Saturday, May 15, 2010

ESV Study Bible

May be the best study Bible available

ESV Study Bible (
Publisher: Crossway Bibles
Pages: 2,750

The ESV Study Bible (2008) may be the best of its kind. The English Standard Version text, which is “essentially literal,” is a major reason. The ESV “seeks as much as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer.” It is not an exact word for word translation as you would have in an interlinear Bible, but it’s not far from it.

The ESV Bible made its appearance in 2001 with praise from a broad spectrum of evangelicals including Joni Eareckson Tada, Max Lucado, Dr. R. C. Sproul and Dr. Joseph M. Stowell. The text is a revision of the Revised Standard Version and is slightly more literal.

From my days working at a Bible bookstore, I remember a nifty handout prepared by Zondervan that showed where the different translations fell on a scale depicting their literalness. On the left side of the spectrum, you had the most literal versions and on the opposite, those that were the least. Everything fell in between the two outermost points, which in this case were the interlinear Bible and The Message.

The New American Standard Bible was in second position, followed by The Amplified Bible, and in fourth position, the ESV. The Revised Standard Version and the King James Version were next in line. For comparison, I found online an individual who had done a scholarly ranking, admittedly subjective, but nevertheless interesting. He ranked the ESV and the New American Standard as the two best for study. He had the King James Version and the New American Standard at 2½ on a scale of 1 to 10 with one being the most literal. The ESV was a 3 and the New International Version was further back at 4½.

The ESV Study Bible boasts that it is the most comprehensive study Bible ever published, and judging from all the additional material outside the Bible text, this may not be an exaggeration. All the notes, maps, illustrations, articles and other features are “new,” which probably means that they were either created for this Bible or have never been published before in this form in a study Bible. Those who purchase the print edition also get access to the ESV Online Study Bible.

The format is comparable to the New International Version Study Bible with notes filling the lower quarter or half of the page. The notes cover many but not all of the verses. These are preceded by highlighted boxes that summarize the thought of a section of Scripture. The notes on the individual verses fill in the detail.

The helpfulness and quality of the notes is impressive. Equally magnificent is a section of articles in the back breaking down major Bible themes like salvation, doctrine, ethics, interpretation, reading, the canon of scripture, the reliability of manuscripts, archaeology, original languages, and how the New Testament interprets and quotes the Old Testament. You also get a section that deals not only with the Bible’s relationship within Christianity, but how its teachings compare with those of world religions and cults. A concordance and color maps are in the back. Many smaller, colored maps are embedded in the notes. One thing this does not have is the words of Christ in red, which I know from experience is important to some people.

This was created by a team of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers from various backgrounds. Their names, the institutions that they represent, and their educational attainments are listed in the front of the Bible.

Unless you prefer a study Bible with a special emphasis, as in the New Spirit-Filled Bible, which is geared toward Charismatics, or one that is more hands-on, as in the New Inductive Study Bible, which requires a great deal of discipline and marking, this is an excellent choice for use by a broad spectrum of Christians. It gives you a translation that is accurate, appealing from a literary standpoint, and places before you a large amount of scholarly but accessible reference material.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach - Leland Ryken

The other side of the argument

Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach
Author: Leland Ryken
Publisher: Crossway (
Pages: 205

A line of reasoning from Proverbs highlights the importance of Understanding English Bible Translation by Leland Ryken: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17 ESV). After reading the Essential Guide to Bible Versions (2000) by Philip W. Comfort, I was persuaded about the merits of the translation method known as dynamic equivalence or functional equivalence. Eugene Nida defines this as “the reproduction in a receptor language [i.e. English] of the closest national equivalent of the source language [i.e. Hebrew or Greek] message, first in terms of meaning, and second in terms of style (italics added).”

The difference between dynamic equivalence and the essentially literal philosophy advocated by Ryken is the former seeks to translate “meaning” while the latter is concerned with translating “into something that corresponds to or is identical with the words of the original (subject of course to the changes required by translation from one language into another.)” Whereas the former finds meaning in phrases (thought-for-thought translation), the latter is concerned with preserving the meaning found in the actual words (word-for-word translation).

This may seem rather technical, but it marks a significant change in translation philosophy. As Ryken points out, “The mid-twentieth century saw a paradigm shift in the theory and practice of English Bible translation.” Prior to this, the publication of the King James Version, marked “the culmination of nearly a century of profuse Bible translation activity in England.” Not only did the KJV translators build upon previous work, they “strove to find an English equivalent for the actual words of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.”

Thankfully, the author does not assume a King-James only position, but he does extol it as one of the finest examples of an essentially literal translation. Though it is not the author’s primary intent, this is the best defense of the King James Bible that I have read.

The shift in theory from translating words to translating meaning is the foundation of many modern Bibles. What makes this book essential reading is that Ryken shows clearly and convincingly what is lost. It stems from what dynamic equivalent translators do, “consisting of such things as changing syntax and word order, adding exegesis and interpretive commentary to the text, simplifying the content of the original text, removing figurative language from sight, producing a colloquial style for the English Bible, and adapting the translation to the expectations of a target audience.”

Ryken does a masterful job of concisely going into detail. His arguments are scholarly but readable. He illustrates changes with specific examples.

He is also charitable to the point of recognizing common ground and recognizing that dynamic equivalent translations have value as commentaries.

This should be required reading for translators and all in Christian leadership. Anyone interested in this subject will profit from this volume. If those on the other side want to defend the thought-for-thought theory of translation, they must convincingly answer the issues raised here.

This has given me new respect for the King James Version and other essentially literal translations. I also see the limitations of translations based on functional equivalence. I welcome the opportunity to read further on this important and fascinating subject, remembering the importance of weighing both sides of an argument.

Resurrection Letters: Prologue - Andrew Peterson

Friday’s sorrow anticipates Sunday’s joy Resurrection Letters: Prologue Artist: Andrew Peterson Publisher: Andrew Peterson u...