Why the English Standard Version (ESV) Should not become the Standard English Version

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TylerR's picture


I'm not sure what Strauss hopes to achieve with this rude little essay, but it won't be anything productive. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

When I think of archaic language, irregular word order, and the like, I think of things like poetry, Shakespeare, and for that matter the founding documents of our country.  Now it is not certain that using the ESV (or other archiac translation, hee hee) will be some sort of Rosetta Stone to open up the treasures of English literature and documents, but I dare suggest that learning to read our language in something besides standard AP style just might have some merits.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


Here are some thoughts on Bible translation, in no particular order:

  1. The only "literal" translation is an interlinear.
  2. Strauss is clearly advocating for a more colloquial translation philosophy, which I have no problem with. I translate Greek every week for Sunday School (I'm translating and teaching my way through 1 Peter), and my own philosophy is somewhere between the ESV and the NET.
  3. Zondervan posted this essay. Zondervan owns the NIV/TNIV, which translation committee Strauss serves on. The ESV is by Crossway, a rival publisher. Make of that what you must.
  4. There is a place for more formal equivalence translations, but these labels are unhelpful and misleading.
  5. Pastors and academics who ought to know better should stop pigeon-holing a translation as "literal." There is literally (heh) no such thing as a literal translation. If you've studied languages and actually use them, then you know this. If you only use Greek to do word searches, then you may have never understood this or allowed yourself to forget. The real issue is the philosophy behind a translation. If you''ve spent time translating and teaching the Bible (not just doing word studies), you know there are many, many subtle but important routes you can take when you translate. Just consider the use of prepositions alone! What about the participles!?
  6. Strauss is correct that we should seek to eliminate Biblish in favor of a modern English. I'm with him.
  7. People who don't know languages shouldn't be dogmatic about the worthiness of a Bible translation. They have no idea what they're talking about. That's not a slam, that's just a fact. You won't catch me being dogmatic about engineering, because I don't know anything about it. Reading a pop book on the subject won't help me.
  8. This essay serves no point. It will accomplish nothing, and just make people upset. I'm sure Leland Ryken, an English stylist who worked on the ESV, is quaking in his boots right now ...

My printed Bible is an RSV. I really like it. For some level-headed discussion about Bible translations, see this. Bye.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

I like and use the ESV ... the NIV ... the NET ... the NKJV ... the KJV ... the NASB

The KJV served, arguably, as the standard for 350 years!

No successor translation has risen to that level.

To use a NFL analogy:

  • The KJV = the Patriots (perennially successful)
  • The NIV = the Vikings (always let down)
  • The ESV = the Jaguars 
  • The NASB = the 49er's (successful decades ago)
  • The NET Bible = the Browns (has rabid, crazy fans)


Bert Perry's picture

I just tried reading through this, and in a nutshell his objection to the ESV is that it's not the TNIV/"New Gelded Version"; that the translators didn't take his version on what was, or was not, acceptable use of the English language when doing it.  What he's doing, really, is trying to lock Bible  translation into idioms used within 20 years of today.  

The problem with this, in my view, is that not only are most of our important documents not written within the past 20 years, but also that (again) the development of our thinking muscles requires us to try to understand idioms that are new to us.  You also have the basic problem of needing to relearn verses that you memorized each time you swap. 

That noted, as Jim makes clear, the notion of a universal accepted Bible is every bit as fanciful as the notion of one football team aspiring to be "America's Team."  The various jealousies and such will make it impossible.  And, of course, if the ESV is the Patriots, then of course I've got to hate the ESV.  Basic principles, you know.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

I think this paper has been out for a while, hasn't it?

At the end of the day there is no one ultimate translation that everyone should use forever and ever (this side of glory). The KJV is good and has been in use with revisions for 400+ years, and if we get 400+ years out of the ESV or whatever then I think we have done well.

Language is always changing. That's why we need new translations and updates. Find the one that you are most comfortable with, provided it is a faithful rendering of the greek/Hebrew manuscripts, and use that.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

David R. Brumbelow's picture

My favorite is the NKJV.  But I’ve long said everyone should have at least two good English Bible translations for study. 

Of course, now days you can get them at BibleGateway.com.  But I still like hard copies. 

David R. Brumbelow