Bible translator Mark Naylor has responsed to recent claims made about the ESV by its general editor, Dr. J. I. Packer. Naylor begins:
A Call for a Complementary view of Bible Versions
As a missionary involved in Bible translation for the past 18 years, I was disappointed with the tone of the article “‘Packer’s Bible’ now bestseller” appearing in the BC Christian News, August 2007 Vol 27 #8. During the course of celebrating the growth in sales of the English Standard Verson (ESV) – a welcome addition to a number of excellent formal translations such as the NRSV and the NASB – disparaging and unhelpful remarks were made against other translations and translation philosophies (such as the “meaning based” philosophy that lies behind those invaluable translations that provide the spiritually hungry reader with “what was meant”).
Later in his article Naylor adds:
A few misleading statements warrant comment. Dr Packer is quoted as asserting that “other modern translations … deviate from what was said in several thousand places.” This implies that the other translations have erred or deliberately misled the Bible reader to the extent that their translation is a distortion of God’s word. Not only is such a claim disrespectful to equally dedicated and educated scholars, but it is harmful to those who depend on those translations in their daily walk with God. Rather than assuming a “deviation,” Dr Packer should recognize that a variety of expressions of the original text do not distort, but rather provide a greater expression of the richness and depth of the message.
Dr Packer is also quoted as saying that other translations present “what was meant but not what was said.” This statement is misleading for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that the ESV provides “what was said.” However, this is not possible since what was originally “said” was given in another language. In order to provide “what was said,” one must refuse to translate and read the original text as it was written in Greek or Hebrew. Second, if a translation does not communicate the meaning of the original within the forms and concepts of the receptor language, then the translation has failed in its task. All English translations, including the ESV, must take “what was said” in the original language and rephrase it with English forms and words that provide an equivalent meaning. It is precisely this interpretive task that describes the work of translation. One difference between formal (such as the ESV) and meaning based (such as the CEV and TEV) translations is that the former takes great pains to mimic the idiom, concepts and structure of the original language with less concern for clarity, while the latter sacrifices the form of the original language in order to provide the meaning of the text in ways that communicate clearly to the modern reader. Both translation philosophies are to be valued and are complementary, rather than in opposition to each other.
According to the article the ESV website claims that “thought-for-thought translations” are “of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” This apparent attempt to disparage meaning based translations is a sword that cuts both ways. Translation is impossible without interpretation. Why use “60 scholars who were expert in individual books,” if their interpretive expertise was not required in a “word for word” translation?
Oh, that there might be care and humility exercised in all claims made about English Bible versions! There is value in different kinds of Bible translations. Some are better for one purpose; some for another.