June 7, 2012
The Voice and Media (Mis)Characterization
— David B. Capes
Martin E. Marty's article "Annenberg Poll on Religion in the Media" brought to our attention a recent survey: "Most Americans Say Media Coverage of Religion Too Sensationalized." I saw that side of the media firsthand. On April 17 I was interviewed by Carol Costello on CNN regarding a new Bible translation I had contributed to called The Voice Bible. The interview and subsequent articles falsely positioned The Voice as a new Bible translation which leaves out Jesus Christ, angels, and apostles. The title to CNN's online article says it all: "Christ Missing from New Bible." Note: no quotation marks.
CNN's interest was prompted by an article the day before in USA Today entitled "'The Voice': New Bible translation focuses on dialogue." The USA Today article was itself a heavily truncated version of the original story written by Bob Smietana in Nashville's paper, The Tennessean entitled "Bible gets new voice."
Smietana's original article did a fair job of characterizing the project, but as it passed up the media food chain, a significant part of the story was lost, distorted, and sensationalized. By the time CNN covered it, The Voice became a new Bible translation which leaves out Jesus, angels, and the apostles. As one angry fellow said to me: "A Bible without Jesus and the angels! What the heck kind of Bible is that?" Good question.
CNN's (mis)characterization of the translation was based on a half-truth. The word "Christ" is not found in the translation because "Christ" is not a translation at all; it is a transliteration of the Greek word Christos (which means "anointed one"). We translated every occurrence of Christos as "the Anointed" or "the Anointed One." So Jesus is not missing—as CNN's coverage insinuates—he is front and center in this new translation. The translation team did this to clear up a fundamental misunderstanding. Most in the Bible-reading public take the phrase "Jesus Christ" as his name: "Jesus," his first name and "Christ" his last name. In fact, "Christ" is an honorific title like "Son of God," "Lord," and "Savior." But in the western tradition Christos was the only title not translated into the new language of the church. In the Latin Christos was rendered "Christus," and in the English Bible tradition it became "Christ." Our translation decision was intentional: we hoped to recover something of the titular sense of the term in which Jesus the Christos is God's agent, descended from David's royal line, who is chosen ("anointed") and destined to liberate the cosmos from sin, death, oppression, and corruption. We also translated other key terms which happen to be transliterations in all English Bible editions. Words like "apostle" (Greek, apostolos), "baptism" (Greek, baptisma), and "angel" (Greek, angelos) we translated "emissary," "washing," and "heavenly messenger" respectively.
As the blogosphere and airwaves heated up over the media coverage, a number of scholars commented on the sensationalized portrayal of The Voice. Larry Hurtado, retired Professor of New Testament from the University of Edinburgh, wrote an essay on his blog entitled "On Translation and Hysteria," which addressed the media's mischaracterization. On his blog, "Storied Theology," J. Daniel Kirk showed how CNN was baiting the audience with inaccurate information to drive a bit of Internet traffic. Darrell Bock, Kristi Swenson, Edward Fudge, and Greg Garrett also chimed in to set the record straight.
The bottom line is this: both CNN and USA Today misrepresented the project. They either did so intentionally (they wanted to see how Christians might react), out of ignorance (they did not know any better), or out of apathy (they did not care enough to get the story right). Likely it was some combination of the three. As the Annenberg study has shown, those who report on religion are not very knowledgeable of it. And as Martin E. Marty has suggested, those who know enough and care enough to report on religion accurately will most often be met with yawns.
Larry Hurtado, "On Translation and Hysteria," April 18, 2012.
J. Daniel Kirk, "'Link Bait' and The Voice," April 18, 2012.
Martin E. Marty, "Annenberg Poll on Religion in the Media," Sightings, April 23, 2012.
Bob Smietana, "'The Voice': New Bible translation focuses on dialogue," USA Today, April 16, 2012.
Diane Winston and John C. Green, "Most Americans Say Media Coverage of Religion Too Sensationalized," USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
The Voice Bible is at www.hearthevoice.com.
David B. Capes is the Thomas Nelson Research Professor at Houston Baptist University. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of thirteen books and the lead scholar on The Voice Bible project. His blog is at www.hearthevoice.com.