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

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Functional equivalent versions(NLT, NCV, TEV, CEV, GW, etc.) are helpful for communicating clearly, naturally and accurately the meaning of the text. Formal equivalent versions(KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, ESV, NRSV, etc.) help to reproduce formal features of a language like metaphors, idioms, word-plays, allusions, ambiguities and structural markers.

If this is your reasoning, I don't really see why you would need the literal translation at all. If (that's a crucial "if") the functional equivalent versions accurately communicate the meaning of the text, what additional purpose does it serve to reproduce the language features - which are only tools for accurate communication in the first place?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

KenFields's picture

Are we surprised this paper is hosted online by a Zondervan site ... the publisher of the NIV?

Really???

Ken Fields

Greg Linscott's picture

Brian McCrorie wrote:

Too late...

Not according to the latest statistics...

http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/documents/BSLs/Bible_Translations.pdf

The NIV, NLT, KJV, and NKJV all rank above the ESV in both dollar and unit sales.

Not saying that makes a translation good or bad. Just observing that it's hardly a standardized text.

 

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

iKuyper's picture

Not to hijack the thread, but does anyone use the HCSB?

I'm surprised that it isnt more popular than it is. Right now, it's my favorite translation..

Ecclesia semper reformanda est

KevinM's picture

Tough call on which translation has the highest sales.

The CBA numbers don’t include sales from Amazon, big-box retailers, or direct sales from the publishers.

And the CBA numbers probably favor Lifeway and Cokesbury (the biggest Christian chains that feed numbers to CBA). Or for that matter, the numbers are probably skewed toward the South, where Christian bookstores have survived longer. Then you’ve got the problem of redacted statistics, trying to sort out the translations used for a zillion different Bible “flavors” (Do you want your NCV as a Duct Tape Bible, Immersable Water Resistant Edition, or as a Mom’s Study Bible?)

Greg Linscott's picture

...but whichever one would specifically be the highest, taking Amazon and others into account, isn't the point I was trying to make. I was just observing that the ESV is far from being anything resembling a standardized text- there is still plenty of competition.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

The apostles used the KJV over the ESV so I'm sticking with the KJV.

Jim's picture

I'm not convinced there has to be one standard

There hasn't been for some time. We've had the:

  • American Standard Version (1901)
  • Revised Standard Version (1952)
  • The New American Standard Version (1971)
  • The English Standard Version (2001)
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004)

Aside from the RSV with its liberal bias, I think all of the above are serviceable translations. I appreciate the NKJV, NET Bible, and NIV (1984) as well. 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

There does not need to be a standard English translation. The guy has a vested interest in the NIV; and to be very frank, I'd rather chew on soggy cardboard than read the NIV. I feel like I'm reading an office memo from God when I read that version. 

I like the ESV very much; I do all my studies with it. The KJV is simply the most beautifully written version in English in some places. I preach from it. I like the NET Bible. 

We have an embarrassment of riches in the English-speaking world, Biblically speaking I think linguistic talents may be better served by translations into other, neglected languages from here on out. 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

If the KJV was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me . . . !

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

Someone pushing the NIV is seriously talking about a bad translation?  Seriously?  That is just bad comedy.  The NIV is a commentary.  If I wanted a commentary, I would buy one.  If I want a Bible, I will get one that isn't a waste of space.

The HCSB is better than the ESV.  I don't have major problems with the ESV, but it is too much like the KJV for me to take seriously.  That isn't American English, so why would it help to have a translation that way?

So many have switched to the ESV because they are fanboys of those who have publicly changed to it (Piper being one of them).

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

TylerR's picture

Editor

James. Maybe I'm just a recluse, but I use the ESV because I just like it. I never knew Piper used it. I don't care about Piper. He isn't somebody I'd read. I don't know anybody who uses the ESV. My orbit is almost exclusively KJV.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

Sure TylerR, no problem.  I didn't say everyone who switched was a fanboy.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Mitchell_Killian's picture

I've read through the HCSB, and I do like it. But it kind of lost points with me when it translated "leper" as "a man with a serious skin disease." (Matt 8:2) Smile

What I have found is that different translations are more lucid in some books than in others. For instance, in my opinion, no translation that I've read does a better job in the Psalms and Ezekiel than the KJV. The ESV is very readable in Job. The NKJV is fantastic in Hebrews. Anyone else had similar experiences?

