30 August 2011

Book(let) review — Why Our Church Switched to the ESV, by Kevin DeYoung — plus a brief excursus on modern versions

by Dan Phillips

(Wheaton: Crossway, 2011; 31 pages)

About This Book
When Crossway sent me this little booklet, I have to admit it didn't instantly interest me — except that it was written by DeYoung. It was little, the topic wasn't "hot" to me, and I didn't immediately think it would grip me much.

But a reading-slot opened up in my schedule that perfect for something brief and relatively light, and ever since reading DeYoung's truly wonderful Just Do Something (which I even reference in the Proverbs book), I'm an admirer. So I gave it a go.

I'm glad I did. Why Our Church Switched to the ESV was a good read: crisp, informative, and to the point. DeYoung was facing the decision, as a pastor, of guiding his church in purchasing new Bibles for the pews. They had been using and liking the NIV, which DeYoung says several times that he regards as a usable, respectable version. In other words, unlike me, he wasn't predisposed to dislike it.

DeYoung recommended the ESV, and in this booklet he explains why. All of DeYoung's discussion is based on the 1984 version, which might lead one to think the whole is hopelessly dated since the advent of NIV 2011. However, he focuses more on translation-philosophy and its fruits as seen in the text, and this transfers over perfectly well to the NIV and any other predominantly "dynamic-equivalence" version.

DeYoung sets forth and explains seven reasons why he prefers the ESV and recommended it to the church:
  1. The ESV employs an "essentially literal" translation philosophy.
  2. The ESV is a more transparent translation.
  3. The ESV engages in less over-translation.
  4. The ESV engages in less under-translation.
  5. The ESV does a better job of translating important Greek or Hebrew words with the same English word throughout a passage or book.
  6. The ESV retains more of the literary qualities of the Bible.
  7. The ESV requires much less "correcting" in preaching.
In these particulars, I think DeYoung goes to the heart of the matter, and I agree with his comparison and examples. In fact, though I had thought I'd thought this through, I found his explanation clarifying and helpful.

In the main, I'd agree with DeYoung's recommendation. Were facing the decision with a church I pastored and were I facing the same two-version choice, I think I'd make the same decision for the same reasons. The NIV (1984) is the most disappointing product one could imagine coming from such a stellar array of scholars and luminaries. It simply packs far too much interpretation into the text, and makes far too many interpretive decisions "backstage," without even alerting the reader to the fact that there even is any choice. If they called it the "New International Targum," I might feel a bit better about it.

Nor can one say in all instances "Oh well, the literal rendering is in the footnote." How many Bible readers that aren't detail-freaks (< writer raises hand and waves >) even read Bible marginal notes? One I tackle at some length in The World-Tilting Gospel is the NIV's choice to render sarx as "sinful nature" rather than the literal "flesh." This is sheer interpretation. The NIV translators made dozens of such decisions, many of which are unnoted. DeYoung would call this a lack of "transparency," and perhaps an excess of "over-translation."

DeYoung makes clear that the ESV/NIV difference in these regards is often one of degree rather than a chasm, but the ESV leans one way, while the NIV leans the other. Thus, by using the ESV, DeYoung doesn't have to devote a large portion of a sermon explaining why the text which the church put in people's hands is basically wrong — thus leading them to think they simply can't trust their Bibles half the time — and more time preaching the text.

DeYoung recommends the ESV for church and personal use, and I recommend DeYoung. So I guess that makes me a second-degree ESV-recommender.

A digression on translations
I have to say I'm not a wild-eyedly enthusiastic one, however. Everything DeYoung says is true and accurate. I just wish the ESV was more the way DeYoung says it leans. I wish it were fresher, freer from the RSV.

For instance, working in Proverbs, two of the ESV behaviors that frustrated me were: (1) like all English translations, it renders about three different Hebrew words as "fool" — I wish some version would break from the pack; and (2) there and often when the ESV has a poor rendering, you check and find they've just echoed the RSV without re-examination. And then, in other cases, they're just odd and by-themselves, as I encountered in preparing to teach on Genesis 49:10 at the coming conference. Here (oddly) the ESV goes with NRSV in a translation-decision that hasn't convinced many evangelicals, including me.

What's my version-preference? It would probably be an impossible hybrid between ESV, CSB, NKJ, NAS and Modern Language Bible, in around that order, with the first and second choices nearly neck-and-neck. Plus, some modern Bible-believing translation simply has to break out of the traditionalistic and indefensible "LORD/GOD" superstition, and show respect for the name God chose for Himself (see further here, here, here and here, if you like).

Not that I have an opinion, mind you.

I find that, when I like the CSB, I really like it. They aren't afraid to be independent, and often in doing so in my judgment they get the text just right. Yet there are simple oddities which make the CSB seem, at other times, not-ready-for-prime-time. A glaring example would be their whimsical use of both "Messiah" and "Christ" to render christos in the NT, sometimes in the same passage, and even in consecutive verses (e.g. Ephesians 2:5-20 — absolutely baffling)!

