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The ESV Bible and my theological ramblings

17 Jan

It looks like Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle is also making the switch from the NIV to the ESV. I have blogged earlier that I received an ESV Bible for Christmas and I am going to be reading, studying and preaching from the ESV for the next year. I have used the NIV for the last ten years (I used the NKJV before that) and I was looking for a change.

I changed translations just to approach the text of Scripture with a fresh view. Mark has written an 18-page essay on why he has switched from the NIV to the ESV. (You can read it here.)

He has some good things to say about the history of the Bible and the art of biblical translation. He gives six theological reasons for the switch to the ESV. I wanted to respond to his reasons, because I share some of his opinions and disagree with others.

Mark Driscoll’s Theological Reasons for Choosing the ESV

1) The ESV upholds the truth that Scripture is the very words of God, not just the thoughts of God.

I do agree theologically in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. This means that every (plenary) word (verbal) in the Bible was God’s idea (inspiration). Or as my Old Testament professor, Dr. Roy Hayden, said, “Inspiration is the work of God whereby he controlled the writing of Scripture so that the end result is what God wanted.” I do agree that the words and not just the thoughts where inspired.

However, what are words if they are not just containers for ideas? Words in and of themselves have to real value, they are just cultural symbols that point back to an idea. If I use the word “dog,” I am not talking about a entity that has a “d” in the front, a “g” at the end and an “o” in the middle. No I am talking about a fury, slobbery, mutt that eats a lot and leaves land mines in your yard. The point is that it is hard to separate words from the ideas that the words point to.

2) The ESV upholds that what is said must be known before what is meant can be determined.

This is an important thought to consider. The worse thing you can do if you are in a Bible study is to go around the room, have people read a verse of Scripture and then tell everybody what that verse “means to them.” Aaaaggghhhh! One of the most basic principles of faithful Bible interpretation is to first seek to understand what the text MEANT in its historical setting and in the context in which it was written and then seek to understand what it MEANS.

3) The ESV upholds the truth that words carry meaning.
This was the point I was trying to make earlier. Words are containers of ideas or meaning. The purpose for words is that we preserve them in order to preserve meaning. All that I was saying earlier is that the meaning is what we are really after. The words are just a means to this ultimate end of meaning, idea, truth.

I point this out because of the MYTH OF THE MORE LITERAL TRANSLATION. I appreciate that the ESV is not being marketed and a “more literal” translation. Whether you translate a text word for word (like the ESV) or thought for thought (like the NIV) there is still the subjectivity of the translators involved in the process. For example, when translating Greek nouns, the word can appear in the genitive, which is simply translated “of.” Tou pistou tou theo in Greek is a classic use of the genitive. It is most often translated the faith of God, but most Greek grammar will list 15+ different ways to translate the genitive beyond the simple “of.” It doesn’t matter if you translate this word for word or thought by thought. You as a translator, as a Greek exegete, have to make a choice.

Nevertheless, I agree that word of word is a preferable translation method in order to pursue what the ESV guys call “essentially literal.” I like that better than “more literal.”

4) The ESV upholds the theological nomenclature of the Scripture.

Yep. And that is why I like the ESV. The ESV is attentive to use theologically-rich terms like: grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, and propitiation. And I know Mark loves that word “propitiation” and I do too, because it refers to Jesus as bearing the wrath of God for us. Good stuff! Yea theological nomenclature…nomenclature is a big word for the word, words. So “theological nomenclature” is a fancy way of saying “theological words.”

5) The ESV upholds the truth that while Scripture is meant for all people, it cannot be communicated in such a way that all people receive it.

I guess this is Mark’s calvinistic colors shining through. Actually, I agree with Mark on this point. The risk that you run in “dumbing down” the text of Scripture so that everyone can understand it is that you begin to lose the richness of biblical revelation. Let’s be honest, some parts of Scripture is hard to understand that is why God has given us gifted teachers to help guide us through the Scripture.

