A few weeks ago I had my first real exposure to The Passion Translation. During a meeting I attended, a few verses were read from Ephesians 1, and I could barely believe what I was hearing.
Curious, I have been looking at The Passion Translation (TPT) for the last couple of weeks; what I have found makes me a bit worried.
I read through the entire Bible at least once per year—and have done so in several translations: New King James, English Standard, and New American Standard . But I haven’t found in the TPT a reading that is familiar, but one that is quite foreign. I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them.” I’m really struggling to hear the Bible I know in TPT.
Below, I’ll look at some select verses from the TPT version of Ephesians 1 and compare them to the New American Standard Bible (NASB)—probably the most formally equivalent translation in common usage . We will see that not only are the TPT verses heavily interpreted, but convey the opposite of the NASB rendering. A side-by-side view of NASB, NIV, TPT & NKJV can be found at Bible Gateway.
I’ll then look at the TPT overview video by Brian Simmons, which supports some of my textual observations, and tie them together.
Comparing NASB with TPT
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
For it was always in his perfect plan to adopt us as his delightful children, through our union with Jesus, the Anointed One, so that his tremendous love that cascades over us would glorify his grace—for the same love he has for his Beloved One, Jesus, he has for us. And this unfolding plan brings him great pleasure!
The difference between these two versions is immediate and striking. In the NASB, God “predestined us to adoption as sons” and in the TPT, “it was always in his perfect plan to adopt us” as his … children“. Renderingsons to children isn’t unheard of—the NRSV does as much—but the NRSV doesn’t remove (pre)destination as the “pleasure” (NASB “kind intention”) of the will of God. The Passion Translation does.
It might be able to almost be discerned by the studious reader that is really looking for it in the TPT by juggling parts of sentences around. His “unfolding plan” “to adopt us as his … children” “brings him great pleasure”. But it still leaves out the will of God in predestination of the saints!
Here we begin to see the tact by which TPT is presenting its interpretation to the reader—the waning of the role of God correlating with the waxing role of man. I will return to this shortly.
In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things [min the heavens and things on the earth.
This superabundant grace is already powerfully working in us, releasing within us all forms of wisdom and practical understanding. And through the revelation of the Anointed One, he unveiled his secret desires to us—the hidden mystery of his long-range plan, which he was delighted to implement from the very beginning of time.
Here, I want to focus first on the phrase “wisdom and insight” in the NASB, which correlates with “wisdom and practical understanding” in TPT. There is a big difference between the two translations, here. In the NASB, “wisdom and insight” is an attribute of God: it is in his wisdom and insight that he makes his mystery known to us, according to his kind intention.
In the TPT, however, this same wisdom and “practical understanding” is not attributed to God, but rather is being released “within us” by the “superabundant grace”. Is the phrase so unclear in the primary texts? I honestly can’t say—but it really strikes me a bit sideways. It again takes something that belongs to God, wisdom and insight, and applies that to us–seemingly diminishing God and elevating the status of man.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
I pray that the light of God will illuminate the eyes of your imagination, flooding you with light, until you experience the full revelation of the hope of his calling—that is, the wealth of God’s glorious inheritances that he finds in us, his holy ones! I pray that you will continually experience the immeasurable greatness of God’s power made available to you through faith. Then your lives will be an advertisement of this immense power as it works through you!
The last comparison here shows how in some cases The Passion Translation seems to somewhat resemble the NASB, while choosing different words—”imagination” where the NASB has chosen “heart”, for example; or “experience the full revelation” where the NASB simply renders “know”. The rending of “imagination” instead of “heart” seems strange to me—how can one form a mental picture (as imagination implies) of “the wealth of God’s glorious inheritance” or the “immeasurable greatness of God’s power”? It doesn’t seem to fit.
But when we look at the end of our excerpts, we see the same major difference I’ve shown in our first two examples.
On the one hand, the NASB is explicitly links the three points for which Paul is praying for revelation. He prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know”
- the hope of His calling
- the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
- the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe
Looking at the other hand, the TPT relates that Paul prays that “the light of God will illuminate the eyes of your imagination … until you experience … the hope of his calling”, which, the TPT continues, is
- the wealth of God’s glorious inheritances that he finds in us
- the immeasurable greatness of God’s power made available to you
These are two very different messages, and once again we see the re-orientation of the text from God to man. In the NASB, we are learning of attributes of God toward us, where in the TPT the focus is on what “he finds in us” and “made available to you [us]”.
Am I seeing things?
