Why Harvest moved to the ESV (English Standard Version)
Background regarding the Change
Harvest Community Church was planted/started in 2009 and the primary translation of the Bible that was used for Preaching, LifeGroups and Discipleship was the NIV (New International Version, 1984 edition). It was a good and trustworthy translation of the Scripture. Prior to 2009, The publisher of the NIV (Zondervan, now called Biblica) began to introduce changes to NIV by releasing the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) in 2005. The TNIV and NIV were sold side by side allowing people to choose between the two. This decision created confusion for many and the majority of people did not make change to the TNIV. Then, the publisher made a decision to update the NIV and discontinue both the NIV ’84 and the TNIV replacing them with the NIV 2011 edition. The NIV 1984 is no longer available for purchase or available digitally on the most popular bible App’s and websites (i.e. the YouVersion Bible App and www.biblegateway.com). The Leadership of Harvest has been wrestling with what to do with this predicament for a few years now. In 2012 the supplies of NIV 1984 were depleted and unavailable for reorder. This change in the NIV has prompted our review of some of the best english translations available and prayefully make a decision regarding which translation to use as the primary translation at Harvest.
In order to limit any confusion surrounding the Word of God we have decided to begin using the ESV as our primary translation at Harvest Community Church. This means that the Bibles we hand out on Sunday, what is on the video screen and used as our primary translation for preaching will all be in sync with one another.
Regarding other Translations
First, it must be stated clearly that the Lord in his sovereignty has used and will continue to use many different English translations to build up his church. This isn’t to say that all translations are the same or that it doesn’t matter which translation we use. It’s simply an acknowledgment that God’s Word is sufficiently communicated in many different translations in such a way that people can come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. So in switching the ESV, please do not hear us belittling the work the Lord has accomplished through many other English translations.
Second, there are millions of people in the world who still do not have the Scriptures in a language they can understand and millions more who do not have the Bible in their heart language. How fortunate are English speakers who not only have 500 years of Bible translation history to rely on, but can choose from more than a dozen modern translations. Ours is an embarrassment of riches.
Differences between NIV and ESV
The ESV employs an “essentially literal” translation philosophy.
The NIV, by contrast, has a less literal “dynamic equivalence” philosophy (though it is probably the most literal of the dynamic equivalent translations). The difference means the ESV tries to translate “word-for-word” as much as possible while the NIV translates “thought-for-thought.”
The difference between the NIV and ESV is not a chasm, but one of degree. Anyone who has translated from one language to another knows that achieving a rigid word- for-word translation is a naive goal. Languages work differently and the words fit together in different orders, making strict word-for-word translations overly clumsy and often impossible. That’s why the ESV is called an essentially literal translation. Its goal is to translate word for word wherever possible.
THE ESV UPHOLDS THE TRUTH THAT SCRIPTURE IS THE ACTUAL WORDS OF GOD, NOT JUST THE THOUGHTS OF GOD
This point is inextricably connected to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration,â€¨which means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but the very words and details.
How does this belief inform Bible translation?
Well, translations which follow a looser translation philosophy often attempt to interpret the words of Scripture to convey whatever the translators believe to be the “thought.” For example, the statement “he who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:4 ESV) is interpreted by one translation as “those who do right for the right reasons” (CEV). Another example is Psalm 23:5b (“you anoint my head with oil”), which is rendered by one modern translation as “you welcome me as an honored guest” (GNB). The ESV is committed to faithfully reproducing the words of God in Scripture, not just the translators’ idea of what “thought” the words are meant to communicate.
This point is significant because the Bible repeatedly declares that the very words of God are important, not just the thoughts they convey (see Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Proverbs 20:5-6; Matthew 4:4; Luke 21:33; John 6:63; 17:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Revelation 21:5; and 22:18-19).
THE ESV UPHOLDS THE THEOLOGICAL TERMINOLOGY OF SCRIPTURE
One of the more popular arguments for thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that people don’t understand the theological terminology that Scripture uses to express doctrinal concepts. The reasoning goes that words like “justification” and “propitiation,” which the original text of Scripture used, should be replaced with more modern everyday wording that people can understand.
An example will help clarify this point. One of the central debates of the Protestant Reformation was how a sinful person is justified before a holy and righteous God. This issue was contentious enough that people died over it and Christianity split over it. Romans 3:24 is one of many places where “justification” is mentioned in the original text of Scripture. An examination of various translations, however, shows how the word is sometimes omitted altogether:
(ESV) justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . .
(NASB) justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus . . .
(NIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(TNIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
(NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
(CEV) God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.
(TM) Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
(NLT) Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Some of these translations might not be problematic if they were presented as commentary. But they are simply unfit to be the biblical text of Romans 3:24 because they don’t say what God the Holy Spirit said through Paul; the reader would have no way of knowing that they were reading commentary instead of Scripture.
Which theological words should be changed because the average person doesn’t understand them? The sad truth is that we live in a culture that has very little biblical knowledge, and many of the central words that Scripture uses are unfamiliar to the average person. Outside of Christianity, even something as simple as "conviction" is not understood.
Words open up worlds of new truths. But if people don’t know the words of Scripture, we should not give them new words that close off new truths. Instead, we should give them the old words of the original text, literally translated into English, so that a new world of truth can be opened to them. Because we love the people God entrusts to our care, we who preach and teach Scripture should explain the words people do not understand so that they can fully appreciate what God is saying to them through Scripture.
THE ESV UPHOLDS THE TRADITIONAL USE OF GENDER IN SCRIPTURE
There is a great debate raging in academic circles about the language of gender and how it relates to biblical translation. The argument is commonly made that in generations past people used the word “man” or “mankind” to refer to humanity in general as an all-encompassing term that included both men and women. But, it is said, the understanding of these words has changed so that in the minds of the average person today it refers only to males and excludes females.
We would argue that the general assumption is not clear. It’s still common for people to understand words like “man” and “mankind” as a reference to both males and females. It is God who called the human race “man” in Genesis 5:1 (ESV, NIV, NASB, TAB, KJV, NKJV, HCSB) and not the “human race” (TM) or “human beings” (TNIV, NLT, CEV).
Psalm 8:4 serves as yet another practical example of the varying ways that differing translations take liberties with the clear text of Scripture regarding the issue of gender. The original text simply says “man,” yet some translations take the liberty to deviate from that: “mere mortals” (TNIV); “us humans” (CEV); “mere mortals” (TM); “human race” (NET); “human beings” (NRSV); and “mortals” (NLT).
In its more insidious forms, the push for gender-neutral language is in fact a clear push against Scripture. Scripture, for instance, states that God made us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). Consequently, in God’s created order, there is both equality between men and women (because both are his image-bearers) and distinction (because men and women have differing roles). This position is called complementarianism and teaches that men and women, though equal, are also different in some ways and therefore function best together in a complementary way, like a right and left hand (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Tim. 2:8–3:13).
Please bring any questions you might have regarding translations of the bible to the elders at Harvest. We would be glad to wade through this topic with you and help you arrive at an informed and confident understanding of the scriptures and translation.
*This article directly borrowed influence and content from:
Why our church switched to the ESV by Kevin DeYoung
Why Mars Hill uses the ESV by Mark Driscoll
Both of these articles are available online and worth the read for greater understanding.