So: use the ESV, and have a pastor who knows and uses Greek and Hebrew.

But, in the immortal words of Alistair Cookie, "Me digress."

Back-to-the-book conclusion
All that to say: DeYoung is, as always, readable, and helpful. If you're facing choices as a reader, this will give you brief and pointed guidance. If you lead a church facing a decision like this, Why Our Church Switched to the ESV would be an invaluable booklet to distribute. Recommended.

Dan Phillips's signature


Chris Roberts said...

By CSB do you mean HCSB? Too often with that translation I find myself saying, "What? What were they thinking?" I have to concede that some of that may simply be a resistance to times when they, as you say, go in an independent direction, but it's enough to put that translation farther down my list.

Tom said...


If the AV KJV 1611 was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it should be good enough for thee.

We need to get back to the book that God has blessed for over 400 years. Amen.


I've actually enjoyed reading through the ESV and the HCSB this year. I've found the HCSB to be more "blunt" in places (e.g.Gen 31:35), but good overall. I plan to read through a couple other translations next year.


Robert said...

I like the ESV, CSB, and NASB. I was curious whether you had any opinion of the NASB?

I also wonder if anybody will develop a translation with Yahweh...surely somebody could just take their favorite translation and make that change, right?

Fred Butler said...

I'm curious if there are any youngins' who know who that is in the first picture.

And I didn't even particularly care for the group except for Mr. Roboto.

Thomas Louw said...

I so wished this was a post about the NIV 2011 version. Craig Bloomberg is just loves it to “death”.

I kind of hoped you had some opinion, in respect to the name God chose for Himself.

That’s me pulling a Cookie on ye.
I use the ESV myself; it is right on top of my list. That is saying a lot, my mother tongue is Afrikaans but, I prefer an English Bible.

We basically have three versions the 1933/55 the 1983 and the Boodskap. The first I would compare to the KJV the second to the NIV and the third one is an Afrikaans version of “The Message”. (Oh there is a fourth, our version of the New Living Translation) They are now working on our version of the NIV 2011. I prefer the 1933 translation.

So I’m forced to use a Bible written in another langue. I wished my Greek and Hebrew was better.

DJP said...

Oh duh, Robert; of course you're right. Stupid omission on my part. I'll edit. Thanks!

I used the NAS for many years. Don't love the update. Its plus is that it's very vanilla. Its minus is that it's very vanilla. Oddly, the NKJ is often more literal.

Lynda O said...

For years I read NIV, but switched to ESV two years ago and prefer it. I've noticed it has different wording, more accurate, in some places than the NIV. Proverbs 18:1 is quite different in the NIV, for instance.

Wasn't sure if by CSB you meant HCSB, so googled it (yes the same version). I read it in Bible software occasionally, to see the differences -- such as the word normally translated "servant" in other versions, translated "slave" in the HCSB.

Tom said...

such as the word normally translated "servant" in other versions, translated "slave" in the HCSB.

That should make Johnny Mac happy, since the other translations have been engaged in deliberate cover up... :/

Brad Williams said...

Alas, I got an early edition of the HCSB, and I found it outright laughable in places to the point that I couldn't even take it seriously. It simply seemed to try too hard. The verse that broke the camel's back was Ephesians 2:2 which was translated, "prince of the atmospheric domain". They have since changed that, but I haven't been able to go back to it, but I really should give it another try.

Tom Chantry said...

As a user and fan of the ESV, I must say that I found the following example hilarious:

One I tackle at some length in The World-Tilting Gospel is the NIV's choice to render sarx as "sinful nature" rather than the literal "flesh." This is sheer interpretation.

Um, hello? This is an argument for the ESV? Here's Romans 3:20, first in the NIV:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Ok, granted, that lacks something. But the ESV?

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Human Being!?!?!?! Weak Sauce, I say. Yeah, there's a footnote informing the reader that the Greek word here is "flesh," but, in the words of a wise man I once read, "How many Bible readers that aren't detail-freaks even read Bible marginal notes?"

JackW said...

My list goes ESV, NKJ (New King Jimmy), and NASB. We use the latter in church and I find it MUCH less readable than the first two.

Maybe if I sent this book to the elders ...

Mel said...

I count 8 SRLs.

JackW said...

... then there is the DJP version used liberally in THAT book.

DJP said...

Oh Chantry, you pickle. So in Romans 7:14-25 and Galatians 5 and all, how's the ESV-versus-NIV there, eh?

Tom Chantry said...

Oh, agreed! The NIV doesn't come close. Truth is, the NIV isn't even on my list of acceptable options. It's just that, of all the arguments for the ESV, I was amused to read about the translation of sarx.

DJP said...

