Beginning in June 2014, the Church at Charlotte teaching team will be changing the Bible translation from which we preach from the New International Version (NIV 1984) to the English Standard Version (ESV).
This decision may seem a bit strange. We’ve used the NIV 1984 for more than 2 decades. It’s a solid translation, both accurate and readable, and it has served us well. Truth be told, we would keep using it going forward if we could.
Unfortunately, we can’t. In 2011, the NIV translation committee released an updated version of the NIV. Perhaps “update” isn’t the right word – the truth is, the changes are substantial enough that it’s essentially a brand new translation. And ever since that time, the 1984 edition has been systematically phased out of circulation in favor of this newer edition. Zondervan, who owns exclusive rights to the NIV, has simply stopped printing 1984s. Even the most prominent Bible Apps (like YouVersion) have dropped the NIV 1984 from their options. As such, the NIV 1984 is simply no longer available. A change was needed.
But change to what? The options are seemingly endless. English speakers have an abundance of good translations from which to choose. So why did we land on the ESV?
We chose the ESV for reasons both practical and pastoral. First, the practical. The ESV has quickly emerged as one of the most popular translations in the evangelical world. It has been widely endorsed by some of the most prominent evangelical voices both individually and collectively. As time goes by, it is more and more likely that those walking into an evangelical church will be carrying an ESV.
But beyond the practical, there are also pastoral reasons for choosing the ESV. There are numerous, but allow me to boil it down to two: accuracy and teachability.
1) Accuracy. There are two basic approaches to Bible translation: formal equivalency, which seeks to interpret each word as literally as possible (sometimes at the expense of readability), and dynamic equivalence, which seeks to translate each phrase in order to clearly convey the thoughts of the text in the common language of the day (sometimes at the expense of accuracy). Both kinds of translations have a valuable role to play. The ESV is a formal equivalence translation. The translators worked hard to respect the order and words of the text, as well as the writing style of each individual author. As such, it is a highly accurate translation.
2) Teachability. All translation work depends on a large number of interpretive decisions. Translations committees, commentators, pastors, and lay readers alike all make these interpretive decisions when they read the text. And this is appropriate – even necessary! But the goal of a good Bible translation is not to make all of the interpretive decisions for the reader. Rather, a good translation makes only the necessary interpretive decisions and lets the teacher or reader participate in the interpretive process.
We chose the ESV for reasons both practical and pastoral.
The ESV seems to strike the right balance. While other translations might be easier to understand because they make more interpretive decisions, there are times when these decisions can actually mislead from the original meaning of the text. Every time a teacher has to “correct” a translation, it threatens to weaken the reliability of that translation. For that reason, we want to teach from a translation that leaves these interpretive decisions to the teacher and the reader.
For these reasons, we’ve decided to make a switch from the NIV (1984) to the ESV.
Two more things must be said in general before we close. First, while we will be preaching from the ESV, you do not need to rush out and buy a new Bible. There are countless good English translations and we want you to pick one that suits you. But if you were to pick up a new Bible, the ESV would be a great way to go. In fact, I think it’s a great idea for everyone to have access to two Bibles: a formal equivalence translation (ESV, NASB) and a dynamic equivalence translation (NIV, NLT). Better yet, download a good Bible App (like YouVersion) onto your smartphone or tablet and you’ll have multiple translations right at your fingertips.
Second, we must remember that our confidence rests not in the quality of human translations, but in a God who speaks truthfully and infallibly. He has revealed himself through the original languages and manuscripts, and we believe those to be inerrant. Our English translations are accurate only to the degree that they reflect these original manuscripts. That being said, we have more ancient manuscript evidence for the Bible than any other ancient writing (by far). You can be confident the Bible that you hold in your hands is a reliable translation.
-Jim Kallam and Dave Huber