A New Translation to Allow for Evolution and Millions of Years?

Every so often, new translations of the Bible are released because some people think they’ve found a better way to translate it or because they want to make it easier to read. Well, recently, Thomas Nelson and the Ecclesia Bible Society released their translation of the entire Bible, called The Voice. (The New Testament was released in 2011, and the compiled Old and New Testament was released this month.) The team who did the translation describes The Voice this way:

The Voice is a dynamic equivalent translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God’s Word. Through compelling narratives, poetry, and teaching it invites readers to enter into the whole story of God with their heart, soul, and mind. This bold new translation engages readers like no other Bible. (http://www.hearthevoice.com/about-the-translation)

The Voice actually looks and reads like a script to a play, with short bits of commentary on how certain characters—including God—are reacting. Unfortunately, a literal translation of the words of Scripture does not always support these bits of commentary.

The team of writers and researchers on this translation included Tremper Longman, a Bible scholar who regularly voices doubts about the historical trustworthiness of Genesis. Longman has said that the creation account in Genesis does not conflict with evolutionary ideas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8Pk1vXL1WE).

A couple of our researchers examined just the first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1 and 2) in The Voice to see if the translation stayed true to the original text. They found some commendable parts of the translation, but they also found a number of areas of concern. It’s important to note that the following report contains only some of the problems with the translation.

1. Genesis 1:9 reads, “Let the waters below the heavens be collected into one place and congregate into one vast sea, so that dry land may appear.”

The italicized portion does not appear in the original Genesis manuscript. The problem with this addition is really one of logic: if the waters already cover the whole earth, they are already congregated into “one vast sea.”

2. “Evening gave way to morning.”

This phrase appears in place of the more common, “And there was evening and there was morning.” While we recognize that the phrasing chosen in The Voice was likely for literary reasons (i.e., making the text more readable), the wording is less than precise. If we’re being faithful with the text, then the language should clearly point to literal, 24-hour days. The Voice’s phrasing allows room for interpretation when it comes to the length of each day of creation.

3. Genesis 1:14–16 reads, “God: Lights, come out! Shine in the vast expanse of heavens’ sky dividing day from night to mark the seasons, days, and years. Lights, warm the earth with your light. It happened just as God said. God fashioned the two great lights … ”

While the verses following would imply that God went on to “fashion” the sun and the moon, the wording leaves open the possibility that the two great lights were already there and that God simply cultivated them. This would be consistent with the first verses of Genesis as The Voice renders them: “In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below. Here’s what happened: At first the earth lacked shape and was totally empty, and a dark fog draped over the deep … ”

The sun and the moon were created on Day Four. They were not simply brought out to shine. Those who compromise on Genesis by mixing the Big Bang and billions of years with the Bible claim that God somehow cultivated what was already in existence, rather than actually creating (for instance, see the writings of a well-known progressive creationist, Hugh Ross, who believes in a Big Bang, billions of years, local Flood instead of global Flood, and a race of soulless people before Adam and Eve).

4. Genesis 1:21, 25 reads, “So God created huge sea creatures, all the swarm of life in the waters, and every kind and species of flying birds … God made earth-creatures in a vast variety of species …”

The problem with these verses is that the authors are equivocating on the word species. What is an equivocation? An equivocation occurs when someone uses a word and then adjusts its meaning slightly in the course of the discussion. For example, if someone says, “Evolution is a scientific fact. The evolution of bacteria becoming resistant is well-documented.” Evolution in the first statement refers to molecules-to-man evolution, while evolution in the second statement refers to general “change.” These two definitions are very different and cannot be confused with one another in the course of a discussion. (Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth, Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2010.)

In the use of the words kind and species, the authors seem to be equivocating on the latter. They first imply that “kinds” and “species” are the same, and then they switch to using species. What’s the problem? Creationists are sometimes accused of promoting the fixity of species, meaning that God created every single possible variation of each animal during the Creation Week. But most creationists do not believe in the fixity of species; we believe that God created animal kinds and that these animal kinds had all the genetic material within them to reproduce into the many variations we see today. These variations would be closer to species than kinds.

