As we consider the topic of Sola Scriptura, it is imperative that we develop a good grasp on the subject, because many Bible translations lead people astray from biblical truth. By using one primary example in The Passion Translation as how people can be led astray by the Bible version/translation they read, I hope that this will help you to discover and use only the best translations available (whether in English, Spanish, or some other language).
The Passion Translation (TPT) is a “paraphrase translation” done by Brian Simmons. Brian advocates the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which affirms present-day apostles, prophets, and miracles, while also emphasizing taking dominion over the earth. To understand The Passion Translation, we must understand the author of The Passion Translation, Brian Simmons.
Brian Simmons and The Passion Translation
The Passion Translation website states that Brian Simmons is the lead translator of The Passion Translation.[i] It also clarifies that Brian was a translator with New Tribes but didn’t list any of his qualifications to translate Scripture.[ii] This is very concerning as, typically, someone translating Scripture has an academic specialization in either Greek or Hebrew and a demonstrated mastery of both languages. Instead of a team approach to biblical translation, The Passion Translation only lists Brian as the translator.[iii] In his own words, Brian admits that he has no training in biblical languages. In an interview with the Welton’s Academy’s Podcast, which has since been taken down, but is available in another format, Brian Simmons stated, “I had minimal background in biblical languages, so yeah, it was something that, honestly, something the Lord has really helped me with.”[iv]
We will come back to this point about Brian’s lack of academic credentials to translate Scripture, but before we do, we need to first understand how the best translations are completed. Doing so will help us understand why The Passion Translation has not only a dangerous past in how it was formed because of Brian Simmons, but also because of the fact that he had no real committee helping him through the translation process.
One example of a solid translation is the English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV has more than 100 Bible scholars who produced it—an international team from many denominations. By translating the ESV in this way—in committee and by those who have mastered Greek and Hebrew, experts in their respective theological fields—it was ensured that the work done was completed as correctly as possible and did not set forth the dominant theological view of one person or group of Christians over another. Further, the utilization of a team approach to translation makes said translation trustworthy because reputable scholars produce it. Simmons’ one “credential” is that he (a self-proclaimed “apostle”) assisted a translation project among indigenous people in Panama with New Tribes Mission (now called Ethnos360).[v] He has no formal biblical language training, just eight years of on-the-job training with New Tribes Mission, unlike the people who translated the ESV, who have the highest academic credentials from the most respected seminaries and universities in the world.
It’s been noted by many others that The Passion Translation was translated from the Aramaic transcripts that date back to the 5th century. The ESV translation was translated primarily from Greek manuscripts that were written many years earlier. This is important because this means there was less time for its text to be changed or for there to be copyist errors.
Even more concerning than Brian’s lack of formal academic credentials to translate the Bible is that he says, “The Lord called [him] to translate the entire Bible.” In a recording on YouTube (minutes 13:56 to 14:23), Brian says this of how he came to translate the Bible:
“I said ‘Lord, if you really are calling me to do this, I want you to speak to me and I want it to be so clear to me that I have no doubt it was you.’ Well, that night, after laying it out before him, I had a visitation and I was given a commission by the Lord as he breathed on me, and released me, and called to translate the Bible. And, uh, I am doing this as obedience. It-it…to me it’s an act of obedience.”[vi]
God has spoken in the sixty-sixty books of the Old and New Testaments (2 Timothy 3:16) and speaks to His people every time His people read it or hear it preached (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Did God speak in times of antiquity? Absolutely (Hebrews 1:1-2). Does God speak today? Yes, but by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 155, states, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means…” Ephesians 6:18 says, “The sword of the Spirit…is the word of God.”
The Holy Spirit takes the written Word and opens our hearts’ understanding of the truths contained in the Scriptures. Psalm 19 rejoices in this when it says, “The law” is “the law of the Lord”, “the testimony” is “the testimony of the Lord”, “the precepts” are “the precepts of the Lord”, “the commandment” is “the commandment of the Lord”, and “the rules” are “the rules of the Lord.”
