Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Passion Translation - Some Problems

What’s unique about The Passion Translation – a recent translation of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Song of Songs by Brian Simmons?  Three things, or, three kinds of things:  its origins, its doctrinal bias, and its highly unusual base-text.
Brian Simmons
            Those who have viewed a video of Brian Simmons’ appearance on the television program That’s Supernatural! will already be aware of Brian Simmons’ description of his call to translate the Bible.  He claimed the following:
            Jesus told him to translate the Bible,
            ● Jesus told him he would help Brian translate the Bible,
            ● Jesus promised to provide secrets about the Hebrew language, and
            ● Brian received downloads when Jesus breathed on him.

This sort of testimony is taken seriously by many members of the New Apostolic Reformation, a loose network of congregations characterized by charismatic doctrine.  (If you can recollect the “Toronto Blessing” and the “Brownsville Revival,” you may get some idea of the NAR’s theological roots.)  The NAR’s leaders affirm that the church today should be led, not by elders and deacons, but by people holding the offices of apostle and prophet (whether male or female).   The NAR also teaches that prophets receive new revelation from God which supplements the written Word of God.  They also put an emphasis on what they consider to be miraculous gifts, such as the reception of knowledge that is naturally unattainable, supernatural healings (including raising the dead – Simmons himself claims to been instrumental in the resurrection of a dead baby), speaking in tongues, and other phenomena (one example described by Simmons is the time he walked into a grocery store and everyone he met collapsed onto the floor). 
Charismatic doctrines are advocated throughout The Passion Translation, because it is not just a translation; it is more like a Charismatic Study Bible with its own running commentary in the form of Simmons’ abundant notes and book-introductions (which in some cases are longer than the books they accompany).  To an extent, TPT resembles some medieval manuscripts in which the Scripture-text is framed on every page by a lot of commentary – with the exception that whereas the medieval commentary-material tended to restate earlier patristic comments, The Passion Translation’s notes – often more lengthy than the books they accompany – consistently promote the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation.
            One does not get far into the New Testament before it becomes apparent what one is facing in Simmons’ work.  In a note attached to Matthew 1:17, Simmons explains why, in Matthew’s genealogy, there are 41, rather than 42, generations.  Is Matthew simply counting the last unit of generations inclusively?  No; Simmons does not offer such mundane possibilities; the missing generation, he explains, is the church:  “Jesus gave birth to the forty-second generation when he died on the cross, for out of his side blood and water flowed.  Blood and water come forth at birth.  The first Adam “birthed” his wife out of his side, and so Jesus gave birth to his bride from his wounded side.” 
            This sort of thing is pervasive in the notes of The Passion Translation.  Some interpretations that Simmons offers are merely his own allegorical notions – for example, he comments on Mary’s words in John 2:2-3, “Interpreting Mary’s words for today we could say, “Religion has failed, it has run out of wine.””  Others are adamant endorsements of the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation network. 
Perfectly ordinary and legitimate comments appear too – but some of Simmons’ notes only make sense if the reader really, really, wants them to make sense; for instance, in a note to John 2:20, where the Jewish leaders mention that it had taken 46 years to build the temple, Simmons comments, “Our bodies (temples) have forty-six chromosomes in every cell.” 
Another example:  Simmons’ note for Mark 1:9 – a straightforward statement that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan river – is as follows:  “It is possible to translate the Aramaic as “Then one day Jesus came from victorious revelation” to be baptized by John.  The word Nazareth can mean “victorious one,” and the word Galilee can be translated “the place of revelation.”  Simmons’ ability to squeeze metaphorical meanings out of plain statements in this way knows no bounds.  Many of the notes are like this, offering spiritual lessons that, good or bad, were never in the minds of the New Testament authors. 
            If the doctrinal bias of the notes were the only problem with Simmons’ work, TPT would be no worse than a Charismatic Study Bible or commentary-set.  But in many passages, Simmons’ theological views have colored the translation.  In sync with the NAR’s custom of giving leadership roles to women (including the office of apostle), Simmons has taken inexcusable liberties with some passages that pertain to the role of women and wives:
● First Corinthians 14:34 has been mangled:
            “The woman should be respectfully silent during the evaluation of prophecy in the meetings.  They are not allowed to interrupt, but are to be in a support role, as in fact the law teaches.”  The italicized phrase “during the evaluation of prophecy in the meetings” is just something Simmons threw in there.  And a lengthy note attached to 14:35 begins as follows:  “One interpretation of this passage is that Paul is quoting from a letter written by the Corinthians to him.  They were the ones saying a woman should remain silent and Paul is responding to their questions.  In other words, they were imposing a rule in the church that Paul refutes in v. 36.”
            ● Ephesians 5:22 is also mangled.  Instead of saying, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” Simmons translates the end of verse 21 as “be supportive of each other in love,” and then proceeds to rewrite verse 22 to say, “For wives, this means being devoted to your husbands like you are tenderly devoted to our Lord.”  This is quite politically correct, but it does not correspond to what Paul wrote.  
            ● First Timothy 2:11-12 is hopelessly adulterated in Simmons’ work:  “Let the women who are new converts be willing to learn with all submission to their leaders and not speak out of turn.  I don’t advocate that the newly converted women be the teachers in the church, assuming authority over the men, but to live in peace.”  Simmons attempts to excuse his additions by claiming, in prolonged notes, that he is merely making clear what was implicit in the early church, but this is pure subterfuge; Paul explains the basis for his position in the following verses.  Simmons has blended his commentary into the text of Scripture. 
The NAR believes that the office of apostle should be occupied in the present time.  Accordingly, in Matthew 10:2, Simmons has added the word “first” – “Now, these are the names of the first twelve apostles” – although there is nothing to support the word “first” in the Greek text.    
            So have no illusions about the nature of The Passion Translation:  it is not just a loose translation.  Its notes, which are many – the TPT New Testament is more annotation than translation – constitute a commentary designed to promote the doctrines of the NAR, and its text has been tweaked to decrease the extent to which a formal rendering of the text would challenge NAR beliefs. 
Brian Simmons may believe with full sincerity that the NAR’s doctrines are correct – but that does not excuse the many points in The Passion Translation where he has tampered with the text in such a way as to make it say things that the original text does not really say.

