Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, September 01, 2006

ESV: Suitable as an Outreach Edition?

Justin Taylor enthuses about the "Spread the Word" Outreach Edition of ESV, whose main merit seems to be that it is cheap: a complete New Testament for 50 cents. Well, it does also have some introductory material which is hopefully helpful for the audience it is designed for. This audience is explicitly "Everyone" (that is, everyone in the USA - it is not available elsewhere), but implicitly mainly the unchurched with little previous exposure to the Bible. But is the main text of this edition, the ESV, really suitable for this audience?

In a comment on Justin Taylor's post, I wrote:
Is the ESV really the most suitable Bible version to give away to people who are mostly not Christians and with little or no prior understanding of the Bible? Would it not be better to give them a version which is easier to understand and in less stilted and old-fashioned English, for example the New Living Translation?

I hope no one will choose to give away the ESV just because it is cheap. Sometimes you get what you pay for. The people we evangelise deserves the best, which in this case is a Bible version which is designed for them and meets their needs.

For more on these issues, see the Better Bibles Blog.

23 Comments:

At Fri Sep 01, 05:01:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

This reminds me of the well intentioned people who place KJV Bibles in motels and hospital rooms throughout the US. If you really want to do outreach through Scripture, you need to use Bible versions which are written in the language which the outreach audience speaks and writes. That's what Jesus did for his outreach.

 
At Fri Sep 01, 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I can't agree with you wholeheartedly, because I don't think you can put all nonbelievers in the same category. I recommend the NLT for many new believers or nonbelievers. I especially recommend it for people whose English isn't as strong. By that I mean people who learned English as a second language later in life, not people who aren't as well educated in English but do speak it natively. For them I'm not sure if I prefer the NLT or something more like the TNIV.

But most of the non-believers I interact with regularly are either college students or college graduates, often people doing graduate work or already in possession of a Ph.D. To them, the NLT will easily appear dumbed-down. The TNIV might be best, depending on how unfamiliar they are with Christianese or the Tyndale tradition. Some people have a churchish background and might be better off with something in the Tyndale tradition. By far the most accurate in that tradition with the most recent text critical advances and philological understanding is the ESV. The NRSV is the only thing close, and that's so bad in terms of favoring the LXX over the MT whenever they differ that I would never recommend it.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 03:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, I agree that we cannot put all non-believers in the same category. There may indeed be some for whom something more like ESV is appropriate (although I cannot personally recommend ESV for reasons familiar to regular readers of this list). But this outreach version is not being marketed as for giving to a carefully chosen subset of non-believers, such as college students or college graduates, or those who already have a church background. It is put forward as suitable for "everybody", and specifically listed are: "Neighbors ∙ Friends ∙ Family members ∙ Church Outreach Programs ∙ Church Visitors ∙ Trick-or-Treaters ∙ Military Families ∙ Door-to-Door Visits ∙ People in Hospitals ∙ Nursing Home Residents ∙ Youth Groups ∙ Mission Trips ∙ Counseling Centers ∙ Community Events ∙ Christmas Parties ∙ Christmas Programs ∙ Send with Christmas Cards ∙ Camps and Retreats ∙ Co-workers ∙ Bible Study Groups ∙ Clubs ∙ Sports Teams ∙ Evangelistic Events ∙ Classmates ∙ Thank You Gifts ∙ Waiters/Waitresses ∙ Mail Carriers." I guess that most American waiters, waitresses and mail carriers, even those who are not of recent immigrant origin, would not be at home with the language of ESV.

The problem is that the ESV team seems to honestly believe that that "The ESV’s accurate, readable, and beautiful text is ideal for all readers who receive it. But they have never tested whether this claim is in fact true, nor have they properly answered evidence presented suggesting that it is not true, that ESV is not understood by less educated people. Basically they are making a false marketing claim, one which we at BBB could probably demonstrate to be false. In fact I think that such marketing could probably be banned as misleading here in the UK, although I would not actually advocate asking secular authorities to hinder promotion of a Bible. At least, the Advertising Standards Authority would be able to require the ESV team to provide evidence to back up their "ideal for all readers" claim.

