I have added a comment to the Mars Hill church blog post which contains Mark Driscoll's explanation for why their church will now use the ESV. I thought it would be helpful to share my comment here, as well:
Please note that I am *not* suggesting that every word in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament was common or easy to understand. BBB commenter Anonymous is right to point out that we don't always know exactly what those words were. There is uncertainty over what the actual words were in some text passages.
Pastor Driscoll noted:
“Furthermore, even the greatest of communicators were known to be hard to understand when they spoke God’s truth. For example, some of Jesus’ teaching was declared to be a “hard saying” by His hearers (John 6:60). Jesus also taught in parables, knowing that His teaching would not be readily understood by all his hearers, but only those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:10–23).”
Very true, but Pastor Driscoll has confused two different matters. Jesus did not speak in technical religious jargon which we find in the ESV and similar English Bibles. Instead, Jesus used plain-speak, everyday language, the language of the field and fishing. It was not Jesus’ words that were hard to understand. It was the thoughts he was conveying with those words that threw his listeners. Jesus didn’t use complicated, rare words when he told the parable of the sower and the seeds. But even Jesus’ disciples often didn’t catch Jesus’ meaning. It wasn’t a problem of vocabulary, as Pastor Driscoll seems to be saying in his article, but, rather, lack of ability to understand the application to people’s lives.
Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words when Jesus told him he needed a second birth. Nicodemus’ response lets us know he understood those words. But Nicodemus wasn’t on the same spiritual wavelength with Jesus. He didn’t understand the *concepts* (thoughts) behind the words. He didn’t know how to be born again.
Let’s not encourage people to use Bible versions which use words less familiar to English speakers than were the words used in the original Biblical language texts for their audiences. It is accurate to translate the Bible to ordinary English words which are the equivalent of the ordinary words Jesus used when he taught.
We erect artifical barriers to the work of God when we encourage people to use Bibles which are not of the same kind of language as that used by the Biblical authors. The Biblical authors did not use the word “propitiation.” Instead, they used a common word hilasmos. Biblical authors did not use a rare word like “justification”. Instead they used a very common, ordinary word dikaiosis to communicate what English Bible translators are hoping to communicate with the theological term “justification.” John the Baptist did not tell his audience to “repent” (Matt. 3:2). Instead, we have the Greek translation of what he said in his Semitic language as being metanoiete which was a very common word which meant “change your mind.” That’s what God wants from us sinners, he wants us to change our thinking and our ways. He wants us to stop sinning. God inspired his Holy Word which was written in words which were, on the whole, ordinary, everyday, good quality language. But English translators have made things more complicated by using uncommon, rare, often obsolete words. I think this must make God sad.
Jesus did not consider it his mission to teach people the meanings of words. He simply taught people. And he used words they already understood. It’s not necessary to use “Christianese” when we evangelize or even in our Bible studies with fellow Christians.
People need to be able to understand the words of the Bible, just as they understood the words that were spoken by Jesus, Paul, and others in Bible times. Then we need dedicated Bible teachers like Pastor Driscoll to help people understand the concepts behind those words, again, just as Jesus had to explain the meaning of his everyday language parables to his disciples.
Not all of the biblical language texts are of the same literary genre or complexity. Some texts are written in straightforward everyday language. Others have greater literary sophistication. Paul's epistles are written in more complicated language than are the Greek translations we have of the teachings of Jesus.
But I want to focus on the matter of overall vocabulary used in Bible translation. I still find very few technical religious terms in the original biblical texts. And I think we have not been fair (or even accurate) if we translate ordinary source text (biblical) words with uncommon, obsolete, or jargon terms in English. It is here where I disagree with Mark Driscoll.