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Thursday, December 29, 2005

ESV Outreach Edition

An outreach edition of the ESV will be available for purchase next month, according to the ESV blog. Crossway, the publisher, says of the outreach edition:
Its handy size makes it suitable for regular Bible readers, and its extra features and content will help newcomers discover the Bible for themselves and understand it better.
The language of the ESV is not at all the English which is spoken by "newcomers" to the Bible. In the ESV there is not only "non-newcomer" theological terms like "justification," "sanctify," "flesh," etc., but there are huge numbers of sentences which have strange English in them, which can give people the idea that the God of the Bible doesn't know how to speak our language very well. Notice some of these oddities in the ESV (emphasis added to highlight problem wordings):
Take the choicest one of the flock; pile the logs under it; boil it well; seethe also its bones in it. (Ezek. 24:5; noted by Rich Shields, frequent BBB commenter)

a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! (Jer. 2:24)

you have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Is. 64:7)

you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:44)

Let not oil be lacking on your head. (Eccl. 9:8)

As is the good, so is the sinner (Eccl. 9:2)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear (Job 42:5)

For they drop trouble upon me (Ps. 55:3)

your lightnings lighted up the world (Ps. 77:18)
In my opinion it would be better to use Bible versions which are written in the language of the people we are trying to reach. It is possible for Bibles to be both accurate as well as written in the language of their users.

There are pastors and parishioners who love the ESV and its language, and I like to see people love their Bible version. But with its dated language of the Tyndale-KJV tradition, plus some strange English introduced by the RSV translators and retained by the ESV revisers of the RSV, I can't imagine that the ESV would be appropriate for use among "newcomers." Please tell me how I could be wrong, and how the ESV could be used appropriately as an outreach Bible. In this case, I really would like to be wrong, since my entire being groans when we communicate with our outreach language that God is foreign, unable or unwilling to reach out to us in our own language. Those of you would do outreach, how do you think people will react if they are introduced to the Bible through the English of the ESV?

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19 Comments:

At Thu Dec 29, 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Wayne,

I taught grade 11 English quite a few years ago and wanted a Bible to show students where Biblical references in literature came from. It didn't take me more than 5 seconds to realize that I would have to use the Good News Bible or something of that level if I wanted it to be understood by more than the top 2 percent of students.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, what do you think of the argument that you should have challenged your students to excel, to learn more from reading a Bible version written at a higher reading level, with more obsolete and archaic English which is part of our literary heritage?

 
At Thu Dec 29, 01:15:00 PM, Blogger P J Williams said...

I think that Bible's should use 'strange' and 'unnatural' language, though only sparingly. Strange vocabulary can actually have an evangelistic (marketing) appeal. We see this in exotic names for consumables 'Frappucino' etc., and in the great success that certain religious terms have had: Intifada, jihad, mosque, Ramadan, Yoga, Zen. These strange old theological terms both attract and intrigue. To have a term for something that no one else has is a 'sure' sign that you have something worth saying. If Christians do not have any weird words, e.g. 'salvation', 'messiah', then people will conclude that they probably have little worth saying.

The relatively recent idea that Bible translations should be in natural language is something that arose from the good desire not to overburden translations in such a way as they become obscure. However, translations of the Christian Bible have, historically speaking, usually contained a certain level of foreignness. Take the word 'angel' as an example. The Septuagint and then the NT infuse a normal Greek word with a foreign meaning. The word 'angel' is then loaned into the languages of various early Bible translations (e.g. Coptic or Latin). From Latin the word went into the earliest phases of English (and most other European languages) and has stayed since.

Foreignness in translation has a long record of missiological 'success' (however that is measured) behind it.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Strange vocabulary can actually have an evangelistic (marketing) appeal.

Hmm, interesting idea. If you're serious, you may have a point for today's advertising-oriented consumers. I'm not sure how biblical the concept is, however. I like to think that 1 Cor. 14:8-11 sets up the guidelines for us.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne, I have a relative who as far as I know is not a professing Christian, at least doesn't attend church and has kind of purposefully avoided it through the years.

Anyhow recently we were visiting them. They have a KJV out, and I was somewhat surprised to learn that this person is reading it. It's a Scofield edition. And they told me that they want to read the other Bible they have when done with this one, an old one in a wood case, a KJV!

They asked me questions noting that things were often hard to understand. They've heard the gospel so I mentioned that in passing. And I talked about the truth that the Bible is not only a human book, but from God. Reading it is a personal matter (between them and God- though I didn't use as good of wording then), and they need to get God's help to understand.

But I also noted that the Bibles they have really aren't conducive to understanding.

All of that to ask this. Which Bible would you suggest to send them as a good accurate reading Bible?