6) The ESV upholds the complementarian nature of gender in Scripture.

In his explanation, Mark sites Madonna as a quintessential feminist who uses the phrase “mankind.” This is what I love about Mark early in his essay he quotes from Athanasius and now from Madonna. We really think a lot a like.

I agree that we should preserve the complementarian nature of gender references in the Bible. The TNIV recently tried to make a more gender neutral translation of the Scripture, but for reasons state above – I do not belive we should change the words of Scripture.

Ok this was one long post.

Enough for now.

Check out the ESV at http://www.gnpcb.org/home/esv

Currently in iTunes…

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Bob Dylan

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Sounds like a call to prayer to me….

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5 Comments

Posted by on January 17, 2007 in Ministry, Theology

 

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5 responses to “The ESV Bible and my theological ramblings

  1. Wayne Leman

    January 17, 2007 at 5:04 am

    Hi Derek, nice to see another post on Mark’s essay. Here’s some of my thoughts on what he wrote:

    Pastor Driscoll noted:

    “Furthermore, even the greatest of communicators were known to be hard to understand when they spoke God’s truth. For example, some of Jesus’ teaching was declared to be a “hard saying” by His hearers (John 6:60). Jesus also taught in parables, knowing that His teaching would not be readily understood by all his hearers, but only those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:10–23).”

    Very true, but Pastor Driscoll has confused two different matters. Jesus did not speak in technical religious jargon which we find in the ESV and similar English Bibles. Instead, Jesus used plain-speak, everyday language, the language of the field and fishing. It was not Jesus’ words that were hard to understand. It was the thoughts he was conveying with those words that threw his listeners. Jesus didn’t use complicated, rare words when he told the parable of the sower and the seeds. But even Jesus’ disciples often didn’t catch Jesus’ meaning. It wasn’t a problem of vocabulary, as Pastor Driscoll seems to be saying in his article, but, rather, lack of ability to understand the application to people’s lives.

    Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words when Jesus told him he needed a second birth. Nicodemus’ response lets us know he understood those words. But Nicodemus wasn’t on the same spiritual wavelength with Jesus. He didn’t understand the *concepts* (thoughts) behind the words. He didn’t know how to be born again.

    Let’s not encourage people to use Bible versions which use words less familiar to English speakers than were the words used in the original Biblical language texts for their audiences. It is accurate to translate the Bible to ordinary English words which are the equivalent of the ordinary words Jesus used when he taught.

    We erect artifical barriers to the work of God when we encourage people to use Bibles which are not of the same kind of language as that used by the Biblical authors. The Biblical authors did not use the word “propitiation.” Instead, they used a common word hilasmos. Biblical authors did not use a rare word like “justification”. Instead they used a very common, ordinary word dikaiosis to communicate what English Bible translators are hoping to communicate with the theological term “justification.” John the Baptist did not tell his audience to “repent” (Matt. 3:2). Instead, we have the Greek translation of what he said in his Semitic language as being metanoiete which was a very common word which meant “change your mind.” That’s what God wants from us sinners, he wants us to change our thinking and our ways. He wants us to stop sinning. God inspired his Holy Word which was written in words which were, on the whole, ordinary, everyday, good quality language. But English translators have made things more complicated by using uncommon, rare, often obsolete words. I think this must make God sad.

    Jesus did not consider it his mission to teach people the meanings of words. He simply taught people. And he used words they already understood. It’s not necessary to use “Christianese” when we evangelize or even in our Bible studies with fellow Christians.

    People need to be able to understand the words of the Bible, just as they understood the words that were spoken by Jesus, Paul, and others in Bible times. Then we need dedicated Bible teachers like Pastor Driscoll to help people understand the concepts behind those words, again, just as Jesus had to explain the meaning of his everyday language parables to his disciples.

    Please note that I am *not* suggesting that every word in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament was common or easy to understand.

