Let’s face it: the Bible can be a difficult book to approach, unless you’re raised or grow into a tradition that embraces it. There are accessible translations, but for the progressive, thinking person who wants to explore the moral and spiritual importance of scripture, it’s often difficult to get started.
Now, a small group of people who are involved in the controversial Emergent Church movement have begun working on their own Bible version. The Emergent Church is a group of mostly younger evangelicals, influenced by postmodernism, who are raising significant questions within their movement about some of the verities that have defined evangelical faith. They’re discussing such taboo issues as sexuality, the role of women, and the place of social action in a world unraveling at the seams. And, they’re doing so without claiming any a priori answers.
Specifically, it’s the New Testament that they’re working with at this point, and the thing that sets it apart is that each book is being retold in a fresh, new paraphrase by a noted artist, writer, or musician in the progressive wing of the evangelical world. Their project is called The Voice, and there are three books so far available. The first to come out was The Dust off Their Feet: Lessons from the First Church, a retelling of the Book of Acts.
The second book is The Last Eyewitness: The Final Week, by Seay and David Capes, which tells the story of Jesus’ last days as depicted in the Gospel of John. The third book, which has just become available, is the wonderful The Voice of Matthew by Lauren Winner, a convert from Judaism, multiple book author, and a lecturer at Duke Divinity School.
The Voice of Matthew, let me assert dramatically, is a really cool book, very accessible, and filled to the brim with ancillary information to the text that helps flesh out the gospel story.
There are three types of text in this book: the regular story of the retold gospel, which is lovely and lucid and easy to follow. Then there’s the text of author Lauren Winner in italics, which eases along and adds fluidity to the commands and narrative of scripture. Lastly, there are boxed-in segments which include commentary.
Now, I can hear the argument of heresy now, but let me assure you that Winner did not compile this book totally on her own. While it does indeed bear her name, before publication it — and all the volumes in The Voice series — went through a rigorous review process, not only with her artistic and academic peers in the translation group, but with Bible scholars and theologians. From gospel story to commentary, the series apparently meets the criteria for a good, solid Bible.
And what a Bible it is! It reminds me somewhat of J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English, an extremely popular project of the last century that aimed at making the Bible relevant to contemporary readers.
Take this from Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to overturn or do away with the law or the words of our prophets. To the contrary: I have not come to overturn them but to fulfill them. I ask you not merely to follow the Commandments, but to give Me your heart, your body, and your very life.”
Here’s the same text in the King James version: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am come not to destroy, but to fulfill.”
It's exciting and timely, and delivered in a way that, as the Quakers put it, speaks to the condition of the reader. Straightforward, challenging, and invigorating. What more could one ask in a Bible translation? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Book: The Voice of Matthew by Lauren Winner. Nelson Bibles, 2007 Hardcover, 192 pages, $16.99
Review by CHRIS FAATZ, Powells.com
This review was provided courtesy of Powell’s Books and edited from the original, which can be read online at: www.powells.com/pow/review/2007_02_24.
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