I don’t think so. Let’s watch Brian Simmons—the lead TPT translator—give an overview of The Passion Translation.
I am not a Biblical scholar, and I do not know the original languages. Smarter people than I (like Dr. Michael Brown) have commented on The Passion Translation, and in Dr. Brown's case he did not say anything negative about it, besides recommending it not be used as one's primary translation.
Having said that, there are a few things I want to point out in this short clip which I do find troubling.
Nothing was missing from the Bible before TPT.
“I have uncovered what I believe is the love language of God—and it’s been missing from many modern translations.” - Brian Simmons
My first reaction to this statement was something like this:
Perhaps I am too sceptical, but I find it hard to believe that after hundreds and thousands of translators have parsed the New Testament countless times, only now has one "uncovered ... the love language of God".
Not only has this "love language of God" now been uncovered, but now—long at last!—it can be included in the English Bible. This is an extraordinary claim, and I find it honestly unbelievable. Simmons makes it sound like—intentionally or not—that the Bible we've had before The Passion Translation wasn't complete or sufficient. Yikes.
The Passion Translation does not do the Holy Spirit's work.
“God refuses to meet us in an intellectual way.” - Brian Simmons
No. No He did not.
Simmons' statement is a misleading and dangerous. Yes, one can study the Bible through intellectual means and come up empty—but that doesn't mean that one studying the Bible through intellectual means must necessarily not "meet God", or that God "refuses" to meet the student of the Word because they are taking an intellectual approach.
Simmons continues on later to say, "what we're trying to do with this project, is to bring words that go right through the human soul—and past the defences of our mind and goes right into our spirit."
But what—or more properly, who—reveals the truth to our spirit? Is it the words themselves? If we have the perfect translation, will everyone who reads them be transformed? No! Because it is the Holy Spirit that reveals the truth of the Scriptures to us. Apart from the Spirit we can do nothing—and learn nothing.
We cannot comprehend the Scriptures by an intellectual approach alone—we must be taught by the Spirit—and for that very reason Simmons' statement is worthless. The words themselves cannot get "past the defences of the mind" (whatever those are); only the Spirit can do that.
The Scriptures are sufficient already.
"If you’re hungry for God, if you want to know him on another level than what you’ve been, uh, given so far…" - Brian Simmons
What we have been given so far is... the Bible! For over sixteen hundred years (likely more) we have had the current canon, and translation of the Bible into modern English goes back nearly 500 years.
Uncountable pastors and their congregants have been using various English versions of the Bible since the Protestant Reformation (and long before). It is almost insulting to the many hundreds of translators pouring untold years into what we've been "given so far".
Each translation has its advantages, and I'm sure The Passion Translation is no different. But to imply that what we've been given so far is insufficient? That is troubling.
The Passion Translation holds no (Biblical) secrets.
"there’s something waiting for you—there’s some secrets that he wants to unveil to you and to me… The Passion Translation can help you discover more of that God has for your life." - Brian Simmons
I get a bit uncomfortable when people start talking about "secrets" in the Bible. It sounds a lot like there is secret meanings hidden within the text, à la The DaVinci Code. And Simmons is not talking the Pauline mysteries here, he is talking about revealing things you can't get from the Bible as it's been "given so far".
As I said in the last section, each translation has some advantages, I'm sure—but The Passion Translation doesn't just translate and interpret, it adds to the Scripture. We have already seen Simmons imply that something was missing from Scripture, that Scripture didn't have the right words to convey its own truth, and that what we've been "given so far" is insufficient.
Well, we can add to that his spectacular claim that Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said that he would give to Simmons “secrets of the Hebrew language.” You can hear this claim from 30:22 of the audio below—but it’s probably worth listening to the whole thing for context.
Conclusion: Stay Away
Stepping back a bit, I think there is a clear connection between what Brian Simmons has claimed in the videos we've shown and the extreme differences between texts as observed in Ephesians 1. The Passion Translation seems to be a bit of an idiomatic and dynamically equivalent translation, and a heavy lot of interpretation based on Simmons' theology and private revelations about the original languages.
It seems to emphasise the very sort of private revelation (and more) that Simmons claims for himself—and we only looked at a few verses of one chapter of TPT. For me, that's red flags everywhere.
More red flags come up when you see some of those who are endorsing this translation—the very first in the list is Bill Johnson of Bethel Redding.
When I started writing this blog, I tried very hard to be fair and I do not want to attack Simmons. I even changed the title away from a somewhat click-baitey The Passion Translation is Dangerous.
But it is dangerous. I cannot recommend it. I recommend against it.