy.