I have heard many good things about Mars Hill Church in Seattle, despite some theological disagreements (with whom do I not have such disagreements?) so I was disappointed to receive the following via e-mail from a friend: Theological reasons for why Mars Hill preaches out of the ESV.
This isn’t intended as an attack on the ESV. I put the slogan “the best Bible version is one you read.” If you find your Bible reading life lighting up when you read the ESV, then by all means use it for reading and study. If the carefully gender accurate language of such versions as the NRSV grates on your nerves, then by all means use it, but admit that it’s because of your language tastes, and not because of theology. If you’re reading the ESV because you think it is theologically more correct, or because it more accurately and clearly conveys the message of scripture to the populace in general, then I urge you to think again.
The stated fundamental assumption is one of inspiration. I don’t agree with the Mars Hill stand on Biblical inspiration, but I’m not going to dispute that. Rather, I want to ask if their stand on inspiration does really underly the remainder of their statement, or whether it actually stands on something else–something much less well founded. I quote:
1. The ESV upholds the truth that Scripture is the very words of God, not just the thoughts of God.
This point is inextricably connected to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration, which means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but the very words and details. . . .
Now here’s the problem. If God inspired the very words and details, he did not do so in English. He did so in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I have no problem with this, but then I don’t believe in verbal plenary inspiration. It is obvious that in translation one must without exception alter the “words and details” of the source text, for the simple reason that an English translation contains no words in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, with the exception of a few transliterations. One assumes that Pastor Mark Driscoll is aware of this fact, but he glosses over it, as do most advocates of literal, word for word translation.
The practice actually reflects an argument used for many years by KJV Only advocates, who compare every new version to the KJV, and then call every change from the KJV in a modern version a change in the scriptures. They accuse the modern versions of altering the words of scripture. But what words are altered? The words of a translation that has no authority whatsoever over the source texts. When a translator uses a word/phrase in the receptor language to reflect a word/phrase in the source language, that doesn’t make the two equivalent. It is simply the way that translator thought was best to convey the thought of the text in the source language in the receptor language. It is critically important to state this correctly: The translator(s) of a new Bible translation do not alter the words of scripture, they reflect the words of scripture in a different way, using different words.
Some people are going to think I’m being unfair, but stripped of all the extra verbage, Pastor Mark Driscoll’s argument is, in fact, no more sophisticated than the KJV Only argument on this point. Let’s look at some illustrations. Under point “4. The ESV upholds the theological nomenclature of Scripture” Driscoll says:
First, one of the central debates of the Protestant Reformation was how a sinful person is justified before a holy and righteous God. This issue was so contentious that people died over it and Christianity split over it; it is not a trivial matter. Romans 3:24 is one of many places where “justification” is spoken of in the original text of Scripture. An examination of various translations, however, shows how the word is sometimes omitted altogether: