An Unavoidable Question
At some point in their ministry every pastor is asked the question, “What Bible translation do you recommend?”
“Choosing a Bible translation is not a life or death decision, but it’s far from a minor issue either” says Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and the author of Why Our Church Switched to the ESV. He goes on to say, “The Bible we study, the Bible used in our pulpits, the Bible we read to our children is the Bible that will shape our vocabulary about God and even the way we think about God.”
Meet Pastor Symons
We recently talked with Don Symons, pastor of Westney Heights Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario about his experience with this topic.
What were the circumstances that led your church to transition to the ESV?
Recommending any translation over another was new ground for us, but we did this for 3 reasons:
First, I noticed that many people did not bring Bibles to church. That gave me the idea of purchasing pew Bibles, and that naturally leads into a decision on which translation to purchase.
Second, I have found that preaching can be more exacting and precise if you know that most people in the congregation are looking at exactly the same words that you are preaching from.
Third, I was looking for a way to encourage the congregation in personal Bible study. The way that seemed best was to encourage our congregation to a purchase a high-quality study Bible if they didn't already have one. That again naturally leads to a decision on which translation to recommend for purchasing.
Why did you decide on the ESV?
I decided on the ESV for two reasons:
First, the strength of the translation itself. I think these strengths are described nicely in Kevin DeYoung's booklet "Why Our Church Switched to the ESV". For me, the "essentially literal" translation philosophy leads to all the other strengths. An "essentially literal" translation seeks to avoid over-translating or under-translating, it keeps the translation more transparent, and it captures the inherent beauty of divine revelation. The artistic beauty of the translation surprised me a bit. I thought that the ESV might be quite "wooden" because of it's philosophy, but it's connection to the KJV through the RSV makes the writing dramatic, beautiful, and moving.
Second, the ESV Study Bible notes are excellent. Because Crossway has adapted other study Bibles from the original ESV Study Bible (for example the ESV Student Study Bible), it makes a compelling case for our church to "buy into" the ESV as our primary family of study Bibles.
What advice do you have for other pastors regarding a church-wide translation?
Every church is different, so I don't know what advice might be appropriate for other pastors, but some of the critical factors that enabled a smooth transition for our church were:
First, don't bash other translations. Rather, be gracious. Other translations used by evangelicals are sincere and effective translations of God's Word, and God uses them in mighty ways.
Second, communicate clearly. In other words, don't surprise your leadership or your congregation. Tell them you're considering a change, ask for input, and provide updates regularly and through multiple methods. For example, I wrote a blog post, sent a church-wide email, taught a sunday school lesson explaining my decision, purchased ESV pew Bibles and set up a permanent display of six ESV resource Bibles for people to handle: the ESV Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, Large Print, ESV Student Study Bible, ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, ESV Grow! Bible, and the ESV Seek and Find Bible.
Want to Learn More?
- Learn more about the English Standard Version
- Why Our Church Switched to the ESV by Kevin DeYoung
- Direct-to-Church: In an effort to better equip churches for ministry, Crossway recently launched Direct-to-Church, a program that enables churches to buy Bibles and books in bulk and at a discount.
- If you would like to talk to someone about transitioning your church to the ESV, contact Danny Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630-682-4300, x6048.