    Not all of the biblical language texts are of the same literary genre or complexity. Some texts are written in straightforward everyday language. Others have greater literary sophistication. Paul’s epistles are written in more complicated language than are the Greek translations we have of the teachings of Jesus.

    But I want to focus on the matter of overall vocabulary used in Bible translation. I still find very few technical religious terms in the original biblical texts. And I think we have not been fair (or even accurate) if we translate ordinary source text (biblical) words with uncommon, obsolete, or jargon terms in English. It is here where I disagree with Mark Driscoll.

     
  2. Wayne Leman

    January 17, 2007 at 5:04 am

    Hi Derek, nice to see another post on Mark’s essay. Here’s some of my thoughts on what he wrote:

    Pastor Driscoll noted:

    “Furthermore, even the greatest of communicators were known to be hard to understand when they spoke God’s truth. For example, some of Jesus’ teaching was declared to be a “hard saying” by His hearers (John 6:60). Jesus also taught in parables, knowing that His teaching would not be readily understood by all his hearers, but only those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:10–23).”

    Very true, but Pastor Driscoll has confused two different matters. Jesus did not speak in technical religious jargon which we find in the ESV and similar English Bibles. Instead, Jesus used plain-speak, everyday language, the language of the field and fishing. It was not Jesus’ words that were hard to understand. It was the thoughts he was conveying with those words that threw his listeners. Jesus didn’t use complicated, rare words when he told the parable of the sower and the seeds. But even Jesus’ disciples often didn’t catch Jesus’ meaning. It wasn’t a problem of vocabulary, as Pastor Driscoll seems to be saying in his article, but, rather, lack of ability to understand the application to people’s lives.

    Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words when Jesus told him he needed a second birth. Nicodemus’ response lets us know he understood those words. But Nicodemus wasn’t on the same spiritual wavelength with Jesus. He didn’t understand the *concepts* (thoughts) behind the words. He didn’t know how to be born again.

    Let’s not encourage people to use Bible versions which use words less familiar to English speakers than were the words used in the original Biblical language texts for their audiences. It is accurate to translate the Bible to ordinary English words which are the equivalent of the ordinary words Jesus used when he taught.

    We erect artifical barriers to the work of God when we encourage people to use Bibles which are not of the same kind of language as that used by the Biblical authors. The Biblical authors did not use the word “propitiation.” Instead, they used a common word hilasmos. Biblical authors did not use a rare word like “justification”. Instead they used a very common, ordinary word dikaiosis to communicate what English Bible translators are hoping to communicate with the theological term “justification.” John the Baptist did not tell his audience to “repent” (Matt. 3:2). Instead, we have the Greek translation of what he said in his Semitic language as being metanoiete which was a very common word which meant “change your mind.” That’s what God wants from us sinners, he wants us to change our thinking and our ways. He wants us to stop sinning. God inspired his Holy Word which was written in words which were, on the whole, ordinary, everyday, good quality language. But English translators have made things more complicated by using uncommon, rare, often obsolete words. I think this must make God sad.

    Jesus did not consider it his mission to teach people the meanings of words. He simply taught people. And he used words they already understood. It’s not necessary to use “Christianese” when we evangelize or even in our Bible studies with fellow Christians.

    People need to be able to understand the words of the Bible, just as they understood the words that were spoken by Jesus, Paul, and others in Bible times. Then we need dedicated Bible teachers like Pastor Driscoll to help people understand the concepts behind those words, again, just as Jesus had to explain the meaning of his everyday language parables to his disciples.

    Please note that I am *not* suggesting that every word in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament was common or easy to understand.

    Not all of the biblical language texts are of the same literary genre or complexity. Some texts are written in straightforward everyday language. Others have greater literary sophistication. Paul’s epistles are written in more complicated language than are the Greek translations we have of the teachings of Jesus.

    But I want to focus on the matter of overall vocabulary used in Bible translation. I still find very few technical religious terms in the original biblical texts. And I think we have not been fair (or even accurate) if we translate ordinary source text (biblical) words with uncommon, obsolete, or jargon terms in English. It is here where I disagree with Mark Driscoll.