Then we're pickles of the same brinage on the first issue. As to the second, I had a specific objection. I wouldn't argue that the literal rendering is always the best, obviously; in some cases, paradoxically, rendering woodenly literally is the surest way to make a passage incomprehensible.

Tom Chantry said...

And I agree with you on the latter, also. It is why I use the ESV in the pulpit rather than the NASV.

The ESV rendition of sarx in Romans 3 bugs me, though. Paul's use of that particular term is so freighted with theological import, and it will be of such significance as the book progresses, that I really believe Christians ought to be trained to hear in it all that Paul intends. To eradicate that term in the translation of Romans 3:20 is, in my opinion, a rather gross over-reach by the translators. That's OK, they are allowed an over-reach or two. I still like the translation.

Now, shall we move on to discuss the translation of the tetragrammaton, or will that make you call me "troublemaker" yet again?

Matt Aznoe said...

I really enjoy the ESV translation, and I was torn when I made my most recent Bible purchase. In the end, though, I went with the NET. I am a detailed person who reads every footnote, and the NET takes a lot of pain to explain their translation decisions (though admittedly, the occasional one that they do not is sometimes puzzling. I still keep my ESV around for reference, and NASB, KJV, and NLT are also loaded in E-sword for reference as well.

But I like some of the fresh ways that the NET approaches certain passages. Also, I love their cross-references to Old Testament references in the New Testament. Sometimes you do not realize just how much in the New Testament is a quote from the Old. Some the references were surprising and illuminating, adding a depth I had not really considered before.

The final thing that led me to the NET is that they have an inexpensive reader's edition that was very high quality (bonded leather, smith sewn bonding) for much less than any other translation and was very readable. It also had minimal notes (except for very helpful reminders of the original Hebrew and Greek words) so that less was there to get between me and the text itself. Due to the low cost, I was able to buy both the readers and reference editions and have both available for study and the nice reader edition to take with me to church.

All that being said, there are times when I do consider going back to the ESV simply because of the availability of study tools for that version.

The biggest thing to take away is just the fact that we have so many excellent translations of God's Word when so many in our world do not have a translation at all, or the single translation they have is difficult to read. We should praise God for the abundance of material we have and be humbled by the expectations of having received such a magnificent gift.

Unknown said...

As the dunce in the crowd, what is the big deal about rightly translating sarx as flesh and not human nature? Explain it to me, point me somewhere; not debating the point or setting anything up -- truly asking out of ignorance.

I do understand Styx, though.

Tom Chantry said...


The Greek word sarx is literally translated "flesh" - or, if you are a linguistic nerd like Walter Bauer and co., "the material that covers the bones of a human or animal body."

However, the word has a more complex impact than its mere literal usage. For one thing, it was an almost vulgar term in Koine Greek, so that to say that Jesus came "in the flesh" (as did John in II John 7) is to make a bold and startling claim of true humanity.

The reason for this emotive impact was the detritus of Platonic philosophy in Greek thought, by which it was assumed that the physical world was evil, while the spiritual world was good (an unbiblical form of dualism). Flesh, then, represented the evil side of humanity.

While Paul clearly did not adopt the Platonic philosophy, he used the emotional baggage behind the words and often contrasted sarx (flesh) with pneuma (spirit). He speaks of flesh as the sinful humanity which we possess, and contrasts it with the Spirit-led godliness which the Christian is to exhibit. It is a complex issue, and each verse in which "flesh" is so used contributes to our understanding of Paul's point. Thus, to remove the word is to complicate matters immensely.

What is worse is for the NIV to employ "sinful nature" in place of flesh, not only because the contrast with "spirit" is lost, but also because it interprets Paul's use of the word (rightly or wrongly) and thus removes nuance from the passages in which "flesh" is lost.

DJP said...

What Chantry said, all of it, almost verbatim.

I'd also add: for anyone trying to study a concept in an English version, if a single term is rendered (unnecessarily) by 3, 5, 9 different English words, it's impossible to trace the development. If you happen to read the chapter on the flesh in that book, you'll see such a trace of development as would be difficult if one depended on some English versions.

Phil C said...

Here is a dissenting view that you might find interesting:


Unknown said...

Thanks Tom C and thanks Dan; great background to something that seems from your description a "no-brainer."

But, hey, I'm just a "blue collar man"

DJP said...

You're welcome, Brett.

I'm seeing the day drawing nigh when I write a post, someone asks a question, I answer it - and the questioner replies, "Yes, thanks, but really I was hoping Tom Chantry would answer."

Robert said...

Phil C,

I read that article and it just made me scratch my head. I think we need to challenge people to really study the Scriptures and seek the deep, hidden truths withint rather than to shirk off literal translations because the language is difficult. When I look at how language has changed over the years, I see this infinite regression of terms that works to dumb things down as much as possible. And the further the regression goes, the more of the original meaning that is lost from the original language. I wonder when the day will come where the Bible is translated into text message code and people think that is better because it is what people understand. People can understand and work with the harder words, but they need to actually work to do so. And the mature believers should be exhorting them to do so. Peter didn't say that Paul's teachings were difficult and somebody needed to put them in simpler terms. I don't think we should say so, either.

