On Translations

Product Details A reader sent me an email asking about my increasing preference for the English Standard Version (ESV). I kept meaning to say something about this, but I just never could get around it. Anyway …

I’ve been a fan of the ESV ever since it came out in 2001 (updated in 2007 and 2008). It typically does a much better job of translating Paul than the NIV because it’s generally truer to the original language, while managing to be quite readable. I started my transition in the last few months using BibleGateway, even though QuickVerse for Windows 95 (my primary software aid at the time) didn’t offer that version.

Greg Tidwell (my favorite conservative preacher) had urged me to shift to the ESV, and I increasingly found the translations superior to the NIV. But what completed my transition was BibleWorks 8.0, which includes lots of translations, including the ESV, NIV, and NAS, among many others. Finally, it was just as easy to use the ESV as any, so it’s become my first choice.

It’s not perfect, but it’s truer to the original language and doesn’t do annoying things like translate “faith” as “trust” or “works” as “deeds.”

The NIV has become nearly the official translation of many churches, and when it came out, it was an incredible blessing. The NIV isn’t nearly as bad as many make out, but it has its limits when you’re doing serious theology.

I don’t have an opinion on many translations, because, well, there are just too many to read. Here’s what little I know —

* I don’t use the KJV, New KJV, or 21st Century KJV unless as a comparison to a serious translation or unless I’ve checked the underlying Greek myself, because these are all based on the Textus Receptus, which is the same Greek text used in 1611 by the KJV translators, even though there have been countless discoveries and studies done since then greatly improving the Greek text. In other words, these translations are all based on a text known to be flawed. These translations are marketing ploys and not serious efforts at bringing the reader what the apostles actually wrote.

* I don’t use paraphrases such as the New Living Translation or New English Bible, because these are more in the nature of commentaries, rather than translations. Sometimes they’re really good, but they can be badly inaccurate.

* I really detest translations that try to sound too conversational. You know, like —

(1Co 13:1 NLT) 6 [Love] does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

“The truth wins out”? Could you pick a more hackneyed phrase? “Endures through every circumstance”? Lacks the grace of the original language. “Part of the whole picture”? Dynamic equivalence isn’t wrong — unless you choose the least dynamic, most clichéd language imaginable! (My kids couldn’t have gotten away with such poor writing in high school!)

And “full understanding”? It’s a possible meaning of “that which is perfect,” but hardly an assured translation. The Bible deserves a little more respect.

Compare —

(1 Cor 13:1 New Revised Standard) 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

And compare these translations of Gal 2:11 —

NLT But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.

NIV When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

ESV But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

NAS But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

NRS But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;

“Stood condemned” and “was very wrong” are not the same thought. The Greek is κατεγνωσμένος (kategnosmenos). The same word is found in —

(Deu 25:1 ESV) “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, [The Septuagint translates using kategnosmenos.]

(1Jo 3:20-21 ESV) for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;

Now, we can have a serious discussion about the meaning of “condemn” in this passage, but it would be a very different conversation from a discussion about Peter’s being “very wrong.” I prefer my translations to put the hard words front and center so I know when to dig deeper, rather than “solving” the problem for me and leaving me unaware of the issue.

But I’m not normal. For most people, looser translations work just fine — most of the time, at least — although I can think of no reason for anyone to use translations based on Greek texts known to be flawed. And the NLT and translations of its ilk are often inelegant, written by a clumsy hand. They make me want to scream. They won’t send you to hell — they’ll just make your listeners yearn for death.


60 Responses

  1. What is it that makes you assume to be abnormal?

  2. Are you familiar at all with the Goodspeed translation?

  3. A clarification, Jay. The NLT is not a paraphrase like its predecessor was. It is “dynamic equivalence” although much more so than say the NIV, but it is not truly a paraphrase.

    I still prefer the NIV. I would like to prefer the NASB, but the languuage is stiff an in some places almost unreadable. I have looked at the ESV, but it just doesn’t seem right.

    However, like you, I use several translations when studying to understand what the authors were trying to say.


  4. I too have been a fan of the ESV for a few years, though not as long as you have. In my research I came to the same conclusion, that the ESV is probably the best as to readability and loyalty to the best original texts.

    I cut my spiritual teeth on a C I Scolfield KJV back in the 60’s, then moved to the NKJV when it came out, and then to the ESV about 5 or 6 years ago. I don’t know, the NIV just seemed to “mushy” for my taste.

    My theological views have changed over the years but I don’t think it is because of the Bible version I was using at the time.

    With all of the study resources available today am I a better Christian now than I was in the 60’s? I don’t think so. I still struggle with sin and long for a more intimate relationship with Jesus, a pattern in my life since I was 15 years old. When I give it some thought, the version of the Bible I am currently using has little to do with how I live for Jesus.

    I deeply appreciate you and most of your contributers for their scholarship and love for the Word of God.


  5. The NLT does a good job of literally translating Greek verbs. As we’ve heard about a billion times in Bible classes, “Ask, Seek, Knock” in the Sermon on the Mount is literally “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.” English conjugates its verbs so differently from Greek that I think it is important to bring that material through.

