“This may be the first Bible a new believer owns.”
I sat stunned when I read these words just moments after I signed on to an incredibly refreshing Bible project called, The Voice Bible: Step Into the Story of Scripture. What had I done? Signed on to re-write the Bible? Well, kinda, sorta? What the what?
I know now what I couldn’t have known then; “re-writing” the Bible allowed me to read it better. Here’s how that happened.
In the Spring of 2001, my friend, Chris Seay, invited me to join a group of musicians, artists, poets, pastors, and story-tellers assembled to bring a fresh perspective to the Scriptures. On it’s face, re-writing the Bible seemed sacrilegious or impious or something. After all, the Bible is the Bible is the Bible, right? But upon further review, Chris’ grand vision was the same one perceived by faithful Christian men and women since the days of Guttenberg; that contemporary Christians and seekers would have a Bible which spoke their language. Chris sensed what many before felt, after a while, dusty, threadbare language needs repair for emerging generations. The drive behind The Voice Bible was just that simple; we weren’t re-writing the Bible, we were refreshing it.
The Word is Flat
If you’re like me, nearly every scripture you’ve memorized is tucked into your mind in the lofty but superannuated language of the King James Version. In fact, for some folks, the KJV isn’t merely a translation of the Bible, it’s the only Bible. One man told me, “If King James English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
The problem is, the KJV suffers the same malady as the NIV84, TNIV, NIV2011, RSV, ESV, and every other popular translation of the Bible: They are flat. That is, Genesis reads like Psalms reads like Matthew reads like Ephesians reads like Revelation. Because they are translated flat, we read them as flat!
In contemporary translations, each book of the Bible reads the same as the last one and the next one. And that’s a problem! It’s a problem because Psalms are prayers and songs which partly served as the hymnbook of the Jewish people. Daniel and Revelation are apolcalyptic. Paul’s epistles are, well, letters. The gospels were written for various purposes to different audiences and their authors were trying to accomplish different things.
When the entire Bible looks, feels, and sounds the same, we are prone to misread it. When my daughter reads Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, she knows it’s not the same thing as reading the Wall Street Journal or NY Times (and, yes, she sometimes reads those). Likewise, a Jonathan Franzen novel is different from an NT Wright commentary. Both types of literature convey truth, but we read them differently because we know we’re supposed to. However, we struggle to do so with the Bible because our translations are stingy with clues that might otherwise tip us off as to what we are reading.