Pastoral Perspectives

Why True Way is switching to the English Standard Version (ESV)?

Beginning this year, True Way will be using ESV for all Scripture Reading and memory verses. According to the Christian Booksellers Association, the NIV is the best-selling English Bible, ahead of the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New Living translation, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard, and several others. Then why change? This perspective is not about asking you to change your bibles as well but to explain why the church has decided to use ESV so that you may know the issues involved. Some of you may already know that NIV now comes in the new 2010 edition. So when you read verses from websites like or from newly bought bibles, chances are you will be reading the new edition instead of the older 1984 edition, which the church has been using but which will be out of print. So why not use the new 2010 edition?

            The Pastoral team has discussed on a major linguistic and hermeneutical problem with the gender-neutral language employed in the new edition. The NIV attempts to make Scripture gender neutral. This means that words that carry a masculine meaning are retranslated using the normal editorial tools for gender neutrality. For example, words like “brother” and “father” are changed so that “brothers” becomes “brothers and sisters” and “fathers” becomes “parents.” So if a Hebrew or Greek masculine word is used in a context where men and women are being addressed, the translators do not rely on the reader to consider that factor when reading it. Instead they widen the range of meaning for that word in the translation. So “your own brothers” is changed to “your fellow Israelites,” “brothers” becomes “relatives,” “turn your sons away” becomes “turn your children away,” “your needy brother” becomes “the needy among your fellow Israelites,” “sin of the fathers” becomes “sin of the parents,” “fathers” becomes “ancestors,” etc.

            So what is our concern over gender-neutral approach in the new edition? We do not share NIV’s concern that people today might treat masculine terms as referring only to males when context implies both genders. For example, most people would know that “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” refers to both men and women in general, or that “If your brother sins, rebuke him” also applies to a sister who sins, or that “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” also means coveting the neighbor’s husband. Our concern with the new 2010 edition is the translators’ objections to the use of masculine words because it may be offensive to contemporary and modern culture and hence the adoption of gender-neutral translation as sort of a compromise. In doing so, we feel that they have intentionally chosen not to translate those words faithfully according to Holy Scripture, not because readers might misread it but more to appease those who may be offended by the use of masculine terms. So what if some other cultures are offended by the use of the name Jesus or Yahweh? The pastoral team thus presented our concerns to the Elders and since the NIV 1984 edition will no longer be in print, the church should switch to the English Standard Version (ESV) for Scripture reading and memory. But why ESV? Why not NKJV or NASB? The reason is because ESV is now easily available and downloadable for free and is also highly recommended by scholars.

            What does this change means to you? John Piper wroteI would rather have people read any translation of the Bible—no matter how weak—than to read no translation of the Bible. If there could be only one translation in English, I would rather it be my least favorite than that there be none. God uses every version to bless people and save people. If you like and appreciate the translation that you currently use. Good! Stick with it. All we ask is that you read it. If you already have the new 2010 edition, then know of this gender-neutral issue so that you are not confused why your bible seems to be different compared to older NIVs. But if you are thinking of getting a new bible for yourself or to give away, then we strongly recommend ESV to go along with the church.  Please know that we did not come to this decision quickly and neither should you just dump your existing bibles away for new ESV ones. So as for now we know it can be frustrating to look at the screen and see a different translation from the one that you are probably familiar with. We appreciate your patience and understanding. And if you would like to change to the ESV as well, the church would be glad to arrange for a ESV Bible sales at the cozy corner. Have a blessed 2012!

Pastor Cheng Huat

January 1, 2012