I was barely 20, single, and alone for Thanksgiving that year. My family lived several states away, and I couldn’t afford to travel. I also had a bad habit of going out with this one particular guy (a seminary student at SBTS) when I didn’t have a date, or plans with anyone else.
I couldn’t figure out why we didn’t connect more often—we both had a strong heart for evangelism, we both had similar beliefs, and I wondered if I was just being too picky in my interactions with him.
(Brothers and sisters, take my word for it: don’t do this. 😉 If you just can’t develop a connection with someone that goes beyond “I’m bored and there’s nothing better to do, and anyway, the guy’s just plain hott,” then don’t waste your time, or his. It doesn’t get better—you just have more opportunities for boredom later on!)
Anyway, I dressed up (modestly) and brought a couple of treats to his apartment on the SBTS campus the day after Thanksgiving. He had dinner mostly ready, but a couple of things still needed time on the stove. “Hey, while we’re waiting, check out this new Bible translation we’re using around here. Man, I really love this.” It was the ESV.
Now, let me confess, I was thrilled. I’m a word geek. I love language, I love storytelling, and I LOVE the privilege of having so many English translations available to us. Also, I’m a songwriter, and I’d just discovered the thrill of setting the Bible to music. In my mind, a new translation was also a Bible full of new song ideas waiting to happen.
I opened it up to the passage I’d read that morning, Psalm 57. The words flowed so nicely at first, and I was sure I would fall in love.
With the translation. I still wasn’t sure about the guy. 😉
Then I got to this section:
7My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody! ( I’m gonna love this!!)
“Oh, hang on a second.” I said to my host. “This is a new translation, right?”
“They got an English phrase wrong here. You don’t ‘awake’ the dawn. You wake it up. It sounds pretty funny.”
I laughed at a Bible translation. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea!
My sometime-date wasn’t happy about it. “It’s not wrong. That’s correct English.”
“No it isn’t. You don’t say, ‘I will awake my roommate.’ You say, ‘I will wake him up.’ Maybe ‘I will awaken him.’ But ‘I will awake the dawn!’ [insert grand hand gestures here] sounds like something from a badly dubbed Bruce Lee movie.”
My sort-of-friend insisted it was correct, for over twenty minutes.He had this look on his face that told me that he didn’t like to be challenged about it. I even got the impression that I was offending him.
I was confused. How could I offend anyone by suggesting that this translation was anything other than perfect—including the translators? I mean, couldn’t they make mistakes? And if they found them, couldn’t they just make a second edition? God’s word still stands infallible, regardless of our little grammatical translation errors….right?
Now, keep in mind this was a long, long time ago. Maybe I’m getting some things wrong. Maybe I was rude in some way that I don’t remember. I certainly never thought I’d be writing about this little dinner over a dozen years later. If the guy comes by my blog somehow, and recognizes this story, I’d be happy to apologize for anything I was rude about. I was barely 20. (Which means I knew everything.)
Somehow we ended the discussion, with me feeling like a little English major was nothing in the sight of the Almighty ESV Translation Committee, and we got on with our dinner. He opened with the prayer, “Father, we thank You for Your word. We awake the dawn with Your praise…”
Even as a complementarian, the following rule of thumb was drilled into my head: never marry a man you wouldn’t want to submit to. I knew that this guy didn’t care enough about my opinion or my thoughts for submission to be the joyous, Godly exercise that it was supposed to be, so I never went out with him again.
However, this little story has been repeated over and over again in different contexts: I keep encountering people who insist that the ESV is the best, most excellent, most accurate, most dependable, most Godly translation of the Bible that ever existed. Any disagreement with that seems to equal blasphemy in their eyes, and they’re quick to insinuate that truly intellectual believers would use it.
I believe the ESV a translation of God’s word, and can therefore be used by God, just like the KJV, NIV, NLT, CEB, NET, and many others. Please don’t misunderstand this. I just think that it’s not infallible. I think it could use a second edition, and that the translation committee should hire an English style consultant.
As a writer and songwriter–who also has a degree in English–I think the ESV sounds like a jumble of English and Old English phrases strung together. I think it also sounds like the people on the translation committee don’t talk with non-academics very often. (Open to any passage, read it aloud, and ask yourself, “Does anyone I know actually talk like this?”) While they may understand Greek and Hebrew very well, they don’t seem to understand modern English, which is an important part of the process of communicating with the intended audience.
This is just my opinion. If the ESV works for you, great!!!
However, I’m going to stick to the translations that are currently working for me. While I would love a journaling Bible that has a grail-diary leather cover and super-wide margins, I think I’ll wait until either Zondervan or Tyndale comes out with one in the NIV or NLT.
If you’d like a great way to get Psalm 57:8 stuck in your head, I can’t recommend a better way than this song. 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C13m7BOcTmg