Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every Word Matters: Why Faith Church is Changing to the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible

By Pastor Matthew Everhard

You have probably noticed that in January of 2012, I began preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible (the ESV) instead of the New International Version (NIV 1984) which had been in use here for decades. This was not an incidental or arbitrary change on my part, but is integral to our theology of the Word of God.

In this brief article, I will attempt to explain why we have made this significant change. I will do this by answering several important questions.

The Bible is the Word of God in written form. There is no other source of authority for faith, doctrine, practice, or worship that supersedes it.[i] The Bible is actually a compilation of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New) that comprise the Holy Christian Scriptures.

These ancient but authoritative books are written primarily from the Hebrew and the Greek languages of antiquity. Therefore, as English readers, a translation is necessary in order to understand the Bible.

We hold to what is called “verbal plenary inspiration.”[ii] This is the idea that not just the thoughts and ideas in Scripture are inspired but the very words as well. For this reason, we need to have the very best translation(s) made available to us.

My contention is that the ESV is currently the best translation available.[iii]

I will be the first to admit that I am not among the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Greek and Hebrew. Not even close! However, like most Presbyterian pastors, I too have been trained in the original languages. For instance, I spent years attempting to gain mastery of New Testament Greek at both Ashland Theological Seminary and Malone University before that.

Last year, I spent several months translating the entire Gospel of Mark from Greek to English. This took months of my devotional time. To do this I compared several of the modern English translations to the original Greek, and found that the ESV excelled them all in precision and clarity. While this project took me hour after hour to do in my hand-written journals, the fruit of such an endeavor was greatly beneficial to me.

However, it is not my contention alone that the ESV is now the best English translation; a consensus is quickly being reached in the academic community particularly among Reformed pastors[iv] and seminaries. Conservative scholars are reaching agreement that the ESV has now surpassed most of the other translations in two categories: (1) linguistic precision and faithfulness and (2) elegance in English. Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, for instance, now uses the ESV almost exclusively.

Of course, any translation committee (such as the scholars who put together the ESV) will have to make some major decisions early on to determine the course of its work. One such question is this: what method of translation will be applied?

Generally, there are three such styles. The first is called a paraphrase. The paraphrase (i.e. the Living Bible, the Message) attempts to take a particular paragraph of text and loosely and freely render it into the receiving language. Obviously, the paraphrase greatly favors the receiving language and may stray too far from the wording of the original. Technically, paraphrases are not really “translations” at all.

The second style of translation is called a “dynamic equivalent.” This style takes a particular sentence or phrase, and renders the thought or idea as closely to the original as possible, but with no intention of a one-to-one correspondence between original and receptor language words. The key here is to carry across the thinking of the writer. Dynamic equivalent translations include the NIV and NLT among others.

However, when we are dealing with the Word of God, we are dealing with words that possess uncompromising authority. Thoughts, of course, are comprised of smaller units of words. Even the pronouns and prepositions matter! They are all inspired by God. For this reason, like many conservative evangelicals, I favor the “literal” or “word-for-word” approach in translation. Here, all of the emphasis is on the primacy of the original language. The old KJV, NKJV, and NASB for instance are in this grouping.

Where the ESV steps ahead of its peers is this: it attempts to precisely and exactly render the original Greek and Hebrew originals in a word-for-word style while striving for beauty and clarity in English.

The translators of the ESV have morphological data that far exceeds that of the translators of the KJV in 1611 for instance. The “science” of ancient linguistics and morphology has advanced rapidly, taking us closer to the ancient world than ever before. At the same time, the English language itself has changed dramatically, as all languages inevitably do.

And yet, the Word of God, inspired and inerrant in the originals, can never change.

There is nothing “wrong” with the NIV (1984 version) found in the pews and in most of our homes today. Its freer dynamic equivalence style left expository preachers perplexed from time to time, but it was nonetheless the translation preferred by many evangelicals for decades.

The problem is in this: it is no longer for sale.

And now for a bit of a scandal: Several years ago, the publishers of the NIV wanted to make a major change in translation policy. They came to believe that the NIV (and the Greek and Hebrew originals for that matter) were too masculine in tone. They asked, How can a modern society read and admire an ancient text that seems so masculine? This prompted another question: As our understanding of society, sexuality, and gender evolve, shouldn’t our Bible translation evolve as well?

