The first 3-D film I recall seeing was Avatar (2009). I sat down in the theater with a big, icy Dr. Pepper at my right hand, a big, steaming bag of popcorn at my left, and a big, clunky pair of 3-D glasses wedged onto my forehead. When the movie began, I slid the glasses over my eyes and for the next 171 minutes I was caught up in an amazing bit of science fiction, driven by stunning visuals. I watched as bugs and bits of debris seemed to hang in the air between me and the screen. I flinched more than once as objects appeared to fly in my direction.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I slid the 3-D glasses up and looked at the screen with my naked eyes. What I saw was a series of hazy images layered over top of each other, rimmed in blue and red. I realized, “I have no clue how this works.” But that didn’t bother me. I just slid the glasses back down over my eyes and everything became crystal clear again.
The New Testament gives us the gospel in 4-D. Four distinct stories—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John–tell essentially the same story but they do so in ways that are quite unique. From the outside it may appear a bit hazy, but with the right tools everything comes into focus.
Other Bible translations seem to flatten out the Gospels. Mark reads like Luke, Matthew like John, and the distinct voices of the different evangelists (the Gospel writers) are lost in translation. Experts in the New Testament can guide you to the particular themes of each Gospel, but people without a guide are left with a rather flat story that seems fuzzy around the edges.
With the Voice New Testament we have tried to recapture the authentic voice of the original authors. We did that by making a series of strategic decisions. Let me give you two examples. Since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel, it made perfect sense to assign a large part of the work to a person with a Jewish background. Since Luke represents the most universal and sophisticated Gospel, it seemed right to assign much of the effort to a well-educated, articulate member of the translation team. As a result, the Voice New Testament contains Gospels that don’t sound and read the same. In other words, we get a better picture, a 4-D image of Jesus.
About 1800 years ago a Christian named Tatian tried to make one Gospel from the four. It was called the Diatessaron (literally, “through the four [Gospels]”) and frankly it never caught on. For lots of reasons the Church preferred the four traditional Gospels to Tatian’s single story. Today, I think the same dynamics are in play. The Jesus who lived then and lives today is no one-dimensional character. The four Gospels in the Voice New Testament provide us with a rich portrait of the most interesting person who ever lived.