I'm inclined to look at CEV.

Thanks. Ted

 
At Thu Dec 29, 03:31:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Pete Williams, welcome to this blog! It is good to have among us someone who is a real scholar - and someone who used to support my Bible translation work, before you moved on from Cambridge to Aberdeen.

You make a very interesting sociological point. Yes, it is true that strange language has a certain marketing appeal, as do strange customs and all kinds of mysterious teachings and secret initiation rites. Ancient religions were full of such things, and so are modern religions, secret societies and New Age groups. Some of these groups probably found this appeal by accident, and no doubt others are using it as a deliberate marketing strategy. And I suspect that this kind of appeal of the mysterious is behind at least a part of the current popularity amongst some in the West of Orthodox and Celtic Christianity, as well as the continued appeal of some traditionalist evengelical groups - although I am not suggesting that any of these groups have incorporated the mysterious as a deliberate marketing strategy.

But is this the approach we should be using as Christians? The Apostle Paul didn't think so. He wrote:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, TNIV)

...we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:2-3, TNIV)


Mysterious words may have a superficial attraction, and may even offer a technique for building large congregations. But true Christian faith is based not on mystery but on understanding and accepting the Word of God in repentance and faith. A Bible version should not put superficial attractiveness before communicating the truth.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 07:11:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"A Bible version should not put superficial attractiveness before communicating the truth."

I agree wholeheartedly. While I've grown to appreciate scripture in any form it comes, I probably would have had a quicker "head start" into understanding it if I had been exposed to a more down to earth translation (I think I mentioned before that I started with the RSV).

Anyways, I also mentioned a while back how even the formatting of certain bibles gets in the way....Well, I recently picked up a copy of "The Story" edition of the TNIV, and I think that's about the best one could do for the average reader (for the time being at least). The cover is welcoming: It isn't tacky nor is it remote and authoritarian; the text is in paragraph format, like a novel; the typeset is clear, and isn't surrounded with verse numbers; and the translation is understandable (without being too elementary or interpretive).

Outreach, in my humble opinion, is better served with the New Testament or the Gospels....But as a complete Bible, the Story gets the "design" part right, and does it with a readable, yet dependable translation (this isn't to say that I think it's perfect, but I am impressed).

 
At Thu Dec 29, 08:06:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Ted asked:

All of that to ask this. Which Bible would you suggest to send them as a good accurate reading Bible?

I'm inclined to look at CEV.


Ted, my wife and I have given quite a few copies of the CEV away to others. We both know English pretty well and are trained as Bible translators. But appreciate the clarity of the CEV. Yes, there are passsages where we would question the exegesis, as there are in any version. But, overall, the CEV addresses positively more translation issues than any other version, in our opinion. If your relatives appreciate literary English, the CEV might leave them feeling sold short a bit, since it's written at about a 5th grade reading level (which many adults in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. read at). The CEV avoids religious jargon, for the most part. Of course, that is a downside for those who are familiar with church English and appreciate it so much that they would prefer to have any new versions they read have a church English sound, as well.

Both the CEV and TEV make good outreach Bibles. They are both written in standard English.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 10:43:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I understand your goal for better Bibles, especially regarding "newcomers" as you call them in this entry. However, I bet a large number of people reading this blog started with the KJV and they turned out okay even if it eventually meant moving on to another, more readable translation.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that God's message is still heard in spite of the limitations of any translation--and all of them have flaws of some kind. But the power of God's word has the ability to circumvent these limitation and reach the reader/hearer in a supernatural way (Heb 4:12; Isa 55:11).

I've often noticed that the Better Bibles blog is always very quick to be critical of the ESV. It seems that as soon as something positive is posted on the ESV blog, the Better Bibles Blog has a negative counterpoint to it.

I know that saying this probably makes you assume that I'm an ESV user. Actually, I'm not, although I do own a copy in my collection.

All that to say that I'm surprised that you give so much negative attention to the ESV, especially when the KJV, NKJV, and he NASB (all within the Tyndale/KJV tradition that you mentioned) far outsell the ESV.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 04:12:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Thanks Wayne.

Yes, that sounds good.

Maybe a translation like the TNIV or HCSB is kind of an in-between Bible for those who might want something more understandable/readable, yet also more of the same feel of the past? What about NKJV?

Ted

 
At Fri Dec 30, 04:58:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rick Mansfield wrote: "I bet a large number of people reading this blog started with the KJV and they turned out okay".

