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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Naylor responds to claims about the ESV

Bible translator Mark Naylor has responsed to recent claims made about the ESV by its general editor, Dr. J. I. Packer. Naylor begins:
A Call for a Complementary view of Bible Versions

As a missionary involved in Bible translation for the past 18 years, I was disappointed with the tone of the article “‘Packer’s Bible’ now bestseller” appearing in the BC Christian News, August 2007 Vol 27 #8. During the course of celebrating the growth in sales of the English Standard Verson (ESV) – a welcome addition to a number of excellent formal translations such as the NRSV and the NASB – disparaging and unhelpful remarks were made against other translations and translation philosophies (such as the “meaning based” philosophy that lies behind those invaluable translations that provide the spiritually hungry reader with “what was meant”).
Later in his article Naylor adds:
A few misleading statements warrant comment. Dr Packer is quoted as asserting that “other modern translations … deviate from what was said in several thousand places.” This implies that the other translations have erred or deliberately misled the Bible reader to the extent that their translation is a distortion of God’s word. Not only is such a claim disrespectful to equally dedicated and educated scholars, but it is harmful to those who depend on those translations in their daily walk with God. Rather than assuming a “deviation,” Dr Packer should recognize that a variety of expressions of the original text do not distort, but rather provide a greater expression of the richness and depth of the message.

Dr Packer is also quoted as saying that other translations present “what was meant but not what was said.” This statement is misleading for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that the ESV provides “what was said.” However, this is not possible since what was originally “said” was given in another language. In order to provide “what was said,” one must refuse to translate and read the original text as it was written in Greek or Hebrew. Second, if a translation does not communicate the meaning of the original within the forms and concepts of the receptor language, then the translation has failed in its task. All English translations, including the ESV, must take “what was said” in the original language and rephrase it with English forms and words that provide an equivalent meaning. It is precisely this interpretive task that describes the work of translation. One difference between formal (such as the ESV) and meaning based (such as the CEV and TEV) translations is that the former takes great pains to mimic the idiom, concepts and structure of the original language with less concern for clarity, while the latter sacrifices the form of the original language in order to provide the meaning of the text in ways that communicate clearly to the modern reader. Both translation philosophies are to be valued and are complementary, rather than in opposition to each other.

According to the article the ESV website claims that “thought-for-thought translations” are “of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” This apparent attempt to disparage meaning based translations is a sword that cuts both ways. Translation is impossible without interpretation. Why use “60 scholars who were expert in individual books,” if their interpretive expertise was not required in a “word for word” translation?
Oh, that there might be care and humility exercised in all claims made about English Bible versions! There is value in different kinds of Bible translations. Some are better for one purpose; some for another.

3 Comments:

At Wed Aug 22, 12:42:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

I did a double-take upon reading the following Packer quote on the ESV website:

"Packer said the intent [behind the ESV] was to produce a “general purpose” Bible, suitable for preaching and exposition, reading in churches, memorization, lay Bible study, and personal Bible reading by people of all ages. A deliberate attempt was made to use simple words when possible, and to make the text “dance along,” or read easily.

"Packer said the producers were very careful to not make extravagant claims or get into a competition with other translations. The ESV was not launched with the “trumpets and drums” of some other translations launched about the same time, he said.

"Rather, the ESV was released quietly and soberly and allowed to “find its own level.” ESV’s natural audience is “serious evangelicals who want a translation they can trust to be transparent to the original.”

"Packer said this appears to be what is behind the growing sales. Pastors are examining the translation, finding they can trust it and then recommending it to their congregations—and in some cases “retooling” their churches by using ESV as a pew Bible."


I wonder if some TNIV and/or NRSV supporters might take exception with Packer's claims above and in Wayne's quoted article that the ESV did not get into "competition" with other translations, or perhaps more accurately, with other publishing houses.

 
At Fri Aug 24, 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Brian F. said...

thanks for this post Wayne. I am continually astounded that even respectable folks such as Dr. Packer continue to laud the ESV as the "most accurate" or claim it is "closest to the Greek and Hebrew," etc, etc. They really should know better, especially if they are even remotely knowledgeable about how biblical languages work. At first I was happy to own an ESV Bible but the political things get and the more I learn of the languages, the more I want to "accidently" leave my ESV somewhere and go get the NRSV or use my wife's TNIV.

I mean really, why is there so much loyalty to specific translations instead of loyalty to the Word of God who is Christ? These kinds of things only breed disunity in the body instead of unity - the promoters of the ESV seem to want to take the helm of the KJVO folks and work for uniformity over unity in the body. Is there even diversity in unity in the Trinity? Should not the Church reflect this?

All in all, I think would rather trust Bruce Metzger's intentions for the NRSV (or even the TNIV or ISV) over Packer and Grudem, et al's intentions for the ESV.

 
At Tue Aug 28, 02:39:00 PM, Blogger sombragris said...

Wayne, you know that I am partial to the ESV, but you're right. We shouldn't disparage other people's work as a means of furthering our own.

 

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