As a pastor, I get asked about Bible translations all the time. Being in the South - i.e. the Bible belt - the King James Version is the standard translation by which all other translations are judged. This is rather unfortunate for reasons that go beyond this review, but nonetheless the large number of translations remains a challenge for believers today. Especially among young people. Simply put, young people do not like and cannot read the King James Version. Period. I grew up on it and I struggle with it. Thus knowing which translation to read, buy, and as a pastor, to preach from is important.
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung offers his take on the subject in the book Why Our Church Switched to the ESV (Crossway, 2011). The title gives away the thesis. One should also note the publisher. Crossway is the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) and thus is promoting this book.
The book is not a critique of every translation or even of the major translations of the Bible. It is really a brief text on why the ESV is better than the NIV (New International Version, published by Zondervan). DeYoung seeks to offer a simple reason to why he preaches from and his churches uses the ESV and does so in brevity. Thus his target isn't other translations but with the ESV.
This is both a strength and a weakness. The NIV is the most popular translation and thus in an attempt to be brief, DeYoung is able to cover a lot of material comparing the ESV with a translation that most readers are at least familiar with. However, comparing the ESV with just the NIV is misleading. The two are very different with very different approaches to translations.
The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation. The ESV is more of a word-for-word translation. Here I side with the ESV. DeYoung perfers accuracy over the thoughts and interpretation of the translation committee. I couldn't agree with him more here. But what would have happened if he compared the ESV with the NASB (New American Standard Bible, and my personal favorite)? I believe that in most cases, the NASB is more literal than the ESV. But then again, DeYoung wants both accuracy and readability, something that the ESV does better than the NASB.
But nonetheless, the book does offer some helpful examples of the differences in translations. DeYoung writes with the mind and heart of a pastor and thus offers more than just academia, but pastoral ministry. That is a real strength of the book. But reading a book that has a clear bias makes it not the best book on the subject. This is as much an advertisement as it is a critique and an explanation that helps believers pick a translation and that may be what both DeYoung and Crossway want.
As a pastor, I recommend the ESV perhaps more than any other translation (close behind the NASB). Every graduation and baptism candidate receives an ESV Bible and I can count on an ESV reader being present at every Wednesday Night and Sunday Night Bible study. And I am in the Bible Belt! Clearly the ESV is a great translation and I agree with DeYoung's critiques of the NIV, but the book fails to convince the reader that the ESV is better than all other translations in that it leaves the others out.
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