Review of Passion Translation of Song of Songs (Solomon): “Truly Awful”

The first few sentences of this review of the Song of Songs (aka, the Song of Solomon) in the Passion Translation (the one that is enthusiastically promoted by NAR apostles) says it all:

This translation of the Song of Songs is truly awful. As a professor of biblical studies who works with the original languages, I can assure you that this translation does not reflect either the words or the meaning of Song of Songs, contrary to what it claims. It’s not that the translation is careless—rather, it’s eisegesis. It is imposing pre-conceived ideas onto the text and then claiming that the change is due to the translation strategy. It’s terrible!

I’m honestly stunned at how off the mark this translation is. It claims to be bringing out the real meaning of Song of Songs, but it’s really just thrusting someone’s own wishful ideas about it onto the readership. If you want to understand Song of Songs, then please, avoid this translation.

The review was written by George Athas, a scholar well known to us in Hebrew Bible and Semitics. He is Director of Postgraduate Studies at Moore Theological College and Lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Church History.

Ordinarily, this sort of review would have me in stitches. But I’m not laughing. As I’ve blogged previously, the Passion Translation is the work of Brian Simmons, who claimed that Jesus himself told him to produce it:

As I noted earlier, the description of Simmons from the translation’s own website doesn’t provide any indication that Simmons has the skills to produce a translation from the original texts. His credential is being a linguist, church planter, and Bible translator for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama (Simmons worked with New Tribes Bible Institute). Being someone who translates the Bible into a modern language (especially a language that doesn’t have a Bible translation) does not guarantee the translator knows Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. I know that because I know people who have translated the Bible into such languages (tribal) who don’t know any of the biblical languages. They use an English translation (or whatever their own first language is) and, perhaps, tools keyed to Strong’s numbers. The results are quite serviceable, so I’m not being critical of the method. I’m being critical of the deceptive marketing. The marketing for the Passion Translation suggests it’s a translation from the originals that is chock-full of insights heretofore neglected or missed. It isn’t, as Athas notes in his review.

Another misleading aspect to all this is the way Simmons’ credentials are promoted — to create the impression he’s an original languages expert and knows what he’s doing in translation. Simmons has a doctorate, but not in biblical languages. It’s in “apostolic leadership,” whatever that means. It’s from Wagner University, named after it’s founder C. Peter Wagner, a highly-influential figure in the NAR. Here are the core courses for this doctorate, from the Wagner University website:

  • Apostolic Leadership
  • Dominion Theology and Kingdom Mandate
  • Kingdom Finances and the Great Transfer of Wealth
  • New Church Planting and Governance
  • Marketplace Ministry and BAM Movement
  • Revival, Reformation and Societal Transformation
  • World Evangelism and Cross-Cultural Missions

Here are the electives:

  • Activating Your Five-Fold Destiny
  • Apostolic Centers
  • Activating the Apostolic
  • Growth Dynamics of New Apostolic Churches
  • Apostolic Breakthrough

Sounds positively grueling.

But more to the point, I haven’t found any evidence at all that Simmons has ever taken a Greek or Hebrew course. Maybe he has, but it’s not easy to find out. But as noted above, if you’re doing translation work in new tribes and their languages, you don’t need one. You just need a good primary language translation and a procedural knowledge of the grammar of that language, semantics, and of course the target language. I think it likely, especially after Athas’ comments, is that Simmons’ began with an English translation and then went about the task of reading his charismatic theology into the text. That’s even more likely given the way Simmons described his own knowledge of the biblical languages in an interview:

[Interviewer] Jonathan Welton: “When you started this project were you, had you already had training in Greek and Hebrew? Or was this something you had to jump into again?”

Brian Simmons: “I had minimal background in biblical languages, so yeah it was something, honestly, it was something the Lord has really helped me with.” (14:52)

Awesome. Let’s stop requiring biblical languages and just let the Lord teach them to us. This is a shameful attempt to justify not being prepared for the sacred task of handling the Scriptures. It’s Idiocracy come to the Church … or attributing eisegesis to the Spirit.

The interview includes a number of mis-guided statements about Aramaic and its use in translating books that weren’t originally in Aramaic. Simmons apparently makes use of Lamsa’s ENGLISH translation of the NT in Aramaic. As I have noted a number of times, there is no evidence that the NT was composed in Aramaic, and Lamsa’s translation itself has been brutally reviewed by a real expert. The Greek NT was eventually translated into Aramaic/Syriac (Peshitta). Simmons is apparently referencing that material (no doubt mediated through Lamsa and other tools — like the ones my company creates) — and then convincing the ignorant that he’s working with primary texts. This is deceptive and misleading. It’s sort of like the things I deal with when I confront ancient aliens theorists who say ancient texts refer to alien visitation (think Zecharia Sitchin). They make claims about primary texts, inserting their own ideas into those texts. It’s either incompetence or dishonesty. Neither has a place in the Body of Christ.

 

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