Mitchell Killian
II Corinthians 12:9

Alex Guggenheim's picture

All translations are black and white televisions with the original languages being color televisions and a man with the spiritual gift of teaching via sound hermeneutics a 3D mechanism. Some of the black and whites get better reception than others or on different channels.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I finally "gave up the Ghost" (KJV!) on the KJV for study purposes when I took a class on the Pentateuch. It was this verse that did it for me;

"And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine," (Num 3:12). 

I remember thinking - what in the world is a matrix? Why was I wasting my time trying to decipher odd phrases and words before even pondering the meaning of the text itself? 

The KJV is simply the most beautiful English anywhere in several sections. In others, well . . .

I would be remiss, however, if I didn't complain about the ESV in Dan 9:25. This translation suggests Messiah will return at the end of the 7th week. At least, that is how I took it when I was studying it. It took 20 minutes for me to understand what in the world was going on. The KJV is much clearer . . .

ESV: 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again[e] with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

KJV: Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

Big difference! 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jhalstead's picture

Most of the problems listed in the doc are obvious to me in ESV and I'm no big studier of scripture nor a pastor with seminary training or anything else.  

Dave Gilbert's picture

TylerR wrote:

I finally "gave up the Ghost" (KJV!) on the KJV for study purposes when I took a class on the Pentateuch. It was this verse that did it for me;

"And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine," (Num 3:12). 

I remember thinking - what in the world is a matrix? Why was I wasting my time trying to decipher odd phrases and words before even pondering the meaning of the text itself? 

The KJV is simply the most beautiful English anywhere in several sections. In others, well . . .

I would be remiss, however, if I didn't complain about the ESV in Dan 9:25. This translation suggests Messiah will return at the end of the 7th week. At least, that is how I took it when I was studying it. It took 20 minutes for me to understand what in the world was going on. The KJV is much clearer . . .

ESV: 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again[e] with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

KJV: Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

Big difference! 

 

 

Which is why I won't use anything based on the Critical Text. I sat down and compared quite a few of the translations done since the 1880's over the years, and none of them seem to say the same thing the same way...so I stick with the KJV and a few of the other Reformation era translations ( Elizabethan English notwithstanding ) because if it was good enough to be God's word in English for well over 200 years, it's good enough for me now. If only I could find a 100% carry-over from the KJV into modern English, I would be happier...but it doesn't appear to exist, unfortunately.

 

Most will say the NKJV is it, but frankly, I've looked at that, too, and I'm not satisfied.

 

Finally, as long as publishing houses employ or otherwise form their own private translation committees ( with the seemingly sole purpose to put the Bible into their own, copyrightable words), I will not support or even consider using their efforts. When a group of God-fearing men get together privately and give it a go with no thought of making a profit, I'll take a look.

 

I, too, think the KJV could have used language that could have better stood the test of time, but English seems fairly unique in that it changes fluidly over a few hundred years when compared to other "older" languages...but except for a few dozen words that I had to make the effort to look up the meanings of, I find the KJV to be no harder to read than a newspaper ( by and large ). Incidentally,  a "matrix" is another term for the mouth of the womb.

JobK's picture

jhalstead wrote:

Most of the problems listed in the doc are obvious to me in ESV and I'm no big studier of scripture nor a pastor with seminary training or anything else.  

You have a person who has a financial and professional interest in the NIV taking shots at another translation that is clearly gaining popularity. It is no different from Pepsi taking shots at Coke or Burger King denigrating McDonald's. Actually, it is different. It is much much worse. Pepsi and Burger King only claim that their products taste better, not that their products are healthier and people who procure their products are making better moral decisions for themselves and their families. When you consider the importance of the Bible to the life of a Christian, then when you make claims that one is superior or another is inferior, that is exactly what you are doing ... saying that accepting one Bible or rejecting another is a good spiritual decision for yourself, your family, your church (if you are a pastor), denomination (if you are a denominational leader) etc. Now even if this is your personal opinion, the fact that you professionally benefit from it because you are a professional scholar who sat on the translation committee and financially benefit from it, not only because its enhancing your professional reputation but because of your affiliation with the secular corporation (Zondervan is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire who disseminates Bibles on one hand and pornography, blasphemous Christ denying movies and TV shows and other filth on the other) who maintains an exclusive copyright for that version gives you the obligation to be more responsible with that opinion to avoid the appearances of impropriety. (Yes, the ESV is copyrighted also, but at least by a nonprofit whose entire operation is printing Bibles and other Christian books ... Good News Publishing. Now granted, John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul etc. likely use the ESV because they have contracts with Good News Publishing for their study Bibles and other books - especially in the case of MacArthur who was a longstanding KJV guy prior - but representing the financial interests of Rupert Murdoch vs. a Christian evangelistic association ... you pick.) 