Terry Rayburn said...

I snuck over to Amazon and got the Kindle download, and read it -- $1.99 plus 15 seconds :) -- I love Kindle.

Good stuff (and good review by Dan) when comparing to the very inferior NIV. ESV wins there hands down.

But I have compared diligently the ESV and the NASB and have been very disappointed at the over-translation and over-interpretation of the ESV vis a vis the NASB.

I won't bore and clutter here with examples, but they are myriad.

Sidenote: The ESV also translated sarx "sinful nature" in the relevant passages, when it first came out. Before I could even get a wail out, they changed it.

The only thing I like about the ESV is that really soft faux-leather they use on their covers. A wonder of modern technology. Probably carcinogenic [that's a joke]. Go NASB.

Always Reforming said...

I was looking for something besides KJV and randomly chose ESV. There's much to love, although sometimes I think they lose the effect of metaphors in the poetic books when they don't render things quite literally enough.

I've been wondering about the LORD thing for awhile. Why won't anyone do it?

Always Reforming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jugulum said...


"if a single term is rendered (unnecessarily) by 3, 5, 9 different English words, it's impossible to trace the development."

I see your point, and I'm thinking about how to weigh that factor against others, like broad semantic domain and a particular author's usage.

Suppose we have a Greek term X with a broad range of meanings, and no English term with the same range. The English word P does a good job of representing one "wing" of X's meaning, and the word Q does a good job of representing another. (There's some overlap between P and Q, but they each capture or stress an aspect of X that the other misses or underemphasizes.)

And it seems when Paul uses X, he's in P's range. On the other hand, when John uses X, he seems to have Q's meaning in mind.

I know you can't come to solid conclusions about a hypothetical, but can you see yourself deciding to translate the term differently in Paul's writings vs John's? Or do you think you would always prefer to stick with the same English term?

JackW said...

I was going to download the Kindle version, but you can download a PDF version free at the Crossway website.

Sorry Terry.

greglong said...

I tried to love the HCSB, really I did, but it's just...ungainly. (I'm sure the translators have great personalities, though.)

I use the ESV or NKJV. Didn't mind the old NIV, but with the update...I've crossed it off my list.

Solameanie said...

Fred, you stole my thunder. I was going to make the first Styx crack, but I was too late. Derned morning meetings!!

Hideous-Rex said...

Hey! Hey! What's this? Is there no Love for the 1599 Geneva Bible? Come on people.

Aaron said...

@Robert: Brilliant! The text message Bible! I'm so going to copyright that now.

@Tom Chantry: Your post just serves to illustrate how difficult translation to English really is.

Aaron said...

@Tom (no last name):

The KJV 1611 is great! It has the advantage of including those other books of the canon.


Doug Hibbard said...

Doth not thine HCSB render "Yahweh"?

Mine doth, at least in ye olde Logos Software version of it.

Trying to get in on the 1611 vibe.

Anyway--translation notes on the HCSB states they used Yahweh in places where the translators felt the emphasis was on the name of God. So, they translated it LORD in some places and Yahweh in others.

Looks like about 1000 uses of Yahweh in the OT.

Just thought I'd point that out. The Hard-Core-Southern-Baptist version has a few benefits :)

DJP said...

Doug, it's like Christ/Messiah. The why and when make no sense. The author thought it was important to use the Name over 6800 times. How do they decide which 1000 or so are really-really important? Do they ask Henry Blackaby to ask God for them?

I mean, by using the Name at all, they say it's usable and intelligible. But then they don't use it all the time.

So yeah, like an otherwise-perfectly-normal 14yo who goes from being totally incontinent to using the toilet 1 out of 6 times, I guess it's a step in the right direction.

Not, once again, that I have an opinion, mind you.

FX Turk said...

I am looking forward to reading Kevin's booklet when it comes out, and getting him to sign it "Domo Origato Mister Roboto (domo-domo)".

Something that I think tends to hold true in most non-dynamic translations, though, is a bias which I think was established by the KJV translators. In their view, there was a Gevena Bible and the Bishop's Bible before them holding forth true (and tried) translations. To that end, unless there was a substantive need to improve a translation for some reason (for example, they had better source texts, or they found liberties in the prior translations which were unprofitable)(we say "unhelpful" these days)(well, not "we" but, um, ... you see what I'm saying), they let the text stand.

That leaves a lot of legacy language in the text. Our hero Phillip Ryken speaks to this as part of how the text passes from one generation to the next and maintains its continuity -- and in fact creates credibility in the translated text. I'm not sure I believe that 100%, but I think he has a huge point.

