Reading our bibles (Part One)

When I was young, I learnt a children’s song that taught, ‘Read your bible, pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow’. It has stuck with me since and what a simple secret of spiritual growth that song teaches. So simple, yet, the spiritual discipline of daily bible reading is something we struggle to sustain. I suppose it’s no different from the encouragement that 10,000 steps a day is good for our physical health. Simple, consistent effort will lead to better health both spiritually and physically.

And since daily bible reading is essential to good spiritual health, we want to also have confidence in the quality of the translation we are reading. Hermon began using the NIV85 translation when we first registered as a society in 1988 and on our 25th anniversary in 2013, due to issues we had with the NIV2011 translation, we made the decision to use the ESV officially.

May the “10 things we should know about the ESV translation”[1] give us confidence in the ESV translation and thereby encouragement to persevere in reading God’s word daily. Five facts will be shared this week, and the last five next week. 

  1. The translation was motivated by a belief that Scripture is sacred and that the words of the Bible are the very words of God.

“[The Bible] is the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.” With these words the Moderator of the Church of Scotland hands a Bible to the new monarch in Britain’s coronation service. These words echo the King James Bible translators, who wrote in 1611, Gods sacred Word . . . is that inestimable treasure that excelleth all the riches of the earth.” This assessment of the Bible was the motivating force behind the publication of the English Standard Version in 2001.

  1. It was created by a team of more than 100 leading evangelical scholars.

The fourteen-member Translation Oversight Committee benefited from the work of more than 50 biblical experts serving as Translation Review Scholars and from the comments of the more than 50 members of the Advisory Council, all of which was carried out under the auspices of the Crossway Board of Directors. This 100-plus-member team shared a common commitment to the truth of Gods Word and to historic Christian orthodoxy, and was international in scope, including leaders in many denominations.

  1. It stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium.

The fountainhead of that stream was William Tyndales New Testament of 1526; marking its course were the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV). In that stream, faithfulness to the text and vigorous pursuit of precision were combined with simplicity, beauty and dignity of expression. The translation committees goal was to carry forward this legacy for this generation and generations to come.

To this end, each word and phrase in the ESV was carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text. The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale–King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for the translation work. Archaic language was brought into line with current usage and significant corrections were made in the translation of key texts. But throughout, the goal was to retain the depth of meaning and enduring quality of language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of its church over the last five centuries.

  1. It embraces a word-for-word, or essentially literal,” translation philosophy.

The ESV is an essentially literal” translation that seeks, as far as possible, to reproduce the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking full account of differences in grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and exact force of the original.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between formal equivalence” in expression and functional equivalence” in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework the translation committee sought to be as literal as possible” while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

  1. It carries forward classic translation principles in its literary style.

The ESV retains theological terminology — words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, propitiation — because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms among Christians in New Testament times.

The ESV lets the stylistic variety of the biblical writers fully express itself — from the exalted prose that opens Genesis, to the flowing narratives of the historical books, to the rich metaphors and dramatic imagery of the poetic books, to the ringing rhetoric in the prophetic books, to the smooth elegance of Luke, to the profound simplicities of John, and the closely reasoned logic of Paul.

Since every habit begins with a small step, if you do not have a bible reading plan, may I suggest you read a chapter a day from 2 Samuel through 1 and 2 Kings, starting today.

– Ps Daniel Tan