Why “he” and not “He”?

Should We Capitalize Divine Pronouns?

My Bible of preference (the main one I use in study and preaching) is the English Standard Version (ESV). While there are a great many things about it I like such as its accuracy and readability, one things that I must admit really bugs me, is the lack of the use of capitals when God is the subject in the sentence. In other words, God is referred to as “he” rather than “He”.

In contrast to this, the NASB (New American Standard Bible) uses “He” rather than “he” when referring to God. I like that. That is what I grew up with and I like this feature. When reading the text, the reader is readily aware of who is being addressed in the verse. No mental work is necessary to work out if God is being referred to; its all laid out by the use of “He.”

Having said that, Bill Mounce makes some fair points as to why the ESV and other translations do not make use of “He.” While I might still not like this particular feature of the ESV, it is helpful to know why things are as they are. Certainly, it is NOT because the ESV translators wish to dishonor God in any way, and I am grateful for that. Here’s an explanation:

15 Myths about Bible Translation

danielwallaceby Daniel B. Wallace (original source ironically, even some biblical scholars who should know better continue to tout word-for-word translations as though they were the best. Perhaps the most word-for-word translation of the Bible in English is Wycliffe’s, done in the 1380s. Although translated from the Latin Vulgate, it was a slavishly literal translation to that text. And precisely because of this, it was hardly English.

Similar to the first point is that a literal translation is the best version. In fact, this is sometimes just a spin on the first notion. For example, the Greek New Testament has about 138,000–140,000 words, depending on which edition one is using. But no English translation has this few. Here are some examples:

RSV 173,293

NIV 175,037

ESV 175,599

NIV 2011 176,122

TNIV 176,267

NRSV 176,417

REB 176,705

NKJV 177,980

NET 178,929

RV 179,873

ASV 180,056

KJV 180,565

NASB 95 182,446

NASB 184,062

NLT, 2nd ed 186,596

TEV 192,784

It’s no surprise that the TEV and NLT have the most words, since these are both paraphrases. But the translations perceived to be more literal are often near the bottom of this list (that is, farther away from the Greek NT word-count). These include the KJV (#12), ASV (#11), NASB (#14), NASB 95 (#13), and RV (#10). Indeed, when the RV came out (1881), one of its stated goals was to be quite literal and the translators were consciously trying to be much more literal than the KJV.

Some translations of the New Testament into other languages:

Modern Hebrew NT 111,154

Vulgate 125,720

Italian La Sacra Bibbia 163,870

Luther 169,536

French Novelle Version2 184,449

La Sainte Bible (Geneve) 185,859

3. The King James Version is a literal translation. The preface to the KJV actually claims otherwise. For example, they explicitly said that they did not translate the same word in the original the same way in the English but did attempt to capture the sense of the original each time: “An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have beene as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there bee some wordes that bee not of the same sense every where) we were especially carefull, and made a conscience, according to our duetie.” Continue reading

Why the English Standard Version?

bibleHere at King’s Church we recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible and it is the one most frequently used in our services. I say this for two main reasons; the first being that it can be very confusing if we have the different words in front of us in our Bibles as the sermon is being preached. This can be very alarming for new Christians who are not aware of the issues and see a text in front of them that is sometimes quite different from what the preacher is using.

Decades ago, the King James Version. History tells us that it was actually the Geneva Bible, with its Reformation based explanatory study notes, that was the very first Bible to come over to the shores of America on the Mayflower. However, the growing popularity of the KJV eventually made seeing the Geneva Bible a rare event in church services and homes.

The King James Version is certainly an excellent translation which has served the church for many generations. However, the meaning of words have changed a great deal in the centuries since the first printing of the KJV in 1611. Many preachers (me included) found that when using it, much time was required in a sermon to update and explain the archaic language used. A newer translation removes the need for this.

In addition to the archaic language of the KJV, what we know of the original text and languages has improved significantly in the last 400 years or so. The Church in our day has needed a Bible translation which reflects this great advancement in scholarship.

In some church services, there can be as many as 10 to 15 different versions in use. Of course, people can use any translation they like. They are definitely free to do so! Yet I think it is very helpful for pastors and elders to recommend one main translation to eliminate any potential confusion for a congregation.

With this as a foundation, the next question we need to ask is “which is the best Bible to use?”

