My Journey to the English Standard Version

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  • The Bible has always been a central part of my life. And the translation of my youth was the King James Version. My home church was not “King James Only.” But the KJV was the only translation we were exposed to. I had a children’s story Bible that I loved. But I knew it was not THE Bible. The KJV was. I assumed it was the Bible Jesus and the apostles read!

    My father – who was my pastor – studied and preached from the KJV. But he often read devotionally from the Moffat Translation, I later discovered. It was the default version from which he would quote Psalm 23:1: “The Eternal shepherd’s me, I lack nothing.” This introduced me to the world of multiple Bible translations.

    Then I got a copy of Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible paraphrase. I was fascinated that it was written to help his children understand scripture during their family devotions. And I understood that it was a paraphrase, not a translation. But I enjoyed reading it. On one occasion, I was studying Psalm 1. I knew the psalm by memory. But I struggled to make sense of it for preaching. So I pulled down my Living Bible. The first verse read: “Oh how happy are those who do not take advice from ungodly people.” That paraphrase caused things to begin to click for me and showed me that different translations can help you see a text with fresh eyes.

    I remember in the early days of my pastorate, I was in a jam and stole a sermon from a book. It was called “Other Little Ships” based on Mark 4:35. Jesus was on the ship, but there were other little ships with him… like worship, fellowship, discipleship, and stewardship… Get it? I thought I nailed it. But after the service, a member showed me her Bible, which read “other little boats.” I was embarrassed. And I determined not to steal again (Until the next time!) and not to have a sermon trumped because I did not compare translations.

    At some point, after young people and new believers kept mentioning their difficulty in understanding the KJV, I started using the New King James Version. It was basically the KJV, with some words translated more accurately and the archaic language updated. It used “You” rather than “thee” and “thou.” And it did not use any words that end with “eth,” like “maketh” or “cometh.” I used NKJV for personal study and public teaching for about ten years. But I constantly read from various translations. For an extended period, I would study from the NKJV and do my devotions from the New International Version – memorizing scripture from both translations. But this proved to be more than I could maintain.

    One day, I drove out to my favorite Christian bookstore. I slowly perused every section of the store, looking for anything new or of note that I had not read. Scanning the Bibles section, I picked up the English Standard Version. As I began to read it, I was hooked. It had the accuracy of the New American Standard Bible, the readability of the New International Version, and yet maintained much of the poetry of the King James Version/New King James Version. It became my personal Bible, even though I was still preaching from the NKJV.

    When I finished a book series I was preaching, I decided to try out the ESV for a few weeks. I have been preaching and teaching from it every since. I never made an announcement of my change. I just would just state the translation I was using before I read my text, which I had always done and still do. Many followed me to the ESV, in order to have the same Bible the pastor was preaching from.

    I continued to compare translations. And I am sensitive to the fact that there are many different translations sitting in people’s laps when I stand to preach. But the ESV has proven to be sufficient for my personal devotions, in-depth study, and public ministry. And the growing number of reference resources linked to the ESV only increases my confidence in it as a fitting Bible for both personal and corporate use. I actually think that there are too many translations on the market. Publishers are producing new Bible versions for economic gain rather than spiritual benefit. Thankfully, there is a “survival of the fittest” dynamic that renders unworthy translations extinct. But it is my prayer that the ESV will gain readership and influence among Bible readers and students. May the Lord use this wonderful translation to spark a revival of love for the word of God!


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.