Why the English Standard Version (ESV)?

Many people have asked me along the way why I use the ESV. Along with that is the larger question of why should UBC use the ESV. I’d like to give you a little bit of what moved me from the NASB to the ESV about 4 years ago.

While I was attending a pastor’s conference in Minneapolis a few years back, I went to the book store and picked up my first copy of the ESV. It was relatively new, which for me usually causes great skepticism. Then I read a few key things that anyone looking for a new Bible should read: The Translation Philosophy AND the Translation Board.

First, the Translation Philosophy (taken from Good News publishing’s website):

The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a “thought-for-thought” rather than “word-for-word” translation philosophy, emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. A “thought-for-thought” translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between “formal equivalence” in expression and “functional equivalence” in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be “as literal as possible” while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.

As an essentially literal translation, then, the ESV seeks to carry over every possible nuance of meaning in the original words of Scripture into our own language. As such, it is ideally suited for in-depth study of the Bible. Indeed, with its emphasis on literary excellence, the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization.

A few comments here. What struck me was not only the desire to maintain a literal approach and a readable approach (all translations go for this), but the ESV goes further to say that in their interpretive approach, they wanted to make sure that even the approach maintained biblical accuracy, hoping to avoid as much human interpretation as possible (like a thought by thought or even phrase by phrase approach can do).

Now, the Translation Board:

I’m not going to list them all, but you can read them HERE. What I do want to point out is the scholarship on the board is very impressive in that there are several from our very own Southern Baptist Institutions, as well as from The Master’s Seminary (John MacArthur’s seminary) and Dallas Theological Seminary.

Now for My Journey…

I was first given a King James Version with my name on it when I was in elementary school. I still have that Bible in my office and occasionally glance through the underlining and notes of a twelve year old. I still love that Bible.

In high school I began using the NIV. In fact, I “tore up” my Ryrie Study Bible (NIV) throughout high school in lots of study and quiet times. I still have that Bible too, although there is no cover on it. In college, I “transitioned” from the Ryrie (I was depending on the notes too much) to the Thompson Chain Reference NIV. This forced me to cross-reference rather than depend on (a very dependable) Charles Ryrie. I used the NIV these years because I found it easier to read and more accessible.

When I began full-time ministry in 1993, I was convinced the NASB was the best Bible at the time. I liked the literal word-for-word translation approach and it served me well for many years.

Then around 2003 I attended a conference in Minneapolis and was introduced to the ESV. After being convinced that it was a credible translation (and no mere paraphrase like The Message – which, in my opinion, should not be used for study and rarely for “enhanced” reading), I had to ask whether or not it was worth the change (I would change my scripture memory, etc…).

What I found in the ESV was the combination I was looking for. It was much more beautiful to read and memorize than the NASB ever was (I love the NASB, but it’s strict word-for-word approach is choppy feeling sometimes). At the same time it was much more accurate than the NIV (the NIV uses a “thought” or “phrasing” approach to translation which can lose precision of some words).

Without going further in detail, these are the reasons I made the switch and am encouraged that so many of you have as well. This is not a matter of good vs. bad translations. God’s word is supreme and because the Spirit enacts its use and brings forth its fruit, we can rest assured that God’s Word (in any mainstream translation) will have its effect. However, we should seek to have the most accurate we can find to date and use it throughout the body and in our families.

I hope that even during this season of switching translations that there would be a new desire and hunger for the word of God among our body. I sense that this is happening regardless of the translation choice and I hope that it is only strengthened as we seek to memorize, meditate upon and practice the Word of God as a biblical community for His Glory!

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

3 thoughts on “Why the English Standard Version (ESV)?

  1. Pingback: ESV Bible Blog

  2. Pingback: Worlds Apart Why the English Standard Version (ESV)? «

  3. Thanks for sharing this! My Logos Bible software includes the ESV, so I’m going to compare it with the NIV as I do my Bible Study Blog.

    One concern I have is that I’ve memorized so many verses in the NIV and that makes me reluctant to switch! I guess I could just do new verses from a different version.


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