This leads me to talk about the second reason for choosing the ESV. It stems from the desire to have an essentially literal translation (a “word for word” translation) in use rather than a dynamic equivalent, or “thought for thought” one. The primary advantage in choosing a “word for word” translation is that it gives us confidence that what we read in our Bibles are the equivalent English words for what the authors actually wrote. There is no need to wonder at every point where translation ends and subjective, personal commentary begins or if important material might have been been omitted from the original.

Certainly, there are other excellent translations out there. For years I have used the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which is a tremendously accurate translation. However, a choice needed to be made. The ESV is known for both its very accurate translation and for its language flow. It is very easy to read and to memorize. It is great for both adults and children. Because of this, it is the ESV that has become our Bible of choice here at King’s Church.

While we are still on the subject of Bibles, I am often asked to recommend a good Study Bible. I always point people to either the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible, both of which use this same English Standard Version (ESV) text. These are the two exceptional Study Bibles out there. I love using both of them and am confident that in directing people to these notes, they will not be led too far astray. I certainly cannot say that about all Study Bibles out there but these two are remarkable gifts to the Body of Christ at large. Always keep in mind though that the study notes in a Bible, while they can be very helpful and informative, are never inspired. Only Scripture is. The Bible alone is the word of God.

SOME QUOTES ON THE ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION:

“With the myriad of new Bible translations on the market today, few stand out. The ESV is one of the few, and surpasses the others in its simple yet elegant style. In many respects the ESV has accomplished in the 21st century what the KJV accomplished in the 17th: a trustworthy, literary Bible that is suitable for daily reading, memorizing, and preaching.” — Daniel B. Wallace

“We are building all our future ministry around the ESV….The ESV satisfies the preaching, memorizing, studying, and reading needs of our church, from children to adults.” — John Piper, Chancellor, Bethlehem College and Seminary; Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org

“The ESV represents a new level of excellence in Bible translations—combining unquestionable accuracy in translation with a beautiful style of expression. It is faithful to the text, easy to understand, and a pleasure to read. This is a translation you can trust.” — R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“I’m so grateful for a translation that I can trust for its accuracy and enjoy for its clarity. This is the Bible for our entire family.” — Carolyn Mahaney

“I’ve been using the ESV for my personal study since it was released. Then I began to preach from it. Then our congregation switched over to it. I hope others will do the same. The ESV is the simply the best translation for combining accuracy, readability, and fidelity to the rich history of English Bible translation. I thank God for the ESV and pray that it will be the new standard in English Bibles for years to come.” — Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, MI

“I appreciate deeply the evident commitment to the absolute truth of Scripture, and the willingness of these scholars to yield to the Spirit rather than bend to the wind of cultural trends.” — Bryan Chapell, President Emeritus, Covenant Theological Seminary; Senior Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL

“The ESV embodies both word–for–word exactness and easy readability. It has quickly become my primary Bible for both personal use and public teaching.” — Jerry Bridges, Former Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Navigators

“We use the English Standard Version as our church Bible because we are passionate about God’s Word—every last word of it—and because we want our children to have the best available translation for reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing, and serious Bible study.” — Philip Graham Ryken, President, Wheaton College

“The great strength of the ESV is first and foremost that it allows readers to trust the words to be the Word of God. I delight to find a clear, beautiful translation that allows me to get as close as possible to the actual words God inspired.” — Kathleen B. Nielson, Director of Women’s Initiatives, The Gospel Coalition; author, Living Word Bible Studies

“I recommend the ESV as the best literal translation for Bible study in my hermeneutics class and in Bible study seminars. Congratulations on a job well done.” — Grant R. Osborne

“The ESV shows exactly what the original says—and with elegance of style! I welcome its publication with enthusiasm.” — Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, TN

“Retaining the majesty of language with the clarity of thought, the English Standard Version is a grand accomplishment.” — Ravi Zacharias

“I highly recommend the English Standard Version to you.” — Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

“The translation is outstanding. The ESV achieves a new standard in accurate Bible translations for our day.” — R. C. Sproul, Jr.

