Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Hymnals & Pew Bibles, Part 5

Earlier posts have established that Grace is committed to purchasing new pew Bibles and to giving them away as needed. We want to be "missional" in this way, posturing ourselves toward the unchurched and helping them enter in.

The outstanding question is, "Which version?"

The New International Version (NIV) is far and away the most popular. It's the version that's in our pews now. It's a good and useful translation. Why not just go with it?

Different versions are based on different theories of translation. The NIV is a "concept for concept" translation, rather than a "word for word" translation. The intent is to make the Bible more readable and English friendly.

I prefer an English translation that is as close to the original Greek as possible. I prefer a "word for word" translation. Why? Do the individual words matter that much?

Jesus said. . . Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. --Matthew 5:17-18 (Listen to the sermon!)

The smallest letter and punctuation mark mattered to Jesus, not just the concepts. They should matter to us, too.

The Apostle Paul said . . . All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; --2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture, not just the concepts or ideas of Scripture. I believe that inspiration (and inerrancy) extends to the very words of Scripture.

Whenever we translate from one language to anotother, there is interpretation that happens, but I believe that interpretation is minimized with a "word for word" translation. I desire as accurate an English version as I can get my hands on, even if its more wooden and less readable. (I am not saying that the NIV and paraphrase translations are worthless. Please don't hear that! I am not bashing the NIV. Rather, I am sharing why I don't prefer the NIV as a choice for our pew Bibles.)

I currently preach from the New American Standard Version, updated edition. I do so because it is an excellent "word for word" translation, but also because I have used it since I was a child. I have memorized a ton of Scripture from the NAS. Its what I know and love. (OK, so this is personal and emotional.) Since I arrived, many folks have followed my lead and gone out and purchased their own NAS Bibles. I haven't asked them to do it, but they've done it on their own. The NAS would be an easy and natural choice for a pew Bible.

I have been intrigued by the introduction of the new English Standard Version (ESV). Along with others, John Piper has switched over and has communicated his commitment to the ESV (Worthwhile read!). The ESV is also a modern "word for word" translation. It's not as familiar to me, but I could live with it. If I thought the ESV was the hot new translation that is on its way to becoming the standard English translation, I would not hesitate to switch over and purchase ESV Pew Bibles. But from what I hear, the ESV is not yet really catching on. Steve Potratz, at the Parable, informs me sales have not been great. I also understand that there is not yet an affordable ESV pew bible available. Not yet.

So because of my personal investment and other's investment in the NAS, it is difficult to justify a move to the ESV for Grace Church, SLO. Once more I find myself swimming against the tide of our culture. (I don't think that's a personality thing, but I could be wrong.) Its a big decision and a significant financial investment. I would love somebody to convince me that the ESV is the way to go. Anybody want to try? At this point, I'm still leaning in the NAS direction. Your comments and convincing are welcome.

NAS or ESV? Any New King James folks out there?

We'll leave the forum open for a week!


David Beals said...

The first "real" Bible I was given as a child was the NAS. My parents specifically chose this Bible for me because they wanted me to read and learn and memorize God's word in a "word for word" translation. Maybe it's because I grew up with the NAS, but I don't find it that difficult to read, and I think that as people continue to use the NAS, it will become more natural for them to use as well.

Other than the few verses that Piper quoted in the link provided, I've never read the ESV. Based on what Piper said, and the few verses I read from his article, I wouldn't be opposed to using the ESV, if that is the direction that the church decided to go ... but I do like the NAS.

Phillip Moses said...

In a private email, Tim specifically called me to the floor to defend the use of the ESV. Frankly, I have no objection to using NAS, since I am just as committed to the concept of word-for-word translations as anyone. However, I have recently switched to ESV.

Why? Well... I started in the NAS and, for some reason, I had a hard time engaging the text. I'm one of the many out there who find the NAS' rendering of certain phrases difficult to wrap my head around (it was updated in 1995 to address this issue and, to be fair, I'm not familiar with this update). Maybe it's just my way of processing the written word, but whatever the case, I have been very happy with the readability of the ESV.

Sometimes when I read the NIV, I feel like I'm giving my brain ice-cream and candy. It's nice to read something with literary ease, but like candy, if it was all you ate you would quickly get fat. ESV seems like a real happy medium between readability and word-for-word accuracy.

