My wife has used the same translation of the Bible (NASB or New American Standard Bible, for those keeping track at home) for probably 20 years. She’s used the exact same Bible that I bought her for our wedding in 2000. Some friends asked her if she wanted a new copy of the ESV (English Standard Version) that they had on hand and she was somewhat leery. Changing translations after so long? If she switched, would the ESV be the best version to go to?
She took the Bible in the end. I wouldn’t have, personally. Not out of ingratitude to our friends, but because I really don’t like the ESV. This quote sums it up pretty well:
I am writing this article, however, because I have heard a number of Christian leaders claim that the ESV is the “Bible of the future”—ideal for public worship and private reading, appropriate for adults, youth and children. This puzzles me, since the ESV seems to me to be overly literal—full of archaisms, awkward language, obscure idioms, irregular word order, and a great deal of “Biblish.” Biblish is produced when the translator tries to reproduce the form of the Greek or Hebrew without due consideration for how people actually write or speak. The ESV, like other formal equivalent versions (RSV; NASB; NKJV; NRSV), is a good supplement to versions that use normal English, but is not suitable as a standard Bible for the church. This is because the ESV too often fails the test of “standard English.”
That quote is from a guy named Mark L. Strauss (who, in fairness, is part of the NIV translation committee). When I first started trying to use the ESV, I was reading a selection out of Genesis 35:4, which is rendered in the ESV as: “So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.” What’s a “terebinth”? Why do so few other translations use that word? Why can’t they just call it an “oak” like everybody else? Maybe it’s more accurate (the Bible dictionary I consulted isn’t hugely supportive of this idea), but it compromises readability.
It seemed that every passage I read suffered from this and I abandoned it after about a week.
Many other members of my church have not abandoned it. It has easily eclipsed the NIV as our most popular version and with some good reason. Our fellowship puts a big emphasis on the inspiration of each word of the original manuscripts. Any version of the Bible, therefore, that tries to remain as faithful as possible to that original text while still using some idiomatic English should be our choice. The translation I have chosen is the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible), which is very similar to the ESV, except where I feel it reads better or more understandably.
We have a man in our fellowship who has worked in Bible translation for 50 years, and it seems that every time he teaches, he will read a verse out of the ESV and then say, “That verse might more clearly say x,” where x is exactly the way the HCSB renders it.
Our church also seems to have a bit of a bias against the Zondervan publishing house. (Zondervan is ultimately responsible for the NIV.) They often feel Zondervan titles are too soft and don’t really edify the reader and that authors on Zondervan contracts are churning out works for profit and not to say anything new to the world.
I have to admit that at least part of my dislike for the ESV stems directly from its popularity and my general disposition to cheer for underdogs.
But the reason I bring this up now has a lot to do with some CDs we’ve been listening to and how I’ve been struggling with those. The tie-in largely comes from the response I got to a comment about using the NLT during worship services and has everything to do with what I consider to be people placing huge barriers between seeking hearts and a Savior.
(To be continued tomorrow.)