Stated vs Meant at Mars Hill

Words vs Thoughts at Mars Hill

This is the second entry into my exploration of why Mars Hill, the church Mark Driscoll pastors, uses the ESV. Driscoll lists 6 theological and 5 practical reasons for using the translation. I’m dedicating an entire blog entry to respond to the individual theological points he offers. Let me say up front that I know that he is being concise and short with what he is presenting, but I think this issue is so complex that it merits multiple entries instead of a singular one.

So here is his second point represent in full,


Before we can interpret the meaning of Scripture, we must first accurately understand the message of Scripture. Or, to put it another way, only after knowing what Scripture says can we understand what it means. Practically, this requires that Bible translations be separate from and prior to Bible commentaries. A word-for-word translation (like the ESV) best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, not to insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture. Instead, it lets the text breathe as a living word and speak for itself. This is also sometimes called the formal equivalency approach to Bible translation. It tries to remain as close as possible to the original grammar and structure of the manuscripts. In addition to the ESV, other examples of this style of translation include the NASB and the HCSB.

The Bible repeatedly declares that the very words of God are important, not just the thoughts they convey.

Other approaches to rendering the Bible in modern English include the dynamic equivalency approach, which includes thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases. Unlike the formal equivalency method, dynamic equivalency translations, such as the NIV, work harder at capturing the original thoughts of the text rather than trying to stick strictly to the grammar of the original text. The gain here is typically easier readability—these versions are popular because they can come across as “fresh” renditions of Scripture—but sometimes this comes at the expense of accuracy.

The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby mix Bible and Bible commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning.

Driscoll’s opening statement can be very tricky to navigate unless you’ve read his first point of we need the exact words not the thoughts. So that when he uses the word “says” he means “the very words.” When he uses the word “means” he refers to the “thoughts.” But that defeats how we use the words “says” and “means” in English, which defeats his point here. In English, we can use the words “say” and “mean” to refer to the same thing. Have you ever seen a movie or TV show, read a book or short story, where a character will give a lengthy explanation of an idea or thought only to have the character being spoken to reply with, “What are you saying?” or “Meaning?”? The words “say” and “mean” can be interchangeable depending upon the context. Hence how I knew that Mark was using “says” differently than “means.”

Driscoll somehow presents the idea that we need to figure out the individual words of a Greek sentence first before we can figure out what the thought of the sentence is. On one level this is true. Words come together to create clauses; which in turn come together to create sentences; which in turn come together to create paragraphs; which in turn come together to create written accounts.

But the meaning of a word depends on exactly how it is used in the sentence it appears in. I remember being taught this in my 4th grade English class. I was terrible at it. But context determines how a word is used in a sentence. Hence Driscoll can use “says” differently than “means” because the context of the sentence, and the larger entry, demands that we the reader differentiate. His use within the sentence determines the meaning.

The final paragraph gets even more disturbing. It shows a complete disregard or unawareness of how Biblical Greek and Hebrew, as well as, translation works. Consider This statement from 2 Corinthians 5:15, καὶ ὑπὲρπάντων ἀπέθανεν ἵνα οἱ ζῶντες μηκέτι ἑαυτοῖς ζῶσιν ἀλλὰ τῷ ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν ἀποθανόντι καὶ ἐγερθέντι. In the NIV this verse reads, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” I want to look at the final clause of this verse.

  • Greek: ἀλλὰ τῷ ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν ἀποθανόντι καὶ ἐγερθέντι
  • Literally: rather the for them died and raised
  • NIV: but for him who died for them and was raised again.
  • KJV: but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
  • NASB: but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
  • NLT: Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
  • ESV: but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
  • HCSB: but for the One who died for them and was raised.
  • NET: but for him who died for them and was raised.

I have listed a cadre of verses that translate the Greek differently. Driscoll lists the NASB, the ESV and the HCSB as formal-equivalence translations that seek to remove the translators as much as possible, providing as little commentary as possible. Even the KJV is considered formal-equivalence. Yet these cannot agree on what it is that Paul is saying, let alone meaning. The KJV and HCSB agree with the NIV and NET that Jesus died for them and was raised. This is not saying the same thing as what the NLT and the NASB does, which is that Jesus died and was raised for them. The words are identical but the order is different. Why? Because translators cannot agree which verb or verbs the prepositional phrase belongs to, thereby what Paul means to say. Was Jesus’ death the only thing that was substitutional or was his resurrection the only thing substitutional, or are both his death and resurrection substitutional. One has to look elsewhere in Paul to get what is being said to translate this into English accurately. The ESV does agrees with the KJV and HCSB. How one arranges and punctuates this sentence is the commentary on the text.

Driscoll’s point that Formal-equivalence doesn’t provide commentary is dead wrong. They all provide commentary. Placing the preposition “for them” or “for their sake” with only the verb “died” as opposed to with “was raised” is commentary on what Paul said by the translators. The ESV engaged in commentary with their translation. He is misleading his audience in trying to say otherwise.

We also begin to see a power-play starting to take place here. Driscoll’s insistence at using the ESV, which it appears to favor the KJV and HCSB, could be taken as not indicating which verb the preposition belongs to. This creates a hierarchy for the pastor. The common reader of the text might not be able to determine what the ESV says and has to go to the pastor to get clarification on what the Bible is saying. The power is in Driscoll’s hands to tell people what he wants the Scripture to mean, not what God is leading them to see by the Spirit in his Word.

And back to Driscoll’s rant in the first point about word-for-word vs thought-for-thought in why his church adopted the ESV. In this text the ESV takes the one Greek word ὑπὲρ and expands it into “for their sake” where as the dynamic equivalence translations only translate it as “for,” which is literal and word-for-word. The ESV went thought-for-thought. Oops!

~ by hankimler on September 5, 2013.

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