“I believe the ESV is the Bible of the future. It is readable, accurate, and reverent.” — Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Elegant in every way, the ESV is certain to take its place as one of the finest translations in the grand tradition of the English Bible. Scholars will appreciate the care and nuance of the translation, pastors will appreciate the cadence and rhythm of the text, and all who read it will appreciate the craftsmanship of this richly textured version. It has become my version of choice.” — Stephen J. Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College; Chief Academic Officer, Ligonier Ministries

“After twenty years of teaching God’s Word and changing translations I have found at last, by God’s grace, a translation that is easy to read and immensely accurate. The ESV is the new first choice for serious students and careful communicators of God’s unchanging Word.” — James MacDonald, Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, Illinois

“The ESV beautifully blends good, contemporary English with reverence and accuracy.” — Erwin W. Lutzer

“Meticulous care and passionate research make the ESV a crisp, accurate, and valuable translation.” — Max Lucado

“Having now read through the ESV several times in my personal devotional life, I have adopted it as the primary text for my teaching and writing ministry. I appreciate…the ESV [because it] retains theological terminology that is at the heart of the Christian faith and exercises care and precision in the translation of nuances and gender language, so as to preserve a text that is as faithful as possible to the original. By the same token, the translators have maintained clarity and literary excellence, making this an accessible translation for modern readers. My hope is that the ESV will draw millions of people into the reading and study of God’s Word and into a more intimate relationship with the God of the Word.” — Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Radio Host, Revive our Hearts and Seeking Him

“I am so impressed with the clarity, beauty, and power of the ESV that I feel that I am reading the Bible again for the first time. From now on the ESV will be my Bible of choice. I simply don’t have the words to say how thankful I am for the ESV, its faithfulness to the original, and its beauty.” — Stephen W. Brown, Professor Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando; radio broadcaster, Key Life

“The ESV promises to be true to its name: the English Standard Version for the coming generation. It is a careful rendering that captures and communicates the sense of the original biblical text and does so in flowing modern English….Well done!” — S. M. Baugh

“I thank God for the ESV. It combines up–to–date accuracy in the text and absolute faithfulness to the words of Scripture with a literary skill and beauty in the translation which, in my judgment, is unsurpassed.” — Eric Alexander, Retired Senior Minister, St. George’s-Tron Parish Church, Glasgow, Scotland

5.8 Billion and Counting

bibleWycliffe Reports 5.8 Billion People Now Have Access to Bible

An estimated 5.8 billion people now have all or some of the Holy Bible translated into their first language, and the Bible is now in more than 2,800 different languages, according to a recent announcement by Wycliffe Bible Translators USA.

“Last year, Wycliffe Global Alliance reported that 4.9 billion people could access at least part of the Bible in their first language. This year the number has grown to 5.8 billion,” Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe, told The Christian Post. “This represents tremendous progress toward our goal of starting a translation project in every language needing one by 2025.”

Creson also told CP that technological advances in areas like translation are “a critical role in speeding up the translation process.”

“Software like Adapt It automates some parts of the translation process, dramatically cutting down the time required to produce first drafts in related languages,” said Creson.

“We have also adapted a cluster-project model for translating. Rather than developing each translation independently, cluster projects bring similar languages together so translators can share skills and insights with each other.”

Wycliffe Global Alliance, which is comprised of over 120 organizations from more than 60 nations including Wycliffe USA, broke the statistics in a press release.

“There are about 7000 languages in active use and at least one book of Scripture exists in almost 2,900 of these languages,” noted WGA. “At least 1.3 billion people do not have the full Bible available in their first language. Over 634 million of these have the New Testament; others have portions or at least some level of work begun.”

The Wycliffe organization credited efforts like YouVersion’s Bible App, Faith Comes by Hearing audio Scriptures and the “JESUS” film in using twenty-first century technology to reach out to remote regions.

“Though there has been astounding progress toward complete global Bible access, there is a lot of work to be done to reach the 1.3 billion people around the world without the full Bible,” commented Creson to CP. “God has been faithful in bringing the people and technology required to complete this mission, and we’re confident that someone alive today will start the last new Bible translation project.”

The Difficult Task of Bible Translation

In giving some pointers to help people in their choice of which Bible to use, I wrote this some time back:

Our generation is so blessed. In contrast to former periods in history where access to the word of God was very rare, there are many good Bible translations available to us in the English language today. How we thank God for this. It is simply a fact of history to say that many have paid the ultimate price (forfeiting their very lives) so that we would have access to the word of God in our native tongue.