So far I have only described The Passion Translation’s origins and its doctrinal bias.  The remaining distinctive feature of Simmons’ work – its unusual New Testament base-text – is in some ways more concerning.   
Simmons draws his competence into question when he makes statements such as this one (from the book-introduction to Matthew):  “In AD 170 Eusebius quoted Irenaeus as saying, “Matthew published his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul in Rome were preaching and founding the church” (Eusebius, Historia Eccesiastica III. 24:5-6 and V. 8, 2.).”  The problem is that Eusebius wrote in the early 300s; Irenaeus, not Eusebius, is the writer who wrote in the 170s.  
            Nor does it help Simmons’ credibility when one reads, in a note on John 3:13, his claim that “Most Greek manuscripts read “the Son of Man who came from heaven.””  This is completely false; most Greek manuscripts support the reading, “the Son of Man who is in heaven.”  Similarly Simmons claims, in a note on Mark 9:29, that “Many reliable Greek texts leave out “fasting,”” whereas in reallife only a few Greek manuscripts omit this word.
Some folks might conclude that such simple mistakes imply that Jesus was not helping Simmons write his notes, and that Simmons’ claim about receiving downloads from heaven is either a delusion or chicanery.  But in the NAR, just as prophets who make false predictions are still considered prophets, translators and commentators get to make elementary chronological errors and still be taken seriously.     
            Now let’s take a closer look at the New Testament base-text that Simmons used for TPT. 
            Simmons’ notes refer repeatedly to “Hebrew Matthew,” and this text is cited in his notes over a hundred times.  “Hebrew Matthew,” however, is nothing more than Shem-Tob (as Simmons himself affirms in his note on Matthew 2:6) – a late medieval text assembled by Judaic opponents of Christianity in the 1300s, mainly reworking the meaning of the Vulgate text of that time, with unusual readings shared by the earlier Liège Harmony (from the late 1200s), a harmonization of the four Gospels written in the Middle Dutch dialect, in which some Diatessaronic readings are embedded. 
            What Simmons treats as if it is the original Hebrew text of Matthew (and greater in authority than all Greek manuscripts) is actually a medieval text used by opponents of the gospel, and its unique features, other than echoes of the Diatessaron and a few stray Old Latin readings, are not ancient at all.  We are looking here at a text that post-dates Charlemagne.  Unfortunately, when Simmons made TPT, he was apparently convinced that Shem-Tob is a very ancient text.  That false assumption is in play throughout his work.
            Another false assumption seems to be in play as well:  the idea that the Peshitta – a Syriac translation, probably made in the late 300s – is from the first century rather than the fourth century.   The phrase “As translated from the Aramaic” appears in Simmons’ notes over 400 times.  Simmons has somehow convinced himself that the Peshitta is better than the Greek text in hundreds of passages.  A close study of Simmons’ notes indicates that he believes that the Gospel of Matthew was initially written in Aramaic (the sentence in which Simmons put Eusebius in the year 170 is part of Simmons’ defense of this belief).  This is the only plausible explanation for the following renderings in Simmons’ translation of Matthew:
            Matthew 5:4a – “What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord!” –   “As translated from the Hebrew Matthew,” Simmons explains in a note, defending his decision to set aside the Greek text, which means, “Blessed are those who mourn.”       
            Matthew 8:6, 8:9, 8:13 – “son” – This is, in the Aramaic sources Simmons has relied upon, an attempted harmonization to the similar account in John 4:47-53.  The Greek text, as Simmons admits in his notes, means “servant.”
            Matthew 12:12 – “it’s always proper to do miracles” – The Greek text, as Simmons admits in his notes, only refers to doing good; there is no reference to miracles.    
            Matthew 19:16a – “Then a teenager approached Jesus and bowed before him” – this harmonization based on Mark 10:17 is not based on Greek manuscripts, but was “translated from the Hebrew Matthew,” i.e., the medieval Shem-Tob text.
            Matthew 19:16b – “and bowed before him, saying, Wonderful teacher” – Simmons, rather than translate the Greek text, translated the word tawa “from the Aramaic.”
            Matthew 19:24 (and Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25) – “In fact, it’s easier to stuff a heavy rope through the eye of a needle than it is for the wealthy to enter into God’s kingdom realm!”  Simmons explains why he had led away the camel:  “This could be an instance of the Aramaic text being misread by the Greek translators as “camel” instead of “rope.”” 
            Matthew 20:29 – “As Jesus approached Jericho” – The Greek text means just the opposite, “As Jesus left Jericho.”  Simmons’ note displays his openness to the idea that the Shem-Tob text existed in the first century.
            Matthew 21:37 – “Perhaps with my own son standing before them they will be ashamed of what they’ve done.” – This paraphrase has been allowed to usurp the Greek text, which simply means, “They will respect my son.”
            Matthew 27:9 – “This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah” – Simmons flatly rejects the Greek text which refers to the prophet Jeremiah, stating, “The Greek manuscripts incorrectly identify the prophecy as from Jeremiah.”  Rather than perceive a loose thematic parallel to passages in Jeremiah, Simmons has set aside the Greek text and translated from the medieval Shem-Tob.
