A reporter from the Associated Press asked me a question about The Voice translation recently. It was not a question I had heard before, but it was an insightful question. She asked specifically about the translation of Luke 11.
(1) Jesus says to the Pharisees: “You guys don’t get it. . . .” (Luke 11:40)
(2) Then, Jesus says to them: “Woe to you, Pharisees. . . . “ (Luke 11:42, 43, 44)
She noticed correctly that the first statement has a contemporary ring to it: “You guys don’t get it!” But then the translation reverts to a more ancient sound: “Woe to you!” The reporter said, “We don’t talk like that today!”
The reporter posed a good question. As I thought about the answer, a statement came to mind that I had written recently for the book The Story of the Voice (forthcoming in 2013 from Thomas Nelson). Here is what I wrote:
In those early days [of The Voice project] Chris Seay often used the word “retelling” to describe the method and results. He hoped to retell the biblical stories in ways that are contemporary, ancient, literary, challenging and beautiful.
The mix of contemporary and ancient is part of what sets The Voice apart from other translations. We recognize these texts are ancient, and there is value in building on and from the wisdom of ages past. There is often a ring, a cadence, a familiarity to ancient language and symbols which still resonates with us. In some places The Voice intentionally retains those words and phrases alongside more contemporary language. Let me give you an example.
Psalm 23 is perhaps the most quoted psalm in the Old Testament. In the King James it reads: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . “ This beloved psalm presents an image and reality we can still grasp. Some may want to contemporize the language and say: “The Lord is my CEO” or “The Lord is my leader.” But frankly, that reading sounds strange and leaves us cold. Perhaps a day will come in human history when people no longer retain a memory of our agriculture past and the shepherd’s role. Perhaps in that day we will need a more dynamic translation of Psalm 23. Until then, it makes sense to continue to use and celebrate the enduring symbols found in Scripture to say something meaningful about our lives and God’s care for us. .
In my house we have older furniture as well as modern furniture. Many people today like that eclectic style. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable in a house surrounded only by 18th French Provincial or 21st century Modern furniture. It is that mix of wood and glass, of leather and metal, of curved and straight lines, of old and new that fits me, that fits us. It feels like . . . home.