January 11, 2007
Yesterday Mark Driscoll announced that Mars Hill will be switching from the NIV translation to the ESV translation. He offers a very thought-out theological reflection for his decision here (or download the pdf here). I applaud a pastor who spends this much time and theological introspection and prayer into such a decision. Mark Driscoll hasn't always said the right things, and I find myself at odds with him on many theological issues. But I do appreciate someone who doesn't simply make a decision of this magnitude whimsically.
I do find it interesting that his commitment that "Scripture is the very words of God" leads him to another translation rather than the original language text. I am sure Mark uses the original languages in his preparation, but if the truth of the Bible is found (exclusively?) in the actual words (which are very important, and I do not mean to take the actual words lightly) would it not lead to using the original language rather than another translation? From my understanding, all translations fail to embody the full meaning and nuance of the original text, and no translation is free from the theological influence of its translators.
I do not mean for this to be another attack on Mark Driscoll. I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I am only using his decision as a means to ask the questions Why do you choose the translation you do? What is your criteria for choosing a translation?
Here are some things I think about as I choose or recommend translations:
1. What can people read and understand? I really believe that the best Bible translation is the one that people will actually read. While this may be an overstatement for effect, I do think that a translation that is hard to read and difficult to understand is more of a hindrance than a help. I also believe that God is faithful to those who are seeking Him and will reveal himself through the Bible; even if it is not the best possible translation.
2. Do they have a community and a spiritual leader that offers them insight and understanding of the passages they read? No one was meant to interpret the Bible in isolation (no, not even the pastor). God has always worked within the context of community under the leadership of his chosen leader. Wrestling with the meaning of a text as a community helps people understand the meaning of a text despite all the flaws inherent in translations.
3. Do they have access to multiple translations? Because no translation can adequately replace the original languages, multiple translations help the reader gain additional perspective.
4. What are the theological leanings of the translators? While various translations are useful, some are better than others. Mark points to the ESV as the one he considers best. I have the top translations that I use as many of you do as well.
After graduating from seminary, I was convinced that the NASB was the best translation. I used it in my preaching and teaching. Over time, however, I realized that people didn't have that translation in their home and they didn't understand it. The more I used it, the more people grew distanced from the Bible. Unchurched people who came to our service felt even more distanced from the text than the Christians. Shortly after that I switched to the NIV because of its readability and accessibility.
What are some of your criteria for choosing a translation?
What are the primary translations you use when studying?
How do you go about determining what translation to use?