I agree that for many TNIV might be more suitable than NLT. TNIV's language is closer to the Tyndale tradition while mostly avoiding the archaisms and obscurities of ESV. But it is still somewhat hard to read for some audiences.

Anon, I partly agree with you about passing out Bibles in evangelism. I would not generally consider this an ideal way of reaching the unchurched. However, the fact is that many non-believers do start their journey towards faith by reading the Bible; also that many who are interested and start to read the Bible are then put off by difficult language and lack of explanatory material. Also many Christians do want to give away Bibles, which may be more acceptable as gifts in some circumstances than tracts etc designed for non-believers. So we need to be sure that the Bibles that are made available to non-believers are as far as possible suitable for them to read. For this reason we should avoid untargeted distribution of versions like ESV which are suitable only for limited audiences.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 07:13:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Interesting, too, that this promotion began right at the time that the new CBA listings for translation sales showed that the ESV had fallen OFF the top ten.

What a better way to climb up the charts than to sell a kabillion of them cheap.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Aslan_kin said...

r.mansfield brought up an interesting factor of the "market" and how it may have affected this publication of the ESV.

I believe the Bible "market" is a factor in the plethora of translations we have today. An issue I have seen touched on in this blog, but not really fully developed (unless I missed it). The NKJV seems to be hitting the top of the CBA list partly, I believe, due to the fact that they have been selling mass-market editions by case lots in the christian bookstores. If you look at Amazon, however, I usually do not even see it in the top 25 of bibles.

There are some other interesting differences between Amazon Bible sales and CBA's. One in particular is the number of Catholic Bibles. Another, is much higher sales of both readable (such as NLT or Message) and scholarly (such as NRSVs w/ notes)Bibles.

Just a few thoughts on the subject. I hope I am not too off topic.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 10:01:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I suppose that wasn't a nice comment for me to make, and I apologize. It was definitely a violation of the posting guidelines because I was speculating on motives.

And for what it's worth, since the Gideons were mentioned earlier, I'd much rather see an ESV Bible go into someone's hands than a KJV or a NKJV. Gideons do hand out their Bibles for evangelistic purposes, too. I remember them passing out the green KJV New Testaments when I was in college in the late eighties. Even then, I felt that that the KJV was not a good choice for evangelistic purposes with today's college students (or anyone else for that matter, but that's my admitted bias).

 
At Sat Sep 02, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree with Anon that it is disrespectful to Bibles to put them in a recycling bin. But that is what I had to do with the packs of KJV tracts which were given to me last year at the (generally excellent) UK Christian Resources Exhibition. I didn't need them for myself, and I couldn't think of any audience for whom they would be suitable. At least I didn't burn them to produce more carbon dioxide or fill up scarce holes in the ground with them.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Peter, I was once faced with a similar dilemma. I was on staff at a church and one of our member gave me thousands of tracts that used one KJV verse after another. A few of the tracts even revolved around the benefits of the KJV.

I kept them in my office the entire time I was on staff (and never used them), but on my last day, dropped them in the trash as I cleaned out my office.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I posted:

If you really want to do outreach through Scripture, you need to use Bible versions which are written in the language which the outreach audience speaks and writes. That's what Jesus did for his outreach.

Ishmael responded:

It is true that evidence exists that Jesus knew the targums (see for example, Bruce Chilton's Galilean Rabbi and his Bible.) But I don't recall the passage in the gospels about Jesus passing out tracts of Onquelos.

True, true, sir. Sorry I wasn't clearer. What I was trying to say was that the record we have of what Jesus said (of course it is edited and it is in Greek, not the language he actually spoke in) indicates that Jesus used the vernacular of his day. We do not have evidence that he used unnatural syntax imported from another language. He was sometimes misunderstood, but this was usually because he spoke cryptically not because he used odd linguistic forms in his own language.

For me, the evidence points in the direction that Jesus spoke using natural, commonly used linguistic forms of his language and that of his hearers. I am not at all suggesting that he used dumbed down or simplified language. In fact, people were rather amazed at how well he spoke, weren't they? As if he had rabbinical training, eh?

 
At Sat Sep 02, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

...also that many who are interested and start to read the Bible are then put off by difficult language and lack of explanatory material.