Tim wants a biblical reason for going with the ESV, so... here goes my valiant effort (but not one I would preach as gospel truth):

It has been noticed that Jesus' quotations of the Old Testament were never specific to just the Masoritic text, which is what biblical scholars look to toaday as a benchmark for accuracy (in most cases). In fact, in some instances, it is argued that Jesus quotes from the Septuagint (a less than perfect Greek translation of the Hebrew Masoritic text), the targum (an Aramaic translation) or a combination of all three.

What is at the heart of Jesus' often mixing of quoting from translation to translation? To me, it seems to indicate that God's word is perfect, alive and God's Word will not return empty. Perhaps this indicates that "version" is not so important as the fact that God's Word just needs be taught. After all, faith comes by hearing the Word.

The words chosen in the original language carry so much weight and potential that different languages can help to bring out nuances found in the original. I'm sure anyone would argue that the most literal translation is still not as good as knowing the original language and historical and linguistic connotation that each word represents.

Of course we want an accurate translation that does its best to reflect the original. But at the same time, we need to balance this need with the ability of the people to understand. I would hate for someone to put down the Bible never to read it again because their translation was too difficult to understand.

While every mark and comma is important, as Pastor Tim talks about from Matthew 5:17-18, we see that in context, Jesus is saying this as a promise that every detail spoken of in His Word will be accomplished, and that all the teachings of the Law have value and importance. In other words, Jesus says this as a promise that the Law will be fulfilled to the finest detail. This verse is a great proof-text to the promise that God's word is perfect an inerrent, but it reads to me as more of a proof-text to the promise of the perfection of His plan and His fulfillment of the Law.

I may be off base here, and if I am, I will happily recant. In fact, I don't even feel all that strongly about the subject... I'm just trying to play the ESV advocate here.

My hearts desire is to see everyone holding a copy of God's word in a language that they understand and in a translation that is accurate. If both of these goals can be accomplished by choosing the ESV over the NAS, then the only thing holding us back would be money.

As for the money, ESV is more expensive. The best price I could find was $9.91 per Bible (hardcover), compared to the NAS price of $6.99.

So, the question becomes how strongly do we feel about the ESV vs the NAS? Either way, it's a win-win situation, since the goal of putting Bibles in the hands of those who need it for free, and both versions are great.

Deb said...

I've always used King James Bible growing up and NKJV when that came out. KJV-ers are probably few and far between these days. My husband and all the kids use NAS.

This past Sunday we had a visiting pastor who was known to the rest of the congregation from years past. We are new to this church so I had no clue who this guy was and eyed him carefully.

He passed out a sheet of paper with a I Kings passage on it in ESV, assuming no one had that version, but saying his church had recently almost completely switched over to ESV. (Guess I'm in the Dark Ages; I'd never heard of ESV.) Hmmm, what is this and who is this character?

I opened my NKJV and followed closely along when he read the ESV on the sheet making sure I agreed with what was going to be read.

What I found was that ESV was so closely identical to my NKJV that there was almost hardly any change...at least in the passage that was read. So if the rest of the ESV Bible is like that, then I could rest easy in knowing it didn't insert anything off the wall. However, if it's so closely identical, why even bother with another translation? Why not stay with what works?

I don't even live in your area, but I found your blog a few weeks ago after you started it and posted a comment early on. I've kept you in my Favorites Folder and keep checking back and following your hymnbook/bible pew debate. Just interesting to see what others are doing in other parts of the country.

Keep blogging...sounds like your congregation is getting to know their pastor up close and personal.

Tim Weaver said...

It is fun to say that I use the AUTHORIZED translation, but that is in jest. I have just logged many hours in my KJV, so I know where things are on the page and it is much easier to use a Bible that you know when you are a bit weak in knowing the chapter/verse of the things that you are looking for. My biggest preference is actually to use a combination of the Amplified and King James. I enjoy reading them together.

I do like the NAS, though. That is my choice for my next Bible when I bring myself to let go of the tatters that is my King James. I've never read the ESV and I know that I am not even close to being qualified to state which is a more accurate translation into the way that I understand and use the English language.

I, too, am enjoying the blog AND comments.

Missy G. said...

Hi Tim - Thanks for the opportunity to comment on a very interesting and educational topic. I prefer the NAS and my personal studying/teaching bible is the NAS. I think we need to follow your lead as to what you are comfortable teaching out of. Readability is an interesting topic and John Pyper had some very pointed remarks regarding the readability of the NAS. All must remember his comments (that you flagged in your note) are for the purpose of convincing people to use the ESV. He does not compare it to the NAS. He most obviously does not like the NIV.

