Why the ESV?, Part 2

Why the ESV?, Part 2 January 21, 2013

The first reason I prefer the English Standard Versionfor use in the church is translation philosophy. The ESV is an essentiallyliteral Bible translation that aims for word-for-word precision in renderingthe original languages in English.

Many other modern versions translate the originals witha thought-for-thought correspondence rather than word-for-word. This approachis not sinful or wrong; after all, some amount of smoothing and rewording isalways required when you translate something from one language to another.That’s why I wrote that the ESV is “an essentially literal Bibletranslation that aims for word-for-word precision.” The question is not,“Is this a literal, word-for-word translation?” The real question is, “Whatdoes this translation emphasize: individual words and word order, or broadconcepts and phrases?”

Perhaps an example would help. 1 Peter 4:11 begins witha 6-word sentence in Greek. Literally, those words go something like this: “Ifanyone speaks, as sayings of God” (with “of God” representing one Greek word).The ESV sticks pretty close to that: “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oraclesof God.” Another essentially literal translation, the New American Standard,italicizes the words which have no Greek equivalent but were added for fluency:“Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances ofGod.” The New Living Translation is much more free with the words and insteadattempts to replicate the logical sense and emotional impact of the passage:“Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself werespeaking through you.” What the NLT says is exactly how I interpret 1Peter 4:11. But the fact is, this rendering contains quite a bit ofinterpretation which was done for you by the translators. The words of the NLTdon’t correspond very closely with the Greek words Peter originally wrote.

My preference on this point is based on the convictionthat the very words of God matter. In fact, Paul once built a whole argument ona single letter (Gal 3:15-18)! I believe that thought-for-thought translationshave an important place; in fact, we use the NLT for our family devotions. Butfor use in the church, where intense and rigorous Bible study forms the centerof our life together, I believe we are best served by a Bible that emphasizesthe words, grammar, and syntax of the original writings.