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A Review of the English Standard Version

By Kyle Pope

R

ecent years have seen more and more brethren in churches around the country using the newest formal equivalence (or “word for word”) translation the English Standard Version (Standard Bible Society. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books and Bibles, 2001). Choosing a Bible translation is not like choosing a shirt color—it should involve a careful consideration of the textual basis, translation philosophy, religious perspective, and strengths and weaknesses of any translation. 

            The textual basis of the English Standard Version (ESV) rests on eclectic critical Greek texts (the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, 4th ed. and the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed.) rather than the Textus Receptus (the edition of the Greek New Testament first edited by Erasmus, and revised by various subsequent editors) on which the King James Version is based. In this the ESV is very similar to the New American Standard Bible and virtually all modern translations except the New King James Version. The reader will see this in shortened verses and phrases familiar in the King James Version, such as Romans 8:1 which reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (ESV) rather than “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (KJV).

            The ESV was produced by editors with a conservative view of the inspiration of Scripture and an essentially fundamentalist Protestant religious perspective. A number of notable religious figures contributed to its production such as Max Lucado, and R. C. Sproul, biblical scholars Craig Blomberg, and Moises Silva, and Greek scholars Daniel Wallace, and Robert and William Mounce. The editors describe their aim as seeking to produce a translation that is “essentially literal,” striving to be “transparent to the original text.” Born out of concerns over the growing trend towards “gender-neutral” (or “inclusive”) language translations, the editors deliberately retain gender distinctions present in the original text. That is to say “all men” rather than “all people.” The editors of the ESV are critical of a “dynamic equivalence” (or “thought for thought”) approach to translation (such as seen in the New International Version, New Living Bible Translation, and Holman Christian Standard Bible).  Unfortunately, the editors of the ESV made the unfortunate decision to reject the custom of italicizing words supplied by translators. This can lead the reader think that a word or phrase (inferred in the text) is actually present when it is not.  For example the ESV renders Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (ESV). In this example the second phrase “set their minds on” is not duplicated in the original text (though it is inferred). If the editors had italicized the phrase it would truly be “transparent to the original text.”

            The ESV makes some unfortunate translation choices. In Matthew 16:18 it incorrectly translates hades, “hell” even though it correctly renders it “hades” in Acts 2:31 and Luke 16:23.  In 1 Peter 4:3 it translates the word komos “orgies” (giving it an exclusively sexual emphasis) when it actually refers to  Mardi Gras-like “half-drunken” (Thayer) “revellings” (KJV, ASV) or “revelries” (NKJV, NASB). Occasionally the ESV betrays the denominational bias of its editors. In Galatians 5:6 it adds the word “only” (which is not in the Greek) to Paul’s reference to “faith working through love,” making faith the only thing that “counts for anything.” In Revelation 13:8, although the natural order of the Greek makes Christ the “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (NKJV), the ESV it changes the order and the meaning to say, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (ESV). In spite of these shortcomings, the ESV in general maintains a careful respect for the content of the original text and avoids biased translations of many controversial passages.

Pope, Kyle. "A Review of the English Standard Version" Biblical Insights 11.3 (March 2011): 25  

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