    I love the ESV, but it *still* makes letters sound like legal documents, and history sound like an affadavit. That why I’m not as opposed to conversational translations. But I share your frustration with some of the NLT’s decisions.

    Even though I became a Christian in the 90s, I somehow sidestepped the NIV craze. I don’t mind it – I’ve used it as my read-through-in-a-year translation before, but I prefer NRSV or ESV.

  6. Doesn’t any of you use the only one by the inspired 70, the King James anymore?

    Who and how many agreed on the better interpretation and wrote the ones being mentioned?

    Why do these books disagree with each other?

  7. The Bible is the best seller worldwide than any other book.

    Tell me what the majority want it to say so they will buy it and I’ll write one that will say just that!

    Makes business sense doesn’t it!

  8. Uh oh…as soon as you mention Textus Receptus and better texts discovered since 1611 you are sure to get a firestorm of comments from uber conservative KJV junkies

  9. I do most of my reading in ESV although I still preach from NIV (mainly because it’s the pew Bible and I want visitors and newbies to be able to follow along and partly from familiarity)

  10. “I prefer my translations to put the hard words front and center so I know when to dig deeper, rather than “solving” the problem for me and leaving me unaware of the issue.”

    Yeah. Like NIV’s “sinful nature” for “flesh.” Is it commentary or translation?

    I use NKJV because most of the people where I have preached use KJV and they can follow me when I read. I used NIV 20 years ago and an older member complained that they couldnt follow me. I thought it was a legitimate complaint. It would be fine with me if everyone would use ESV.

    Seems I was told years ago that the difference in MSS available today and those available to KJV are insignificant. True or false?

  11. John,

    The manuscript differences are significant. Here are some words from Jack Lewis on this (KJV to NIV, 41-42),

    “the place to begin in considering the Bible’s accuracy is its original text – the Hebrew and the Greek. When men first printed the Hebrew and Greek testaments, rather than doing extensive textual criticism they printed from available (and almost contemporary) manuscripts. It is unfortunate in Bible transmission that the KJV is based on a late text rather than upon an early one.

    To state that the text now available is superior to that of 1611 is to repeat a truism. Of the five primary uncial manuscripts now received as authority for the purity of the text of the NT, only Codex Bezae was then available, and there is no evidence that it was used. Papyrus discoveries came three hundred years later. The King James scholars could have known fewer than 25 late manuscripts of the NT and these were carelessly used. Today there are 5,358 known NT manuscripts and fragments. The KJ scholars had the text of Erasmus as it had been further revised in its third edition by Stephanus in 1551 and the text issues iby Beza in 1589 and in 1598. The 1611 situation for the OT was even poorer. The Complutensian Polyglot (1517) and the Antwer Polyglot (1572) would have been the sources from which they would have known the OT. Where these two differ, the KJV agrees with one or the other except in about a half-dozen places where it agrees with neither. Modern discovery has supplied earlier Masoretic manuscripts dating to the 10th century in the Leningrad manuscript, the Aleppo Codex, and the British museum manuscript. For portions of the OT, discovery has supplied pre-Masoretic manuscripts dating to the 2nd century BC in the Qumran scrolls. About 800 Hebrew manuscripts have now been studied. The KJV scholars had only a single text for the Septuagint. Now there are many manuscripts…They had only the ordinary edition of the Latin, disfigured by corruptions. Now Codex Amiatiuns (AD 541) presents Jerome’s final work and mature judgment..”

    From there Lewis has several pages of places where the KJV agrees with no known manuscripts and other problems that show up in the KJV due to insufficient Greek and Hebrews manuscripts. He even notes places where the KJV translators used paraphrase…funny because of the small group who hate paraphrase would and are KJV only. Hope that helps answer your question.

  12. I agree with “almost” everything you wrote…..

    I don’t use the KJV, New KJV, or 21st Century KJV unless as a comparison to a serious translation or unless I’ve checked the underlying Greek myself, because these are all based on the Textus Receptus, which is the same Greek text used in 1611 by the KJV translators, even though there have been countless discoveries and studies done since then greatly improving the Greek text. In other words, these translations are all based on a text known to be flawed. These translations are marketing ploys and not serious efforts at bringing the reader what the apostles actually wrote.

    “known to be flawed” is too strong of a statement. There is legitimate dispute with reasonable arguments on both sides. While the oldest extant manuscript fragments appear to weigh against the TR, we have evidence hundreds of years earlier than those fragments that supports the TR (for example, the Diatessaron which dates from 160 to 175 AD. Other writings of early church fathers also agree with the TR. I think we should be more cautious about discarding the TR, in view of these earlier witnesses.

  13. Alan,

    I think Jay’s statement was accurate. It is known to be flawed. They are all known to be flawed, right? That’s why we have textual variants. It wouldn’t be too strong of a statement to say that all manuscripts are “known to be flawed” because that is the very nature of a copy of a copy of a copy. Hand me the autograph and I will agree it isn’t flawed in the least. Those just don’t exist/haven’t been discovered.

