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Christ Isn't Missing From 'The Voice' -- Just the Biblical Jargon

Posted: 04/24/2012 11:38 am

According to CNN, "Christ is missing" from The Voice, the new contemporary language Bible from Thomas Nelson Publishers, while Bob Smietana's article for Religion News Service, which has appeared in USA Today and in other newspapers around the world opens with this lede: "The name Jesus Christ doesn't appear in 'The Voice,' a new translation of the Bible."

Whether accidentally or intentionally misleading, this angle has prompted some hysteria on the Interwebs, which is not in itself surprising. Some Christians are suspicious of any translation besides the King James Authorized Version, now 400 years old. But by choosing to describe "The Voice" in this way, CNN and these news reports have guaranteed that people would jump to the conclusion of a commenter on Gene Veith's blog: "If the name of Jesus doesn't appear in this book ... then it is 'the voice' of the Devil."

That CNN would focus on this angle -- and that people would leap to the conclusion that something unholy is going on at the world's largest evangelical publisher -- did come as a surprise to David Capes, the lead scholar on the project. Dr. Capes described himself in an e-mail to me as an "early high Christology guy," and I know him to be what Larry Hurtado calls him on his blog: a devout Christian and a fine scholar.

I know this because I have worked alongside David Capes on "The Voice" project for the past seven years. I sat with Chris Seay in the Nashville offices of Thomas Nelson a million years ago when we pitched the project to them. I was the lead writer on the Gospel of Mark and many of the other books of the Bible rendered for "The Voice," and I worked with Dr. Capes closely throughout, including on the Letter to the Hebrews, where he sat by my side for three days as we worked through phrases, images and symbols, me the artist trying to make something beautiful, him the scholar making sure I didn't wander away from the original Greek meanings.

By calling himself someone with a high Christology, Dr. Capes was confirming that he believes that Jesus is both the central figure of the Scriptures and the Messiah, the son of God ("the Christ," to use the old Latin title, or "anointed one"). Dr. Capes -- like everyone else I know who has worked on "The Voice" project -- willingly affirmed the traditional Christian creeds, and the media-amplified fact that the phrase "Jesus Christ" does not appear in "The Voice" doesn't mean that Jesus is not front and center, the leading character in the drama, the reason for the season.

No, it simply means that, as Dr. Capes told me (and has also told these various media sources), "The Voice" sought a translation of this honorific that communicates more clearly with contemporary readers, since "most Bible readers in this age of rampant biblical illiteracy misunderstand 'Christ' as a 'second name.' We are trying to restore the titular sense of [Christos/Christ]."

In other words, for all those -- Bible readers and neophytes alike -- who think either that "Jesus Christ" is a name and a surname, rather than a name and a messianic title, or who simply don't know what it means, "The Voice" is employing non-theological description that might cut through the centuries and say something fresh and meaningful. "The Anointed One" is actually more literal than simply repeating the Latin "Christ" -- and says more, more meaningfully.

Throughout "The Voice," in fact, we sought plain-English substitutes for biblical words and terms that don't communicate anything to today's readers -- or that may come freighted down with misleading associations. We chose not to use the word "angel," for example. Pop culture and bad theology have turned angels into big-eyed guardian babysitters who were human in their previous life, rather than awe-inspiring messengers from the Most High God who are most definitely another form of creation. We described the rite of baptism and explained what it's for, rather than simply relying on the word "baptism," which has come to mean many different things to different people.

Throughout the process, we relied on and gloried in the creative tension that came from having writers like myself, Chris, Brian McLaren, Don Miller, Lauren Winner and Phyllis Tickle trying to make the Scriptures speak with new beauty, while the scholars, led by David Capes, pushed back and made certain that we didn't leave the text behind in the process.

The result is not a word-for-word translation, nor did we ever claim it was. But it is a contemporary-language rendering that is readable, beautiful and dramatic, while remaining true to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Much has been made of the fact that we have used "The Voice" instead of "The Word" in the Prologue to the Gospel of John, but since I was there from the beginning -- and since it speaks directly to this manufactured controversy -- I can tell you why we made that powerful and somewhat controversial choice: We believed that Jesus, the Word, was the Voice that was speaking in the creation account in Genesis, that Voice that spoke creation into being.

As I mentioned, all of us who worked on "The Voice" affirmed the Nicene Creed, which of course says that "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made."

"The Voice" has drawn vehement critics since before any part of it was published. If you don't like the translation, that's your right. If God continues to speak to you through your King James, or New International Version, or New Revised Standard Version, that's cool, and more than cool.

But let's be clear about this one thing. Don't object to Jesus being de-centered or otherwise missing from this translation.

Jesus is still Lord in "The Voice" -- he's just had his name changed so that today's readers will know who he is.

FULL DISCLOSURE: As this post discloses, I did work on 'The Voice' translation. I was paid to do so, but I will earn no royalties on or receive further remuneration from Thomas Nelson for 'The Voice.'

 
 
 
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