A Bible with All the Words: How I Learned to Love the ESV

This video caught my attention yesterday and it made me smile.

Piper is a man who is passionate about the Bible. You can tell, if nothing else from the fact that he spent two minutes of his sermon last week, that he really, really loves the words of Scripture. They’re really important. And because every single word is important, it can be argued that we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to read them all.

Let me tell you a story about a man named… me.

The first Bible I read for myself was The Message paraphrase (sorry if you just spit something at your monitor). I bought this at the Christian bookstore that is now a board shop down the street from my house in London. And, y’know what? It was really helpful for me. God, in His mercy, saved me through the text of that paraphrase. Neat, huh?

But, I quickly became dillusioned with The Message. Certainly not because it was horrible and evil, but because as I read it, something seemed to be missing. And in September/October of 2005, just a few months after becoming a Christian, I bought… The TNIV.

It was like night and day, in comparison. I first purchased the TNIV for Men Bible, with lots of man stories about man problems. After all, I was a man with man problems, so I figured it could be helpful. And it was. Eventually I started getting really interested in more in-depth study, and for Christmas 2006, Emily gave me the TNIV Study Bible (swoon!).

It was pretty dreamy, with lots of footnotes, and explanation all sorts of helpful goodness. And for a year and a bit, I diligently read my TNIV Study Bible, made lots of notes. God taught me a lot using that translation.

And then

When reading the TNIV, I started noticing it’s prominent use of gender neutral wording, when it really didn’t fit. Perhaps I’m overstating, but there’s a certain charm that’s lost when you change Jesus’ words from, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 NIV) to “Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people” (TNIV). That’s a small example, to be sure, but it’s one that caught my attention. As I read and learned about different kinds of translations (Literal, Dynamic Equivalence, Free/Paraphrase), I still found it profitable, but I began to sense that there was still something missing.

And then, I found the ESV.

I bought my first ESV in January 2008, and, much like my move from The Message to the TNIV, it was like night and day. There were words I’d never seen before, like “propitiation.” Big, important words. Passionate words.

Immediately, I fell in love with this translation (not in a creepy or idolatrous way, by the way). I once again found myself learning more and becoming more and more excited about the words of Scripture. An excitement which led to my beginning to teach, to write, to speak.

Because all the words of Scripture are beautiful. All the words of Scripture are profitable (2 Tim 3:16). And that’s how I learned to love the ESV.

And now, I’d like to hear from you, gentle reader…

What translation do you prefer?

Why did you choose the one you use today?

What do you like best about the translation you use?

I’m look forward to reading your stories.

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  • http://savlasav.blogspot.com Tim Worley

    I definitely resonate with your story of God using different translations in your life – I know He has in mine.

    Currently, I prefer the TNIV as my favorite translation. I’ve come to use it after years of being wary of anything that smacked of “feminist tampering with the Bible” (or so I thought at the time). I grew up mainly on the NKJV, with some NIV thrown in. Like you, when I was in college I used the Message for a while, and God used it, but after a time I grew really uncomfortable with some of its renderings. I switched back to the NKJV, then eventually to the ESV.

    I’d read all the glowing recommendations of the ESV by people I really respect, so I assumed that it was exactly how it’s often described – “as accurate as the NASB, as readable as the NIV”. I used it for a couple years as my primary translation, till one day I picked up a Holman Christian Standard Bible on a whim. Reading about the translation philosophy (“optimal equivalence”, trying to chart a course between formal and dynamic equivalence) and then using the HCSB, I found that a mediating translation could be a joy to read AND still be incredibly accurate.

    As I began to use the HCSB and study translation philosophy more in-depth, I came to feel that some of the assumptions I’d absorbed about “accuracy” or even “literalness” might need to be re-examined. Sometimes, I think I had a tendency to equate “traditional language” or “difficult to read” with “more accurate.” Thus, I concluded that in some (certainly not all) cases, a dynamic rendering might actually be more accurate or better express “all the words” that are there in the original manuscripts, even if it departs from Greek or Hebrew syntax and word order/word number in rendering it into English.

    That realization caused me to re-examine some aspects of the ESV that I found wanting (I should explain, I still appreciate the ESV and use it in study, but it’s not my primary reading Bible). I think the ESV was on the right track with what it intended to do – I just think it could have been done better. For example, there’s nothing either holier or more accurate in saying “Let not your hearts be troubled” when “Do not let your hearts be troubled” would suffice. Things like archaic language, inverted negatives (“let not”, “think not”, etc.) and too little actual updating of the RSV, which was ostensibly the translation’s goal.

    Furthermore, I began researching the philosophy behind translations like the TNIV in the area of gendered language, at first to refute what I saw as misguided tampering with God’s word. Yet the more I studied the arguments of scholars like D.A. Carson, Darrell Bock and Craig Blomberg, and compared their cogent arguments with those of anti-TNIV advocates like Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress, the more I found myself coming to agree with the TNIV crowd. Particularly in light of the fact that a good number of the translators were complementarians led me to question my equation of “gender accurate” translation with feminism, and to see that it really revolved more around an issue of how best to convey the original intent of the Biblical writers.

    That intrigued me enough to begin using the TNIV, and the more I used it, the more I’ve come to love it. I’ve found it generally very accurate (much more so than the NIV), and the most readable translation that still manages to be moderately formal. I also love the NLT for general reading, but as an all-purpose Bible (reading, study, church, etc.) I’ve found the TNIV to be sufficiently strong in all the areas I need it to be.


    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks for sharing your story, Tim. It’s great to read how others have been encouraged in their use of other translations. You hit on a key point when you mentioned that there’s nothing holier about more archaic language, just as there’s nothing holier about modern language.

      I think in those issues, as long as the translation is being faithful to the text and the full meaning is there, it’s profitable to its readers.

      Thanks again!

  • volleyballdad

    I was a long time NIV user – received my first NIV New Testament in 1978 and then the complete Bible in 1979 for a High School graduation present and used it until about 3 years ago. I was standing in a local Christian bookstore in uniform ( I have been in the Army for 25 years) when a sweet lady saw me browsing the “Soldiers Bible” edition of the HCSB – she would not let me leave without purchasing two of them, one for me and one to give to another soldier. I began reading it at me desk and loved it – it just seemed comfortable. It reads like we speak, they even use contractions which many find distasteful in a Bible translation but I respectfully disagree. The more I read the HCSB, the more I compare it with the NASB and the NET Bible, I find that it has really struck a balance with readability and literal renderings.

    I tried the ESV but just found it to not be a reader friendly version. It has too much of the KJV feel regardless of the hype and marketing blitz. I am sure it is a fine translation but not, in my opinion, for the typical person in the pew.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey there – thanks for sharing this last night. Sounds like you’ve got a great translation to read. I’ve not heard much at all about the HCSB, but I’m thrilled you find it so profitable!

      God bless, sir!