I have a couple of questions for you - why are you considering the ESV? You have explained why you prefer the NAS but not why the ESV intrigues you. I would like to hear more from Steve Potratz (CEO of the Parable Group). Why are the sales so low on the ESV? Why isn't it catching on with Pastors and churches?

I'm glad you (and our church, Grace) swims against the tide of culture. I would never want to see us make a decision based on culture alone. I think we need to trust the Lord to meet us where we are at with our understanding (and reading ability) and let Him reveal His living word to us. I vote for the NAS. Thanks again for giving us a forum to speak.

david beals said...

I don't think cost of the ESV Bibles is really the issue, but I found a website where you can purchase ESV Pew Bibles for $6.90/bible (24 for $165.60). They aren't red lettered, but are hardback. Check out the website here if you are interested.

Erik Ernstrom said...

I think there are pro's and con's to every translation out there. I currently haul around an ESV and NAS in my backpack. And I'm glad that Tim Weaver referrenced the "Authorized" translation, not "Inspired" translation. :)

But I do think that whatever version the lead pastor is preaching out of should be the version in the pews. If a visitor isn't familiar with Scripture and multiple versions, they can get easily lost or confused as to why the Bible they're holding doesn't match what the pastor is saying.

But we can always fall back on cute sayings:
"If the King James version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it should be good enough for us."
"If King James were alive today, he'd use the NIV."

Dave McShea said...


I went home last night and did some quick comparisons and came to the conclusion I usually come to with customers that I help find a Bible…I believe that ALL the major translations out there are ESSENTIALLY accurate. By that I mean that they clearly communicate the truth of the gospel. There are some obvious differences, but the gospel is not hidden. So the conclusion is read some key or favorite passages and chose the one that you like (or speaks to you) best. And in reality you will probably find you want more than one translation.

I listened to an EXCELLENT tape on election last night by John MacArthur. You have probably heard it. He gave it at a Ligonier Conference in Pasadena back in 1997. Anyway, when he read from the Bible I could not figure out what he was reading. Most of the time it appeared to be NAS, but in several key passages, where the wording was essential to his point, he switched to NKJ. The verses were Titus 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:9. NAS (the old one) said “a long time ago” and updated said “long ages ago” – the phrase he was looking for was “before time began” which is used in NKJV, so he read those verses from that. He did this several times throughout the message where he flowed seamlessly from translation to translation. At times he could be creating confusion from someone trying to follow along.

I think the point is in any STUDY of the Bible it is very useful to use different translations just as you would use different commentaries. It will also challenge you to do some original language studies yourself.

And in your preaching, I don’t believe you need to tie yourself to any one translation exclusively. (However I do like it when it is noted in the delivery). As far as pew Bibles, I think the decision is yours. What version do YOU enjoy reading and preaching from. That is what should be in the pew for visitors, etc. This is not a popularity contest or a right/wrong, or a accurate /inaccurate question. The question is your personal preference.

With that said, it is important to take into consideration the differences between them and the philosophy of translation behind them. And maybe you could consider a message or two on the Bible and teach us about the different translations, what makes them different, and possibly a brief history of the handing down of God’s Word. It is actually a beautiful story of God’s sovereignty in the preservation of His Word. I have a interesting video called “ The Indestructible Book” that follows the history of God’s Word from OT to the Pilgrim’s landing on Plymouth Rock that I would be happy to loan you.

I know God will give you peace on this decision.

Dave McShea said...


One comment on the purchase aspect of the Bibles.

I would suggest an "Adopt a Bible" opportunity for the congregation. I for one would be more than happy to contribute to place Bibles in our church that can be used during sevices and/or given to people that need a Bible.

And this is bigger than than the pews. Sunday kid's Sunday School rooms, for the youth and high school rooms, for the Homeless shelter, etc. (It is even possible that there would be different Bibles for the different needs.)

This is a ministry opportunity that I think many would respond to.

I know some churches put name plates in Bibles (I am personally not in favor of that)but it is an option.

Scott said...


I am a big proponent of the ESV and have used it almost exclusively in my church for nearly two years now. Most of my congregation has purchased it for their use since my readings come from it. I use some other translations occassionally as I preach but ESV is our main text.

You can purchase pew bibles from the American Bible Society for $7.99 apiece if you buy them in cases of 24. I recently purchased a case of paperback outreach bibles in a case to giveaway this Easter ($3.19 each in a case purchase).

I've found the ESV to be more readable than the NASB and a bit easier to memorize than the NIV. Most of my life was spent with the KJV and I've extensively studied the NKJV but have found myself going back more and more to the ESV for personal devotions, preaching, and memorization.

