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Monday, September 30, 2013

Compass The Study Bible (The Voice Translation)

TITLE: Compass: The Study Bible for Navigating Your Life
AUTHOR: Ecclesia Bible Society
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2012, (1664 pages).

Cleverly named "The Compass," this new study Bible is based on one of the latest English Bible translations called "The Voice." The translation team comprises scholars, musicians, writers, and poets, all wanting to communicate the Word of God as clearly as possible and as faithfully as possible. The translators adopt what they call as a "contextual equivalent." This differentiates itself from the other translation philosophies like word-for-word, thought-for-thought, or dynamic equivalence. (Simply put, a word-for-word is focused on translating the text as they are. A thought-for-thought translation is focused on translating the meaning the texts are trying to say. A dynamic equivalent translation tries to strike a balance between the word-for-word and thought-for-thought.) Where appropriate, The Voice translation avoids the traditional "word-for-word," because such a philosophy does not bring across the context clear enough for the modern reader. Moreover, the language may sound too woody for modern ears. It also avoids the "thought for thought" because it tends to translate the interpretations of the translators rather than the texts per se.  Instead, it aims toward a format that communicates a "contextual equivalent," that is backed by scholarship of the original languages.

What is contextual equivalent? There are many ways to explain it. According to the translators:

"A contextual equivalent translation technique seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language. This particular translation approach keeps in mind the smaller parts and the larger whole., In endeavoring to translate sacred Scripture, The Voice captures uniquely the poetic imagery and literary artistry of the original in a way that is beautiful and meaningful." (Preface, viii)

There are several unique features in this Bible. I will highlight just seven major ones. The first five are positives while the final two are my criticisms. First, the name of YHWH has been translated as "Eternal One." Traditionally, God's covenant name (I AM, YHWH) has been translated as LORD (capitalized) in the Old Testament. In wanting to capture the timelessness and eternity of God, the translators try to infuse the meaning into the name "Eternal One" to help readers reflect on the Name. Whenever the text reveals the Name of God and the Attribute, the attribute will be affixed to the "Eternal One." Though it makes the reading a little longer, it covers the meaning much better than most translations. For example, in Genesis 22:14, instead of Jehovah Jireh, the Voice renders it as "The Eternal One will provide."

Second, The Voice re-arranges the biblical conversations like a movie script. This "screenplay format" brings laserlike clarity on who is speaking what. For certain books of the Bible, this arrangement is a godsend. Take the Song of Songs for example. It is a form of poetry that celebrates love in a beautiful expression of affection and admiration. The words coming from the Shulammite, her lover, and the young women, are clearly marked. At one glance, readers can distinguish the flow of conversations without mistaking one for the other. Another example is Job, where readers will be greatly helped by distinguishing the good and bad advice coming from the friends trying to help the suffering Job. The narratives come alive through this arrangement too. Take 1 and 2 Kings for instance. Seeing how each scene develops, readers can get involved into the overall drama easily. Who says the Bible is boring? Hey, this Bible is already a ready script for participative reading or communicating Bible as drama at a Church camp!

Third, footnotes and commentaries are kept minimal and incorporated at appropriate sections during the reading. This helps readers avoid flipping the pages too quickly as the explanatory notes are intuitively located within the page. For example, when translating Ps 82, a short explanation is incorporated directly into the text to communicate the context of the psalm. When I read the NIV, I tend to read Ps 84 more like God speaking to the Israelites at that time, with readers a distant observer of the message. The Voice turns it around and draws me into the text, where the emphases given force me to reflect upon my own attitude for the poor and the oppressed. This is a powerful way to let the understanding of the ancient contexts draw modern readers in.

Fourth, the italicized words and phrases in the texts are added in to bring out the contexts clearer. It is widely accepted that when doing translation work, additional words need to be added in so that the meaning can be faithfully reproduced. Those of us who are sticky about literal translations will find it hard to accept. Those of us who are reading for clarity and understanding will appreciate the explanations and descriptions. I find it extremely helpful from the perspective of understanding the Bible. It brings out the contexts of the surrounding verses into the actual reading of any one verse. For example, in Acts 5:1-2, the NIV translates Ananias and Sapphira as selling a property, keeping part of the money themselves, and then giving the rest away. Readers will not be suspecting anything until they come to the later verses where the couple are found out about their financial dishonesty. Instead of waiting for verse 5 to reveal the true nature of Ananias and Sapphira, The Voice straightaway states the facts in verse 1, that Ananias and Sapphira "committed fraud." This understanding is made more important as many modern readers tend not to read larger chunks of the Bible, choosing instead to read choice verses or selective passages at a time. Of course, a case can be made that readers are expected to read the rest of the texts for themselves anyway.

Fifth, for all the efforts to make the text readable and clear, I am concerned that readers can mistake commentaries and explanatory notes for the biblical texts themselves. There is good intent in the way the "dileated material" is represented by a different colour shade, and other commentaries incorporated into the main text. The italicized words are clear. The bold screenplay characters are clear. However, more can be done about the differentiation of the actual biblical translations and the additional explanatory notes. I prefer the fonts to be more distinct from each other. Maybe a colour bar will help. For the review edition I have, which is largely black and white, I can only depend on the different shades of black, gray, and font pecularities. The use of colour will be most appropriate for this.

Sixth, the "road map" to the Bible promises is to me a disappointment. When I first picked up this book, I was thinking about the title that infuses the road map throughout the Bible. Instead, it gets presented up front like a self-help section. Worse, it gives readers the idea that instead of reading the Bible for the Bible's sake, readers are reading the Bible for their own sake. While it is not wrong to read the Bible when we have a need, my concern is that such an attitude puts our feelings and our emotions as the key spiritual motivation.

Finally,this is my biggest problem with contextual translation. I am concerned about the way contexts are driven into the texts too prematurely. It may take away the biblical author's intention to hold readers in suspense before revealing more details. It removes any suspense or built up to the climax. There is a reason why the original texts are written in their original formats. Trying to decide when to reveal the contexts and when not to reveal the contexts is a challenge in itself. While the intentions of the translations are noble, premature insertions of meaning can interfere with the way readers can discover the truth on their own. In fact, the impact of learning often comes when readers discover for themselves the truths in the Bible, not something that others tell them about. For this reason alone, I strongly recommend that this Bible be supplemented by a more literal translation.

Will I recommend this Bible? Yes, of course, but with the caveats mentioned above. In fact, in Sunday school classes, participative reading, and any screenplay of the Bible, this is a powerful resource.

One more thing. The edition I received had a misprint on page 659 where Psalm was spelt "Paslm."

Rating: 4 stars of 5


This book is provided to me courtesy of Thomas-Nelson and Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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