            Matthew 27:43b – “let’s see if it’s true, and see if God really wants to rescue his ‘favorite son’!” – This is a drastic departure from the Greek text, in which Jesus’ detractors finish the verse by saying, “for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
This sort of thing is not limited to the text of Matthew.  Simmons departs from the Greek text  on many occasions, and in almost every book of the New Testament – even in Second Peter, Third John, Jude, and Revelation – books which were not even initially part of the Peshitta. 
For example, in Second Peter 1:4, Simmons has set aside the “us” found in the Greek text (ἡμῖν) and replaced it with “you.”  In Jude verse 9, Simmons rendered Michael the archangel’s words as “”The Lord Yahweh rebuke you,” although the Greek text (Κύριος) only justifies the word “Lord.”
            And in the book of Revelation, Simmons has replaced Jesus’ familiar words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” with “I am the Aleph and the Tav” in 1:8, and again in 21:6, and again in 22:13.  Other departures from the Greek text occur in Revelation 6:9, 7:17, 11:7 (Simmons:  “the beast that comes up from the sea” – Greek text:  “the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit” (ἀβύσσου)), 11:15, 15:3, and 21:2.                           
            And there is a yet more disturbing aspect to Simmons’ work.  Contrary to the impression given at The Passion Translation’s website, which explicitly states that Simmons used the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation, and which also explicitly states that The Passion Translation follows the practice of excluding passages such as Matthew 17:21, 18:11, Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 15:28, and Acts 8:37, all of those verses are in the text of the copy of The Passion Translation that I received.  It is quite obvious that Simmons’ New Testament base-text diverges from the Nestle-Aland compilation at many points. 
It is equally obvious that Simmons did not consistently follow the Byzantine Text, for he turns Amos into an ancestor of Christ in Matthew 1:10, and does not describe Jesus as Mary’s firstborn son in Matthew 1:25, and in Mark 1:2 he attributes a prophecy to Isaiah (although in his annotation on Mark 1:2, Simmons states, “This line is a quotation from Ex. 23:20 and Mal. 3:1”).  What was the determining factor in his textual decisions? 
It appears that where the Nestle-Aland compilation and the Byzantine Text disagree, the Aramaic text often cast a deciding vote – and, as we have seen, in some cases, it was allowed to outweigh them both.  But what Aramaic, or Syriac, text was Simmons using?  For just as there are different compilations of the Greek text, there are different compilations of the Peshitta, and there are also the Harklean Syriac, the Philoxenian Syriac, and the Palestinian Aramaic to consider. 
            A modicum of online research into this question led me to the website of Andrew Chapman, who showed concisely but clearly that Simmons has utilized – among other resources – the work of Victor N. Alexander. 
Victor Alexander's
English translation of
the Aramaic text
I will spare you, reader, the details of Andrew Chapman’s investigations, and cut to the chase.  (You can read about some of them at .)  It seems apparent that Simmons has been relying on English translations of the Peshitta, rather than directly consulting Aramaic sources.  This seems irrefutable when one looks at the anomalies in the translation made by Victor Alexander, and sees the same, or very similar, anomalies in Simmons’ work.  Here are a few:
            Galatians 1:4a – Simmons:  “He’s the Anointed Messiah who offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins!”  Alexander:  “He who sacrificed himself on behalf of our sins.”  (The Greek text simply says that he gave himself for our sins; the explicit reference to sacrifice-offering implies a link between Alexander’s translation and Simmons.)
            Galatians 2:10 – Simmons (in Letters from Heaven, as cited by Chapman):  “that I would be devoted to the poor and needy”  Alexander:  “That we may devote ourselves to the needy alone.”  (The Greek text refers to remembering the poor; the shared reference to being devoted to the poor implies a link between Alexander’s work and Simmons.  This passage has been altered and presently refers to remembering the poor and needy.) 
            Galatians 3:3b – Simmons (in Letters from Heaven, as cited by Chapman):  “Why then would you so foolishly turn from living in the Spirit to becoming slaves again to your flesh?”  Alexander:   “Did you become so foolish that while before, the Spirit abided in you, you have now become the slaves of the flesh?”  (The Greek text refers to finishing in the flesh; the shared reference to becoming slaves implies a link between Alexander’s work and Simmons.  This passage has been altered in TPT and presently loosely conforms to the Greek text.
            ● Galatians 3:19 – Simmons (in Letters from Heaven, as cited by Chapman):   “It remained in force until the Joyous Expectation was born to fulfill the promises given to Abraham.”  Simmons  included a note to explain the unusual rendering:  “The Joyous Expectation is translated literally from the Aramaic.”  Consulting Alexander’s translation, Chapman saw no such rendering, but in a footnote there is a reference to the phrase, “to whom were directed the joyous expectations.”  (Again, TPT has been improved in this passage.  What does this imply about the validity of that deleted note?)
(Dependence upon Victor Alexanders work also explains Simmons mangling of Ephesians 5:22; inasmuch as Alexander put be devoted to your husbands in Ephesians 5:22.) 

