Why The ESV

John, who blogs at Locusts and Honey left a comment under my last posting about recommended books, asking if I would share some thoughts on my translation preferences.

My credentials for evaluating translations are almost non-existent. But I have several reasons for choosing the ESV to use as my preaching Bible, after almost 20 with the NIV. In no particular order, here they are:

1. I believe that the words of Scripture are important. The discussion between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence is not going to be resolved here. But my preference is to use a formal equivalence translation because it has a greater focus on the words. As someone who is attempting to do exposition of a text, being able to deal with individual words is important. Try doing that while preaching from the New Living Translation (which I do enjoy reading) or the Message. Of course, the preacher can say, "now this literally means . . . " or "perhaps a more literal/better translation would be . . .", but that does two things. First, it conveys, perhaps subtly, that the Bible that people have is not really reliable, and second, it can lead to the preception that you can't really understand the Bible without original language knowledge.

2. The NIV was the best of both worlds for a long time. When I was in Bible College (we're talking 1971-76) , there were four choices. The KJV (or the New Scofield derivative), the RSV (which evangelicals did not use because of the apparent liberal bias), the NASB and the NIV. The NASB is hard to read. I was listening to one of our small group members read from it last week and thought, "Man is that confusing." The NIV was both accurate and easier to read. When I moved to my present church in 1980, I began to move over to the NIV. There was another reason for that as well. Most of the newer theological resources - commentaries, dictionaries, etc., seemed disposed to use the NIV as a principal translation. In addition, it enjoyed huge popularity, with numerous study Bibles, etc., being released in NIV format. So the NIV and KJV probably accounted for 90% of what our congregations were using.

3. The ESV - to me - is now the better choice for best of both worlds. I like the way it reads. It's not as easy to read as the NIV, but not that far off. And it's worlds better than the NASB, even from the 1995 NASB update. From charts that I have seen, it occupies a place of middle ground between those two translations.

4. There is no clear translational consensus in our church. Based on an informal survey that I did before preaching the other week, I would estimate that about 40% of our people use the NIV. The rest is split between the KJV, NASB, NKJV, and a few NLT and ESV'ers. Given that fact, no matter what translation I use, the majority of our people are using something different than I use.

5. With the current translational climate, I would prefer to move our people in the direction of a more formal equivalent translation. Some will disagree with me on this. That's fine. Let's just say I have concerns and leave it at that.

So that, in essence, is why I am using the ESV. There are other translations I could have chosen, I suppose, like the Holman one, or the NKJV. I use the NET Bible too, and use it with my Logos/Libronix software. But I like the fact that the Reformed community has gotten behind the ESV - that gives me hope that it will lead to resources with the ESV as the foundational translation.

I should note that only about 10 people ordered the Bible on the first Sunday. I've explained clearly that I am not out to change their translation. I am providing this for those who want to be able to follow what I am saying without the confusion of trying to jive my reading with theirs. I'm making this available for another 2 Sundays. I'm not trying to accomplish anything other than that.

I also want to say that we're not doing pew Bibles. They are great for visitors, but make today's Christians who are already disposed to be lazy even more lazy. I want our people to be acquainted with their Bible, so that it becomes a dear friend. We don't have enough of that today, and the proof of that is in the lower degree of biblical literacy that we have in our churches. I project my sermon outline through a powerpoint presentation, and only rarely will display the verses I refer to, and that only to save time if I am drawing their attention to several passages or to a passage in passing. This last paragraph has nothing to do with John's question, but they are companion thoughts. (By the way, I regularly encourage people without a Bible to share with someone who has one.)

I purchased the ESV Reformation Study Bible two weeks ago. The print was sufficient for my eyes to see while preaching, and the cursed red letters (boy is that guy gonna get it when I get to heaven *grin* - and don't be mad - it's a visual thing for me) are absent. In addition, it has a fine series of notes edited by a list of fine Reformed scholars and pastors. If you're in the market for a new study Bible, I'd recommend it. Westminster Seminary Bookstore has it for under $40 in genuine leather. You may have to call them, since the leather version is not on their website. But they have a $5 flat rate for shipping, not matter how large or small the order, for the 48 states.

Anyway, I hope that answers John's question, and yours too.


John said...

Thanks for the insights, Peter. I'm only starting seminary this fall, so I don't have the formal knowledge to make precise judgements on translations. People whose judgement I trust have told me that the NASB is the most accurate, so it's the translation that I use whenever I have a choice. I lean heavily toward formal equivalence, as you do.

You have an interesting point about pew bibles. I remember a member of my Sunday school class saying "We need to become a Bible-totin' church. I'm not sure why we should, but I've never seen a Bible-totin' church that was struggling."

Peter Bogert said...

The NASB is great for personal study, John, but I think it is hard to preach from or read from, and that is part of the problem. Try recording yourself reading Romans 1 from the NASB and then play it back - without looking at the text you read.

What seminary do you plan to attend?

Scott said...


I agree. I pastor a church in Denver and I switched to the ESV a litte more than 22 months ago or so and believe I made the right choice. I did so for the very reasons you mention. I don't discourage any in my church for using NIV, NLT, etc....but I've found that If I could just grab one translation to preach to youth, adults, study from, and memorize, it would be the ESV.

I agree with your thoughts on the NASB also. I've used it for study when I'm in my office but discarded it as a reading/teaching bible for it's choppiness in reading.

John said...

I'm going to the Orlando campus of Asbury Theological Seminary -- the only conservative Methodist seminary.

Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the fine article, Peter. I'm about to write about it at my blog. Peace.

Adrian said...

Have found more than 15 people singing the praises of the ESV in the last 2 weeks- see my blog for more at http://www.adrian.warnock.info/2005/04/meme-in-making-is-esv-wave-sweeping.htm

Jeremy Pierce said...

The leather version is on their website. I just ordered it Tuesday very late in the day, and I got it on Thursday. That's supremely fast service.

Wayne Leman said...

Peter, one of the advantages of the ESV is that it continues the beautiful literary tradition of the KJV, ERV, ASV, and RSV. The ESV does have some rough spots in terms of some English quality gaffes, but I assume that many of these will be corrected in the next edition. If you are interested, I have begun a collection of passages in the ESV which could benefit from some literary tweaking in the next edition. They can be found on my new Better Bibles Blog which you and others are most welcome to visit, and, hopefully, post comments to. My desire is to see the wonderful riches of English Bible be even richer with improved English. You know what I'm referring to, since I have noted your comments about the NASB, another good translation which I have used over the years (it had just come out in the New Testament when I was in Bible school, *before* you!!) and we used it there and for personal evangelism.

Oh, BTW, like you, I like to see church goers be Bible toters, as well. And it is special to see their Bibles marked up from study.

Happy Riches said...

At least the ESV is clear about how people grow in faith, unlike the NIV.

ESV Romans IV

20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

Amplified Romans IV

20 No unbelief or distrust made him waver (doubtingly question) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong and was empowered by faith as he gave praise and glory to God,

I never really liked the NIV as I found it to be a little too loose, more loose than the RSV, which the ESV is very much like.

The problem with different versions is people are never on the same wave length let alone the same page.

John Baxter said...

I know this is old, but I recently was struggling with this also. I personally found the ESV more awkward than the NASB-95. I guess everyone is different. I have heard many great men read and preach from the NASB, and I never found it confusing. Men such as Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, Tom Pennington...I hear that against the NASB all the time, and I just don't get it. I have come across more "Yoda speak" in the ESV than any other.

I settled on the NASB for myself, and the HCSB is my 2nd choice -- I personally think it fills in for the NIV84 as being the best of both worlds, really.

God bless!