The Word of God and Hearing from God Today
During the Protestant Reformation, people were looking for a word from the Lord just as they search for one today. The Reformers were men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, who proclaimed there was only one place to hear God speak audibly: in the Scriptures. These men affirmed what is known as Sola Scriptura, which means the Scriptures are God’s inspired, inerrant, sufficient, clear, and authoritative Word.
What we’ve considered in this article is very concerning already, but more concerning than everything up until this point regarding Brian’s background is the actual translation theory behind The Passion Translation. This is what The Passion Translation website says:
“That’s the governing philosophy behind The Passion Translation®: to transfer the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern English…The Passion Translation is an essential equivalence translation. TPT maintains the essential form and essential function of the original words. It is a meaning-for-meaning translation, translating the essence of God’s original message and heart into modern English.”[vii]
“Dynamic equivalent” is a method of Bible translation that aims to reproduce the text of Scripture using modern language to communicate Scripture to modern audiences. Dynamic equivalence considers the original biblical context, culture, figures-of-speech, and more. It aims to help today’s Bible readers understand the biblical text in the same way as the original hearers. Dynamic equivalence translations are less concerned with providing a word-for-word English translation of the original biblical text as it is with communicating the sense of that verse to the readers.
Most Bible translations fall into either literal or dynamic equivalence. Literal equivalence are those translations that provide a word-for-word translation of the original word or phrase with an equivalent English word or phrase as much as possible. Literal translations are formal equivalence, a philosophy of biblical translation that aims to render the original biblical text as closely as possible. Examples of formal equivalence or literal translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), King James Version (KJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and Revised Standard Version (RSV).
Unlike literal (word-for-word) translations, a thought-for-thought, meaning-driven translation method is used to achieve dynamic equivalence. Functional equivalence can also be applied to dynamic or thought-for-thought translations. The Passion Translation is an example of this type of translation, as the official website states that it aims to be an essential equivalence translation. Instead of seeking to be as close to the original languages as possible, the dynamic/functional/essential equivalence tries to communicate the broader meaning of the original biblical text. Because essential equivalent and functional equivalence move away from a formal, word-for-word translation method, these two methods are naturally closer to paraphrasing. They aim to reproduce the same dynamic impact the text had on its original audience. I (and other serious theologians) reject this form of biblical translation, instead upholding formal equivalence translation because it ensures the biblical text’s accuracy for readers unfamiliar with Greek or Hebrew.
Comparing The Passion Translation to the English Standard Version
The translation-theory of The Passion Translation becomes readily apparent as we consider a few examples of The Passion Translation in various Scriptures. We will compare The Passion Translation to the ESV in the below table. As a note, the text in green is merely there for emphasis, so that the reader can see clearly the differences between the translations more clearly.
The Passion Translation
“And so the Living Expression became a man and lived among us! And we gazed upon the splendor of his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father overflowing.”
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“Through him a joy-producing grace cascaded into us, empowering us with the gift of apostleship, so that we can win people from every nation into a faithful commitment to Jesus, to bring honor to his name.”
“through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”
“My beloved friends, if you see a believer who is overtaken with a fault, may the one who overflows with the Spirit seek to restore him. Win him over with gentle words, which will open his heart to you and will keep you from exalting yourself over him.”
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
1 Timothy 2:12
“I don’t advocate that the newly converted women be the teachers in the church, assuming authority over the men, but to live in peace.”
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
1 Timothy 6:16
“He alone is the immortal God, living in the unapproachable light of divine glory! No one has ever seen his fullness, nor can they, for all the glory and endless authority of the universe belongs to him, forever and ever. Amen!”
“…who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
The Passion Translation is At the Heart of the New Apostolic Reformation
Throughout this article, we’ve considered Brian Simmons’ background, the translation theory behind The Passion Translation, and compared The Passion Translation to the ESV. Now it’s imperative to also recognize that many leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation not only accept The Passion Translation as a valid biblical translation, but also often refuse to acknowledge any other translation. To put a finer point on this, The Passion Translation is at the heart of the New Apostolic Reformation.
