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Bible Gateway Removes The Passion Translation

Popular among charismatics, the “heart-level” Bible version was criticized as a paraphrase posing as translation.
Bible Gateway Removes The Passion Translation
The Passion Translation (TPT) lead translator Brian Simmons, in a promotional video for the 2020 New Testament edition

A Bible version designed to “recapture the emotion of God’s Word” was removed from Bible Gateway last week. The Passion Translation (TPT) is listed as “no longer available” among the site’s 90 English-language Bible offerings.

First released as a New Testament in 2017, The Passion Translation includes additions that do not appear in the source manuscripts, phrases meant to draw out God’s “tone” and “heart” in each passage.

Translator Brian Simmons—a former missionary linguist and pastor who now leads Passion and Fire Ministries—sees his work in Bible translation as part of a divine calling on his life to bring a word, the Word, to the nations. His translation has been endorsed by a range of apostolic charismatic Christians, including The Call’s Lou Engle, Bethel’s Bill Johnson, and Hillsong’s Bobbie Houston.

TPT’s publisher, BroadStreet Publishing Group, confirmed that Bible Gateway “made the disappointing decision to discontinue their license for The Passion Translation” as of January 2022.

“While no explanation was given, BroadStreet Publishing accepts that Bible Gateway has the right to make decisions as they see fit with the platforms they manage,” BroadStreet said in a statement.

Bible Gateway’s parent company, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, told CT, “We periodically review our content, making changes as necessary, to align with our business goals.” The company declined to offer further details about its reason for the decision. TPT remains available on YouVersion and Logos Bible Software.

Screenshots from Simmons’s social media showed he initially responded to The Passion Translation’s removal from Bible Gateway by saying, “Cancel culture is alive in the church world” and asking followers to request the site restore the version. That February 2 post no longer appears on his Facebook page.

Simmons argues TPT’s additions and context “expand the essential meaning of the original language by highlighting the essence of God’s original message.”

“With The Passion Translation, we have a high goal to being accurate to the text, but accuracy involves the heart behind it,” Simmons said in an interview last month. “We’re trying to discover, communicate, and release God’s heart through the words we choose.”

Translation versus paraphrase

Simmons and his publisher describe TPT as a translation instead of a paraphrase because Simmons and his partners worked to develop the text from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts rather than taking an existing English translation and putting it into his own words.

Simmons has repeatedly defended the translation label, saying that all Bible translations involve some paraphrase. He puts TPT in the same category as thought-for-thought translations like the New International Version (NIV).

But Bible scholars, including those who translated the NIV, use a more rigorous standard. A new version must closely adhere to the wording, syntax, and structure of its source. Critics of TPT say it doesn’t meet those standards and functions as a paraphrase while presenting itself as a translation.

If TPT’s removal from Bible Gateway was related to the concerns over its translation claims, “I think that’s a good thing,” said Andrew Wilson, a Reformed charismatic who pastors at King’s Church London and a columnist for CT. “There are just too many additions to the text that have no basis in the original—which is fine (sort of) if it’s self-consciously a paraphrase, but not if people think it’s a translation.”

Wilson first raised concerns in a 2016 blog post about TPT and continues to get asked about the version from fellow charismatics. He wrote that he doesn’t recommend it, objects to the publisher’s advice to use it from the pulpit, and urges leaders to clarify that it’s not a translation.

Certain passages in TPT are twice as long as in other translations such as the NIV. The Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11, for example, is printed in red as Jesus’ words and reads:

Our heavenly Father, may the glory of your name be the center on which our life turns. May your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us. Manifest your kingdom on earth. And give us our needed bread for the coming day. Forgive our sins as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. And rescue us every time we face tribulations.

A 2018 review in The Gospel Coalition journal Themelios critiqued Simmons’s translation process, specifically his overuse of “double translation,” bringing in multiple meanings of a word even if it wasn’t clear that wordplay was intended. It was written by a scholar on the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, who worried that Simmons’s own theology and favorite themes were driving his word choice.

Mike Winger, a Calvary Chapel–trained pastor who teaches through his online ministry Bible Thinker, has drawn in over one million YouTube views with a series examining The Passion Translation.

“Bible Gateway removing TPT after reviewing the work in more detail is a signal to everyone that the work may have issues,” he said. “When you add that to the growing number of scholars, pastors, and laymen who are raising the red flag about TPT, you have a loud and simple message: ‘TPT has enough issues that it is best to avoid it.’”

Translations and tribalism

Winger recruited evangelical scholars including Darrell Bock, Nijay Gupta, Douglas Moo, and Craig Blomberg to critique specific TPT passages. Gupta repeated some of his reservations to CT, saying, if TPT were to appear on a site alongside established translations “it should have a warning label: ‘One of these is not like the other.’ … non-academics should know that TPT does not have the backing of accredited seminaries and linguistic organizations experienced in translation work.”

Winger has called out Simmons for bringing in “large amounts of material that really have no presence in the Greek or Hebrew … and the words he’s adding are particular words that are part of a hyper-charismatic, signs and wonders movement, words that are about imparting and triggering and unleashing and releasing.”

Mark Ward, editor of Bible Study Magazine, fears a trend of subsets of the church creating Bible translations of and for their own. In his book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, he urges against letting translations become tribal boundary markers.