Basically, the guys who sat on these translation committees and who are paid representatives of these Bible publishing houses need to keep their traps shut when it comes to other versions, and this is a great example why. Because no matter what arguments he uses in support of his position, it will still come down to "don't let the ESV become the standard English version because if that happens then my having been on the NIV committee won't be nearly as valuable to my professional reputation, and I won't make nearly as much money from Zondervan selling the NIV." If this isn't a very good illustration of why the Bible warns Christians from chasing filthy lucre (yes I am a KJV guy, but primarily because of my bias for the TR and literal translations ... I am more than willing to use other literalist TR versions) then I would like a better one. 

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Dave Gilbert wrote:
Finally, as long as publishing houses employ or otherwise form their own private translation committees ( with the seemingly sole purpose to put the Bible into their own, copyrightable words), I will not support or even consider using their efforts. When a group of God-fearing men get together privately and give it a go with no thought of making a profit, I'll take a look.
Whew, good thing you aren't holding the KJV to this standard, or you'd be left without any Bible to read.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JobK's picture

James K wrote:

Someone pushing the NIV is seriously talking about a bad translation?  Seriously?  That is just bad comedy.  The NIV is a commentary.  If I wanted a commentary, I would buy one.  If I want a Bible, I will get one that isn't a waste of space.

The HCSB is better than the ESV.  I don't have major problems with the ESV, but it is too much like the KJV for me to take seriously.  That isn't American English, so why would it help to have a translation that way?

So many have switched to the ESV because they are fanboys of those who have publicly changed to it (Piper being one of them).

Even if it is true, it presumes that the people who use the other translations have more legitimate reasons for doing so. So they are "fanboys" of Billy Graham or some other pastor instead of John Piper, or they are influenced by the many avenues that Bible publishers use to promote their translations (including ways where the targets don't even realize that they are being pitched a commercial product). 

As for "That isn't American English, so why would it help to have a translation that way?" ... you presume that people care about such things. A lot of people honestly do not, and some people might even view it is a negative because they question if contemporary American English is capable of accurately and properly conveying concepts and meanings. Some people want to keep the Bible from being "dumbed down" and "vulgarized" with the rest of the culture. Before you associate such thinking with snobbery, keep in mind how secular, humanistic, materialistic, individualistic and Enlightenment driven our culture is, and yes our language reflects it. Or for that matter, compare "American English" of today even to American English of the 19th century.

That was one of the major criticisms of the NIV when it first came out. It was written on the 7th grade reading level at best (some say lower). Nearly all the newer translations that have come out since - and have been influenced by it to some degree - fall between grades 4-7 on grade reading comprehension levels. Bible translations can't be driven by the ability - or more accurately willingness - of a debased and dumbed down culture to understand the text. 

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Jim's picture

[Dave Gilbert]When a group of God-fearing men get together privately and give it a go with no thought of making a profit, I’ll take a look.

Response: What’s wrong with making a profit? Better than taking a loss! By the way …. even non-profits endeavor to make a profit … they just don’t distribute profits to shareholders (dividends)

 

[JobK]You have a person who has a financial and professional interest in the NIV taking shots at another translation that is clearly gaining popularity. …. Now even if this is your personal opinion, the fact that you professionally benefit from it because you are a professional scholar who sat on the translation committee and financially benefit from it

Response:

  • Strauss is a seminary professor … it doesn’t seem strange to me that he would have a view on a Bible translation
  • Is he really just “taking shots”? or perhaps his article should be judged on its merits.
  • I doubt he will financially benefit much from being on the NIV committee … perhaps something. But I would surmise that the majority of his income comes from being a faculty member

[JobK]…. affiliation with the secular corporation (Zondervan is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire

Response: I don’t seen any issues with a secular corporation being involved. News corp probably saved Z from financial problems but perhaps I am wrong. New’s HarperCollins also owns Thomas Nelson (think NKJV)

 

Bob Hayton's picture

Hi, leaving aside the KJV only debate here, it should be noted that this critique of the ESV by Strauss is 5 years old, almost. It was first published in 2008 I believe (see here). In the paper he is very forthright to his ties to the NIV as well as his consulting role on the NLT and another Bible translation too.