Because there are so many translations available to us, if the version used from the pulpit is not the same one we have brought to the service it is often difficult to follow a preacher’s sermon. Therefore, it may be helpful to know that we mainly use the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) in our services at Kings Church here in Phoenix. I like it both for its diligent effort to be true to the original text (Hebrew in the Old Testament, apart from a small portion of Aramaic in the book of Daniel, and koine Greek in the New) and for its great readability. Usually one of these things suffers in Bible translation, but this is not the case with the ESV. It is both highly accurate and easy to read, and these features make it a remarkable translation.

Here’s a two minute video where other pastors, teachers and authors testify to this:

Having said that, it is important to understand that there is no perfect Bible translation. Here’s an excerpt from something written by Sean Harrison (an editor for the NLT translation) explaining why this is the case:

… What is translation? What does it mean to represent a text in a different language from the one in which it was written? How should this be done in the most accurate way?

One of my favorite examples of the problem of translation is a joke that Russian speakers of English and English speakers of Russian will appreciate, and almost no one else (some of the funniest jokes under the sun involve translation between two languages). The Russian word for “wristwatch” is the same as the word for “hour of the day.” In the joke, two Russians who speak poor English meet each other on the streets of London. To show off his good English, the first man says to the second, “How many watch?” (i.e., What time is it?). To which the other replies, “Six watch.” The joke ends when one asks the other (and now I’m translating the joke from ESL to standard English), “So, did you finish studying at Moscow State University?” (the elite university where students would learn English to fluency). To which the other replies, “You’re asking?” (i.e., Of course – can’t you see how great my English is?)

Here is the actual text of the joke:

How many watch?
Six watch.
Such much!
For whom how? [said with a shrug]
Finish MGU?
Asking! [said with mock scorn]

The “English” that these two Russian speakers are using is incomprehensible to you and me without a lot of explanation. But it is an exact, word-for-word representation of excellent standard Russian.

Is it really English? A good definition of translation is, A representation of a source language text in a different language, such that native speakers of that target language will understand the meaning of what was said in the source language. By this definition, a translation must actually get across the sense of each statement, not just the words. It must use the target language itself accurately, not some hybrid of the source and target language.

By this definition, the above representation of the joke is not in standard English, but in a language we might call “Russian ESL English.”

Here is a translation into standard English (which, of course, destroys the joke, because the point is that these guys are proud of their awful English):

What time is it?
Six o’clock.
So late!
Depends on whom you talk to, and in what situation.
So, have you graduated from Moscow State University?
You’re asking me? Can’t you see how great my English is?

(And now we see why they say, “Humor doesn’t translate.”) Please note the last sentence in particular: There is no equivalent for it in the “literal text” of the joke. But that sentence is most assuredly part of what the last question means – it is present in the context, and is present in what the speaker means. If it is omitted, part of the meaning might not be communicated, and the translation will be incomplete and inaccurate.

It is an unavoidable characteristic of translation that it involves interpretation. It is significant that the Greek word used to mean “translate” in the New Testament is the same word used to mean “interpret” (????????, herm?neu?; see, e.g., Luke 24:27; John 1:42; 9:7; Heb 7:2). Perhaps you have heard the saying, “All translation is interpretation.”

Here’s the point: In order to translate God’s words from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into any other language, we have to take into account all levels of meaning. There is no way around it: Translation is always interpretation. If the meaning has not been communicated as accurately and fully as possible in the language of the hearers/readers, then the translation is less than accurate.

The NLT was created with all of this in mind. The translators have attempted, as much as possible, to communicate the meaning of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of Scripture into excellent, contemporary English.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult (well, impossible) to include in a translation everything that is present in the context in which the text of Scripture was originally written. As a result, some of the meaning of the text cannot be communicated fully in a translation.

… We should realize that translation in inherently limited, but at the same time that God speaks clearly through translations (and Bible teaching, for that matter). Rather than seeking one “perfect” English translation, we should welcome all translations that seek to honor and glorify God by representing his words in all languages. And yes, we should work hard at making our translations as fully accurate as possible (which must involve the meaning, and not just the words, of the text.) The hope is that, as William Tyndale once dreamed, even a ploughboy (i.e., a worker, someone without training in ancient languages) will know the Scriptures fully and well.

More about Bible Translations

Pastor Steve Weaver wrote an excellent short series of three articles on the subject of Bible translations. I thought he covered a great deal of ground in a concise manner. I recommend this series to anyone who wants a quick but informed overview of this very important subject.