No real motivation, eh? Your statement requires fine print, namely, "Many are put off, but, on the other hand, many are not put off!" Just wait until they get to apologetics, theology, etc. If difficult language puts them off then I hardly see how they will be good at anything. Dumb books down or smarten people up huh?

And, by the way, there is no lack of explanator material nowadays. There are loads of study bibles, commentaries, handbooks, introductions. They are written in technical language, formal, informal, colloqial and anything else on the spectrum you can think of.

I kept them in my office the entire time I was on staff (and never used them), but on my last day, dropped them in the trash as I cleaned out my office.

Way to stick it to 'em.

...and I couldn't think of any audience for whom they would be suitable.

Conservatives? Fundamentalists? Down here in the South, the KJV still goes a long way as anyone who has stepped inside a church will probably find something KJV'ish around. But you are in Europe aren't you Peter? Perhaps the AV has not permeated your society the same way it has our "Bible Belt"?

I remember them passing out the green KJV New Testaments when I was in college in the late eighties. Even then, I felt that that the KJV was not a good choice for evangelistic purposes with today's college students (or anyone else for that matter, but that's my admitted bias).

Really Rick? The Gideons handed out Orange KJV NT's to us in Middle school during lunch hour. I kept that KJV NT and read it until the covers fell off. Until then I had only had a Living Bible, and the KJV felt like a whole different, and much more interesting, world. I believe that those early years in my life and using the KJV are what bred my love for the English language that I now enjoy (even though I no longer use the KJV...). When I started getting an allowance the KJV is what I saved up for. This just goes to show that the KJV is still useful for sparking the interest and imagination of young people. The BIBLE (any translation) is useful for sparking the interest and imagination of young people (and "old" people)!!!

And NO, I did not grow up in a conservative or fundamentalist household. My family is intensely ecumenical (we have Roman Catholic, Protestant (Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist), and even Atheist in our close immediate family, and yes, we all get along) so I was not under some strange hypnotic spell cast by the KJV onlies. The KJV was just a really interesting book, and it got me started.

Now I'm on to other things, but middle school was not that long ago (think 9-10 years), so I hesitate to regard the KJV as worthless if that is what it could do for me at least in the imagination and interest department. In fact, it was the sheer unfamiliarity of the KJV that sparked my interest. So it still has a place in my book.

One thing we have to remember is that not everyone is the same! Some young people and adults need an introduction to the bible in the form of the Living Bible, God's Word, Good News, etc. But others, with an imagination similar to mine, will be enthralled by something in the Tyndale tradition. We have to remember in our desires to create Bibles people understand, that there are still those who enjoy the difficult as part of their nature.

This is all my subjective opinion. I find that different people need different things. This is a luxury that has not always been available. And, seeing as how our modern society has this luxury of tailoring even Holy Scripture to everyones needs, we should be discipling and "harvesting" more now than ever! Too bad the opposite is true.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon wrote "How fortunate for scholarship that residents of Cairo didn't follow this ecological advice but instead used the genizah."

Of course, I would never dream of throwing away what might be a unique manuscript. In fact I am somewhat a hoarder of things like old letters, and on my computer of old e-mails, blog postings etc, because who knows what future scholarship might find them interesting. But I doubt if future scholarship of the KJV text or even of 21st century tract production will need my preserved copies of what must have been printed in the many thousands.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 01:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Matthew, my whole point is that many people in today's world are NOT motivated to read the Bible. But if we believe that these people are losing out, even going to hell, because of their failure to accept the Bible message, and if we care about that and want to change it, we need to use every possible method to get them to read that message. Scaring them with hellfire doesn't work. Producing attractive and easy to read Bible editions is certainly helpful for evangelism. Of course it is only one small part of the entire evangelistic enterprise, and should not be taken out of proportion. But, in the light of Jesus' stern warnings about millstones etc, I don't want to put up any kind of barrier which might make it more difficult for people with even minimal motivation to read the Bible and understand its basic message of salvation. Expecting people to smarten up or learn old English before they can read the Bible is just such a barrier. Indeed I would suggest that because of this kind of attitude millions of lesser educated people who might have read the Gospel have instead gone to hell. But then, if you "hardly see how they will be good at anything", perhaps you don't want them in the same place as you for eternity? If that is your attitude, beware of the kind of reversal of expected eternal destinies in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Here in England the KJV certainly permeated our society in Victorian times, but much less so in the last 100 years and hardly at all in the last 50. Some very old people still prefer KJV, along with a small minority of churches which have a KJV-only attitude. But, yes, the situation on this side of the pond is very different from on yours.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I find this all very strange. I went from reading entirely the KJV from the earliest years, to reading Greek in my teens, to reading the Good News Bible. And the GNB still sounds closer to the Greek. The KJV is nostalgic only.