Nor is Strauss the only one critiquing the ESV. I haven't read Strauss' full critique yet, but I have read Rodney Decker's critical review of the ESV, posted in the Baptist Bibles Seminary's journal back in 2004. He has an approving review of the new NIV 2011 translation.

I still use and love my ESV, but I am more positive about the functional equivalencies contained in it, as a result of reading Decker's review.

As to the HCSB, it doesn't flow and is stultifying in my opinion. But I haven't had a lot of time with it. I will say that its translation of "leper" as "man with a serious skin disease" is a valiant attempt to shift people's opinion with regard to the Biblical form of leprosy. The thoughts we have of limbs falling off and truly horrific flesh eating terror, may pertain more specifically to Hansen's disease, its modern name. The leprosy of the Bible was a broader term that seemed to encompass a wide sort of skin blemishes and not specifically what we call leprosy today.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bob Hayton's picture

It is being mentioned in the comments above that the fact that a publisher is involved in the translation makes it liable to be influenced. This excerpt from the history of the NIV (link) gives some insight into ways some evangelical translations have used to ensure that no matter who the publisher is, the Bible translation is independently produced. See below:

That prospects for full funding of the project should come to the CBT [Committee on Bible Translation] so quickly—and do so “out of the blue”—was seen by the committee as a gift from heaven. That the offer came not from a commercial publisher but from an agency devoted to the distribution of Bibles and the spread of the gospel made it all the more attractive—a true Godsend. Careful negotiations ensued throughout the rest of 1966 and all of 1967.30 The CBT was concerned, first, that its efforts to achieve the best possible translation of the Scriptures not be compromised by interference from any outside institution or agency—not even by one that “held the purse.” Second, it was insistent that the committee continue to have sole editorial control over the text of the translation and over all later revisions. Third, the CBT desired that no encumbering restrictions be placed on the availability of the version to evangelistic agencies and those devoted to Bible distribution.

For its part the Bible society had a number of major concerns of its own:

  1. that the CBT remain true to its purpose, confessional basis, and policies as set forth in its own constitution and bylaws (finalized and adopted by the committee on 11 July 1967),
  2. that the NYBS recover all the funds it invested in the project,
  3. that the work be pushed forward as rapidly as possible without compromising quality, and
  4. that the society hold the copyright.

At a plenary meeting held on 5 December 1967, the board of managers of the NYBS [New York Bible Society, now Biblica] endorsed the recommendation of its executive committee that the society underwrite the entire translation project. It did not flinch at the estimated cost in current dollar value of $850,000. Accordingly, in the summer of 1968 a written agreement specifically addressing all the basic concerns of both parties was formalized.31 This agreement, without amendment, continued to govern the relationship throughout the years of cooperative effort that followed. At the invitation of the CBT, and further to strengthen the bonds between the two bodies and to assure free communication between them, Youngve Kindberg became a member of the Committee on Bible Translation.

[Glen Scorgie, Mark Strauss and Steven Voth, The Challenge of Bible Translation (Zondervan, 2003), pg. 247-248 - accessed from the pdf of just the single chapter titled "The New International Version: How It Came to Be" accessible via the Committee for Bible Translation's website: http://www.niv-cbt.org. Note: I added the parts in brackets and italics.]

The entire chapter/article (online here), is a fascinating read and look at the history of the NIV.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Greg Long's picture

Thanks, Bob, for bringing some light to this discussion. I see a lot of attacking of Strauss' possible motives, but not much in the way of addressing his arguments.

FWIW, I have generally preferred the ESV over the NIV, but Strauss makes some great points. I always thought "reclining at table" was extremely awkward, but didn't notice a lot of the other example. I also read Decker's review at some point in the past, which tempered my enthusiasm for the ESV somewhat. But I'm still reticent to use any translation that is gender neutral, like the updated NIV.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

I must repeat what I said earlier - we have such an embarrassment of riches in the English speaking world that we're actually discussing which version is "better," and getting down to why "leper" is translated a certain way. There does not need to be one English standard. Use whatever major conservative translation seems best to you - it'll be ok - really!

I must confess we need no new English translation. I applaud the NET Bible, which is designed to be open source and available free online.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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