Pastor Steve’s interactions with the King James Only naysayers in the comments section (after each article) are also very worthwhile. Well done Steve.

Article 1: The Necessity and Purpose of Bible Translations

Article 2: The History of Bible Translations

Article 3: Why are there so many Bible Translations?

A Word about Bible Translations

In my teaching and preaching ministry, I primarily use the English Standard Version (ESV) and it is the Bible most frequently used in our services at King’s Church here in Phoenix.

I say this for two main reasons; the first being that it can be very confusing if we have the different words in front of us as the sermon is being preached. This can be very alarming for new Christians who are not aware of the issues and see a text in front of them that is so different from what the preacher is using.

Decades ago, there was only one real Bible version of choice, the King James Version. Though it was the Geneva Bible with its Reformation based explanatory study notes that first came over to the shores of America on the Mayflower, the growing popularity of the KJV eventually made seeing the Geneva Bible a rare event in church services and in the homes of Christians in the USA.

The King James Version is certainly an excellent translation which has served the church for many generations. However, the meaning of words have changed a great deal in the centuries since the first printing of the KJV in 1611. Many preachers (me included) found that when using it, much time was required in a sermon to update and explain the archaic language used. A newer translation removes the need for this.

In addition to the archaic language of the KJV, what we know of the original text and languages has improved significantly in the last 400 years or so. The Church in our day has needed a Bible translation which reflects this great advancement in scholarship.

In some church services, there can be as many as 15-20 different versions in use in the congregation. Of course, people can use any translation they like. They are free to do so! Yet I think it is very helpful for pastors and elders to recommend one main translation for the congregation as this eliminates any potential confusion.

With this as a foundation, the next question we need to ask is “which is the best Bible to use?”

This leads me to talk about the second reason for choosing the ESV. It stems from the desire to have an essentially literal translation (a “word for word” translation) in use rather than a dynamic equivalent, or “thought for thought” one. As the article below states, the primary advantage in choosing a “word for word” translation is that “preachers, teachers, and church people will have the confidence that their Bible gives them the equivalent English words for what the authors of the Bible actually wrote. They do not need to wonder at every point where translation ends and commentary begins. They do not need to worry that important material has been omitted from the original.”

Certainly, there are other good ESL translations out there. For years I have used the NASB (New American Standard Bible) which is tremendously accurate as a translation. However, if reason number one above was ever to be achieved, a choice needed to be made. The ESV is known for both its very accurate translation and for its language flow. It is very easy to read and to memorize. It is great for both adults and children.

I write these words here and present this short article with questions and answers below (by Leland Ryken) because I wanted you to know some of the thinking behind the ESV being our Bible of choice here at King’s Church.

While we are still on the subject of Bibles, I am often asked to recommend a good Study Bible. I always point people to either the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible, both of which use this same English Standard Version (ESV) text. These are the two exceptional Study Bibles out there. I love using both of them and am confident that in directing people to these notes, they will not be led astray. I certainly cannot say that about all Study Bibles out there but these two are remarkable gifts to the Body of Christ at large. You will usually see me preaching using one of these Study Bibles.

– Pastor John Samson

On Bible Translation: A Q & A with Leland Ryken

From the KJV to the NIV, NLT, ESV, and beyond, English Bible translations have never been as plentiful as they are today. This proliferation has also brought some confusion regarding translation differences and reliability. Leland Ryken agreed to join us for a two-part Q&A on Bible Translation. In his new book, Understanding English Bible Translation, he clarifies some of the issues of modern Bible translation and makes a case for an essentially literal approach. Join us as he answers a handful of timely questions:

When did you first become interested in issues of translation philosophy?

My interest has been marked by two key moments along the way. The first came at the time of the release of the NIV, when I was asked to write a literary review of the new translation for Christianity Today. That assignment just happened to coincide with the appearance of a book of essays that criticized modern translations (chiefly the RSV and New English Bible) as being inferior to the KJV. Although I was only vaguely aware of how translation philosophy entered that debate, I became semi-expert in the deficiencies of modern translations.

After serving as a member of the translation committee that produced the ESV, I asked Lane Dennis if he wanted me to expand my review of the NIV into a book-length exploration of the issues surrounding the rival translation philosophies. Lane surprised me by saying yes, so that was followed by my immersion in the subject of the opposed philosophies known as dynamic equivalence and essentially literal translation. The learning curve was steep, but very rewarding.
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