My sobs came right into your heart

My sobs came right into your heart

For when the spirit of death wrapped chains around me and terrifying torrents of destruction overwhelmed me, taking me to death’s door, to doom’s domain, I cried out to you in my distress, the delivering God, and from your temple-throne you heard my troubled cry. and you turned your face to rescue me.

The effect is often striking, and would make for an interesting meditation on the psalms, albeit with a strong sectarian flavour. However, by eliminating the poetic techniques of parallelism and juxtaposition, TPT denies the reader the chance to follow the particular logic of the psalms. By abandoning the ‘how’ of Hebrew poetry and replacing it with prose-poems we are left at the mercy of the translator’s impression of the theological story each psalm relates.

A clue to Simmons’s translation technique is his frequent elimination of the second verb in a verse and reversal or mingling of the elements of its two lines; he also tends to split logically subordinated sentences into simpler, unconnected sentences. Psalm 50:6 is a good example (comparing ESV and TPT):

This suggests that Simmons has adapted the method of translation, pioneered by Eugene Nida, of reducing Hebrew sentences to their simplest kernels, transferring those simple structures to English, and then freshly generating a semantically equivalent text.7 This is a tried and true method, common among translators who work to give language groups in the majority world their first Bibles. It can produce clear, faithful and accurate translations, but the method needs to be carried out with care to prevent meaning from being lost in the transfer process.

To counter the loss-of-meaning problem Nida stressed the importance of moving beyond linguistic meaning, by recognising (1) contextual specification of meaning, in which the relevant component of a word’s meaning is clarified through its interaction with other word-meanings nearby,8 and (2) connotative meaning, namely, the reactions that words prompt in their hearers.9 It may be that Simmons has tried to respect these two elements of Nida’s method by means of (1) his constant double translations, and (2) his constant additions of emotive language. However, Simmons has strayed so far outside Nida’s programme that his work would not be recognised as legitimate by any Bible translation society in the world, past or present. Here is Eugene Nida on the question of style and exegesis:

5. Conclusion: Passion, Translation and Scripture

It is victoria milan style we are concerned with, not exegesis. The two questions are quite independent. Exegesis is wrong, entirely apart from any stylistic considerations, if it (1) misinterprets the point of the original, or (2) adds information from some nontextual source, and especially from some other cultural milieu. … We may then contrast a linguistic translation, which is legitimate, and a cultural translation or adaptation, which is not.10

5.1. The Aim: ‘Passion’

The aim of TPT is ‘to re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader’ (p. 7). ‘This is a heart-level translation, from the passion of God’s heart to the passion of your heart’ (p. 8). Now this may seem an obvious question, but what does ‘passion’ mean? For Simmons it means a type of emotion. It might be happy, or sad, or angry, or loving, but what makes any emotion into a passion is simply its strength. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines passion as: ‘a very strong feeling of sexual love’, ‘a very strong belief or feeling about something’, or ‘a very strong liking for something’. But more than this, Simmons wants his translation to ‘trigger an overwhelming response to the truth of the Bible’ (p. 8). This valuing of being overwhelmed by something is what seems to drive his whole project. And here’s the thing – this is a uniquely modern, even novel, cultural phenomenon. The idea that things are more real, more true, more valuable, when we feel them strongly is a product of 19th century Western Romanticism. Not that Simmons believes that our emotions make God himself more real. Rather, they make him more real to us; the stronger the emotion, the more fully we realise our ‘quest to experience God’s presence’ (p. 4).