Phil 1:7-8, A translation and exegetical critique of the Passion Translation

The Passion Translation (hereafter as tPT) published the first edition of its New Testament in 2017, the 2nd Edition following in 2018. This translation is done by one man, Brian Simmons and supposedly uses the Syriac translation of the NT based on an argument for Syriac/Aramaic primacy despite the relative lateness of our extant manuscripts of the Syriac. The translational aim of tPT is “to re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader. It doesn’t merely convey the original, literal meaning of words. It expresses God’s passion for people and his world by translating the essential original, life-changing message of God’s Word for modern readers in a way that is clear and readable.” I contend that tPT fails at this point, to illustrate this I want to analyse and dissect the translation of Phil 1:7-8 offered by this translation.

Why Phil 1:7-8?
Phil 1:7-8 is a deep testament to the love that the Apostle Paul has towards the Philippian church, as such this is a good place to start to test the claim that tPT communicates passion to the reader, it is also an example of where tPT severely sells short the passion present in the text as it is found in other more literal translations.

Translational and Exegetical Critique
The Greek of the text (as found in the NA28) that is under consideration is;

Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας. μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Phil 1:7-8 NA28

The Passion Translation offers us this translation,

It’s no wonder I pray with such confidence, since you have a permanent place in my heart! You have remained partners with me in the wonderful grace of God even though I’m here in chains for standing up for the truth of the gospel. Only God knows how much I dearly love you with the tender affection of Jesus, the Anointed One.

Philippians 1:7-8 tPT

Given that this is a translational and exegetical critique I will be engaging with the Greek text directly, my own gloss/paraphrase will lie underneath each section, however you might also find it useful to follow along in your own preferred English Translation, some comparisons with the translational/paraphasical choices of the New Living Translation, and the Message (NLT and MSG respectively) will be made as we go along as these are approxiamately in the same part of the translational spectrum.

Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν
It is right that I would think of you all in this way.

tPT loses out on the “rightness” or “justness” of Paul’s thinking here, it is clear that the phrase “It’s no wonder” is supposed to translate Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον, however such a translation loses some of the weight that Paul puts behind his wording. The question of whether Paul’s thinking φρονεῖν points back to his prayer (v4) or the Philippians’ salvation (v6) is made for us by Simmons, this is not a part of the Greek text, the NLT does not make a judgement on this point, the MSG chooses both, while the tPT has chosen to go with only referencing back to v4 and seemingly to drop the idea of “thinking” out of the text entirely. Indeed Simmons’ translation of 2:2 also removes reference to “being of one mind” from 2:2, to the point where I cannot figure out how the translation of that verse links up with the underlying Greek, but such an investigation would be for another paper. We must therefore ask the question, “Does Simmons, have an antipathy towards including a term such as ‘thinking’ within his translation” again a topic possibly for another essay.

διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς
Because I bear you in my heart

This is the clause that drives why I want to discuss tPT’s rendering of these verses, Simmons’ “since you have a permanent place in my heart!” simply does not do justice to either the euphemism, nor the passion that underlies this clause. The original has a volitional component within ἔχειν that Simmons neither acknowledges nor seeks to attribute, he is quite happy in his footnote alternative translation, “since you have given me a permanent place in your hearts.” to give volition to the one holding/bearing, however, the footnote translation is not viable because of the grammatical implications of the Greek word order and the subsequent appeal in v8. The pastoral implications of removing the volitional aspect of this heart of Paul for the Philippians is enormous, if as is suggested by the removal of Paul’s volition that the Holy Spirit places upon Paul’s heart the churches that he interacts with, then it should be reasonable that if one does not have a love for a certain congregation that you are not called to pastor, or lead that congregation, whereas the volitional aspect calls us to bear those churches that God calls us to on our hearts as Paul did for all his churches. Our love for the churches is to be a response to God’s call upon us to serve those churches, not an indication of God’s call to serve, or maybe indeed to be served by as the footnote alternative suggests.

συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας
you all have fellowship with me in grace,

For tPT the exclamation point following the previous clause makes this clause and the rest of the verse read as a new sentence, however this clause is a part of Paul’s reasoning for why he believes, and prays as he does, not just that he holds the Philippian believers in his heart but that they fellowship with him in the grace that he is about to describe.

ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου
in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the good news.

Simmons adds the concept “even though” this loses the impact. If the Philippians are divorced from fellowship in Paul’s bonds then they are divorced from sharing in the grace that they and Paul share in. Again there is an importation of the concept of Apostolic suffering being over above and against Christian abundance. This simply cannot be borne out of the text, so why is it here? Is suffering antithetical to the passion of God? Is suffering antithetical to Simmons’ understanding of the Christian life?

μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς
For God is my witness

Simmons’ decision here to make it “Only God knows” is puzzling, Paul here is merely invoking God as his witness, not saying that this is some secret knowledge, certainly if the Roman Christians that Paul mentions in 4:22 are anything to go by then why would God be the only one to whom Paul could appeal? This translational choice only serves to make tPT unique and cool, maybe even “Passionate” whatever that means.

ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς
how much I long for you all

Again Simmons’ rendering serves to diminish Paul’s own love for the Philippians, for seemingly no reason. BDAG the primary scholarly Greek dictionary defines the word in question as: “to have a strong desire for something, with implication of need.” and gives the glosses long for, and desire. Yet Simmons merely renders it as “dearly love” if this is a result of translating from the Syriac/Aramaic rather than the Greek then this disproves the claim that Hebrew/Aramaic are languages that speak to the heart, while Greek speaks to the head. These are all human languages that the God of love has used to speak his truth and love to us his people.

ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.
with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Simmons’ choices here are understandable, my only complaint is that he seems to be inconsistent in his translation of Χριστος in essentially every place where it appears, the only other translation I know of that is like this is NT Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone, but even this translation is more consistent and he gives justification for why he does this, Simmons does not.

Contrary to the claims put forth by the preface of tPT a survey of Phil 1:7-8 in contrast to the original Greek shows that it often glosses over or downplays the passion of the original. If this is indicative of the normal tenor of the translational work of tPT then it is my opinion that the Message is a better translation than tPT, as despite its paraphrasical nature it is more faithful than tPT.