That the ESV is a formal equivalence translation is the meat and potatoes. That it also uses a coventional English idiom, diction and word order (unlike the NASB, which I also admire) is just gravy and corn bread.

FX Turk said...

They should just put YHVH in the text when it's in the text. We're all grown-ups here.

DJP said...



And again see the entry under "Right direction, step in the."

FX Turk said...

On the NET bible:

The translators' notes run from spectacularly-valuable to useless -- that is, in someplaces they are meticulous to tell you why they made their dynamic equivalent choice, and in others they barely mention it in spite of making a non-traditional translation. If it was more of the former and less of the latter, I'd be a die-hard fan.

I find mine useful but not my first choice.

Tom Chantry said...

So Dan, if we were to go back to the (old)ASV, which translated the Name with the archaic amalgam "Jehovah," in which direction would that be stepping?

(Striving to maintain the "troublemaker" label here.)

Doug Hibbard said...

I think the HCSB folks started with fewer and are working their way up. Some of the places where they've mixed together both the use of Yahweh and the LORD method are even more confusing. Consistency would seem to me as more helpful than what they've done.

And you're right that it shows the HCSB folks aren't worried about the use of Yahweh in print, so why not use the Divine Name every time He used His own name?

And the whole Christ/Messiah translation thing makes no sense to me. You're translating the Greek into English. Not the Greek into what you expect the Jewish rendering would have been. If they felt the need to use the translation to correct the misconception of "Christ" as a last name, then translate the word---make it "The Anointed" or whatever.

Kind of like how we handle "baptizomai" (or however you want to transliterate it). The word means immerse. Maybe dip. But we can't go there. I don't think HCSB even did it, and it's a translation wholly owned and done by Baptists who don't think the word means anything but immerse.

Of course, nobody's asking me to translate the Word--my skills are not up to that challenge. But I do wonder at the choices made.

FX Turk said...

I just want you to claw your eyes out when I say "jah-HOE-vah".

FX Turk said...

[high 5 to Chantry]


Doug Hibbard said...

To the elevated Chantry:

As long as you don't use that alongside "Can I get a witness?"

We'll be okay.

Tom Chantry said...

Kind of like how we handle "baptizomai" (or however you want to transliterate it). The word means immerse. Maybe dip. But we can't go there. I don't think HCSB even did it, and it's a translation wholly owned and done by Baptists who don't think the word means anything but immerse.

Think, Douglas, think. Are they going to change their name to the "Southern Immersionists Convention"? Their Initials to the "SIC"? Their logo? Where would the Cooperative Program be then?

DJP said...

Doug: right right right and right.

But, would one of them who took leadership of a babyspattering church spend a few years spattering some babies and calling it "baptism," while telling others (well, their parents; the tots wouldn't care) that they'd have to wait? I don't think so.

And yeah, absolutley, if christos means "Messiah" in some passages, what in the world does it mean in other passages?

DJP said...

Chantry, Troubler of Metas: step in the right direction. At least (A) it's a name, not a title; and (B) they'd have the consonants right(-hearted).

DJP said...

I wouldn't actually recommend the NET Bible for anyone as a main reading/memorizing Bible. The notes are worth a lot more than the translation. Best part is where the notes disagree with the translation!

James Scott Bell said...

I like the ESV, too. Dislike the HCSB, for reasons stated by others.

Of course, I run screaming from the ESV Study Bible, for obvious reasons. (Wonder what the Dispensationalists do with it, tiptoe away?)

Brad Williams said...

Tom C.,

Yeah, but imagine "John the Immerser" coming clothed in camel hair and eating grasshoppers sporting his man beard. I'd be willing to join the "SIC" if we could get that image circulating about the "Immerser" convention.

Tom Chantry said...

Personally, Dan, I consider the main advantage to be liturgical. All my favorite hymns continue to make sense. "All ye that fear Jehovah's Name," "Call Jehovah thy Salvation," "Guide me, Oh Thou great Jehovah"...

In all seriousness, hymnody does or at least can enter into our perception of scriptural language, and it is an argument for continuity when practicable. Perhaps this is related to Ryken's point?

DJP said...

Johnny, we sigh, shake our heads sadly, and/or roll our eyes, as called for.

Unknown said...

I have heard MacArthur state (at Shepherds Conference) his frustration with a translator of the ESV, over the use of "bond servant" instead of the accurate translation of "slave". I love the ESV translation myself, but sometimes changes like this and "LORD" instead of "YHWH" never get through a quorum.

Robert said...

I've never read or used a NET and reading "Best part is where the notes disagree with the translation!" doesn't really make me want to that much. I certainly hope that doesn't occur much in it...sounds a bit confusing.

DJP said...

Micah, I think you said it perfectly. Scholars are just people; people with an education, dedicated people, disciplined people. But they have their own foibles. The ones I've interacted with who oppose "Yahweh" don't tend to have really good reasons.

