Brian Simmons, Bill Johnson, and the Passion [Anti-] Translation of the Holy Scriptures

At church on Sunday, a dear sister in Christ bounded up to me and warmed to her theme of the excellence of Brian Simmons and his supposed translation of the holy scriptures, which he is calling ‘The Passion Translation’. Not having heard previously either of the man or this work, I found to my horror that it cannot properly be termed a translation at all, because of the discrepancy between its content and that of the originals. Worse still, I discovered that it is being promoted by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding California, whose ministry is very popular with many young Christians here in the UK. Here, for example, Johnson uses it to give a brief word of exhortation and encouragement before the start of a service on 18 September 2016. At 0.11 of the video he says:

‘We’re going to read some scriptures as we get the day started. So good to see you, my goodness. Psalms 25 in the Passion Translation.’

Thus he affirms the Passion Translation as scripture. He continues (00.30):

‘You are about to be so blessed. What I am going to read is going to bless you so much. You should be getting happy in advance just because of what is coming your way. This is so good. Alright are you ready? Have you got your happy gear on? Alright.’

Then (00.50) he reads verse 12 of ‘Psalm 25′ from Simmons’ book, ‘Psalms: Poetry on Fire’:

Johnson (1.03) then asks the congregation for a show of hands as to who has this question that Simmons has asked:

‘How many of you have that question? How do I live in a way that’s absolutely pleasing to You, that’s the question.’

But this is not the question that the bible asks. The Hebrew text begins:

מִיזֶה הָאִישׁ, יְרֵא יְהוָה   

There are only 5 words (or 4 if you count מִי-זֶה, joined by a maqqef, as one).

  1. מִי  (mî) meaning ‘who’
  2. זֶה (zeh) meaning ‘this
  3. הָאִישׁ  (hā·’îš) meaning ‘the man’
  4. יְרֵא (yə·rê) a verbal adjective, or participle, meaning ‘fearful’ or ‘fearing’, from the root  יָרֵא meaning ‘to fear’

  5. יְהוָה Yahweh, Yehovah, the LORD

Perhaps Young’s Literal Translation is the most accurate:

Who [is] this — the man fearing Jehovah?

so that it might be as if David was seeing a man who was fearing the LORD, and asking who this man was. But also acceptable are the NASB and the ESV, which both have:

Who is the man who fears the LORD?

and the RSV and the NKJV, for example, are almost identical:

Who is the man that fears the LORD?

This is perhaps a question that a preacher could ask of his congregation, and it is one that would tend to provoke reflection and self-examination. One might tentatively raise one’s hand a little and say yes, Lord, I do fear you, yet not as I ought to do, loving Father, help me to fear you more.

Indeed – and I found this after I had written the above – Spurgeon writes:

Verse 12What man is he that feareth the Lord? Let the question provoke self examination. Gospel privileges are not for every pretender. Art thou of the seed royal or no?’

In the Psalms, as written by David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are asked a question, effectively by the Lord, as to whether we truly fear Him as we should. Simmons has the question being asked by the reader, presumably of the Lord, and so our hearts are not searched in the same way. There is nothing gained, and much is lost.


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Andrew Chapman

I live for Jesus. He is my life, my hope, my Saviour and Redeemer and Lord. Hallelujah! God has blessed me with a wonderful wife called Alison, and we serve the Lord together with gladness and joy. Pray for us that we may fulfill our calling and persevere to the end on the narrow path that leads to life.

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