Why You Should Not Use The Passion Translation

The Passion Translation is causing a lot of buzz. Several people locally have asked me for my thoughts on this new English “translation” (scare quotes on purpose). So, last year I bought a copy and read it. You’ve probably guessed from the title that I’m not a fan.

Brian Simmons is the sole translator of this work. By his account, several years ago Jesus Christ came into his room and breathed on him and commissioned him to write a new translation. He also says that God promised that he would make him understand “secrets of the Hebrew”. And that he “immediately began receiving downloads”.

Simmons claims qualifications for the very technical work of Bible translation, but they are questionable at best. His training in linguistics was through New Tribes Mission (now Ethnos360) back in the 1970’s*. At that time, NTM’s linguistic training was a one-year course that focused on language and cultural acquisition, not translation. NTM does have training beyond this for linguists and Bible translators, but my understanding is that Simmons didn’t take that training.

He also claims to have translated the New Testament into a tribal language in Panama. However, that is disputed by others who worked with him at the time. Indeed, he was in Panama as a church-planter for a few years, but he didn’t participate in the NT translation.

Simmons also doesn’t appear to have any formal instruction in the biblical languages. Has he achieved proficiency in the languages in some other way? Perhaps self study? Or is he relying on special revelation and divine downloads to translate from ancient languages into contemporary English?

At any rate, God breathed on Simmons, gave him downloads and special insight into the original languages and he was thus commissioned to complete this project. And, along the way, he has greatly exaggerated his credentials as a translator. Alone, these things are very concerning. But these aren’t the only reasons why I think Christians should avoid this “translation”. The work itself is why I think this one is bad.

There are too many issues to mention and still keep this a single post. And others have done a wonderful job of showing the problems with The Passion Translation. Andrew Shead published an excellent and accurate review of the Psalms for the journal, Themelios. Andrew Wilson has published some clear criticisms of the work on his blog. And Mike Winger has done a fantastic job outlining some concerns with his hour-long YouTube video.

Added to those is Michel Heiser’s short and poignant word on it in which he references George Athas’ critical review of TPT’s handling of Song of Songs. If you are interested in comprehensiveness, those are good places to begin.

My two biggest concerns have to do with the disconnection between the actual biblical text and Simmons’ words. First, at many, many points there are renderings that simply have no textual warrant whatsoever. Many of them seem to be aimed at making the text more emotive. So he unilaterally adds to the text so that it will have a more emotive appeal (to speak to the heart, as it were). I love you, Lord, my strength in Psalm 18:1 becomes, Lord, I passionately love you and am bonded to you, I want to embrace you… There is zero textual warrant to do that.

At other places, the changes appear aimed at making the passages more compatible with Simmons’ views. Ephesians 5:24, which says, “Now as the church submits (ὑποτάσσεται) to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands...” becomes “In the same way the church is devoted to Christ, let the wives be devoted to their husbands in everything…”

Doesn’t he know that this is the Word of God? We don’t have a license to make our own improvements. And Christians cannot trust “translations” which do this.

And second, while Simmons denies that this is a sectarian publication, it is hard to see it as anything other than that. He has loaded into the text language and parlance that is very common now in the circles in which Simmons runs, but are completely absent in the text of Scripture.

So Galatians 1:3 becomes I pray over you a release of the blessings of God’s undeserved kindness and total well-being that flows from our Father-God and from the Lord Jesus… There isn’t any justification from the text itself (χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) to render it that way. So the only conceivable reason is a desire to reverse-engineer the Scriptures to make one’s lingo (and ideas) appear to be biblical.

Note that I am not making an argument here that Christians shouldn’t speak this way. That is another question – one to which I haven’t given much thought. My point is more basic: we don’t have the liberty to treat God’s Word this way!

The Passion Translation is not a translation – and it is not even a paraphrase – of the actual Scriptures. It is something else entirely. In my opinion, Christians who love God’s Word would do well to avoid it.

*For full disclosure, I served with New Tribes Mission (now Ethnos360) from 1996 to 2008. I don’t think I have ever met Brian Simmons.