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Mars Hill Church, the ESV, and My Own Church

by Stephen Hebert on Wednesday - 9 May 2007

in Biblical Studies, Ministry

Mars Hill Church : Pastoral Reflections on Bible Translations: Why We Preach from the English Standard Version

Somehow, I missed this. It happened back in January.

Those who know me know that I often enjoy listening to Mark Driscoll, the head pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle. Driscoll’s sermons are biblically-based (he focuses on a passage of Scripture and, generally speaking, avoids “topical” and “feel-good” sermonizing), entertaining (he’s part stand-up comic), and occasionally offensive (example: preaching in a t-shirt that says: “Jesus watches you download porn.”).

The elders at Mars Hill have decided to do away with the NIV as their pulpit Bible (a translation that had been in place since Mars Hill’s inception in 1996) in favor of the ESV. The above link is a paper written by Driscoll on why they favor the ESV.

I’ve made it pretty clear that the ESV is my translation of choice, and I find Driscoll’s thoughts well-reasoned.

I also applaud Driscoll and Mars Hill for being pretty transparent about this decision. Thinking about my own church situation (Friendswood Community Church [FCC] in Friendswood, TX), I have no idea what the preferred translation would be.

<<WARNING: stephen is mounting the soapbox>>

In reality, there is no preferred translation at FCC. In fact, it is somewhat rare for a Bible to be used at the pulpit. Rather, the text, when it’s used, will be projected on to large screens at the front of the auditorium. Sometimes it’s the NLT, sometimes it’s the Message.

Whichever the translation is, one thing is always true: it’s never a word-for-word translation.

As someone interested in Greek and Hebrew, interested in Bible translation, who believes that translation is interpretation and that word-for-word translation is the best way to get at the original text for those who don’t know these languages, I really don’t like this. It annoys me.

If you look at FCC’s Core Values, you’ll find this: “We believe that the Bible, God’s inerrant Word, should be foundational and authoritative for all that the Church does.”

The problem here is that in using The Message and the NLT, we’re not really looking at the inerrant Word are we? Aren’t we really looking at the errant thought, or the errant paraphrase?

A few weeks ago I was teaching a class on Romans. I asked a person in the group to read a section aloud. She proceeded to read from The Message. I tried my best to follow along, but I just couldn’t. It was so foreign. My response to her was: “I’m sorry, could you read that from the Bible?” Everyone laughed. It was meant to be funny, but, at the same time, it’s a bit sad.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that the best access to the text is through the original language. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the necessary skill to read the original languages. So, when you believe so deeply that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, that the Bible is His revelation to us, why don’t you do your best to access that revelation in the most exact way? Why leave extra room for error and interpretation here?

<<soapbox dismounted>>

Just thought I’d throw that out there…for what it’s worth.

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