Over five years ago I wrote a piece justifying CCB’s adoption of the brand new translation of the Bible; the ESV. I’ve reproduced it here. In my humble opinion, it was a work of genius. The article, not the new translation! But I was also wrong. Not wrong as in sinful but wrong as in stupid.
If I had my time again I wouldn’t make the move. I’ve changed my mind. And we’ve gone back to the NIV. Many within the congregation are delighted. There was cheering in the All Age Congregation when I announced it. And they don’t get excited about anything! I’m still in two minds. I love the ESV. I can’t quite bring myself to give it up in preparation. Often it’s the preservation of the Pauline prepositions that I find so helpful. The study Bible is a work of art. It’s brilliant. And I like the way it preserves the visual and literal sense of many of the phrases in their original langauges. You’ll see what I mean if you look at the examples on this chart.
Although many in the congregation aren’t sad to see the back of the ESV, I am. But it makes perfect sense in our context. This article from Mark Straus highlights eleven issues he has with the ESV. But for me the following three factors have become overwhelmingly frustrating and have probably become a hindrance to our gospel ministry.
1. It’s inconsistent
It doesn’t do what it says it’s going to do. I’m sure I remember reading somewhere in the blurb that they’d translate the same word in the same way so that the reader would be able to make the links that are present in the original languages. But the translator’s just don’t keep to their word. As Mark Thompson and Allan Chapple highlight.
2. It’s incomprehensible
Perhaps that’s overstating it a little! But at times it’s a shocker. As one friend said, ‘it’s English, but not as we know it’. Using the restrained vernacular of the academic, Mark Thompson says, ‘The ESV retains some archaic expressions, e.g. ‘behold’ and ‘adjure’’. Adjure?!!! Desirous?!
3. It’s impenetrable
It’s unreadable at times because the grammar is tortuous. We frequently have degree level educated men and women unable to read. It’s embarassing for them and it’s painful for us. And it’s not their fault. At times, it reads like something from Yoda.
We want people from Balham to come into church and hear the gospel in language that they can undersytand. Sadly I’m just not convinced that the ESV really helps us in that. I’m looking forward to the new edition of the NIV. But we can’t wait. And neither can the congregation. We’ve got a mission coming. And that was the impetus for change that we needed.
I’m not saying that there’s a whole load wrong with the ESV. There isn’t. Let’s keep this whole thing in perspective. This is a really, really good Bible translation. I’ve loved using it and will continue to do so, especially in preparation. I have some sympathy with what they’re trying to do. But it’s a Bible for the ‘sharper tools in the box’ and not all of us in Balham fall into that category.