But there is another side to that argument. There is also a large number of people who started with the KJV, didn't understand it, turned away from the church and from God, and didn't turn out OK. Probably more such people have turned away from active Christian faith than have remained active believers. I certainly wouldn't put all of the blame on KJV. But your argument by no means demonstrates that there are not huge problems with KJV and that the continuing loss to the church could be greatly improved by use of better Bibles.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 05:13:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Earlier I wrote rather provocatively about mysterious words, and about how Paul had rejected this approach. But I realise that I could have been misunderstood, especially when I quoted "we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God." I should clarify that I did not mean to suggest that either the ESV translators or any of the groups I mentioned use any kind of secret or shameful ways or any deception, or that they deliberately distort the word of God. My point rather was the positive one, that Paul was determined to present the word of God in a clearly understandable form, and that we should do the same.

Also I may have sounded too negative about the role of mystery in the Christian church. Now I accept that there is a place in the church for a sense of awe and reverence, which is very lacking in many churches today. It is not wrong to create such an atmosphere just because it is attractive to many, as long as the way it is done is in line with the Word of God, and it is done out of genuine reverence rather than as a manipulative marketing strategy. And I accept that there are aspects of God and of his working with humans which have not been fully revealed and so remain mysterious. My objection is only to presentation as some kind of mystery, for example by using unclear and unnatural language, of matters which are stated in the Bible, in the original, in clear and unambiguous language.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich said:

All that to say that I'm surprised that you give so much negative attention to the ESV, especially when the KJV, NKJV, and he NASB (all within the Tyndale/KJV tradition that you mentioned) far outsell the ESV.

Thank you for your comment, Rich. I hear you. We have addressed this issue in the past on this blog and I have tried to be even more balanced after receiving feedback like yours. I do not enjoy criticizing any Bible version. I would rather overlook weaknesses of any Bible version and focus on the good that has come through every Bible version. But the unique purpose of this blog is to come up with ideas for improving English Bibles. In the last few years the ESV has been held up by some prominent pastors and by its proponents as the "answer" in the Bible translation debates over translation philosophy and inclusive language. Much misinformation about Bible translation has been propagated by well-intentioned, devout godly men such as Dr. Grudem and others. When there is misinformation, it is necessary for someone to try to correct it.

This is not an anti-ESV blog. But this is a blog where wrong claims about the ESV and wrong claims made by its translators about the ESV and against other Bible versions must be seriously examined for their truthfulness.

We do the same for any other Bible version. But other Bible versions are not in the spotlight right now, other than the TNIV and we address TNIV issues fairly frequently on this blog, as well.

Our desire on this blog, as I have stated before, is that we speak the truth lovingly (or, "in love" if you prefer the Greek-oriented way of saying it). I am serious when I include love here as well as truth. I try very hard not to say anything unloving about the ESV team or about claims made by its members attacking other English versions.

If you find me saying anything in an unloving way, I request that you point it out, please.

So, the ESV is in focus much of the time on this blog because the ESV is in focus on other blogs and within the conservative church scene due to the focus placed on the issues by Dr. Grudem and those who make similar claims that he does. Dr. Grudem gets widespread national attention through his frequent radio interviews, published books, and support from some prominent Christian pastors. This little blog cannot compete with all that publicity. But we can do our part to try to help people examine the issues and correct misinformation where possible.

None of the other versions you mentioned, which are in the Tyndale-KJV tradition, currently have as high a publicity profile as the ESV. So it makes sense that this blog would give more time to addressing issues about a version which is currently prominent than for versions which are not as much in the spotlight.

If you will do searches on this blog, using the search tool in the upper left of the blog page, and if you will examine critiques of each English Bible version featured on this blog (the links to each of them are in the right margin), you will find that we do address translation issues in each English version.

There is no English version which is perfect. Each English version, however, has and will continue to be used of God to help people. And each version can be made better. Ideas for making them better is what this blog is about.

I would encourage you to chart the topics which have been on this blog to note that we often do not post about the ESV. But when there is misinformation about the ESV or any other version, it is, we believe, important to point it out, truthfully and lovingly.

Please do feel free to follow up if you can help us find better ways of carrying out the mission of this blog.

I think your comment and my response are important enough that they deserve to have a higher profile on this blog, so I will turn them into a post, as well as leaving my comments here in the comment section.

Happy New Year, Rich, and, again, thank you for sharing from your heart about this issue of concern to you.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Gummby said...

I am an unabashed ESV fan, but frankly, the area of outreach is an area I've struggled with. I'm sympathetic to the thoughts expressed here, particularly with regard to the language.

However, I do have a question. Is it realistic to assume that those reading an outreach edition will spend lots of time in places like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, and Ecclesiastes? I would guess (and this is truly a guess) that they would spend the majority of time in the New Testament, along with maybe Psalms, Proverbs, and the 5 books of Moses.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 01:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Matt asked:

Is it realistic to assume that those reading an outreach edition will spend lots of time in places like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, and Ecclesiastes? I would guess (and this is truly a guess) that they would spend the majority of time in the New Testament, along with maybe Psalms, Proverbs, and the 5 books of Moses.

