Review: Word of Promise Next Generation Audio Bible

As part of the Thomas Nelson blogger book review program, I received a copy of the Word of Promise Next Generation New Testament MP3 set. It bills itself as “the perfect way for young multi-taskers to absorb Scripture. This ambitious recording makes the Word accessible to more kids than ever before.”

I assumed from the description that they were targeting older teens, but it’s actually for the eight-to-fifteen range. I also was expecting something like the Passion readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, where the narrator reads the text and others read the dialogue. Instead it’s often paraphrased, with many “he said”s removed.

There is no information as to which translation is the basis of the script. The vocabulary is often downgraded to the level a child would understand, always accessible but with a few painful results. Fasting becomes “giving up eating,” and persecution becomes “causing problems.” Mary isn’t told a sword will pierce her soul, but rather than she “will be sad too.” And the beatitudes in Matthew are painful to listen to. My Patient Husband and I both agree that this in no way impacts the message, only the aesthetics. Moreover, playing all the stories one after the next after the next with no chapter/verse breaks gives a breathless sense of just how much is packed into the New Testament.

My biggest argument is with the introductions to the books, provided by Max and Jenna Lucado. They give dates for each book far earlier than anything I’ve ever heard from any other sources. The introduction to Galatians verges on anti-Catholic, and the authors of both James and Jude are said to be “Jesus’s little brother” when in fact the author of James is not known for certain (beside the point is the fact that one billion Catholics and Orthodox — and all Christians for 1800 years — understand “James The Brother Of the Lord” to be other than Jesus’s little brother) and likewise with Jude. The Biblical text should be allowed to speak for itself, and if the target audience grows up to find the material in the introductions was slanted , they’ll mistrust the entire Bible. 

Sometimes the background music overwhelms the reading, and at other times the sound effects are laughable. The voice acting left me puzzled at times; Jesus is overly breathy and eeeeeeeemotive, and the first time Pilate spoke I laughed and exclaimed, “DUDE!” Other voices, such as Peter’s, seemed just right.

There are a couple of technical glitches, such as chapter 5 of  1Thessalonians where Paul’s voice begins getting clipped (as if each sentence were recorded separately and laid down over the next, rather than organically) and then some sentences are read in a different voice…and then it switches to a different voice actor all together! (Oh the irony: I liked the other voice actor better and was disappointed when it reverted.) This happens one other time.

Quotes from other scriptures are often rendered in the other speaker’s voice, but not consistently, so Paul will make five scripture citations, but the sixth is in Moses’ voice. That’s very distracting.

Now, does it work? I was going to say no, except that my eleven year old and my eight year old both asked to keep hearing more of the Gospels. Color me stunned. They loved it. 

So I recommend it with caution. If you give this to your children, strip off the zero-th chapter (the introduction) of every book and let the Bible stand for itself. And listen to it yourself too so you can answer any questions your kids may have afterward.


  1. Ivy Reisner

    Glad you could finally get that book.

    I liked Jesus’ voice. It sounded right. The translation was a bit strange at points, and the woman who introduced the chapters reminded me of Susan of Planet Pluto — “Jesus … I have an … early … waaaarning for you.” Watch this be Hannah Montanah or someone equally famous whom I should recognize and don’t.

    Some mistranslations are a requirement of faith. For example, the reference to G-d taking his children out of Egypt is in the plural in the original Hebrew, an obvious reference to the Exodus. It’s translated to the singular “child” in Greek gospels, so to make it seem to refer to Jesus, and the English keeps that error. I can’t guess why the translator kept using “teacher of the law” instead of “rabbi”, or for that matter why use “the law” rather than “torah”. In a fit of silliness during the whole “how terrible for you, teachers of the law” speech, I started picturing him addressing a faculty conference at Harvard.

    I wish the introduction would have provided a bit more context. Jesus often refers to the Talmud off-handedly, as though it were a text his listeners would know well (like a programmer saying “Use the Source, Luke”). He does this all the time, and explaining some of that up front, some of the soundalike words (bread/teachings) or some of the Aramaic puns, would have been very helpful.

    It was pretty good, overall, and wouldn’t be a bad introduction for someone tangentally interested. But of course, the worst translation is still the go-to translation if you want the sound and the language traditionally associated with the bible, and that’s the King James version. One of the Teaching Company courses (I have to find which, but I think it was the one on the history of English) talks about how badly the language was mangled to make it sound ancient, and how many little edits were made for political reasons relevant at the time. Still, we’re more likely to think “thou shalt not kill” over “do not commit murder” (the Hebrew word translates closer to “murder” than “kill”–there is no broad prohibition against killing in Exodus; if there were there would be no such thing as Kosher meat, or animal sacrifices, or the situations in which the bible calls for the death penalty.)

    I loved the double-sounding demon voice for Legion. That was awesome!

