May 1, 2008

Why I Preach from the English Standard Version of the Bible

Posted in Bible Study, Preaching, Scripture at 10:14 pm by Dan Lowe

I remember the days when I was a kid in church and there was basically only one translation… the King James Version.  Yes, I know there were other translations such as the Revised Standard Version (which everyone said was “liberal”) and Good News for Modern Man, but pretty much everyone used the King James Version. 

That is not the case today.  Trying to decide which Bible translation is best can give one a headache pretty fast.   Flipping through the pages of a recent catalog from a Christian bookseller reveals over ten different versions of the Bible.  I know in the context in which I preach there are people who use the King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Living Translation, English Standard Version and the Message.

So why do I preach from the English Standard Version (ESV)?

I didn’t start out with the ESV.  I used the New American Standard Bible (NASB) all throughout seminary and for the first three years of preaching at Maranatha Baptist Church.  But in January of 2008, I switched over to the ESV.  My reasons were several:

1)      I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. 

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) – 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is the very Word of God, inspired by Him in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek autographs.  When I read and study and preach from Scripture, I want to be confident that the translation I am using is faithful to the original words of Scripture.

The ESV is an “essentially literal translation” of the Bible.  The translators have attempted to capture the exact wording, grammar and syntax of the original text as closely as possible. This stands in sharp contrast with many other modern “translations” which utilize a “thought-for-thought” philosophy of translation (i.e. NIV, TNIV, NLT), rather than a “word-for-word” philosophy.

Yes, there are other literal translations available in the English language.  The NASB, KJV and NKJV are all particularly literal.  However, I prefer the ESV for the next reason listed here…

2)      The translators of the ESV have taken great care to retain the literary beauty of the Bible.

The Bible is a literary masterpiece, as one would expect from a Book which was inspired by the living and true God.  However, some translations lose the literary beauty of Scripture in maintaining a literal translation theory.

A good example of this is the NASB.  From my (amateur) work in translating the New Testament from the Greek, I have found the NASB to be the most literal translation among the common English translations of the Bible (I think I prefer the NKJV in the Old Testament… the jury is still out.)  However, the translators of the NASB are so literal, that often the wording is stilted or awkward.  This is particularly noticeable in the poetry of the Old Testament.  Read the Psalms in the NASB, then read it in the KJV or ESV and you will immediately see what I mean!  The NASB, though quite literal, simply lacks the poetic beauty which is inherent in the Word of God.

The KJV is hard to beat in terms of literature.  The translation work in the KJV is extraordinary.  However, let’s be honest… some of the words in the KJV translation are simply not used in the English language today.  I know die-hard KJV people will disagree with me, but I find it more difficult to read the KJV than other modern translations (and I read fairly well.)  I can only imagine how difficult it is to understand for those who are completely unfamiliar with this older style of English.

Now the NKJV is excellent.  It combines the aspects of being a literal translation of the Bible with the literary excellence of the KJV.  However, I prefer the ESV for the following reason…

3)      I believe the Greek text in the UBS Greek New Testament (4th edition) and the Novum Testamentum Graece (27th edition) is to be preferred over the Textus Receptus.

Although this is not a major issue and it does not affect any orthodox Christian doctrine, I believe that the Greek text in the UBS/NA27 (which, in the case of textual variants, attempts to critically examine both internal and external textual evidence to determine the authentic text) is superior to the Textus Receptus.  This can be a rather technical argument… and often it is not all that edifying.  If you want to read more about this, you can find some excellent articles on the Pulpit Magazine website (the first article in the four-part series can be found here http://www.sfpulpit.com/2007/01/18/a-short-kjv-detour-part-1/ )

With all this said, the reason I preach from the ESV is because I believe that the Bible is the very Word of God and I believe the ESV best communicates the literal words of inspired Scripture in a manner which reflects the literary beauty of this most supernatural book.

For more information on the English Standard Version, you can check out their website, located here http://www.esv.org/

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