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Have You Purchased Your ESV Study Bible? Not Me!

This year the English Standard Version Study Bible has caused quite a positive uproar.  I cannot recall when a study Bible has been released with this much press and universal acclaim.  But, is the ESV Study Bible all its cracked up to be?

Mark Strauss, author of How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth with Gordon Fee, thinks not.  His brief explanation can be found in his latest blog at Koinonia, which includes a link to the full text of his argument.  His brief explanation is this: the ESV is not the end all be all in Bibles for two reasons, 1) no English Bible can achieve this status and 2) literal translation is not always the best translation.

On this second point, Strauss’ full-text argument has some rather funny insights on translating too literally in the ESV.  Here are just a couple:

“Grinding Together”?

Luke 17:35 ESV “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”  Strauss comment: In contemporary English, “grinding together” suggests seductive dancing or something worse.(Perhaps both should have been taken for judgment!) Most versions clarify that this means grinding “grain,” “meal” or “flour” (cf. TNIV, NIV, NLT, HCSB, NET, NRSV, REB, etc.)

Nice legs!
Ps. 147:10 ESV “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,”  Strauss comment: Taking pleasure in a man’s legs will surely leave readers chuckling. TNIV reads “in the power
of human legs”; NET has “by the warrior’s strong legs.”

Such clean teeth!
Amos 4:6 ESV “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities”
Strauss comment: It sounds like God is distributing toothbrushes to the Israelites. The Hebrew idiom means theyhad nothing to eat. The TNIV reads “I gave you empty stomachs,”; HCSB: “I gave you absolutely nothing
to eat.” NET: “I gave you no food to eat.”

Funny insights aside, I agree with Strauss.  There is no perfect translation and each has value.  I personally love my somewhat literal NET Bible for deep study (primarily because it has translation notes, not study notes, which is extremely helpful!).  But when I read my Bible for joy and devotion, I love my NLT and even the Message once in awhile.  When I’m teaching I prefer the NIV because most people have one and it seems to strike a great balance.

Furthermore, what is more important: word for word literalness or understanding the intended meaning?  I realize that the two cannot be divorced so easily, because it is words that give meaning.  But then again, it is context that gives meaning to words so understanding the meaning of the text becomes most important.  So what we really need to strive for is not simply preserving the literal text, but preserving the intended meaning of the text in a way that people today can understand.

This post probably excludes me from the Reformed Evangelical club since it seems that every Reformed Evangelical has fallen in love with this Bible, but I guess that’s the price I’ll pay (but at least I’ll save $50 from not buying the study Bible!)

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  1. December 19, 2008 at 11:53 am

    You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

  1. December 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm

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