Thus, the publishers of the NIV came out with a new translation called the TNIV (Today’s New International Version, 2005). In thousands of places, it softened the male and masculine terms of the Bible to make Scripture more palatable to a modern audience.[v] This came to be known as a “gender neutral” translation.[vi]

Let me be clear: In our theology of Scripture, this is a great and dangerous error. We have no right to monkey with the sacred Scriptures to make them more “palatable.” As providence would have it, the TNIV was a public relations nightmare and the translation was a marketing bomb. The TNIV was first lambasted by conservative critics, and then abandoned by its liberal supporters. It has since been discontinued.

However, there is one more twist to the story:  The publishers of the NIV canceled the “gender neutral” TNIV 2005, but, still convinced of their position, re-issued another gender neutral Bible, now called once again simply the NIV (2011). And herein lies the problem. Anyone who purchases the NIV from 2011 forward will be purchasing a gender neutral translation whether they know it or not.[vii] The more conservative NIV (1984) has disappeared forever.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word.”
More than two-thousand five hundred years ago, the Lord God exhorted his prophet Jeremiah to preach His Word no matter what the cost. Jeremiah’s prophetic work is unusual in that he appears to have won over only two converts after decades of faithful preaching!

Nevertheless, God’s mandate to Jeremiah is very clear. In Jeremiah 26:2, God forbade His prophet to alter the revealed divine revelation at all saying “do not hold back a word!”

At Faith Church, we will continue to preach the timeless Word of God no matter whether it is “in season or out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). To do so, it is my conviction that we need the most excellent tools available. My conviction is that the ESV is the best translation at the given hour.

The new pew Bibles to be placed in the pews of Faith Church will not cost the church even one cent. This is a non-budgeted item and will not come from tithes or offerings.

The entire cost of furnishing Faith Church with 400 new ESV Bibles is around $2,200. Graciously, this cost was donated by one anonymous giver who believes in the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of the Scriptures. Faith Church can simply enjoy the free gift.

This change in Bible translation will once again serve as a witness to the world that Faith Church stands upon the truth that every word matters.

[i] See the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter One.

[ii] See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume I, 165.

[iii] I am not, however, arguing that the ESV translation is perfect. Our doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture pertains to the original autographs and not to translations.

[iv] For instance, see John Piper’s article on the ESV at

[v] For instance, changing words like ‘father’ to ‘parent,’ ‘son’ to ‘child,’ ‘forefathers’ to ancestors etc. While this is perhaps admissible in some contexts, this trend carried over thousands of times dramatically shifts the Biblical view of the family.

[vi] The NRSV, a revision of the RSV is also another of such “gender neutral” Bible translations. It now appears that the general trend will be for publishers to produce more GN translations in the future.

[vii] Admittedly, the NIV 2011 is not as bad as the TNIV of 2005. While the TNIV made some 3,699 modifications to gender language, the NIV 2011 retained 75% of these changes. A small step in the right direction, but still unacceptable to inerrantists. See a full analysis of the changes here:


  1. Today I bought the ESV study Bible for my husband for Fathers Day. Now I will place this blog in the front of hte Bible. Thank you.

  2. I too wished the 2011 NIV would have followed a more literal translation style. However, when it comes to Christian doctrine I feel the 2011 NIV does a great job of covering all of the bases and at times I think the CBMV article, you provided a link to, might be a little overly critical. I also find it interesting that the main complaint with the 2011 NIV is its rendering of 1 Tim 2:12 and the use of the word assume. The NIV renders this verse almost identical to the KJV, which would never be accused of using gender inclusive language. The KJV has the word usurp, and if you look up the word usurp in the dictionary you'll find the word assume is given as one of the definitions? I won't go into detail of all of the other points the author makes, I could, but it would be rather lengthy. Also, I could not determine the author of the article, other than an associate professor of a particular university, however the article gives the impression that it was written by William Mounce, but I seriously doubt that is the case.
    1 Timothy 2:12 New International Version 2011 (NIV)
    12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[a] she must be quiet.
    1 Timothy 2:12 King James Version (KJV)
    12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.