How many people here have some attachment to the language of the KJV that is totally unrelated to scholarship in Greek . Quite a few, I believe.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 04:40:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The first verse is nearly perfect. There are rhythmic difficulties in the second verse; the repeated "after its kind" sequences a trochee and an iamb and its two stresses -- certainly not as elegant as the Hebrew lemiNAH; "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" is particularly awkward; and "every bird of every sort" misses the final cadence (and is an inaccurate translation.)

Wonderful! I've been doing a bit of poetic scansion of translation of the Hebrew Bible myself and found some interesting results.

You're right: there is much more that needs to be done in translation, if possible, to reflect the verbal beauty of the Hebrew. I still think we can do that with vernacular language. In fact, I suggest that more more we allow our translations into English to reflect the Germanic origins of our language, the better we may be able to get an equivalent sense of rhythm to that of the Hebrew. We sure don't get it with Latinate theological terms for which we can use the shorter, clearer Germanic equivalents.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Anon,

You are sidestepping the fact that I was talking about Greek, hence the NT. You indirectly reinforce my original statement totally unrelated to scholarship in Greek.

You have admitted that the son of X phrase is not terribly useful. I think we need to agree that there is no need to retain phrases because they were used in the KJV. If we are talking about literary quality, which it seems you are, yes, much more could be done.

My sense is that the translators of the KJV were people who wrote themselves literary quality prose. How many people nowadays are chosen to be on a translation committee because of their ability and experience in translating and writing both prose and poetry. Not enough for sure.

You rightly point out the issues of syntax and rhythm. Both dimensions are so badly needed, a sense of the accurate meaning of the original and an aesthetic appreciation for the original and how to transfer that over into another language.

Maybe it is time for a change of topic and a little OT for a while.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 05:19:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I said, "I remember them passing out the green KJV New Testaments when I was in college in the late eighties. Even then, I felt that that the KJV was not a good choice for evangelistic purposes with today's college students (or anyone else for that matter, but that's my admitted bias).

Matthew said, "Really Rick? The Gideons handed out Orange KJV NT's to us in Middle school during lunch hour. I kept that KJV NT and read it until the covers fell off. Until then I had only had a Living Bible, and the KJV felt like a whole different, and much more interesting, world. I believe that those early years in my life and using the KJV are what bred my love for the English language that I now enjoy (even though I no longer use the KJV...). When I started getting an allowance the KJV is what I saved up for. This just goes to show that the KJV is still useful for sparking the interest and imagination of young people. The BIBLE (any translation) is useful for sparking the interest and imagination of young people (and "old" people)!!!

Well, see Matthew, that's why I admitted up front that I'm biased :-)

Look, I have no doubt that the KJV can still click with some folks out there. Your story is a perfect example of that. When I was 13, it was the NASB that clicked with me because I couldn't understand the KJV. I also believe that there's a there's a supernatural element involved because of what I believe about God's word:

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Is 55:11, KJV)

But if I were to pass out Bibles on a college campus, whether it was 1986 or 2006, I would not use the KJV--I would use something more contemporary. And for what it's worth, I wish the Gideons would do the same--whether in hotel rooms or on college campuses.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 08:54:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

But if I were to pass out Bibles on a college campus, whether it was 1986 or 2006, I would not use the KJV--I would use something more contemporary. And for what it's worth, I wish the Gideons would do the same--whether in hotel rooms or on college campuses.

