A controversial Bible version popular among charismatic Christians had featured an endorsement on its website from Grammy-winning Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith, but that blurb disappeared last Thursday.
The Passion Translation (TPT), which is primarily the work of minister and former missionary Brian Simmons, has been billed as “a balanced translation that results in an entirely new, fresh, fiery translation of God’s Word.” The book’s official website also states: “You can use (it) as your primary text to study God’s Word seriously.”
But several biblical scholars have criticized TPT as a paraphrase mislabeled as a translation and warn against using it as one’s primary Bible.
According to a post on Simmons’ Facebook page, Smith endorsed The Passion Translation on or before December 28 of last year. Smith, a popular worship leader, called TPT “a gift to Bible readers” and added: “It is a beautiful marriage of powerful accuracy and readable, natural language . . . The Passion Translation encourages, convicts, teaches, and comforts me, and it continuously draws me to worship.”
BroadStreet Publishing, which markets and distributes TPT, did not respond to an inquiry seeking comment about the endorsement being pulled. The Roys Report (TRR) also reached out to Smith’s management but did not hear back.
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Social media posts about the endorsement, including from Mike Winger, a Calvary Chapel-trained pastor who has chronicled several scholars’ concerns with TPT, seemed to have prompted the removal. Winger tweeted on May 23 that Smith’s praise for TPT, then featured at the top of TPT’s website, was a “very troubling endorsement.”
Other voices echoed these concerns. Pentecostal theologian Jonathan Black tweeted: “If we’ve got to the point where people are choosing (or being encouraged to choose) a Bible on the basis of celebrity endorsements, we have very big problems indeed.”
Similarly, Christian author Lynn Baber stated: “To be accurate, the Passion Translation is a paraphrase and not a translation. Which is why Bible Gateway dropped it.” She noted that the world’s top Bible search website, Bible Gateway, pulled TPT in February 2022.
In an interview in 2019, Smith said he associates with some prayer movements and charismatic figures “because I feel like it’s the right thing to do.” Smith said: “I try my best to hear what (God) is saying. Then I go down that road and pray I am doing the right thing. And, if not, I pray he will wake me up and steer me in another direction.”
In an interview with TRR, Winger said he is “glad” that Smith’s endorsement was pulled. Winger said, “It’s a good thing, in that it will mean fewer people are misled by the false claims about this translation.”
Nijay Gupta, Ph.D., a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Illinois who has criticized TPT, likened the removal of Smith’s endorsement to the “Josh Butler phenomenon.” Butler’s book on theology and sex became very controversial after publication, prompting several notable figures to pull their endorsements of Butler’s book.
“Sometimes people endorse things without fully understanding the implications of what they’re endorsing,” said Gupta. “Bible translation has this huge legacy and Christians throughout time have put such care into it. So I think it’s appropriate for people without training like Michael W. Smith to be cautious.”
Years-long project for theology YouTuber
Winger, who teaches theology online at BibleThinker.org, a 501(c)3 nonprofit group, has been producing videos criticizing TPT since September 2018.
“It was because I saw it as growing in a certain circle and being misleading in its claims,” Winger told TRR. “So, it wasn’t healthy for the Body of Christ to be unaware that this is claiming to be the purity of Scripture, but it’s not the purity of Scripture. There are additions and also subtractions, which alter the meaning of the text.”
After releasing his own initial videos on TPT, Winger said viewers asked if translation scholars saw similar problems as he did. Winger subsequently contracted a half-dozen scholars including Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary and Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary to evaluate portions of TPT.
Their research evaluations are available online. “These scholars have really well-established reputations in their field (and) they have no axe to grind that I’m aware of,” said Winger. “In asking them to do reviews, I did not give them any instructions about how they had to bash the translation. I didn’t edit their papers—it’s not like they would let me anyway.”
One of those scholars was Gupta of Northern Seminary, who has written multiple theological books on the Pauline epistles and was tasked with reviewing TPT’s version of Galatians.
Gupta summed up his concerns. “It doesn’t follow the playbook of other Bible translations in terms of tried-and-true methods (of) how we get from a Greek word to a good English translation,” he told me. “It’s inconsistent. In some ways it amplifies. In other ways it uses synonyms. It’s more of a running commentary on the Bible, like Wesley’s notes.”
He added: “Simmons pitches it as, in a sense, divinely inspired. That is not the way that traditional Bible translators have approached translation. It’s done by analysis, committee work, and thorough discussion among scholars.”
Others critical of the translation include charismatic Christian author, scholar, and radio show host Michael Brown. Brown said he’s spoken to Simmons and “can attest to his great love for the Word of God.”
Even so, Brown agreed with the criticisms and added, “(TPT) is somewhat of a hybrid, sometimes translating the original text quite closely. At other times, the renderings are completely gratuitous. It should be presented as a paraphrase, or at times, an expanded paraphrase.”
Simmons and his publisher did not respond to requests for comment. However, Simmons has addressed criticisms in the past, including a lengthy social post in August 2021.
“Yes, I was given a divine commission to do the translation project,” stated Simmons. “Secrets belong to God. He speaks and shows His secrets to His friends. To deny that, is to deny the truth . . . (But) I do not believe that The Passion Translation is better than other wonderful translations that grace our shelves.”
Over the past year, The Passion Translation’s official website has added a list of scholars on its FAQ page. These include Rick Wadholm Jr. (Ph.D., Bangor University in the UK), Gary S. Greig (Ph.D., adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary), Jacqueline Grey (Ph.D., Alphacrusis University College in Australia), and four other scholars as part of a team that “gives oversight and accountability to the translation project.”
Winger said this newly added list of names raises more questions for him. Top among them is when did these scholars join the project and which books did they contribute to?
Simmons continues his work on the remaining books of the Old Testament, with TPT’s version of the books of Ezekiel and Daniel released last month. The Passion Translation remains available to read via YouVersion, Olive Tree, and other Bible platforms.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.