As an Hispanic Christian, my spiritual life was and is still being shaped by the beauty and accuracy of the Spanish Reina-Valera 1960 version of the Holy Bible. This is a version based on the Textus Receptus, and is very literal while exhibiting the best Spanish of the Golden Century (Siglo de Oro). This is what one would call a word-for-word equivalence, or “literal” translation.
After the 1960s, and coincidentally with the advent of estructuralism, pragmatism and post-modernism into the mainstream of literary studies, Eugene A. Nida at the American Bible Society began to advocate a different kind of translation: the “thought-by-thought” translation, more commonly understood as “dynamic equivalence”. Examples of this kind of translation is the Spanish Dios Habla Hoy, and the English versions New Living Translation, New International Version and the Contemporary English Version. But no matter what kind of hype I heard, I never could come to terms with the “dynamic equivalence” translations; they just felt as being extremely patronizing, treating me as unable to think or interpret. Besides that, they felt like “dumbed-down” versions in the sense that they took the “sting” out of Scripture. I know the Bible uses rather strong and forceful language, but in these translations the Bible seemed like baby-talk.
When I moved to the U.S. back in 2000, I was nurtured in the faith by a vibrant, biblical, lively and compassionate community of faith which also took liturgy and worship very seriously, and the worship was, if you understand what I mean, not exactly the ‘Maranatha-Hayford-Garveys’ school. In fact, it was far more into the Vaughan Williams, Howells, Parry, Lauridsen, and others :D. I loved it. I dug it. I craved it. For the first time, a church that had formal worship and did it with a joyful heart! So you might understand my disappointment when I noticed that the Bible version in the pews was the NIV. Yuck! Well, in a way it was understandable. The NIV translation was spearheaded by the denomination (the Christian Reformed Church) and it was regarded like an “in-house” product. People were very proud of it. Okay, I thought. This was the tough one to swallow…
One day, while in my apartment, I had the pleasure to receive a visit from the Church: one elder and one deacon, who were making a standard circuit of pastoral visits of members’ homes. While we were talking, sharing my struggles, concerns, and joys, the elder asked me if I had something to suggest. In fact I had: would you please consider changing your Bible version to something better? I took care of phrasing that request into the most tactful shape possible, and the elder was very interested in why I thought so. He said that it was surprising for me, having English as my second language, to request a Bible that would seem more difficult to grasp than the NIV. I had to explain to him that for me it was far more difficult to relate to Scripture in the NIV than in a more literal version such as the King James’. I was not looking for difficult English; what I wanted is a text that could do more justice to the originals and exhibit a better literary quality. The NIV wasn’t good in any of these areas.
The elder understood, and he then asked me what version would I like to use; to my surprise, the answer proved itself difficult: the New American Standard Bible was very literal, but awkward at times; the Revised Standard Version was liberal, and in fact it was the version used in the Church before the NIV, so it was already dismissed by our people; the King James Version was obviously too outdated. I recommended at that time that the revised NASB be evaluated as a possible replacement, but with an eye open for better arrivals in the field.
That conversation happened in the middle of 2001. Three months later, I found in the campus bookstore a Classic Reference Edition of the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Seeing this Bible branded as literal, faithful to the originals, readable, and with names such as J.I. Packer and Max Lucado associated to it, I was intrigued. What I found is an excellent translation that is in fact an orthodox revision of the Revised Standard Version, updating the language in several parts, undoing the liberal excesses, and in general giving excellent renderings.
I was really glad to have this Bible with me. Finally, a Bible which I could really understand and relate to, a Bible that is for English what Reina-Valera is for Spanish! The language is modern and very readable; the outlook is faithful to the text, and conservative (e.g., the word propitiation is retained), and in general avoids the plague of political correctness. If only I knew about this Bible version when the elder and deacon visited me!
In several exchanges with my excellent friends Tim and Ed we shared a concern about the increasing commercialism of Bible versions. The English versions that we now use and cherish are almost all copyrighted, and the copyright holders authorize their use only under very restrictive terms. The Lockman Foundation (owner of the NASB) and the International Bible Society (owner of the NIV) are the most egregious examples of this trend. This directly affected us in several ways. In my case, for example, I own a Bible study suite based on the Logos library system, published by the United Bible Societies. But I am unable to use it in GNU/Linux, because there’s no Logos System for it, and the only software available (the SWORD engine published by the CrossWire Bible Society) cannot release these versions in the SWORD format, because the versions are copyrighted and because the CrossWire Bible Society was unable to secure authorization. Similarly, the ESV Bible I got came with a handy CD which had Bible Study software with the texts of the King James Version and the ESV, but I cannot use it, because the software is for Windows, and a GNU/Linux version is not provided. And the ESV does not escape this trend: The text of the ESV is copyrighted, and there’s an authorization to use the text that is also subject to some restrictions.
But there’s an encouraging trend, and signs of hope in the horizon. Crossway Bibles (the ESV publisher) is taking several steps to make the ESV available to everyone as much as possible and you can perceive that they are adopting a copyright policy that is friendlier than those of the NIV and NASB. You can search the Bible from the Web (and even from here; look to the top right corner of the page); you can get it as a RSS feed, email, and now, as a Web service! (For more information, check the ESV Online website. There’s indeed a variety of ways you can get the ESV text).
Additionally, check this from Stephen Smith, Webmaster of the ESV Website:
Sometime soon we plan to make the ESV available in OSIS format through our web service. It's my understanding that Sword can read OSIS files, so you should be able to use your key to access the text that way. We may have to modify the terms of agreement slightly, but I hope that that will be possible.
All in all, I think I’m glad that Crossway is making efforts to ensure a wider availability of the ESV under sensible and reasonable terms. Right now I deem it as the best overall English version of the Bible, and I plan to use it as the primary version of the Bible in this site. The ESV is strongly recommended by this writer.