  2. philangelus

    “Teacher of the Law” is dumbed-down for the kids who may not know what a Rabbi is. The vocabulary bit irritated me until I got used to it. I laughed when John the Baptist exclaimed “Look — the Lamb of God!” instead of “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

    For kids under, say, age 14, I think it’s fine. The kind of introduction you’re talking about would be awesome for adults, and that’s exactly why I found the didacticism in the introductions to be troublesome.

    I always “hear” Jesus’s dialogue with a broader range than this voice actor used. There should be more urgency in “I’ve come to set the world on fire” than in “Go, daughter,and sin no more.” Right? The guy who narrated Acts or Hebrews would have been a better choice IMNSHO. But all we have is what’s there, and it’s apparently good for their target audience, so I’ll shut up about that. 🙂

  3. cricketB

    The intended audience knows Talmud, but not Rabbi? Both Sunday School and History taught us what a Rabbi is (well, they said “Jewish Priest”), and the Torah and Koran (as in, “They’re almost the same.”), but never mentioned the Talmud.

  4. Dan Lynch

    As Co-Producer, I appreciate your candid review of The Word of Promise: Next Generation. Your points and observations are intriguing and certainly valid in many cases. I would like to explain some however.

    The Translation used for this recording is the ICB (International Children’s Bible) and is referenced on and inside the packaging. The ICB (International Children’s Bible) is a revised and edited version of the World Bible Translation Center’s translation which was originally titled The Engish Version for the Deaf and was translated between 1973 and 1978.

    In producting the ICB, a team of New Testament scholars reviewed and edited the WBTC text, and a Bible stylist went over it, thus verifying both the accuracy and appropriateness of language for children. This was the first Bible translation ever produced for children, with a remarkable third-grade reading level. The ICB was initially printed in 1983.

    The ICB is primarily attended for children age 7-11 and is meant to be the most understandable translation for children. We felt this the perfect translation to reach the “Hannah Montana/High School Musical” age group.

    The Next Generation audio New Testament was produced as we know kids today are not reading like we wish they were and certainly are not reading the Bible. We are dealing with an audio/video generation, so we targeted actors who represented this group and also held the same faith. Our hope is that this Bible will introduce young hearts to the scriptures who might otherwise not read the Bible. It’s thrilling to hear your eight and eleven year old are listening!

    The book introductions were compiled from several highly researched sources. There are scholarly difference of opinions on some of the background, but we feel solid and stand behind the introductions. They were voiced by Pastor/Author Max Lucado and his daughter Jenna Lucado (who is a speaker on the Revolve tour and has her first book coming out fall 2009).

    Thank you again for your review. We began the Nelson blog program for just this purpose, to encourage open and honest discussions, reviews and feedback on our products.

    1. philangelus

      Thank you, Dan. I missed the ICB mention on the packaging.

      My 8 year old is stealing my old busted iPod and I’m going to load the Gospels and Acts onto it for her. She’s an audio-book junkie already, and ironically,s he does like to read stories about Jesus when they’re just one story at a time.

  5. Ken Rolph

    “this in no way impacts the message, only the aesthetics”

    I think these two things are mixed up together. Putting the Bible into language that is near to the reader is a noble aim. But there is also some benefit in hearing language that represents something to reach for, a larger universe. There are many people in Australia who have respectful memories of older versions of the Bible, primarily because of the language (the aesthetics). Not just KJV, but also New English Bible, which was translated specifically for use in public reading. They don’t remember the Bible as a children’s story.

    Of course you have to weigh the trade offs of kids not knowing the Bible at all versus having them encounter a non-kid friendly version. There’s a downside to saying “this is for kids”. It may become something left behind. If you want to introduce kids to the Bible there’s also the approach of “are you sure you’re old enough to handle this?” There’s a bit of trickery involved in this.

    Biblical knowledge withers away when it is not a must-know option. It used to be the case that there was a widespread understanding of many biblical stories, personalities and themes. In Sydney universities today there are courses in elementary biblical knowledge for those studying English literature. In high schools it is worse. Jan tells of one young English teacher who asked her about John Donne’s poems. She had seen a reference to Christ as the second Adam. Her question was simple: who was Adam?

    I think the USA is a long way from this situation. I once saw a discussion program from the US where Jesse Jackson referred to Nehemiah, and the rest of the panel chipped in showing that they knew who Nehemiah was and what he meant. That would be improbable in the rest of the world.

    Regarding Galatians, if my memory is still working, Martin Luther wanted Galatians left out of the Bible. I must read it again to see what everyone is so dubious about.

  6. Pingback: More about introversion « Seven angels, four kids, one family

  7. David@wordofpromise

    good review… I have the word of promise on mp3. I liked some of the things done on the word of promise next generation. It must be nice to have one of the main guys come through your blog and post huh! NICE! Keep posting my friend