Bible Review: ESV

The ESV pops on the scene as one of the new, hot, translations. But how does it stack up?

1. Translator Methods

The ESV begins with the RSV, as the translators say the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. If you’re familiar with the RSV, that statement alone speaks volumes.

Which Greek text forms its foundation? Does it use the text edited by Westcott and Hort? Again, the translators say The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), and on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.), edited by Nestle and Aland.

As we’ve noted in our Primer on Bible Translation, Nestle-Aland and UBS are different names for what remains essentially Westcott and Hort’s controversial work.

Thus, the ESV’s origins are the old RSV, and the Alexandrian (Westcott/Hort) Greek text (if you want a review of the differences in the Alexandrian text, read the previously linked primer on Bible translation).

2. Missing Verses

It surprises many people when they find out verses have been deleted from their Bible. Does the ESV follow Westcott and Hort’s lead? Some translations — even based on the corrupt Alexandrian Westcott-Hort text — don’t follow as much as others (NASB is one example which refuses to delete all the verses Westcott and Hort did).

Let’s see how the ESV stacks up.

  • (Matthew 18:11 NKJV) For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
  • (Matthew 18:11 ESV) deleted

Notice the ESV jumps straight from v10 to v12. Did you know they omitted verse 11?

  • (Revelation 11:17 NKJV) saying: We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
  • (Revelation 11:17 ESV) saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was and who is to come, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

Whoops. They omitted the “who is to come” part. Those two edits can be debated back and forth (textual criticism), but Westcott-Hort’s text contains edits which clearly make no sense whatsoever. Unfortunately, the ESV follows illogical editing as well.

Matthew 25:13 (ESV) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:13 (KJV) Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Watching if you don’t know what time it is makes no sense at all — in this case it’s not a question of which Greek text proves superior, it’s an obvious example of editing of God’s Word rendering the text illogical.

It seems the ESV follows Westcott-Hort and their edited text.

3. Check Cornerstone Verses

2 Timothy 2:15 is a cornerstone verse, revealing much about how a translation views its job. Is it literal, or more of a paraphrase? Wordy, or concise? Consider how various translations handle this verse:

  • KJV — Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
  • NASB — Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
  • ESV — Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
  • RSV — Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
  • NIV — Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
  • NLT — Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

In line with other recent translations, the ESV waters down “Study” to “do your best” (NASB uses “be diligent” which is pretty good).

“A worker who has no need to be ashamed” is a bit wordy, that could be “a worker with no need to be ashamed”. Admittedly that’s a personal issue, but it seems many of the recent translations chop the text into shorter sentences, creating some strange constructions.

The ESV changes “Study” to the three words “Do your best” — not only is it watered down in meaning, but it’s wordy where it doesn’t need to be. Is “Study” really not clear?

Conclusion

The ESV doesn’t offer much over other recent translations. If you like the RSV, NIV, NRSV, and so on, you’ll like the ESV. For those following the non-corrupt Greek text (KJV, NKJV, and to a lesser extent NASB), you’ll find little to recommend about the ESV. What happens when the ESV fades away as most translations do?

Further Reading

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