“As Paul said of himself and Peter and Apollos, ‘All are yours.’ I hate seeing the Bible caught in Christian tugs of war,” he told CT. “The reason Luther and Tyndale translated alone is that nooses stood ready nearby. That’s no longer our problem. I think the best way to promote each other’s trust in our good Bible translations is to use—and expect—multi-denominational, committee-based works.”

There is a long history of single-author Bible translations, with Robert Alter, N. T. Wright, and D. B. Hart releasing recent versions. The number of Bible resources is growing, and they’re becoming more accessible to the average reader through digital platforms like Bible Gateway, YouVersion, and Logos.

Peter Gurry, New Testament professor at Phoenix Seminary, said it’s not surprising that any new Bible project would want to position itself as both trustworthy and better than what’s available already.

For Christians cracking open or tapping over to new translations, he suggests they consider the audience of a new resource, look for consistency within its own principles, and see how it lines up with the versions they know already.

“For readers who don’t know the original languages (which is, of course, most of them) … you can start to form a judgment of a new translation by comparing it with those other translations that have gained a trusted readership over the years,” he said. “In the case of evangelicals, this means something like KJV, NIV, ESV, NASB.”

Christians who care about reading reliable and accurate biblical texts have been wary and sometimes critical of paraphrases. Even The Message—among the top 10 best-selling Bible versions in the world—has gotten dinged over the years by pastors and scholars alike for what it adds, misses, or rewords.

But its author, Eugene Peterson, was clear that he was putting the Bible into his voice—describing the project as a paraphrase, not a translation. He even said he felt “uneasy” about its use in worship and personally still preferred the originals in his devotions. (The Message, along with paraphrases such as the J. B. Phillips New Testament and The Living Bible, are available on Bible Gateway.)

Passion and power in the text

“Once you know God’s word through a standard translation, I love how paraphrases can yank you out of your Bible-reading rut and provide fresh insight into Scripture. Single-author translations likewise,” said Ward. “The one thing I have liked the most about TPT were those moments when I felt like I got to read a familiar phrase again for the first time, because Simmons just put it a little differently.”

For dedicated TPT readers, the new phrasing and the emotive power of the text are major draws.

On Instagram, Jenn Johnson, known for her Bethel music hits like “Goodness of God,” regularly posts pictures of her daily reading from The Passion Translation, with whole passages underlined and phrases like “I spoke in faith” and “no wonder we never give up” (2 Corinthians 4) circled in pen.

Bill Johnson at Bethel Church still uses the New American Standard Bible (NASB) in most of his writing and preaching due to familiarity, he said in a clip from last year titled, “Is The Passion Translation Heresy?” He uses TPT for devotional reading, as he did with paraphrases before it. He believes they are particularly helpful for new believers, too, and Bethel sells a branded TPT in its bookstore.

“For inspiration, I love The Passion Translation,” the Bethel founder said. “Every time he (Simmons) deviates from what would be a traditional approach to a verse, he explains it so powerfully that even if you don’t agree with him, you at least understand where he’s coming from.”

Simmons is deliberate about making TPT passionate and readable. In a promotional video, he calls it “a dynamic new version of the Bible that is easy to read, unlocking the mystery of God’s heart, the passions he has for you, deep emotions that will evoke an overwhelming response of love as he unfolds the Scriptures before your very eyes.”

He describes how he has “uncovered” what he sees as “the love language of God that has been missing from many translations.”

“God’s love language is not hidden, or missing,” Wilson wrote as part of his critique from 2015. “It is in plain sight in the many excellent translations we have available.”

TPT translation continues

While serving as missionaries in the 1980s, Simmons and his wife helped develop a new Bible translation for an unreached people group in Central America. After returning to the US, planting a church, and leading their Bible-teaching ministry, he began to work on The Passion Translation using the skills he honed on the mission field.

The Passion Translation contrasts this approach—where translations are done by necessity by individuals or small teams, whose main goal is to transfer the essential meaning of the text—with traditional translation work, which involves a broader committee of experts.

Simmons is used to facing questions about his credentials. During a recent interview with Life Today Live, he said, “I get asked that a lot. People say, ‘Do you feel qualified?’ I say, ‘Who in the world is?’ … My qualifications are that I was told to do this from the Lord. Whatever he tells you to do, he will meet the need you have to finish it.”

While Simmons serves as lead translator, TPT lists seven scholars who oversee and review his work. They are currently working on the remaining books of the Old Testament and moving forward with plans to release a full Bible edition around 2027.

“An exhaustive and thorough review and update of the entire Bible will be undertaken ahead of its release in the next 5-6 years,” BroadStreet said in a statement. “The review of the text by our team of theologians and industry professionals will continue to address feedback, as has been our approach to-date.”

“We believe The Passion Translation will become one of the most widely read and beloved translations in the market for years to come,” the publisher said. “We hope this translation will help bring the Bible to life for this generation and through it, people will encounter Jesus and his love for them in new and exciting ways.”

Neither Bible Gateway nor YouVersion offered figures on its popularity; five years into publication, TPT does not currently rank among the top 25 best-selling Bibles in print.

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