Hi Matt. In my opinion, you answered your own question well. IF I were to give a Bible to a seeker, and they were not very familiar with the Bible, I'd probably encourage them to start with one of the gospels. They need to get to know who Jesus was, what he did, what the claims were about him.

So, yes, in some ways my criticisms of the ESV for outreach are not very relevant, EXCEPT for the fact that Crossway is producing an outreach edition. That is the issue I was addressing. I don't think that any of the ESV would work very well as an outreach Bible. Even in the gospels and the rest of the N.T. the ESV has strange English (see my work-in-progress files at url:
http://www.geocities.com/bible_translation/esvlinks#problems).

Now, the ESV revision committee is doing its work and we would all do well to see how much they improve the English with their revisions. I'm glad that they accepted some of my suggestions to improve the English. And I know that their Dr. Ryken, their literary stylist, continues to encourage the translation team to use better English.

Welcome to this blog, Matt. I do hope you feel welcome here and will comment often. We need input from ESV enthusiasts so that we do not distort anything about the ESV.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne, if you're still reading, or Peter or Suzanne...

What about the NCV? How would you compare it with the CEV?

Thanks, Ted

 
At Sat Dec 31, 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ted, I am still reading, but I am not familiar enough with NCV to comment. All I can say is that it is deliberately written in language suitable for quite young children - a lower reading level than CEV I think. But that does not imply that it is a bad translation for adults, especially for those without high level reading skills.

 
At Mon Jan 02, 11:29:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Peter Kirk said, "But there is another side to that argument. There is also a large number of people who started with the KJV, didn't understand it, turned away from the church and from God, and didn't turn out OK. Probably more such people have turned away from active Christian faith than have remained active believers. I certainly wouldn't put all of the blame on KJV. But your argument by no means demonstrates that there are not huge problems with KJV and that the continuing loss to the church could be greatly improved by use of better Bibles."

I really don't disagree with you, Peter, in regard to the KJV. When I was a child, my pastor preached from the KJV, and in third grade, all of us received a Bible from our Sunday School teacher. We got to pick the color (I picked green), but not the translation. We had no choice. It was KJV. To be honest, I never quite got attached to the KJV like a lot of people, although it is one of the translations I have read from cover to cover. But I couldn't understand it as a child, and never really spent any time seriously reading the Bible until I got my hands on a NASB. In spite of all the criticisms against the NASB for being too literal and wooden, it was much easier to read as a 13-year-old than the KJV. Even today, I only use a KJV for very formal occasions such as weddings and funerals. I would never give one to someone as a first Bible. In fact, when I used to teach Bible at a Christian school, I wouldn't even allow my students to use the KJV as their class Bible because I didn't think it communicated to them.

Back to the ESV... as I mentioned in my previous post, although I have a copy of the ESV, I don't currently use it much (although I have a number of friends who do). And probably, I--personally--wouldn't give a copy to a non-Christian or even a new Christian. However, my feeling was that an "outreach edition of the ESV" wasn't quite as bad an idea as the original post made it out to be. Yes, the language is traditional (as opposed to contemporary), but it's not completely out of date as is much of the KJV.

I'll just leave it at that because I'm not an ESV user and feel a bit weird finding myself in a position to defend it. I guess I don't really want to defend it, but I don't feel a need to disparage it either.

 
At Fri Feb 17, 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Bob Longman said...

This debate about natural English is so interesting to me. For some of us it's just harder to think of the faith in terms of ordinary English, and I'm a case in point. I have to make a conscious effort to do it. What gets in the way?

(1) I work as a government bureaucrat -- try thinking like a bureaucrat for eight hours a day and then switch it off to write about the faith in good English!

(2) I've studied a lot of theology. That means I've had my head stuffed with long words and shop talk. Some of it has great meaning, some of it is empty words, but nearly all of it leaves almost everyone else scratching their heads.

(3) I have a hobby in the Low Germanic languages. That means I actually read and understand KJV, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Tyndale, and such. But that means I sometimes forget that very few other people do. And I sometimes lose track of the fact that I myself do not live in the KJV world.

The Bible was not written for my word games. The Bible was written to have an impact on us, to reveal to us God and God's truth. If a bible passage is to have an impact on me or anyone else of today, that impact is most likely to come from one of today's well-translated bibles than from one of the old translations. I have to keep that in mind each time I go to the Bible. But it's hard with all that bureaucratic/theological/early-English thinking bouncing around in my head.

 

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