Like the justly famous Hebrew scholar who called me a "liberal" in class because I consistently translated "Yahweh" as, well, "Yahweh."

Because liberals say "Yahweh" too.


Doug Hibbard said...

Then I'd be pastor of First Immersion Church, and that would be FIC and we'd be confused as being a Family-Integrated-Church....

And to think I thought the "Southern" part of my denominational tag was the most misleading :)

Next think you know, someone will point out that we're not really a Convention or something. Then I'll be all confused.

I suppose a large part of the question is this: if we claim to be translating the original language into accurate modern language, why use terms that are less accurate? One can see the theo-political reasons why "immerse" became "baptize," and one can see where the use of "LORD" and even "Jehovah" came from---

but since we claim to know better now, why do we not do so? I don't see anyone holding on to "unicorns" from the 1611 (Psalm 29:6).

Aaron said...

This thread makes me wonder if Rosetta Stone has Biblical Hebrew and Greek courses.


Rachael Starke said...

I love it when all you brother start Greek-ing out....

In all seriousness, I wonder how hard it would be for a doctoral candidate in Biblical languages to put together, in either website or app form, a list of the most agreed upon "tricksy" words. What they are, what the different forms are in each language, why they matter, then how each translation handles them. Conclusions about the translations' merits could be drawn accordingly.

One of the reasons my eyes cross a bit when these discussions happen is that it's tough for us lay people to keep all the different passages and usages straight. And the average pewsitter will, eleven times out of ten, not even give them a thought. But they matter and we should give them thought. I think a lot of people just need some tools.

Ryan said...

The NIV 2011 has switched to using "flesh" instead of "sinful nature" to translate sarx.

DJP said...

Ah, well, that'll make up for all that whole pluralizing-singulars-to-appease-angry-feminists thingie.

Robert said...


To be fair, at the time that the KJV was written, unicorn had the meaning of a one-horned rhinoceros. Somewhere along the way, somebody changed unicorn to mean some fictional character that makes Christians who use the KJV look foolish. Once again, I'd say that the language has been dumbed down over the years instead of people being educated to know that a unicorn is a one-horned rhinoceros. We taught our boys about this so that they can give a proper explanation of what a unicorn is to people who have no idea about it.

Matt Aznoe said...


Yeah, I agree; I wish they included more specific reasons for their translation choices -- especially some of the more odd ones. When they do have good notes, I have found it a very interesting read. Overall, I have liked their translation choices and found it helpful for my personal study. If they do come out with a new edition, I hope they work to make their notes more consistent.


Do you remember what the reference was? I haven't run across that one yet. (That's funny... and proof that the translation was indeed created by mere men. I wonder how many times there have been disagreements in other translation teams that we never heard about.)

DJP said...

I saw it recently, which... well, it could be anywhere, since I've been all over in prepping for the conference. There's more than one, I think. I'll try to try to remember to search for it after I get home, but can't promise more.

Matt Aznoe said...


Speaking of tools, I recently found a nice little free gem that is an interlinear Bible that allows you to easily see the parsing codes for Greek words (tense, voice, gender, etc.).


(Please don't shoot me for posting a link -- it really is a pretty neat little tool)

Of course, you will need to do a bit of research to get some better understanding of what the various tenses mean, but it has proven invaluable to determining whether, for example, "you" is singular or plural or identifying when a word is an present imperative (continuous on-going command). Anyway, just thought I would share it with you all.

But I would love to see something like what you are talking about. That would be very helpful as well. With five young boys (and a new baby just around the corner), I don't have the time or money to go Bible college right now and take New Testament Greek.

Doug Hibbard said...


Valid point. But would you advocate for translating it as unicorn to this day, or acknowledge that for a 21st Century reader, "unicorn" just doesn't cut it?

The language is definitely changing. I'm not sure that not knowing Shakespeare called rhinoceroses unicorns is evidence that we're getting dumber, just that word meanings change over time.

DJP said...


You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

I actually like to read the NKJV. I've read them all, and in spite of the manuscript issues (i.e. Majority text with the NKJV); I still like it for my reading memorizing Bible (plus our church uses it). I always have my Greek NT at hand, so the manuscript stuff (for study) isn't really an issue.

The ESV, for me, reads a bit too choppy for me; that's hard to explain, but that's just the feel I have when I read it. Anyway, I'll keep reading the NKJV most likely. You would think though, as a Reformed guy (I am), that I would prefer the ESV -- but nah ;-).

DJP said...

Ah, but the ms. issue isn't a small one. IIRC, there are footnotes in Revelation which say that neither manuscript tradition supports the in-text rendering. That's just nuts.

Anonymous said...

I like The Message.

DJP said...

Off-topic, Rhett.

We're talking about Bibles.


Anonymous said...


