A new Bible translation tackles the challenge of turning ancient Greek and Hebrew texts into modern American English and then adds a twist: It's written like a screenplay.
Take the passage from Genesis in which God gets angry at Adam for eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
"Adam (pointing at the woman): It was she! The woman You gave me as a companion put the fruit in my hands, and I ate it.
"God (to the woman): What have you done?
"Eve: It was the serpent! He tricked me, and I ate."
Later, Eve bears her first son, Cain.
"Eve (excited): Look, I have created a new human, a male child, with the help of the Eternal."
The team behind "The Voice" says the screenplay isn't a gimmick. They hope this new version will help readers understand the meaning behind the sometimes archaic language of the Bible and enjoy the story enough to stick with it.
The idea was a longtime dream of Chris Seay, pastor of Houston's Ecclesia Church. Seay had had success in helping church members relate to the Bible by dividing out the parts of the various speakers and assigning roles to church members who read them aloud.
The idea struck a nerve with Frank Couch, the vice president of translation development for Nashville-based religious publisher Thomas Nelson, who had performed Bible-inspired sketches on the streets of Berkeley, California, in his youth.
The result of their efforts, as well as a team of translators who worked alongside poets, writers and musicians, is "The Voice," released in its full version earlier this year.
"The biggest thing, the unexpected plus, is that people will read an entire book of the Bible because it reads like a novel," Couch said.
"The Voice" not only reformats the Bible but also inserts words and phrases into the text to clarify the action or smooth transitions. These words are generally in italics so the reader can tell what the additions are. At other points, the order of verses is changed to make the story read better.
Some earlier attempts to make the Bible accessible to a modern audience met with heavy criticism from people who thought the translators were taking too many liberties with the word of God, Wake Forest University Religion Professor Bill Leonard said. But those translators were attempting to deal with a real problem — increasing Bible illiteracy, even among those who attended church regularly, he said.
Leonard said modern translations seem to have become less controversial as the total number of Bible translations has expanded, although the 2011 New International Version managed to cause a stir by employing some gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language, something "The Voice" doesn't do.
All Bible translators have to confront the problem of words that don't convey the same meaning to a modern audience as they did to an ancient one, said linguist Joel M. Hoffman, author of "And God Said — How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning."
Hoffman said the goal of making the Bible accessible to a contemporary audience is laudable, even if he doesn't always agree with the translations in "The Voice."
And for the average reader, unaware of the sometimes contentious debates over translation, "The Voice" seems to have struck a chord.
Steve Taylor, who directed the recent Christian movie "Blue Like Jazz" and was one of the screenwriters, said the screenplay format makes the Bible stories feel more immediate to him.
"It was like it was happening now, as opposed to reading something that happened 2,000 years ago," he said. "When Jesus turns the water into wine in John 2, I felt more like I was at the wedding. I felt the awkwardness of the situation."