It has been my privilege to preach and teach from the King James Version of the Bible at Trinity Baptist Church for nearly seventeen years as youth pastor and now senior pastor. In 2002 I was introduced to the “essentially literal” English Standard Version of the Scriptures. It rather swiftly became my preferred translation for private study, family altar, and counseling. However, having “cut my teeth” spiritually on the King James Version, I, like many in our church, have a fondness and appreciation for its beauty and accuracy. Yet, desiring to “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,” (Nehemiah 8:8b), I believe that Trinity Baptist Church will be best served by my preaching from the English Standard Version. I believe that we should transition to the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its accuracy, clarity, consistency, and beauty.
Accuracy – An “essentially literal” translation
Modern translations of the Scriptures, like the ESV, are based upon an eclectic or critical text of manuscripts. The primary benefit to that textual foundation is that these manuscripts are older and closer to the time of the actual writing of the original autographs. I believe that the availability of more manuscripts and the age of manuscripts for modern translations compared to the limited and later manuscripts available for the translation of the King James Version benefits us with a more accurate, attested translation.
In addition, the English Standard Version translators sought to follow a formal-equivalency (word-for-word) translation philosophy rather than a dynamic-equivalency (thought-for-thought) approach. Truthfully, it is nearly impossible for one language to be translated into another language in a wooden, word-for-word, literal translation. So, we should consider all English translations of the Bible in somewhat of a spectrum between the dynamic, thought-for-thought and the formal, word-for word poles. It is really more a matter of gradation. So, it is actually difficult to see exactly when one translation crosses the line from formal to dynamic equivalency. There are a host of modern translations, however, that have opted for dynamic equivalency as their translation philosophy. This is not a wholesome translation philosophy in my opinion. We read commentaries for interpretation help, not our Bibles. I appreciate the ESV for allowing the ambiguities, difficulties and ancient idioms to shine through in an essentially literal way so that we can be confident of its accuracy.
“The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.
In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a ‘thought-for-thought’ rather than a ‘word-for-word’ translation philosophy, emphasizing ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than the ‘essentially literal’ meaning of the original. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” - Preface to the English Standard Version
Clarity – Archaic language has been brought to current usage.
The King James Version of the Bible was translated in 1611. Since that first printing, there have been several updates and revisions. Most of us own the 1769 edition of the King James Version which updated some of the archaic language of the 1611 edition. The English Standard Version provides clarity of the English language that is readily understood by English speakers. Because of the clarity of the English Standard Version, the time-consuming explanation of outdated words is immediately removed from the preaching moment. Such clarity also benefits private reading and Bible study because of the plainness of speech.
Our desire for clarity goes beyond our desire to edify believers through intelligibility (I Corinthians 14). We have a passion for clarity in evangelism and discipleship as well. As new believers are born into the family of God, we desire for the clarity and plainness of the Scriptures to assist them “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2:2). The English Standard Version speaks the Word of God to men as they are.
“The church of Jesus Christ must constantly pursue reformation. Any body of believers that is bound by its heritage, however splendid that heritage may be, has already begun the drift to heterodoxy. The church must be being reformed. And the sole basis for such reformation is the Word of God. In the hope that God will again visit His church with renewal and life nurtured by the Scriptures, I applaud every effort to put those Scriptures, in quality vernacular translations, into the hands of men and women everywhere.” D.A. Carson
Consistency – As much as possible, uses the same English word for recurring original words.
Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me” (II Timothy 1:13). The ESV, like the KJV, has consistently preserved the great doctrinal words of our faith like grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, and propitiation.
Also, the ESV, as much as possible, uses the same English word to translate a recurring Greek or Hebrew word. The King James Version translators, in contrast, use more of a variety of English words for recurring original words. The ESV’s more consistent approach, aids the reader in seeing the words the Holy Spirit chose to repeat and emphasize in a given passage or Book of the Bible.
Finally, when an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament, the ESV translators seek to repeat that passage in a similar way that it was translated in the Old Testament. This gives the ESV a remarkable translation consistency.
“Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.” - Preface to the English Standard Version
Beauty – Simplicity and dignity of expression.
The beauty of the KJV language and expression are acknowledged by all who have read, memorized, taught or preached from it. In fact, that beauty of language is one of the most feared “losses” in changing translations. That brings us to another important reason to appreciate the English Standard Version. The ESV translators sought to continue the King James legacy of beauty of literary expression while at the same time reflecting the word-for-word accuracy of a very formal equivalent translation, The New American Standard. I personally believe the ESV achieved those goals. The clearest way to observe the ESV translators’ efforts to maintain that beauty of the King James is to compare “all-time favorite passages” like Psalm 23, John 3:16, or “the Roman’s Road.” These verses have very little literary changes to them so that memorizing them is almost an exact replication of the King James Version’s quotation.
It is for these reasons that we will transition to preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible this coming Lord’s Day, November 2, 2014. While I will be preaching and teaching from the ESV, we encourage you to continue to enjoy the translation that bests assists you in being a “self-feeder.” Just like we have been opposed to King James Version Onlyism, we are also opposed to English Standard Version Onlyism.
If you were not able to participate in our ten-week study on this topic, and you still have questions about this transition, I hope you will visit the sermon section of our website and listen to each of the messages. You can also contact me with any questions that you have anytime!
Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the Word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible. . . . For any preacher or theologian who loves God’s Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable.” - Edwin H. Palmer