Monday, August 19, 2013

Using the ESV in Our Services

I recently announced that I will begin using the English Standard Version (ESV) translation in my preaching. This represents a big change for me, as I have used the New International Version (NIV) for many years. But over the past year, I find myself gravitating more towards the ESV in my studies, so I decided to make the switch in my preaching. 

I’m sure some people will wonder why the switch, so I wanted to offer a few thoughts on it in this forum.

First of all, I find many translations to be useful in my study of Scripture. Whenever I prepare a sermon or a lesson, I consult many versions. My favorites are the ESV, NIV84, New English Translation (NET) and the New Living Translation (NLT). I also frequently study from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  And I usually read from The Message for a more contemporary paraphrase of the passage.

But when I preach or teach, I try to use one primary version, though I often quote other versions as well (I always try to mention it when I do this, just to be clear). Now some preachers don’t do this. In any given message, they may quote multiple versions without ever noting that they’re doing this. That’s their prerogative, but it’s not my style.

I find that preaching from one primary version keeps me theologically honest. I don’t try to find a version that says it the way I want it said, and it forces me to do my homework in preparing sermons and preaching the Word of God.

Keep in mind that almost all of us use a translation of the original Scriptures, since most of us don’t know Hebrew (the primary language of the Old Testament) or Greek (the primary language of the New Testament). We are forced to rely on those who know the languages and have translated them into English.

Even then, modern translations have updated older translations because the language changes. The King James Version (KJV) from 1611 is a very hard translation to read and understand, even though it is in English. The language has changed so much in 400 years that updated versions are needed.

This would be a good time for me to tell you that if you are among those people who believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only acceptable English translation of the Scriptures, you can stoppeth reading now. You won’t liketh anything else that I have to sayeth.

When it comes to Bible translations, there are three primary types of translations. The first is a “word for word” translation. In reality, most of us would never read a true “word for word” English translation, because it wouldn’t make much sense to us. Translating the Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament “word for word” into English would be cumbersome and awkward. But versions considered “word for word”, including the KJV, the NASB and the ESV, come closest.

The second main type of translation is “thought for thought”. Here, the goal is to convey the “thoughts” or “concepts” of the original languages into English. The emphasis is to help the reader understand the ideas behind the words. The NIV and the NLT fall into this category.

Finally, there are “paraphrases”. These are great resources to help us to put Scripture into modern terms, but they should never be used as your primary source for Bible study. They simply take too much liberty with the original languages. The Message and the Living Bible are popular paraphrases.

If you want to debate the merits of various translations, be my guest—just don’t do it with me. I have my preferences (hence the change to the ESV in my preaching). I don’t believe that all translations are created equal (I like the older translation of the NIV—the NIV84—much better than the newer translation—the NIV11, for example). And I studiously avoid “gender neutral” translations. But I'm not going to debate the subject with you.

That’s probably a much longer explanation than you wanted of the planned change to the ESV in my preaching ministry, but I wanted you to know why I’m making the change. Of course, you can still follow along pretty well in my sermons even if you use some other Bible translation. We’ll still display the words on the wall as we always have. It’s just that now, those words will be coming from a different translation—but the same Word of God.