Category Archives: Bibliology

The Study of the Bible

DOES THE ESV HAVE A CALVINIST BIAS? (PART I)

ESV Pew HC

The English Standard Version, first published in 2001 by Crossway Bibles (and revised in 2007 and 2011) has surged in popularity despite its relatively young age. It consistently ranks 5th in both unit and dollar sales of all Bible translations and is steadily chiseling away at the market share of its competition. I believe that the ESV’s popularity is due to a combination of great marketing, celebrity pastor endorsements, offering many great editions for purchase, and the public’s acceptance and enjoyment of the translation itself. But… is there a hidden “Reformed Theology” bias underlying the text? Is there any evidence beyond the anecdotal? If there is indeed a slant, is the bias conscious or unconscious? Obviously, this can be considered “inside baseball.”

Let me start off by saying that I do not desire to promote factions or divisions within Christianity, to create a stumbling block for others, to start a translation “flame war,” or to in any way lord myself over my brothers and sisters in Christ. I legitimately hesitated to write this post for all of those reasons. Let me also say that I own several copies of the ESV Bible – perhaps as many as six. I own more copies of the ESV than I do my much preferred translation, the New American Standard Bible. I would also at this time continue to recommend the ESV to others as a solid and reliable translation that is available in a startling variety of options and editions.

So why write this post at all? Three reasons:

1. One of my all time favorite books of the Bible is 1 Peter. It brings to me tears when I read it. And, as I have made my preference clearly known, I prefer to read from the NASB. One day, reading 1 Peter 1:1 from the ESV, I encountered the word “elect” where I had previously always read “chosen.” Now elect is a theologically-charged word. The concept of election is absolutely central to Calvinism and Reformed Theology. And I would argue that the Greek eklektos no more means “elect” than diakonos means “deacon.” Both of those words require further translation to make sense in English. Eklektos is best translated as “chosen” and diakonos is best translated as “servant,” in my opinion. I then began to do some digging and found many others with similar suspicions. So, my first reason for writing this post is to actually investigate and see if there really is or is not a theological slant underlying the translation philosophy of the ESV.

2. I am heavily procrastinating writing my “omnipresence” post. That concept is quite complex and I do not want to rush my conclusions. Also, having two boys under the age of two in the house does not leave me much free time for reading these days…

3. Bible translations matter! Those curious believers who are “King James only” and also hold to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy are faced with the awkward task of explaining that unicorns really did exist, but that they are now extinct. Yes, the King James Version uses the word ‘unicorn’ six times; every other translation uses ‘wild ox.’ Inaccuracies in the KJV also led to the development of the Gap Theory of Creation. Other examples: Much controversy has surrounded the translation of Isaiah 7:14 – is it a “young woman” or a “virgin?” Also, debates over gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language in modern translations continue – is God our heavenly parent or specifically our heavenly father?

The translation(s) we are exposed to as children, or grow up reading, or start reading once we become Christians… that language has a lasting influence on our theology. I hope that every Christian would strive for the most accurate and trustworthy translations of Holy Scripture possible.

Part II of this series will examine the circumstantial evidence. Part III will example the textual evidence through specific examples. Does the ESV truly have a Calvinist bias? Let’s find out!

THE PERFECT BIBLE DESIGN

book-hi

I own approximately 18 Bibles, and that number is steadily rising. Bibles are certainly better things to collect than, say… souvenir shot glasses. But why bother? Every time I get excited about a new Bible purchase I start over at Genesis 1:1. And then I get anxiety about having to choose between which Bible to “remove” from my collection and tote around. If the most important Bible is the one you read, what practical benefit is there to hoarding so many physical copies of God’s word?

Maybe I just haven’t found “the one.”

Sure, I’ve got my go-to travel Bible. I have my ultra-deluxe Bible that my son will someday inherit. I have my wide-margin Bible for jotting theological notes. I have several niche Bibles that fulfill very specific purposes. But what I really want is ‘one Bible to rule them all.’

As far as I can tell, my dream Bible does not exist. Not yet. But if any Bible publishers are out there reading this, here is my shopping list:

TRANSLATION: New American Standard Bible – 1995 Text Update.

BINDING: Black Highland Goatskin. Smyth Sewn. Semi Yapp. Three ribbon markers. Art gilt.

PAPER: 38 GSM Tervakoski Thinopaque Bible Paper with 84% opacity.

PAGE DIMENSIONS: 9 1/8 x 6 1/4 inches (235 x 160mm).

TEXT: Single-column. Paragraph format. Black text. Line-matching. Ideally, I would like a format identical to the new ESV Reader’s Bible except for the inclusion of verse numbers. No text notes, cross-references, section headings, etc.

Until a visionary publisher creates my perfect Bible, I will have to keep playing Goldilocks. This one’s paper is too thin… this one crowds the gutter… this one has a lousy text block printed in China… this one has red letters…

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LOCKMAN FOUNDATION

schuyler_quentel_nasb

Dear Lockman Foundation, I believe you are missing the potential of one of the greatest resources available in all Christendom – the New American Standard Bible. You hold the copyright to the most literal, literate, and literary translation of the Holy Bible in the English language. Despite this treasure, the NASB placed 8th on the list of most units sold per translation in 2012. Here are a few humble suggestions from a lifelong NASB fan and loyalist:

  1. IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING: Crossway has 30+ different editions and permutations of the English Standard Version currently on the market, with more popping up all the time. They are aggressively expanding in all markets and have Celebrity Pastors hawking their goods left and right.
  1. EMBRACE THE LITERAL: Being the most literal of all mainstream translations is a commendable feat and a selling point, but you can go further. Why not translate LORD in the Old Testament as Yahweh? Why not avoid capitalizing divine pronouns when there is no manuscript evidence to support this practice? Also, there are numerous instances where a word will have a footnote that gives an even more literal translation than actually used – why hold back?
  1. CHANGE THE ‘AMERICAN’: Christianity is booming in the ‘Majority World.’ Crossway recently released the ESV GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE. Wouldn’t it sound strange to have a NEW AMERICAN STANDARD GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE? I love my country, but the word ‘American’ is unnecessarily limiting your customer base – even in regards to other English-speaking nations.

Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns. I hope for a bright and lasting future for this excellent translation. In the meantime, I will continue to use and enjoy my ‘77 NASB Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, my Cambridge NASB Pitt Minion Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Wide-Margin Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Clarion Reference Bible, and hopefully at some point in the future a Schuyler Quentel NASB!

www.lockman.org/nasb/