The NAR teaches the necessity of the present-day governing offices of apostles and prophets, along with their new “authoritative revelations”. Many leaders in the NAR recommend The Passion Translation, and it is used by many leaders in the NAR on Sundays to teach the people of God. Simmons holds the governing office of “apostle” with Harvest International Ministry and works closely with many NAR leaders. New Apostolic Reformation leaders endorse his translation almost exclusively (if not exclusively). His translation shows significant evidence of New Apostolic Reformation doctrinal bias. For these reasons, critics of this translation have dubbed it the “New Apostolic Reformation Bible”. Consider the following leaders and people who have endorsed The Passion Translation:
- Michael W. Smith, Grammy Award-Winning artist, best-selling author, and humanitarian:
“The Passion Translation is a gift to Bible readers. It is a beautiful marriage of powerful accuracy and readable, natural language. The vivid wording strips away the centuries, reminding me with every phrase that each prophecy, letter, history account, poem, vision, and parable is God’s Word to me today just as much as it was to the original audiences. The Passion Translation encourages, convicts, teaches, and comforts me, and it continuously draws me to worship.”[viii]
- Bill Johnson, Pastor, Bethel Church and best-selling author, says of The Passion Translation: “One of the greatest things to happen with Bible translation in my lifetime.”[ix]
- James Goll, International best-selling author and co-founder of Encounters Network, says:
“With the mind of a scholar and heart of a lover, Brian Simmons combines the best of both worlds for us in his devoted translation work in Letters from Heaven. What a marvelous job my friend and seasoned leader is doing for the body of Christ! I applaud the life and ministry of Brian Simmons!”[x]
- John and Lisa Bevere, founders of Messenger International, and best-selling authors, say:
“Brian Simmons’ work is truly breathtaking! We so appreciate the labor of love that went into translating the Scriptures directly from the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The Passion Translation has energized our study of the Bible, and we’re certain it will do the same for you.”[xi]
- Ché Ahn, President and Founder of Harvest International Ministry, Rock Church, and International Chancellor of the Wagner University, says:
“I believe The Passion Translation will be the Bible of choice for the next Jesus people movement.”[xii]
- Chuck Pierce, President of Global Sphere and Glory of Zion International says:
“I have devoured The Passion Translation! There is a fragrance of God’s Spirit that emanates from the powerful expressions that Brian Simmons has brought forth in this translation. Not only have I used The Passion Translation for teaching, but I have picked up certain books of the Bible and read them like a living novel. I love this translation!”[xiii]
The Word of God is the reliable, trustworthy, without error, without the possibility of error, clear, for every phase and every part, and binding Word of God. The Passion Translation fails to capture the biblical text’s purity, intended meaning, and tone. It is not a translation and should not be used to read, study, or preach from.
We Don’t Need Fresh Revelation—Here’s Why…
“At many times and in many ways,” God began preparing the world through the Prophets for the coming of His Son, Jesus. So that in these last days—these days of God’s redemptive fulfillment in Jesus Christ—we might enter into the fullness of salvation (John 14:6). When we receive Jesus as the Truth, then He becomes the Way for us to enter into Life Everlasting, for Jesus is God’s final Word. Even if all else in the world is lost, Christians must hold fast to Him in faith.
The Word of God is a priceless jewel that contains the treasure of the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). The promises of God testify from the first word to the last word, and everywhere in-between, of the Redeemer to come, who has come, and who is to return in Christ. Today, if you want to hear God audibly speak, open the Word and read it aloud, for it contains the promises of the God that find their completion in Christ alone.
Avoiding The Passion Translation and the New Apostolic Reformation
Finally, here are three suggested responses to this: (1) Read the Bible in a dynamic equivalent translation such as the NASB, the ESV, or the NKJV. (2) Avoid churches that preach from or use The Passion Translation. (3) Find a Bible-believing and Bible-practicing local church with biblically qualified male pastors and elders that preach from either the NASB or ESV, and who open the Bible and teach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.[xiv]
[xiv] For more on these matters please consider these episodes of Equipping You in Grace:
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.