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.
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
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).
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
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.”
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
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
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
“It is possible to translate
the Aramaic as “Then one day Jesus came from victorious revelation” to be
baptized by John.
The word Nazareth
mean “victorious one,” and the word Galilee
can be translated “the place of
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
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.
sync with the NAR’s custom of giving leadership
to women (including the office of apostle), Simmons has taken
inexcusable liberties with some passages that pertain to the role of women and
● First Corinthians 14:34 has been mangled:
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,”
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.
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.
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
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
“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
take a closer look at the New Testament base-text that Simmons used for
Simmons’ notes refer repeatedly to “Hebrew Matthew,” and this text is cited in his notes
over a hundred times.
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
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
Unfortunately, when Simmons
made TPT, he was apparently convinced that Shem-Tob
is a very
That false assumption is
in play throughout his work.
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:
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
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.”
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.
19:16b – “and bowed before him, saying, Wonderful teacher” – Simmons, rather
than translate the Greek text, translated the word tawa “from the Aramaic.”
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. C
ontrary to the impression given at The Passion Translation’s
, 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
It is quite obvious that
Simmons’ New Testament base-text diverges from the Nestle-Aland compilation at
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.
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.
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
● 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
● 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
“Why then would you so
foolishly turn from living in the Spirit to becoming slaves again to your
“Did you become so foolish that while
before, the Spirit abided in you, you have now become the slaves of the
(The Greek text refers to finishing
in the flesh; the shared
reference to becoming slaves implies a link between Alexander’s work and
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?)
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.
use of Victor Alexander
translation – particularly in light of the many passages in TPT where the
Aramaic text usurps the Greek text of the New Testament – is extremely
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
● “My translation has produced the best version of the New
● “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.”
syncretism could hardly make itself more obvious.
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.
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.