            The thing to see here is Chapman’s data implies that Simmons’ “downloads” have required revision and correction due in part to his dependence, not upon supernatural revelation, but upon a flawed English translation of the Syriac New Testament.  On one hand, revision is a natural step in translation-work; on the other hand, these particular corrected renderings reveal that there has obviously been quite a heavy dependence upon English resources, which is a different impression than one is likely to get from The Passion Translation’s website and promotional materials.     

            Simmons’ use of Victor Alexander’s translation – particularly in light of the many passages in TPT where the Aramaic text usurps the Greek text of the New Testament – is extremely problematic.  This should be evident to anyone who is aware of who Victor N. Alexander is.  In addition to having translated parts of the Peshitta into English, Victor Alexander directed the film The Red Queen, which might motivate anyone to think twice about relying on his work for any sacred purpose. 
            In addition, Victor Alexander has expressed some anomalous views: 
            ● “The original language of the Scriptures was not Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.”
            “My translation has produced the best version of the New Testament.”
            “All the articles on the Internet regarding the Original Scriptures are inaccurate.”
            ● “All the Western theological seminaries are a joke.”
            ● In his translation, “Thousands of passages have been clarified.”
            ● In his translation, “Major concepts have been restored for the first time.”
            ● And:  “It’s finally possible to interpret the Scriptures correctly and reconcile the tenets of the five major religions: Western Christianity, Modern Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. It's now possible to return to one conception of what the Scriptures are all about.”
Toxic syncretism could hardly make itself more obvious. 
Surely Simmons rejects Alexander’s opinions, and undoubtedly Simmons would be shocked if he ever were to watch even a snippet of Alexander’s surreal films – and yet it seems undeniable that he has relied on Alexander’s translation of the Peshitta while preparing The Passion Translation.  A complete repudiation of everything based on Alexander’s work, it seems to me, is necessary before the English Scripture-text in TPT can be considered in any way a legitimate translation.  All of the passages in which the Shem-Tob text and the Peshitta have usurped the Greek text need to be repaired.
I do not mean that without the bits that have no Greek support, the TPT New Testament would be a good translation; there are plenty of passages I have not mentioned in which Simmons has unnecessarily resorted to paraphrase.  But purging TPT of its deviations from the Greek text of the New Testament would be a good and necessary first step toward making its Scripture-text a legitimate translation. 

Here are some other reviews and critiques of The Passion Translation:

What's Wrong With The Passion "Translation" (by Andrew Wilson)

Endorsements for The Passion Translation

George Athas Reviews TPT Song of Songs

Readers are encouraged to explore the embedded links in this post to find additional resources.

Quotations attributed in this review to The Passion Translation are from The Passion Translation®.  Copyright © 2017, 2018 by BroadStreet Publishing ® Group, LLC.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

1 comment:

gwnfan said...

Thank you for a thorough review.