The Passion translation: Dr Brian Simmons responds to his critics

The former missionary explains why he’s produced a somewhat controversial new translation of the Bible called The Passion 

What makes your translation of the Bible different?

We have many beautiful English translations of the Bible that are the word of God. But The Passion translation is seeking to amplify the heart of God and to approach the scriptures from an emotive level, not just an intellectual level.

Often people point out there are many languages without even a single translation of the Bible – so it’s wrong to make yet another English one. But you’re aware of this already, aren’t you?

Yes, we cut our teeth on Bible translation in the rainforest of Central America where I was a co-translator for an indigenous tribal group who had never had a written language before.

So why do we need another English language version?

We’re still going to the depths of God’s heart and God’s word. It’s somewhat vain to think we have it already. I don’t think we have a perfect English language translation yet. Our understanding over the last 2,000 years has grown and grown and may it ever be so.

What made you embark on this journey?

We pastored for 18 years and I handed the church over to a younger team. I was asking the Lord what he wanted us to do with our lives. Within a few days I had a very dramatic supernatural encounter.

It was two in the morning and I sensed a divine presence in my room. I fell on my knees by my bedside and he stood before me, breathed on me and gave me this commission.

I would have no business translating the scriptures unless it was on God’s heart to do so. But over one million copies later we’re getting thousands of emails each month from people who have been dramatically impacted.

It’s been heavily critiqued in some quarters; how have you dealt with that?

There will always be critics whenever anyone attempts to do something for God.

I asked the Lord once, “Why are there so many critics?” And he said because they will make me a better man and a better translator. So I’ve done my best to listen to the critics. I’ve made hundreds of changes in the text over the last eight years. We plan on revising the work every two or three years and put out a new edition. 

The most common criticism we hear is “one man should never translate the Bible”. We need to tell that to William Tyndale and John Wycliffe! And I’m not comparing myself to them, but even today in the jungle villages, Bible translators often work alone because they’re the only ones with expertise in the language.

When you're told to do something by the Lord, you do what he says. So for me it's obedience.

So do you feel that other translations have been too dry and haven't got across the heart of God?

Exactly. Translation is an art, not a science. Are we really accurately translating something if we're leaving out the heart, the passion and the love behind it? I have found a number of times the default for Bible translators has not been to express that heart of love. For example John 15 speaks about "every branch in me that doesn't bear fruit I will take away". Any Greek student knows that verb "take away" can also be translated "lift up". So that's how we've chosen to translate it. The Lord Jesus will lift up a fruitless branch and haven't we all been through a fruitless season where we needed to be lifted up?

What has surprised you as you’ve taken a fresh look at the New Testament?

This has changed the lives of everyone I’ve shared it with. The last words of Jesus were not in Greek because he spoke Aramaic on the cross. The last word he spoke: “It is finished” or tetelestai in Greek is actually the Hebrew word kallahKallah is a homonym – has dual meanings. It can mean completed or finished. But what if for 2000 years we've been deprived of an alternative meaning for the final words of Jesus?

It’s entirely possible the last word Jesus spoke was “bride”. He gave his last word for his bride. Then he gave birth to her because blood and water, which comes from childbirth, came from his side. It is finished. But for whom did he finish it? It was for the bride. He died for the bride. 

Dr Brian Simmons was speaking to Premier Christianity's Sam Hailes

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