I agree, this is no small thing; and not something to simply be overlooked. I follow the so called Critical Text (my Nestle-Aland), and not the MT. But yes, back-filling manuscriptual stuff with a Latin translation (pace Erasmus) isn't going to cut it in the end.

Nevertheless, I still like to "read" my NKJV.

Aaron Snell said...

I've always liked the DJP ad hoc translation :)

Aaron Snell said...

Hey, I'm glad a post like this has a comment count of over 70 at this point - that's a credit, I think, to the commenters here.

Now all we need is someone to come along and ask, Yeah, but which version is the most Spirit filled?"

Stefan Ewing said...

Quick comment:

I like the ESV for reasons that others have set out, but lament the occasional archaisms. When will someone render "might" in Deuteronomy 6:5 as the plain (and more expressive) "strength"?

And Exodus 6:3 is especially jarring in almost any translation: "...but by My name 'the LORD' I did not make Myself known to them." It goes beyond the bounds of all reasonableness.

(Even more perplexing, an ESV footnote translates the preceding "God Almighty" as "El Shaddai," and yet doesn't do the same justice to YHWH, presumably subsuming it under the global "'LORD'/'GOD' = YHWH" rule.)

One very nice thing that the NIV employed (introduced?) were modern paragraphing conventions, breaking text up into smaller paragraphs to denote dialogue. Ah, if only the ESV had introduced a similar nicety. Too innovative, perhaps? And yet they use versification, which as a convention is only a century old....

On a lighter note, how about "John the Dunker," or even "Dunker John"? It has a certain ring to it. "Southern Dunkin' Convention"? "First Dunkin' Church"?

Stefan Ewing said...

Hmmm, not so quick a comment after all...

Tom Chantry said...


People would expect doughnuts at every meeting.

Oh wait . . .

Bill Honsberger said...

Time to buy some stock at Krispy Kreme!

Doug said...

Does anyone have an answer why the ESV translated parthenos in 1Cor7 as betrothed?

greglong said...

One translation choice in the ESV that makes me cringe every time is "reclining at table" as in "as Jesus reclined at table..." (Mt. 9:10 and elsewhere). Sounds like a yoga pose.

trogdor said...

The Message is occasionally useful. I have a few friends who are missionaries in countries where they tend to monitor the communications of foreigners. So when you want to use scripture in correspondence with them, you quote The Message, because it doesn't tend to get flagged as scripture. Also, if you're bored after a Bible study, you can read well-known passages from The Message, and see how long it takes people to figure out which passage it's supposed to be.

Aaron said...

First the Text Message Bible and now Biblical Trivial Pursuit, The Message edition. All these new product ideas in one thread!

Matt Aznoe said...


You can read the notes from the NET Bible online that has a pretty good writeup on the two ways this passage is commonly interpreted (see footnotes 26 and 29).


The ESV took option #2. The NET Bible apparently decided to stay neutral on this one.

mike said...

The New International Targum. Now that's funny.

Matt Aznoe said...


My comment earlier was supposed to be addressed to you (not Phil), but somewhere between reading your response and typing my own, my brain took a major detour. I apologize for the error. (I just noticed it now!)

Solameanie said...

As an aside, it truly amazes me how much emotion this topic gins up in some people. The Christian organization for which I work occasionally gets some hostile letters or phone calls from people who arre incensed that we use NASB 95 and not the KJV. Not quite sure whether Ruckman or Riplinger are siccing them on us, but they really can get quite hostile. They're almost as bad as some Church of Christ types from Tennessee who want to know if we're using the "correct" salvation formula. If so, they'll support us gladly. I have to resist the temptation to respond with a tome.

Anonymous said...

...In all seriousness though, I use the NRSV for sermon prep and the NIV 2011 for preaching and personal devotions. From time to time I like the NLT, particularly for narratives.

I actually love the HCSB though, but unfortunately it's never caught on in New Zealand, probably because we don't have any Southern Baptists (though we are about as far south as it gets).

I know this is red meat to a crowd like this, but I just don't trust a translation with as narrow a theological bias as the ESV. It was definitely a marketing success though, I'll give it that.

Thomas Louw said...

I was considering purchasing the ESV Study Bible.
Johnny Dial/DJP what is its problem?

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...


Like any study Bible, it represents a particular theological orientation; in this case, the default, mainstream neo-Reformed theology that has recently become prevalent here in North America, which is:

(a) Calvinistic regarding salvation (versus Arminian);
(b) Covenantalist regarding redemptive history (versus Dispensational);
(c) Ammillennial regarding eschatology (versus Premillennial).

The commenters on this blog represent a range of beliefs that are (a) broadly Calvinistic, but Arminian Johnny keeps everyone else on their toes.

As for (b) and (c), this is not the place to discuss their merits or demerits (so as not to open up a theological vortex), but it's not a package deal, and while there are some who are (a), (b), and/or (c), there are others who are (a) but not (b) and/or (c). Affirming the one does not necessarily require embracing the other two.

