Several years ago, readers started telling me about this new Bible called the Passion Translation. “It’s fresh. It’s brilliant. Check it out.” The buzz reminded me of the excitement we felt when the Message Bible was published in the 1990s.
So I went to Amazon and bought this new Bible. Only I got the name wrong, and I bought a different Bible by mistake. When it arrived I didn’t think it was very good at all.
So for a while, people were telling me to check out the Passion Translation and privately I was thinking, “Why are they so excited about this? It’s not that great.”
Then I realized my mistake and bought the right one. And I have been reading the Passion Translation ever since.
The Passion Translation gets censored
A few days ago, Brian Simmons, the author of the Passion Translation put a message on his Facebook profile saying the good people at Bible Gateway had removed TPT from their website. He asked readers to head over to Bible Gateway and ask them to put it back.
This I did, and I also shared his message on E2R’s FB page. The response from readers was mixed. While most E2R readers were happy to support TPT, a few argued that it was not a translation but a paraphrase. They felt it was misleading for the author to call it a translation.
Others had deeper concerns with TPT and were happy that it had been removed from the Bible Gateway site. Some didn’t like that it had been translated by just one man. “It will be biased.” Others said it had an agenda which was heretical.
I am not in a position to comment on Brian Simmons, his training as a linguist, or any agenda he may have. I have good friends who vouch for him, but I don’t really know him. But I know his Bible. I read it often.
My verdict? I love it. It’s brilliant.
I do not care that TPT was written by one man any more than I care that the Message Bible was written by Eugene Petersen or other translations were written by single authors (e.g., Phillips, Wuest, Source, etc.).
I do not care that the Passion Translation is called a translation any more than I care that the NIV is called a translation.
I do not care that TPT has added clauses that illuminate the text. I find the Aramaic insights and explanatory footnotes that accompany the text most helpful.
But one concern I do have with the Passion Translation is it lacks the Old Testament (just as the Message Bible did when it was first released). However, I understand a complete OT may be coming in 2026. I look forward to it.
My review of the Passion Translation
No Bible translation is 100% accurate or free from bias which is why it is a good idea to read multiple translations. But should you read the Passion Translation?
In my view, Brian Simmons has done a masterful job unpacking the treasures of the New Testament. The Passion Translation is both poetical yet scholarly.
There are plenty of critical reviews pointing out what TPT gets wrong, so let me point out some things it gets right. Let’s start with this well-known passage from John 15:2.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit…
- He takes away (ESV/NASB/NKJV/Darby/Wuest)
- He taketh away (ASV/KJV)
- He cuts off (ISV/MSG/NIV)
- He breaks off (GNB)
For years I have insisted that these are bad translations of Jesus’ words. Jesus doesn’t cut or remove unfruitful branches; he lifts them up. As far as I know, TPT is the only Bible that gets this right:
He cares for the branches connected to me by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches. (John 15:2, TPT)
Does this matter?
If you are an unfruitful Christian, would you rather hear that Jesus plans to cut you off and take you away (something he never said) or that he will lift you up? Bad translations hurt people; good ones encourage them to trust Jesus.
Let me give you another example from Romans 8:26:
- the Spirit Himself intercedes for us (ESV/ISV/NASB/NIV)
- the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us (KJV)
- the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us (NKJV)
- the Spirit himself comes to our rescue by interceding (Wuest)
- the Spirit itself makes intercession (Darby)
- his Spirit within us is actually praying for us (Phillips)
These are all fair translations, but they don’t fully capture what Paul says. As I explain in the Grace Commentary, the original word for intercedes (huperentugchano) is a compound word made up of two words: huper and entugchano (see screenshot below). The first word means hyper or super; the second word means intercede. The Holy Spirit is literally a super-interceder.
Does this matter?
If you are going through tough times, who do you want praying for you? An interceder or a super-interceder? The Holy Spirit is the latter, says Paul, but you will never know this unless you read the Passion Translation:
The Holy Spirit rises up within us to super-intercede on our behalf… (Rom. 8:26, TPT)
The next example comes from the Passion Translation footnote for Romans 5:20:
Again, the Passion Translation is the only English Bible that talks about the super-hyper-abundant grace of God.
Paul often wrote about the hypergrace of God, but you wouldn’t know that from reading modern Bibles. Brian Simmons should be applauded for having the courage to quote Paul accurately. I just wish he’d put this in the main text and not buried it in a note, but it’s a start.
Is the Passion Translation a paraphrase?
A translation is what you have when you take a text in one language (e.g., Greek) and translate it into another (e.g., English). Different translation approaches can be arranged on a spectrum with word for word translations at one end, and thought for thought translations at the other. Those at one end of the spectrum emphasize the original syntax (form and grammar) of the words. Those at the other end seek to capture the original meaning of the words.
What is a paraphrase? A Bible like the Living Bible is not a translation but a paraphrase because it is based on another English Bible (the ASV). But what if we are paraphrasing from the original language? When does a thought-for-thought translation become a paraphrase? That’s a thorny question that affects Bibles like the Message and the Passion.
Call the Passion Translation a paraphrase, and you are lumping it together with untranslated Bibles like the Living Bible. Call it a thought-for-thought translation, and you are lumping it with Bibles like the NIV, CEV, and the Message.
In my view, dismissing the Passion Translation as a paraphrase won’t work, because in several places it is more accurate than some word-for-word translations. Often it quotes the New Testament authors with greater accuracy than the NASB, ESV, RSV, etc.
And as I explain in my article, “How sexist is your Bible?” the Passion Translation is relatively unaffected by the gender bias that stains many older translations.
Put it altogether and the result is a Bible for our generation. The Passion Translation links our modern world with the Biblical world better than many other Bibles. It brings the Bible to life and gives fresh understanding to old scriptures.
Is the Passion Translation perfect? Of course not. No translation is.
Is the Passion Translation helpful, honest, beautiful, excellent, and praiseworthy? Definitely.
Will the Passion Translation help you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus? Most assuredly.
It has helped me.
In the bonus content for this article, available now on Patreon, I outline the pros and cons of different Bible translations and I explain when and why I use them. I also talk about which translations I rely on when writing for the Grace Commentary.
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