Study Bibles and The Voice

I think I’m beginning to understand why my original positive response to The Voice Bible has turned to one of annoyance. If you haven’t been a reader of this blog for long, you many not realize that I try to give Bible translators very wide lattitude. On the front cover of my book What’s in a Version? I put the sentence: The best Bible version is one you read.

My intention is to emphasize the importance of finding a version that you can read and hear well. Apart from a very small number of translations that are either done very incompetently or with an intentional bias (Jack Blanco’s Clear Word Bible is an excellent example of a bad translation), I believe that the vast majority of translations convey God’s word. None do it perfectly. None fail completely.

So I’ve been asking myself why every time I read a passage from The Voice I find myself getting annoyed. At first I was justifying this with the issues of consistency in the use of italics, and the fact that I find the frequent italics in the text distracting. Then yesterday, in sequence, I read a passage from Ephesians in Greek, then in a study Bible, and then in The Voice.

Suddenly it hit me. Much of the material that seems to me to distract the reader from the text of scripture is very much like study Bible notes. I tell students that study Bibles are fine, provided you don’t take any one of them as definitive, and provided that you remember the difference between the notes provided in the margin or at the bottom of the page and the text of Scripture itself.

And that’s why The Voice is getting on my nerves. Despite the number of complaints I’ve voiced here on this blog, I don’t see its translators making an extraordinary number of mistakes. (What I see as inconsistency in the use of italics means I have more complaints than usual, but really that should be seen as one complaint.) The italicized material, the notes blocked out right in the text, and even some section headings strike me as “study note” material. And in The Voice that material is everywhere. It’s not just in the margin or at the bottom of the page. It’s not just in occasional introductions or excurses. It’s everywhere.

So anyone who is reading my complaints about this version should keep my prejudices in mind. You should also realize that it is very hard to be consistent in determining what is a proper part of translation, and what should be an explanatory note. But that is a matter for another post.

I would note that in reading through the book of Ephesians, I found the italicized material more annoying than I had in narrative passages. Here material that might seem just inane elsewhere (e.g. a note telling you what the verse obviously said) actually seems to detract from the artistry of the book itself. It reduces the impact. That’s my first impression, at least.

As I have noted before, I’m writing these notes as I experience The Voice for myself, and I leave open the possibility of changing my mind. I certainly hope to refine my ideas as time goes on.

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