     
  3. R. Mansfield

    January 17, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Derek, you said, “I agree that we should preserve the complementarian nature of gender references in the Bible. The TNIV recently tried to make a more gender neutral translation of the Scripture, but for reasons state above – I do not belive we should change the words of Scripture.

    I, too, am a complementarian, but I use the TNIV. First I should point out that the TNIV is never referred to by its translators as “gender neutral. Rather, it is more correctly referred to as “gender neutral” or “gender accurate.” Moreover, I don’t believe that the TNIV has changed the words of Scripture but actually has better communicated the meaning of the biblical text.

    Take for example Romans 12:1 in which Paul writes “I urge you, ἀδελφοί…” Traditionally, this has been translated as “brothers” or “brethren,” but the context of Romans 16 clearly shows that Paul is writing to a mixed audience. Even the ESV acknowledges this by giving the alternative translation in the footnote to 12:1, “Or brothers and sisters.” The TNIV simply uses that translation “brothers and sisters” because it more accurately reflects the use of ἀδελφοί in this verse. In Greek literature, the meaning of this term is always dependent upon the context.

    The same thing is true for a word like ἄνθρωπος which was often in the past translated as “man,” but again, it does not refer to maleness unless the context defines it as such. The primary meaning of the word is person or human. The TNIV translators are very careful to distinguish here as to whether the context is referring to men only or men and women and translate accordingly. Interestingly, the ESV does this a good bit, too. Check out verses like Matt 7:9 and Matt 12:11 in both the Greek New Testament and the ESV and you’ll notice that ἄνθρωπος is in the text, but the ESV never translates it as man in these verses.

    Personally, I believe there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the TNIV. You need to know that it is a conservative evangelical translation, and much more conservative in its renderings than the NRSV.

     
  4. derek vreeland

    January 18, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Wayne —

    You have presented the “other side” of the arguement well. The tension is between faithfulness to the text and cultural readibility. Mark and myself have been arguing for the faithfulness for the text and you have passionately argued for the importance of readibility.

    I agree that Mark may have overstepped his position a bit in quoting that Jesus’ saying were “hard.” The hard saying in John 6 where theologically difficult for Jews to comprehend, but the words he used were easy to understand.

    John also used “easy Greek” in his writings. Most Greek student start with John 1 when doing exegesis. However, Paul’s writings seem to be much more difficult. I know that doing exegesis from Romans, for example, is much more challenging than John.

    Concering the ESV, I do not think that it is more difficult to read, but I commend them for retaining the theologically-rich words like propitiation. It seems like our media savvy culture can look it up if they do not understand it.

    Nevertheless, I agree that we should work towards a readible text, but I would add…a readible text without dumbing down the text.

    Derek

     
  5. derek vreeland

    January 18, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    r. mansfield,

    Thanks for chiming in on the TNIV. I received an advance copy of the TNIV NT before it was published and I remember flipping through it and thinking, “What is the big deal?”

    I do believe that it is conservative evangelical translation and I am certainly not a TNIV basher. I continue to strive to fight against the superiority of one translation. All translations have their weekness.

    I do not have a problem with the TNIV translating adelphoi “brothers and sisters” instead of brethern. My accusation is when they translate singular pronouns as plural (e.g. changing “he” to “they”).

    I understand why they do this. I do the same thing in my professional writing. I try to talk about “Christians,” or “leaders” or “people” so that when I use a pronoun in the next sentence, I can use “they” instead of “he.”

    My problem is that the TNIV is not writing a professional paper, they are doing exegesis and I think that they should strive to translate pronouns as they appear. Translate singular pronouns from the Greek as singular pronouns.

    But hey, you have to love Mark Driscoll scholarly citation of Madonna as a reference that “mankind” is still acceptable.

    Thanks for the post!

    Derek

     

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