Blessings and wisdom to you on a difficult decision.

O'Hill said...

You have to to go NAS. It really is the most accurate "word for word" translation from the Greek. NIV is good for studying and cross referencing ans such, but the NAS is the best.

Cyndie Hamley said...

Hi Pastor Tim, May I share my 2 cents worth? I love many translations—the more the better in my opinion. My favorite Bible happens to be an NIV. I like to use it in church because both you and our Sunday school teacher (my husband Ron) use NAS. I like to do translation comparisons during the lesson. I often glance over to Ron’s Bible in church to see how it reads.
I have trouble memorizing NAS. I’ve tried I the past, but the words have an unnatural flow in my opinion and I get confused. NIV is easier for me to memorize.
I’ve only recently become acquainted with ESV. I like it quite a bit. It has a natural flow and is easy to understand. I have not tried to memorize it yet, but I think I would like it.
While I appreciate NAS and NKJ for study and occasional reading, I think ESV in the pews would serve us well.

Matthew said...

I might suggest taking a look at the following two links if you're planning on giving these away.



The biggest rail against the ESV in favor of the NIV sadly isn't the translation it's the lack of marketing and extensive study materials. Just my thoughts....

Anonymous said...

The case price on the ESV hardcover pew Bibles puts it in the same price range. There is also a nice new trade paperback edition that costs much less.

I happen to like the highly literal translation (although very slightly less word for word compared to the NAS) done with a high regard for literary style and flow (much better than the NAS in that regard). The other translations are less literal, and I find the NIV to be too far into the dynamic translation range.


Matthew said...

Hi All,

The more I sat and thought about this discussion, I found myself compelled to revisit my remarks and share a bit from my experience. I've read all of the above comments and find them interesting and intriguing. I appreciate the passion of the (for lack of a better term) NAS'ers for their commitment to truth. I also enjoy the interest in unity the NIV'ers tend to have. There are two concepts at the forefront here..., accuracy and literacy. I have read the NAS and honestly find it a bit clunky and not something I'd eagerly hand over to average_joe_street_guy for an introduction to Gods Word. (Perhaps I’ve heard too many people say they just don’t understand the Bible when they try to read it?) This is not to say there isn't power in the Word because there clearly is..., but lets face it..., NOT everyone had the luxury of growing up with the Bible or has the same reading level. That's my first thought. Secondly, I find some serious and what one might even call "gross" misunderstanding that seems to grow out of people using the NIV for serious study. I think trading the Greek word "flesh" for "sinful desire" (as the NIV does) is a bigger deal than the average layperson realizes (myself included). The fact is, much of the theology today being taught in local churches is really not true to the text and a very sad portrayal of the Gospel. There is a growing number of Pastors preaching out of paraphrasie "translations" in an attempt to reach out to a generation they honestly don't understand. The more they fail to reach..., the more "cool" they try to become, they’re missing the point..., truth is all men and women want. It’s what Jesus taught, it’s what we should teach, Truth. As the leader of a young adult/postmodern/emerging church (and if you dont know what that means..., count yourself lucky. It’s a 18-34 year old mostly thing) in Portland, Maine I find myself combating a lot of interesting topics many pastors of large churches never face. 1>My gathering tends to be very outreach oriented so I find myself amidst people who have never read the Bible before in their life. And for you Bible-belters..., yea, these people do exist. ;) 2>One of the biggest complaints against the church and Bible for that matter is it's inaccuracy and fact it's just not relevant. And I hate to say it..., but with a growing population of young (20-35 year old) men and women who are educated, know where many translations just aren’t cuttin' the mustard and it's a joke to many. 3>My gathering isn't as of yet replacing Sunday morning church but it's a nice addition on the weekend nights. Therefore I attract (in each gathering) Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Non-Denominational and the like so keeping the peace can be difficult. Many with even a novice understanding of Biblical theology won't touch the NIV and those who've never touched a Bible can barely swallow the NAS... My solution? The ESV. It's beautiful. If enough NAS'ers are willing to see how accurate it really is and support it..., and enough NIV'ers who are passionate about unity and readability would support it, you might well be able to sit in a Bible study again some day and say, "what did you think when you read..." not "ok, what version are you reading out of?" With this being said I'd like to give it one last plea...

Please please please for the sake of my generation (I am 26) and the future of the Church in America understand how truth AND readability are important. I beg of you...

In Him,