Why I blog in ESV

“The ESV satisfies the preaching, memorizing, studying, and reading needs of our church, from children to adults. We are building all of our future ministry around it.”
John Piper
Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

I was first introduced to the English Standard Version when I joined the ministry I am presently involved with about five years ago. (see footnotes) The ESV translation is used by our Bible teachers in our classes.  Our campus minister uses it most often when preaching in chapel, but not always.  Since I got mine in 2004, I always teach and preach from it.  I believe the ESV to be the Holy Scripture presented in our modern form of spoken and written English.  It is the Bible.  Here is a brief history of the ESV.

The King James Version of the Bible was published in 1611.  While some criticisms exist, namely that KJV was largely a re-write of Tyndale, it remains a very good Bible today.  I have no fault with anyone who reads King James.  One reason is that it reads so well.  The KJV was written with being read outloud in mind.  Many people in England were still illiterate at the time, and reading long passages of scripture outloud in a church service was common practice.  The KJV was the dominate English translation for over 300 years.  The Revised Version was meant to be just that, a modern revision of the King James, commissioned in 1870.  There was an American edition in the early 20th century, a Revised Standard Version circa 1954 I think, and finally a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in about 1970.  Meanwhile during the 1960’s “Good News for Modern Man” was first published, the NIV came out in the late 70’s, and since there has been a deluge of translations and paraphrases produced.  When the copyrights ran out on the RSV text, Crossway bought the rights.  The modern methods of analysis were applied, the most accurate Hebrew and Greek texts were compared, and translators consulted the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate for alternate possibilities when required.  The bottom line is that with only 6% of the verses changed, the ESV is the most modern update of the RSV text.  The ESV is an essentially literal translation that tries to retain the “readability” of the King James.

I’m not going to get into a slugfest with anyone over what Bible you read.  I’ve already said that I have the utmost respect for the KJV and it’s faithful followers.  I often quote it myself because that’s what I read for 25 years growing up.  I have those words committed to memory.  Anything formal or ceremonial I still use KJV because that’s what people often expect to hear.  But I now read and teach from the ESV because it is in the modern English language that is now spoken.  I have certain problems with the NIV.  I used to consider it a “weak” translation in some places, then it was explained to me that in some cases when the translators thought a word or idea needed explaining, they did it right there in the text, when a footnote could have been used.  The NIV text has been added to for simplification/ clarification purposes.  I never thought it was the best translation in the world, and it turns out not every word in it is scripture.

In conservative Christian circles I meet a lot of people reading the NASB, New American Standard Bible.  For all intents and purposes, the NASB seems to say exactly the same thing my ESV does, it just seems to have a lot of trouble saying it.  I’ve listened to my church pastor read aloud from the NASB and sound like he was pushing bricks out of his mouth.  It’s like if there was an easy way and a hard way, the NASB always chooses the hard way.  I know it sounds like I want it both ways: The NIV has oversimplified the scripture too far, and tried to make it too easy.  The NASB on the other hand is too difficult to read.  It’s a fine line to walk.

The ESV is an accurate translation when compared to the best ancient sources we have available.  I believe there are also times when just because a word is old, doesn’t mean we should throw it out for a new word.  Sometimes you just have to explain the old word.  Christ is the propitiation for ours sins in the King James, and the ESV keeps that word.  You can define propitiation, but there is no other English word that by itself means exactly the same thing.  I think it’s a good call.

I read, study and preach from the ESV.  I will never tell you, however, that you’re reading from the wrong Bible.  You can find God in Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” I promise He’s in there.  The NIV is the best selling Bible in the world today.  My problem is, it isn’t the best selling Bible because people do their homework before buying a Bible, it has to do with the way International Bible Society has it marketed.  I would still rather you read any Bible than not read the Bible, and that’s what most Americans (including Christians) are doing these days.

UPDATE: 1) ESV.org is the place to learn more about the ESV.  ESVBible.org is the resource for reading and searching the text. 2) I am no longer at the ministry referenced in this post, and the pastor mentioned is now my former pastor. 3) All scriptures references on The Master’s Table link to Bible Gateway in the English Standard Version. Both websites are excellent resources but we now partner with the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. Visit any website you like but please read the Bible. 

7 thoughts on “Why I blog in ESV

  1. “I would still rather you read any Bible than not read the Bible, and that’s what most Americans (including Christians) are doing these days. ”


    You can even read stories of former Jehovah’s Witnesses who left the Kingdom Hall because of what they read in the New World Translation (the translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for those who don’t know). Even though JWs translated it to teach their doctrines they didn’t do a thorough enough job of it.

  2. You linked to this on imonk so I figured I’d like here to my point that

    1) The ESV is not an essentially literal translation by any means (see Is the ESV “essentially literal”).

    2) The ESV is not based on the best theory of modern methods. It rejects most modern methods and stays with very traditional methods.

    3) The NRSV came out in 1989.

    4) “I never thought it was the best translation in the world, and it turns out not every word in it is scripture.” No words (except names) in any English bible are in scripture. All of the words in an English bible, with a few exceptions, are coming from translation committees.

    5) I have yet to see an instance where the ESV chooses a translation of a word, phrase or sentence not in Zondervan exegetical commentary, that is something that the NIV / TNIV team not consider.

  3. CD Host’s first point is the that ESV is not an essentially literal translation. His point 4 seems to indicate that no words in an English Bible are scripture (except for names). If that is the standard for being “essentially literate,” then no Bible version written in English can meet it. I allowed the comment, but didn’t click his link: The ESV is an essentially literal translation.

    I also now understand that the ESV people bought the rights to the “old” Revised Standard. The ESV and NRSV take opposite routes in methods, one being (generally considered) liberal the other conservative.

    On a personal note, I would rather read the NRSV any day of the week than the New American Standard. I’ve read the complete Bible in NRSV. I reference other versions, but haven’t read any Bible but the ESV since 2004.

  4. Didn’t see the comment. The linked article indicates translation that are “essentially literal” like Brown & Comfort. Doing things like changing parts of speech to harmonize the gospels in the English is anything but essentially literal (the sample from the linked article).

  5. I completely agree with your assessment:

    “For all intents and purposes, the NASB seems to say exactly the same thing my ESV does, it just seems to have a lot of trouble saying it.”

    I’ve used the NASB for the past 8 years and am now on my way to using the ESV. I’ve found it a bit easier to not only read, but comprehend. Thanks for the insightful post.

  6. Erik, do you know about the ESV Study Bible which just came out? I’ve been using a thin line edition for 4 years, which does not even have the book introductions that most ESV Bibles contain. The study Bible is fat with stuff, and look great. (My birthday is in December everyone. I know what I want.)

  7. I agree with your well-written post. I have been using the NIV for over 20 years, but I recently switched to the ESV for my personal use, and will soon do so for my preaching.

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