This issue of which Bible translation to use primarily, for study, preaching, teaching, for corporate and personal devotional use, is for me a very significant point of concern. In other words, the changing of a primary translation for preaching and teaching is of no little consequence. I have faithfully used one translation as the primary tool of study, preaching, teaching and devotions for over 25 years. However, in the winter of 2004/2005, I changed translations. The NIV was Out and the ESV was now In! Let me explain how this came to be.
Back in 1979 I was still in our first church plant and I used a variety of translations to preach and teach out of. I was unsettled as to which translation I should use primarily and therefore I was jumping around with various translations. I had not landed upon a primary translation that I was satisfied and at peace with to use, primarily. My congregation was also growing frustrated with all of this jumping around by me of various translations. They brought one translation only to have me use another and another, etc. So I was asked to please find a translation that I could consistently use. This seemed a valid concern and so I went to work to resolve this issue in and through prayer.
So I earnestly began to seek the Lord as to what translation He would have me/us use. I believe this to be a very important step in making any decision, be it the selecting of a primary translation or anything else. Seek the Lord first in all things. It should not simply be a preference issue, but an obedience issue. I believe the Lord knows what Bible He would have us use and why he would have us use it.
Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. (ESV)
The Lord finally did speak to me regarding this issue very clearly. The Lord spoke to me and said, “I have given you the New International Version for it is the language of my people and I want you to speak the language of my people.”
I was at that time a person who clearly spoke over the heads of my people. There were many factors related to the why of this, but it is sufficient to say that I was a very insecure person who compensated for his insecurity with knowledge. I came to see that I used language and knowledge in way that elevated me in the eyes of others; at least this was my hope. It was the Lord’s purpose to use my obedience to him in this word of the Lord, to change my heart and attitudes regarding myself, His Word and His people.
In light of this, as I came to recognize that the Word of the Lord was not just about what translation to use, His Word did settle that question for me and us as a church. We consistently began to study, preach and teach out of the NIV.
These words have been challenged many times over the years. Because I heard His clear word as to what we were to use in regards to translation, I was able to stand against the tide of criticisms that arose against the NIV, especially early on by those whom I respected and looked up to. I was able to stand on the sure knowledge that I had heard the sure Word of the Lord and not bend to man no matter how much the desire to do so was within me. The fear of the Lord being in me what it is, I would stand by His word even though others around me would or did not. Having the sure word of the Lord empowers us to stand against the pressures to change and conform to the unrighteous pressures and expectations of others.
As the years went by and I would study out of the NIV and then preach and teach out of it, I became more and more concerned with it as a translation, about the issue of dynamic equivalence or thought for thought or meaning for meaning translation. I would cry out to the Lord concerning its weaknesses and be grateful for its strengths. The result would be no release to change my primary translation and its prophetic use in the ministry. So again, I prayerfully and faithfully with thanksgiving continued to use the NIV.
Then the whole TNIV and NIVI (already in use in the UK then) issue arose (2000?). The “I” in the NIVI is for the word “Inclusive”. I read and prayed, prayed and read. I was alarmed at the issue of what was trying to be done and undone in regards to the Scriptures, which I sincerely believe to be the Holy Word of God. I had already become very concerned with other translations that seem to take more and more liberties with the scriptures. It seemed to me that the line of holiness and godly integrity was becoming more and more easily blurred. There increasingly seems that the warning of the Word of God itself was being ignored.
Deut. 4:2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.(ESV cf. Rev 22:18-19)
The TNIV was released (Feb 2005) in its entirety (both OT and NT). The New Testament had been released several years before. There has been no change in response to neither the controversy of earlier years nor the very earnest concerns of knowledgeable others within the Body of Christ. As a result of this the Lord surprisingly (I expected the pattern to be as before, no change), released me to change translations. Again, for me this change has been very specific, the ESV. However, it was very early in this process of change, that the Lord led me to stop using the NIV. It was with this understanding that I was now to not continue to use the NIV and if I did, I would be agreeing with and standing in support of what Zondervan and the International Bible Society had done. A fork in the road had been taken that in the Lord I can no longer walk with them down. As a result, I have not used the NIV since very early in this process.
Why have I changed to the ESV? I changed simply because the Lord has once again in my life called me to this change and for me this is to change to the ESV. I wrestled through this change for a period of several years before finally coming to the clear sense before the Lord Jesus Christ, that this is the translation He would have me use. It has been challenged repeatedly in these years of translation and finally I just came to know that this was His choice for me and for us as a church.
Having made the change, I feel like I have come home somehow (corny, I know); I am back where I belong. I also believe the ESV is a translation that stands on a clear path that is rooted in the fear of the Lord and therefore a clear honor and carefulness of handling God’s Word in righteousness and truth. I find it so very important to me that the motivation behind this work wasn’t money, a fear of its losing more of the market than they had or having justified this translation as an issue of language changes, etc. No, this work comes out of a deep-seated love for and reverence of the very Words of God as we find them in His Holy Scripture and a genuine burden concerning modern translations and where they are going and indeed, have gone, which is too far for this preacher.
It is a translation that is trustworthy for preaching, teaching, word studies, memorization and accuracy of meaning. There is clarity for reading, purity of spirit and honesty in the work that has been accomplished in and through the ESV. I have come to truly like and trust this translation. It is so very refreshing to me. I find a very real rest in using it. It is a rest that is rooted in being able to trust it as a very wonderful translation; not perfect, for there isn’t one out there, but in my eyes, great.
In this age, having a translation that you can trust means a lot, yet isn’t it sad that we have to say that you can trust this one and you need to be careful with this one and that one you, well, do not go near it. What in the world have we done? What in the world are we coming to?
We need a language that we can share once again as the Body of Christ Jesus. With all that is happening concerning language within our culture let alone the church, we are loosing more and more of that which helps us to communicate with a united voice before the world concerning the things of God. We’re finding it ever so difficult to communicate with each other, as the Body of Christ. No wonder that the those outside the church find us confusing and contradictory. As with the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, confusion of language drives us apart; it doesn’t bring us together.
It is my prayer that the ESV will help us regain once again that standard of language and therefore the clarity of communication we need as the Body of Christ Jesus and therefore help to bring us together. Is this prayer reaching way out there? Maybe, but it would not be a prayer of faith if it wasn’t.
Blessings in Christ Jesus!