Yah but Rick... how do you choose which contemporary translation would be appropriate. Many would offend with their "appallingly" low reading levels, others are far too interpretive, others are almost better greek than English, others are male oriented, others are sexless, others are conservative theologically, others are liberal theologically, tyndale tradition, freedom from tradition, some use theological words, some don't, some are colloquial, some aren't, some are formal, some aren't, and the list goes on forever and ever.

I think that discipleship is what needs to be concentrated on more than the handing out of Bibles. Invitations to meetings where a listener can be taught the Bible will be more beneficial than a Bible despite how contemporary it is. Best case scenario, Bibles are provided as part of the discipleship or outreach operations as the "text" book.

Suzanne said, "The KJV is nostalgic only."

What? With the current sales and editions of the Good New's Bible I thought that one was only capable of being nostalgic now...

Peter said, "If that is your attitude, beware of the kind of reversal of expected eternal destinies in the story of the rich man and Lazarus."

My attitude is not an elitist or exclusivest/gnostic position. I was more so trying to emphasize the fact that it is "hard to hope for someone who themselves are not willing to hope." My way of reapplying that was to say that people who are not willing to stretch a little may have a hard time becoming proficient at "anything" in life. I understand how you got what you did out of what I said though. I will watch that more closely in the future. In fact, the people who are not willing to "stretch" a little, are probably the ones that require our prayers even more frequently. We have the ear of the father, hopefully we will use our time in that position well. "We ought not to trifle with God...", Matthew Henry.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 09:52:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

All I can say, Matthew is that it wouldn't be King Jimmy.

But I agree with you about the desparate need for emphasis upon discipleship.

 
At Sat Sep 02, 11:13:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I noticed that IBS had TNIV New Testaments for as little as 80¢ when bought in bulk. There may be something cheaper, but their site is a bit difficult to navigate. A sort by price option would have been helpful.

 
At Mon Sep 04, 02:40:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

And, as just mentioned on another comment thread, the money which IBS gets from sales of NIV and TNIV is not profit paid to shareholders, but is put towards the continuing worldwide work of Bible translation and publication. So I really don't think we should be grudging about that.

Matthew, thanks for the clarification about your attitude. Sorry that I misunderstood you. But the point which I want to repeat, in the light of continuing comments like "Many [Bible versions] would offend with their "appallingly" low reading levels", is that such versions are produced because they are necessary, because of the "appallingly" low reading levels of large parts of the population, the target audience for outreach editions. Now I agree that these reading levels are a problem which needs to be addressed in one way or another. But the way to address a literacy problem is not to simply give the audience literature which they can't understand.

 
At Mon Sep 04, 05:51:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

So which do we go for, a second class Bible from non-profit concern (which still has a motivation, even if not a strictly financial one, to maximise its sales), or a Better Bible from a profit-making company? Given the way that America runs on the profit motive, I'm surprised there is even any discussion.

 
At Mon Sep 04, 12:52:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Zondervan's focus is clearly on Rick Warren, not the TNIV.

I don't think Zondervan will be able to turn sales for the TNIV around very much as long as conservative Christian bookstore chains continue to believe that it is a bad translation. The rhetoric and calls for a boycott against it have been very effective. Conservative Christians listen well to conservative Christian public figures.

It's interesting that sales for the ESV have dipped enough recently that ESV has dropped out of the top 10 on the CBA list. It will remain to be seen if Crossway's innovative ideas for selling different editions of the ESV will be able to make the ESV as much of a big seller as is the NIV, NKJV, and NLT. I've been wondering if the conservative niche for the ESV is largely saturated by now.

BTW, I have added a link to amazon.com Bible sales rankings in the margin of this blog, next to the link for the CBA rankings.

 
At Mon Sep 04, 03:01:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I've said this a number of times over on my own blog, but I really believe that Zondervan should make the hard move and kill off the NIV--all except one lone hardback, just to fulfill it's promise to keep it alive. All NIV-based study Bibles should be transitioned over to TNIV.

I'm not holding my breath that IBS/Zondervan/Harper Collins will do this because of the sheer initial monetary loss. But here's what will happen if they don't:

(1) 100 years from now, the NIV will be what the KJV was a mere 30 years ago.
(2) The TNIV will become an also-ran.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home