Brief Comments on the Passion Translation

Lacking time to engage the Passion Translation thoroughly, I offer just two comments here, one positive and the other negative.

First, in the passages that I surveyed, the author captured the spirit of the text well, communicating it in contemporary language. In this, the work can function like The Message or other paraphrases. The more a translation or paraphrase tends toward dynamic equivalents, the greater the risk of the translator’s interpretation being highlighted in a passage. The value of such renderings, though, is allowing hearers to experience and engage the text from a fresh angle, though I would recommend always having a more literal rendering handy, especially where the text is developing a detailed argument.

Second, and unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw that pervades the entire translation: its dependence on Aramaic. Although Jesus spoke Aramaic, that was not the language of Jews in Asia Minor, Greece or Rome, areas to which most of the New Testament is addressed. It is not the language of our Greek New Testament (with a few snippets of Aramaic words or phrases here and there), which Christians take to be canonical. Scholars are virtually unanimous on these points because a massive quantity of inscriptions, graffiti and other sources from antiquity renders them beyond dispute.

This pervasive dependence on Aramaic throughout makes the Passion Translation unreliable. It could be revised, with a great deal of effort, by going back through it and correcting any dependence on Aramaic by translating solely from the Greek text. Barring such revision, however, one cannot recommend it for devotional or other use, because the level of distortion is too high.

I note this with regret, since the ideal of the project—to bring readers to hear God’s voice in the text afresh—is a commendable goal (emphasized repeatedly in my 2016 academic book, Spirit Hermeneutics). But for this goal to be properly achieved, it must be closer to the voice actually communicated through the Greek New Testament, rather than depending heavily on a later and interpretive version other than the Greek New Testament. Perhaps, with sufficient labor, the work can be revised to better achieve the purpose for which it was designed.

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