Sole Authority for Life – Changing to the ESV

Several of you have asked why I changed from the New International Version to the English Standard Version Bible at CrossPoint at the beginning of 2007.

The process through which I made this decision began while I was working on my first degree from seminary.

In 1986, my first year of seminary, I was challenged by a professor to decide in which version of the Bible I would preach from during my ministry. Growing up Southern Baptist, I was familiar with the King James Version. Since I did not understand the archaic language of the KJV, I read through three other translations – New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV) & Revised Standard Version (RSV). After reading through a different version each year in school, I decided to preach from the New International Version. My rationale for selecting NIV was based entirely on its readability. And, for the next 20 years I used the NIV without much consideration for other translations.

Now let’s move forward to the year 2006. Last year I read Leland Ryken’s book, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation. I am so glad I read his book. He literally opened my eyes to the importance of selecting an English version of the Bible as close as possible to a literal translation.

The thrust of Ryken’s argument that caught my attention was his differentiation between a “dynamic equivalent” translation versus a “literal translation”. For those of you wondering, the NIV is a “dynamic equivalent” while the ESV is a “literal translation”. The purpose of a “dynamic equivalent” translation is to render thoughts as opposed to the words in Scripture in ways that modern man can understand. Ryken teaches that such a method cannot produce an accurate version of the Bible and ends up distorting the message of the Scripture in a way that renders it something other than God’s word. His point is made on page 91: “What good is readability if a translation does not accurately render what the Bible actually says.” Ouch! He nailed me between the eyes on my stand for readability. Remember, my reason for choosing to preach from the NIV my last year in seminary was based solely on “readability”.

The author’s conclusion is obvious: modern dynamic equivalent translations of the Scriptures are deeply and irrevocably flawed. Only with a literal translation and one that gives attention to more than simply words but also the literary qualities of translation, can we have the Bible as God intends for us to have it in a translated form. While Ryken does not recommend one translation above others, he served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version and clearly considers that his translation of choice, and with good reason, it would seem.

Throughout 2006 I used the ESV in my daily Bible reading as well as in my study preparation time for weekly messages. Immediately I noticed separation between the ESV and the NIV. My heart was encouraged each time I read from the ESV thinking I was reading from the one of the most accurate and biblically conservative “word-for-word” translations of the Bible.

Note this paragraph from the Preface of the ESV Bible, under the heading “Translation Philosophy”:

The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed ‘a thought-for-thought’ rather than ‘word-for-word’ translation philosophy, emphasizing ‘dynamic equivalent’ rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influence of contemporary culture.

Wow, did you catch that last sentence? A “thought-for-thought” translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influence of contemporary culture. I have many reasons for changing to the ESV. Paramount among the numerous reasons is that I want to use a translation that is as close to the original language as possible and one that is not influenced by the translator or culture. That is what we find with the ESV.

And as Paul Harvey often says, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

I am curious to hear what you think of the “new” version we are using at CrossPoint.

4 Responses to “Sole Authority for Life – Changing to the ESV”

  1. 1 Anonymous
    April 12, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    I have used the NIV for so long and it has always been my fave. I have enjoyed the scriptures we have read in Worship and want to get an ESV bible to add to our collection. But you know how hard it will be to switch on a daily basis in my quiet time and all?? Whew, Pastor, is there a 12 step program?

    All teasing aside, after reading your blog my desire is to use a translation that is as close to the original language as possible. It will be hard to break in a new bible though! Thanks for the “rest of the story”.
    Lisa Blakesley

  2. 2 Ryan
    April 13, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Lisa, it took me a year to get used to the ESV. However, one year later, I absolutely love it. There is just something about reading a version of the Bible knowing that what you are reading is as close to a literal translation as possible. Stay with it. Trust me, I understand.

  3. 3 Anonymous
    April 14, 2007 at 7:43 am

    I am enjoying using the ESV Bible very much. Sometimes I find it easier to understand than the NIV.
    I have often wondered how close to God’s actual words our translations are since there have been so many over the centuries. I guess that is part of faith too, believing that God still guides us in the truth of His Word whichever translation we’re using. Also may I say that I am enjoying our Bible reading plan this year more that any other I have ever used. I love reading from a different part of the scriptures everyday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Genesis and Exodus, only to get bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers and give up. Thank you Ryan for your leadership and continual encouragement and your love for your flock! You’re the BEST!! and we are BLEST!!

  4. 4 Scott
    April 24, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    On this very day, April 12th I was sitting in an airport in New York reading my NIV Bible. Some of the things that I had read just did not read right or sound right in my head. My first thought was that it was not exactly the reading I was used to. I had long used the New King James version and recently switched to the NIV. So I thought well it just reads differently as a translation. Then I noticed it more and more. My next thought was maybe my mind is not focused on God, but I kept reading, with the same results. As I was at home over the weekend I decided to write Brother Ryan an e-mail for his opinion on why my reading experience did not seem right to me. Before I did so I decided to catch up on his blogs. It was to my amazement that Brother Ryan had posted this blog. I am going to get a copy of ESV and see if it is a better fit for me. It is awsome how God responds to our questions if we are only open and aware of His answers.

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