The wording here also has bearing on the Ark. Scripture clearly says that Noah took animals aboard according to their “kinds” (Genesis 7:14). Noah probably could not have fit every single species of animal on the Ark. But creationist researchers have found that if Noah took animal kinds on the Ark, he would have had no problem fitting them all. Researcher John Woodmorappe, in Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (Dallas, Texas: ICR Publications, 2009) found that, at most, there were approximately 8,000 animal kinds (or 16,000 individuals) on board. Researcher Arthur J. Jones, in “How Many Animals in the Ark?” (Creation Research Society Quarterly 10, no. 2, September 1973) found that, at minimum, there were 1,000 animal kinds (or 2,000–3000 individuals—there were seven of some kinds) on board the Ark. Remember, Noah did not need to bring insects or any of the water-dwelling creatures on board either, so that would significantly reduce the amount of required animals the skeptic usually mentions.

5. Genesis 1:31 reads, “Then God surveyed everything He had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness.”

Once again, we recognize that the wording in this verse is likely for literary reasons, but it is imprecise. Opponents of young earth creationism often try to argue that there was death in the world before the fall, and death is not a “good” or “beautiful” thing. This verse’s wording leaves open the possibility that there were bad things in the world at this point, but that God was simply “savoring” only the good parts. The more common rendering prevents this kind of reinterpretation: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

6. Genesis 2:4 reads, “This is the detailed story of the Eternal God’s singular work in creating all that exists.”

We were very happy to see the emphasis placed on the fact that Genesis 2 is simply a more detailed version of part of Genesis 1. But the problem with this verse lies in the next word: story. With so many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, trying to argue that the creation account in Genesis is a myth, the word story does not help make the case that Genesis is historical. Once again, this is an issue of precision with the translation, and the more common word, account, would have been the better choice here.

7. Genesis 2:4–5 reads, “On the day the heavens and earth were created, there were no plants or vegetation to cover the earth. The fields were barren and empty, because the Eternal God had not sent the rains to nourish the soil or anyone to tend it.”

These verses are one of the primary points of debate between young-earth creationists and those who disagree. Opponents of young-earth creationism will argue that there is a contradiction in Genesis 2 because the plants were created on Day Three in Genesis 1.

Several solutions to this apparent dilemma have been proposed. One view points out that the Hebrew words used for “plants” and “vegetation” are actually very specific words meaning “wild shrubs of the steppe” and “cultivated grain.” Tim Chaffey’s article “Planting Confusion” addresses these translation issues in more depth. Suffice it to say, there is no contradiction. The text indicates that only certain plants were not yet growing because man was not there to cultivate them. God still created the plants described in Genesis 1 on Day Three of the Creation Week.

8. In the additional commentary the authors added between Genesis 2:17 and 18, shortly after God commands Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the authors write, “After God gives man this directive, He realizes something is missing.” That something is Eve.

The simple answer to our problem with this passage is that it’s simply wrong. Our God is omniscient, or all knowing, so the possibility that He could “realize” something, as though He didn’t know it before is impossible (Psalm 147:5). The more likely explanation for God’s statement—“It is not good for the man to be alone”—in Genesis 2:18 is that He was making a statement of fact. Based on God’s omniscience, we can say that He intended to give Adam a companion from the beginning.

Sometimes Bible translations that have a high degree of dynamic equivalence can be useful to read in order to give an overview of what Scripture is saying, but to ensure one understands it correctly and does not misunderstand an  important doctrine, one needs to carefully study a literal translation. This particular translation appears to us to be written to allow for millions of years and evolution—but without saying so. Knowing that at least one of the researchers doesn’t see a conflict between Genesis and evolution certainly supports this.

The above seems to us to be another example of how evolutionary ideas and millions of years are influencing the church.

I want to acknowledge the research assistance of Steve Golden and others at AiG in the preparation of this blog post.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

Ken