Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I've chosen to read the ESV

Do you want to guess what had me excited in 2008 as 2009 drew near? I had bought an ESV Study Bible (which, by the way, is an amazing resource for any student of God's Word), and I was excited about the thought of reading the English Standard Version of the Bible this year! I haven't changed the translation of the Bible I've been reading for 29 years, and was wondering if reading the Bible in a different translation would help me to catch some fresh insights. So since January 1, I've been reading the ESV.

Prior to 2009, I'd been reading the New American Standard Bible (NASB) since I was 16 years old. My parents gave me my first copy on my 16th birthday, January 24, 1980. That was the year (in early spring) I really began seeking to live for God rather than for myself, and I made good use of that new blue, bonded leather Bible. It's pretty beat up now, with a few loose pages and lots of personal notes written in the margins (some of which reflect my very first exposure to various passages). I don't suppose it would have mattered what translation I was using in those days, as long as it was English. I just loved reading God's Word, and found that God spoke to me as I did so.

We live in a time in which a multitude of wonderful English translations of the Bible are available, all of which help us to get to know God and to see His beauty as we read them. I don't care what translation you read as much as I care about whether you read one or not. The key is that we feast on God's Word in any translation rather than filling ourselves up on the the junk food of lesser things.

But that being said, I can't help but have a preference for the Bible translation I read, and to have reasons for it. The main reason for the translation I choose is the method of translation used to write it. I want a translation that shows me, as closely as possible, what the original writers wrote rather than what someone thought they meant.

There are two main methods of translating texts from one language to another: the literal method (NASB, NKJV, ESV) and the dynamic equivalent method (NIV, NLT). Simply put, the literal method translates word for word or phrase for phrase as much as possible, and the dynamic equivalent translates idea for idea or thought for thought, taking larger blocks of words at a time, translating the essence of what writers meant without worrying about the words and phrases all being as close to the original as possible. The result is that the dynamic equivalent translations are more readable while the literal translations are more stiff and wooden in their style. But another result is that the dynamic equivalent translations make ample use of paraphrase and offer far more interpretation (a text explained) than I like to see in a translation (a text in a new language). So I prefer literal translations.

But dynamic equivalent translations have proven to be enormously popular because of their readability. And that is actually the reason I chose the ESV for 2009. It's a literal translation that flows better and is more readable than the NASB. It feels as though I may have found a translation that I'll be happy with for another 29 years! As John Piper writes, "I do not claim that the ESV is without its own level of 'paraphrasing.' Some will always be necessary. And there will always be disagreements about how much is necessary. I am simply arguing that the ESV is the best balance available of readability and literalness."

So if you've been reading the same translation of the Bible for quite awhile now, I encourage you to consider a change. Look at God's Word in a fresh way with a translation you're not so used to. And if you choose to do so, consider the ESV. The ESV Study Bible is well worth the investment!

© 2009 by Ken Peters

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