To ESV or not to ESV, that is the question.

Today’s Theology Thursday post is a seemingly simple one so I’d like 100% participation please and thank you. As you may have noticed from my blog title today’s post has to do with Bible translations. Whether or not to use an ESV though is not really the question, I just thought it rhymed well with the old Shakespeare quote.

I lead a small group at our church where in we study the Bible based off the previous week’s sermon. A lot of times when I’m preparing the questions and what-not for discussion I use exclusively a ESV Bible, it is the Elect Sanctified Version after all, sometimes I’ll use a NKJV though. I’d really like to get my hands on a NASB…maybe for Christmas…anyway…different people in our small group use different versions of course.  Some people, more than two, in my small group use The Message Bible. Now, if you’re not familiar with The Message Bible it is in contemporary English and it’s a pretty laid back version, I think I saw the recipe for Rice Krispy treats in there once and of course in The Message Jesus turned the water into wine coolers (*rimshot* thank you Tim Hawkins) also if you want some real fun try using a Message Bible for Bible drills, hilarity will ensue.

But seriously, I do not like The Message Bible at all, for several reasons: first, it is a paraphrase of the Bible, a lot of the richness of the language is lost. In the case with my small group  I had a point to make based on 1 Peter 2:1-3, where it says:

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

The above is how it reads in my ESV bible…my entire point here was based on the word “IF” in verse three. “If you have tasted that the Lord is good” this is an unassuming statement. My point was that just because the scripture says something is true does not automatically make it true of you, hence the word “if.” The problem was I asked someone to read who was using a Message Bible wherein that verse reads:

So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.

The Message changes it to more of an assuming statement. I had to read the verse out of my Bible to make the point, and then we got on a bunny trail about Bible versions. Beyond annoyances at little things like these, in a few weeks we are going to be in 1 Peter 3 and there are several differences in the text there, mostly because the word “submit” is completely lost. Other problems include its
leaning toward Gnosticism, it’s less defining of God as a man, it lack of authority in the Word of God,  in some places, while it claims to be a contemporary version, it’s too concise and in others too verbose. There is a laundry list of reasons I don’t like this “paraphrase.”

My questions for discussion are these:

Do I discourage use of The Message Bible as a whole, even to those who would say they have a hard time understanding a different translation?

Do I warn of its many shortcomings (because I kinda already have)?

What would be a better translation to point someone to in this kind of situation? (The latest NIV has just as many gender problems.)


15 thoughts on “To ESV or not to ESV, that is the question.

  1. I personally believe, whatever version of the Bible someone uses should be based on their personal relationship with Christ.

    I don’t think you should tell other people what they can and can not read. That just puts a unnecessary struggle up for someone. Let God work on the people. As long as they are getting the message of God’s love and grace and the essence of the Gospel then who cares the version?

    I’ll just say I personally don’t really care for either version you said ha. But that’s just me. If I can better present the Gospel to someone who reads The Message, then I’m going to use The Message. Same for any other version.

    It’s not about a version of the Bible or a denomination, it’s about seeking truth, which is a road that ends at the foot of cross.

    • Intersting thoughts…so if someone in your church, one of the sheep under your care, wanted to read say, The Satanic Verses or The Book of Mormon, you wouldn’t try and stop them? Not that I’m saying the Message is quite as bad as all that, but it does in some cases obfuscate the truth of the whole of the Bible, and that is my concern here.

  2. I really like the Message Bible. For me, it’s a tool when I get stuck on a particular passage in other versions. In my Sunday School class, one person uses a Message translation when we’re reading our passages for the week, and it adds a bit of flavor. Some passages may come across as watered down, but there are others that seem to pack even more punch than another version.

    Thought-provoking post!

    • Thanks for your input! I can appreciate using it like you said, as a tool when you get stuck on a particular passage, I’m pretty okay with its use in such cases, I guess my concern is on its exclusive use.

      • Btw John: There are simply much better one-man paraphrases than Peterson’s (in my opinion), like the older one of William Barclay, and now the newer one by N.T. Wright. Also even the older 1950-60’s NT paraphrase by J.B. Phillips is still good.

        Note, the last three are all Anglicans! 🙂

        PS..It pays off here being older! I have old sermon tapes of both Barclay and Phillips, 😉

  3. The ESV is one of my fav’s for sure and since I am a Brit, I still read the KJV/NKJV. And I also read my Greek NT every A.M. for my own devotion. And I even use an ESV Study Bible personal size for daily pastoral use in hospital chaplain work.

    NO Message for me! 😉

  4. The problem with the message is not so much the language, the problem was that it was penned by one man, which means that the translation (if you dare call it a translation) is based entirely off of one man’s take on the greek and hebrew. Peterson is brilliant, I do not despise him at all, BUT, as smart as he is, he is not as smart as a collection of 30 or more scholars pouring over each text to come to a consensus.

    In the text you cited there is a definite change of meaning, and the message cannot be trusted on that text. The problem is that there are countless examples just like that one, and when I say countless I mean thousands, literally. James 1:12 girl gave the standard pragmatist answer on the issue, and I respect it, but think it is misguided.

    The other question I would ask that piggy backs off of this one, is whether or not it is advantageous to have various people in your bible study using different versions? Obviously the pro side is that you possibly get a better picture of the text when comparing versions, the downside is that every bible study tends to waste 1/4 of its time or more in going through the whole “well my version says..” ritual. We are all familiar with that.

    Finally for those who say they cannot understand other versions… um… I don’t mean this to be overly harsh, but the NIV is written at a 6th grade or lower level. I think the reason a lot of people want to read the message is that they want to read what the text means more than what the texts says. The problem then is that they have submitted themselves to the mind of one man, Eugene Peterson, as their adviser when it comes to figuring out the scripture.

    Long answer to a short question I know, but great question.

    BTW, I prefer ESV as well, but I do like NASB also. You can get an NASB for 5 bucks or less, just buy the thing, if you can’t afford it let me know, I’ll buy it for you and have it shipped to you. (And you will forever be seen as a cheapskate as well!)

      • Since I am semi-retired now, and in the US, my secretary is most often “myself”! 😉 My wife try’s to help, but with her chronic COPD, I don’t stress her.

        I have too many NASB Bibles, in various “Bibles”, Study, etc. Btw, let me pitch the ESV Study Bible, simply a nice tool! And it comes in both the regular size, and now the rather new Personal Size…both are great! Every serious Bible student, pastor-teacher, etc. should have one! 🙂

      • Irish Anglican! Wish you would have posted that before I sent it out!! I sent him my only hard copy of the NASB. Maybe we could set John up with a local gideon, I bet they could get him some bibles. John I haven’t done any research on this, but if you want me too I can probably find some food pantries in your area if you need me to.

        btw John, it was sent media mail so it might take a week or so.

    • I like the NASB Update first, 1995. No “Thee, “Thou” and “Thy” (No Personal Pronouns) in the Update as it adresses God in prayer. But the older NASB, 1960, etc. is also good, with the Thee & Thou’s toward Deity in prayer, etc. I personally prefer the Update, since there are no personal pronouns in the original.

      I also have the American Standard Version, 1901.. the Father of the NASB’s, very literal! And then I have too, the Revised Version, 1880 (NT), 1884 (OT)…1885 whole Bible.

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