Anyhow, the ESV Study Bible is probably one of the best English-language study Bibles and has lots of great resources, but one should read it in the same way as any other study Bible. It's best just to be mindful of the orientation of the contributors—whether one agrees with their interpretive assumptions or not—and read the material in light of that.

For myself, I'm just a layman schlub, but I stopped reading a study Bible several years ago and stick to plain ESV (with cross-references, which are invaluable!), while turning to books, online resources, free software, and classes at my church for interpretive support.

Robert said...

Wait! There's no discussion of N.T. Wright's The Kingdom New Testament! Just go and see:


"This is The Message for a new generation."

LanternBright said...

I can't help but notice that no one here's made any mention so far of The Amplified Bible, aka the Dane Cook of Scripture translations...

Thomas Louw said...

Thanks Stephan.
It seems that I would love it. I’m a Calvinist and an Ammill-
I’m a bit in the dark about what you mean by Covenantalist thou.
I most probably know it by some other name.
May it be rooted in the rest of the Dutch Reformed kind of stuff, infant Baptism replacing circumcision; you’re born into the covenant type. If it is…
How’s it we have a BBQ

James Scott Bell said...

Stefan, good summary re: the study Bible. Like you, I find study Bibles largely unhelpful. Because of space the comments are just glorified footnotes and cannot really get into the meat of important issues. And they reflect the bias of the author, as you note. One always has to dig in to get behind the biases.

My personal Bible is a wide margin NIV. I'm on #2 now. I find making my own notes after study in other sources is best.

Stefan Ewing said...


Yes, you got it exactly right: Covenantalism is the view of the nature of the Church that is embraced by the old capital-R Reformed churches, which believe that the relationship between God and His people is mediated by a single "Covenant of Grace" from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation.

Infants are baptized as a sign of their membership in the covenant community, but there are other implications as well, especially in terms of who one understands to be the people of God, and how one reads biblical history.

There are even some Baptists who are Covenant Theologians (though they practice adult baptism!).

But what do you mean by BBQ? You mean, you guys have barbeques? That's very un-Reformed!

Stefan Ewing said...


My sentiments, too.

While I was still using a study Bible, I found it frustrating that oftentimes, a verse that I wanted more help on or thought should be explained would have no annotation, while some other obvious verse would get a comment.

Then one also gets distracted by reading the comments, which even though they are meant to enhance Scripture, end up taking one's eyes off the inspired text, and onto someone's commentary.

Though I haven't seen it myself, I've heard people lament using study Bibles in small groups, etc., because people will sometimes just end up quoting MacArthur or Sproul, rather than thinking through a verse for themselves.

Brendt said...

+5,000,000 pts to DJP for quoting Alistair Cookie.

I agree that the ESV is very transparent - my ESV has the thinnest pages of any Bible I own. ;-)

My apologies if this was in the comments -- I only Evelyn Wood'd them. Didn't one of the other "big name" Reformed pastors (and his elders) publish a paper a couple years ago about why their church switched? I'm wanting to say Chandler or Piper, with leaning toward Piper given (IIRC) the detailed level of the paper.

Tim Bushong said...

OK- GOT to weigh in here. I have used the NIV since 1987, when God graciously 'throttled' me, and I became Reformed through the reading of the NIV- especially the book of John (along with a little help from mssr's Schaeffer, Sproul, and White). Now I know that the NIV is a dynamic-equivalence translation, and misses the mark in a few places (Rom. 3:25 and Heb. 5:3 come to mind)- and I do use the NASB (and the ESV for personal study and sermon prep.

But... it sounds to my American ears that the ESV is just not great English... it sounds stunted and stiff, especially compared with the NIV.

I like the ESV ("Like, Dottie- LIKE..."), but when I read or preach publicly, I will probably continue to use the NIV for its clarity and its natural flow of the English language.

Brendt said...

Answering my own question: "It was He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken in These Here Parts":


Unknown said...

There is hope on the Yahweh/LORD usage, at least in other languages: The Thai Bible Society just released an excellent--and I hope, universally accepted--revision of the Thai Standard Version. It uses "PRAYAHWEH" consistently, replacing the potentially ambiguous "PRAJAO."

I'm using the ESV, and have been for about five years. But, I'm thinking of replacing it with HCSB. ESV seems unnecessarily verbose at times. Indeed, I often find the NKJV to be simpler for my ESL friends to understand. I guess the ESV is trying to be too literate.

On the other hand, the CSB seems a bit too quirky. With many friends being borderline KJV-only, the ESV is a lot "safer"...

That's my two cents--enjoyed the post and the discussion!

Anonymous said...

The HCSB translated John 3:16 better than the ESV.

Anonymous said...

Wow I was researching bible translations and come across this old post.I never hear my southern baptist brethren say anything about other denominations. I thank God for the HCSB.