Dave Black linked to an article that the late Rod Decker had written for the Baptist Bulletin asking ‘Can We Trust the ESV Bible?‘ In the article he discusses the basic essence of BIble translations and a little bit of history leading up to the ESV, which I thought was interesting because he stated that the ESV is actually a revision and not a translation per se, such as the NIV. The ESV is a revision of the RSV whereas the NIV is a direct translation of Hebrew and Greek.
But the reason for the blog title is he talks briefly about the form and function of translations highlighting formal and functional equivalent translations. These two are not contradictory to each other but merely reflect differences in styles and really preferences as it relates to traditions. He then gives an example:
Consider the following illustration of these differences in a difficult verse. If we were to translate word-for-word, we might read 2 Corinthians 6:12 like this: “Not you are being restricted in us you are being restricted but in the intestines of you.” Not very helpful, is it?! The KJV reads, “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.” That’s not much clearer. The ESV reads, “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.” Though only minor changes are made, translating the reference to the intestines into the metaphorical meaning of the expression (“affections”) helps the reader understand more of what Paul meant—but what is the “restriction”? The NIV becomes clearer: “We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.” In this case the form of the original is not as evident, but the meaning is understandable. On the functional end of the spectrum, we might read something like this: “If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us” (New Living Translation).
Decker is using this example to highlight the differences between working to get the form (literalness) of the text or word and working to get the function (meaning) of the text or the word. He avers that the ESV succeeds at improving the form and function of the original KJV upon which the ESV is based, and I would agree. However, I admit, I have a preference for emphasizing the functionality of translations rather than the form of them. Why? Because I think functionality gets at the heart of what should be happening in a translation – people need to know not just what the Bible says, but also what it means and I personally believe that is accomplished best through a functional equivalence translation style, something mediating between the NIV and the NLT. But again, that is my personal preference, but one I think is supported by the quote above. As Decker notes, the ESV is not an unusable translation, it does accomplish the purpose for which it is intended, however,
I remember in my 2nd year Greek classes (we did what were called “inductive studies in the Greek” which was really a kind of surveying how to do exegesis in the various genre of the NT, well first semester we translated 1-2 Thessalonians, few chapters out of John and some others I can’t remember) and then the next semester we did translations out of the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the Epistles, and Revelation covering exegetical issues in each) but the thing I remember was Ben Aker saying that in first year Greek students spend time being form chasers, but that beyond that students of NT Greek should become function chasers. And I think that is how it should be in translation – going for the function moreso than the form.