  14. I really appreciate Jay’s comments on the ESV, as well as the back and forth on the texts. Could someone suggest some “out of class” reading for me on these issues? I’d like to learn more. dan

  15. I have been using the ESV for about 3 years or so. When I finally out grew my NIV, I did a ton of research (though I knew no Greek at the time), and decided on the ESV. Tidwell played a big part in helping me to come to that conclusion.

    Now that I’m doing some academic studies in Bible and theology, I use the NRSV a lot more (more or less the academic mainstay).

    Jay, I do disagree with you about the NLT (and the Message). While they shouldn’t be your main source of study (because of their interpretive nature), the colloquial/conversational language is in some sense truer to the nature of Scripture. Aside from a few places, Scripture isn’t written in eloquent literary language.

    I am studying Attic (classical, literary) Greek at a large secular university. And the difference between reading Attic Greek texts, and texts in the NT is stark. There is no doubt that NT Greek is complicated and seems really eloquent to our ears, but compared to literary Greek, the street language in the NT seems almost crude.

    So while I use ESV/NRSV as my main text, the NLT and MSG have proven to be incredibly useful for getting the feel of the text—which proves to be pretty helpful when doing serious theology as well.

    For what it’s worth….

  16. Dan,

    Here are a few:
    How did we get the Bible by Sumner – very, very basic

    The English Bible from the KJV to the NIV by Jack Lewis – one of the standard works on understanding the differences between translations as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each. An excellent book with an average of 40+ scripture references per page!

    Questions You’ve asked about Bible translations by Jack Lewis

    The Bible in Translation by Bruce Metzger – a way shorter version of some of what Lewis did in that first book. Much of the history of ancient and modern translations

    For the KJV only debate and info on the TR see D.A. Carson’s book The King James Version Debate

    F.F. Bruce – the New Testament Documents, are they reliable (this was available for free online in pdf somewhere…can’t find it now but I have the file)

    F.F. Bruce – The English Bible

    Comfort – Origins of the Bible

  17. Jay,
    I currently use the ESV as a base text. It is great in most areas. In many places it is sexist and upholds the traditional male dominated view of the Bible. It calls Phoebe a “Servant”, rather than
    Deacon”, to avoid women in ministry. It defers to the standard male “rule”, and seems to me to be complementarian, rather than egalitarian. I do think it has a minor evangelical Western/American slant.
    That being said, it is a fair translation, better than some.
    It is based on the eclectic Critical Text, rather than the Textus Receptus. This is a good thing, as the TR has 1,000 years of mistranslations, scribal errors and emmendations in it. The Manuscripts used in the TR were corrupted over the years. I believe the Third Edition of Erasmus’ text is the TR. It has the spurious Johannine Comma, which has no extant manuscript evidence till some monk wrote it for Erasmus. Then there is the Long Ending of Mark (bring out the tongue speakers, snake handlers and poison drinkers!), and then the Pericope Adulterae of John 7:53-8:11. All of these are not in the original mauscripts. There are 3 other ending to Mark! I do not think the Diatessaron has the final word here.
    All of that being said, I still use the NIV from time to time, as well as GOD’S WORD to me the GWT speaks the Word to me. Where it disagrees with the NIV, it it closer to the Hebrew-Greek text.
    I am waiting for the 2011 NIV to come out in its new study Bible. It will be an updated NIV, and will avoid some of the pitfalls of the TNIV.
    So my order of study is ESV-NIV-GWT, then the Greek text. My Hebrew is nada, so I just look words up in TWOT.
    There are no autographs. If there were we would probably worship it. (As some worship the KJV now).

  18. Well, I’ll be the old liberal. Still prefer the New Revised Standard Version. However, the perfect translation for me would be the NRSV for everything but the Psalms, which would be the KJV. Nothing more beautiful that the Psalms in the KJV.

  19. Many years ago, a wise preacher answered my inquiry as to the best translation with the following: “The best translation of the bible is the one you will read.”

    With that being said, I was baptized as a teen at a KJV only place. I bought a NASB when I left for college. It was good but choppy. I bought a NIV when it first came out in 1978. Shortly afterward I taught an OT survey class to the teens at the KJV place. My only external study was reading the same verses in the NIV. The students thought I was a bible scholar because I was able to explain the many cryptic KJV readings. I was hooked on the NIV although some of its quirks were frustrating. I enjoy the NLT when reading for fun. The Message has too much slang and takes too many liberties for me. I’m having a hard time warming up to the ESV. I can’t explain why. It feels old school. I go back to the NASB when concerned about a word for word basis.

  20. The ESV is a better read than the NASB, in my opinion. The ESV is a little “old school” in some areas as I previously mentioned. The NRSV, bothered me, as it was a remake of the older liberal translation of the RSV. (Which was my first Bible to study) The KJV is rather cryptic in some areas: unicorns and cocatrice in the OT, and Easter in the NT. It took a preacher searching through Strongs and Thayers to translate the KJV so people could understand it. When he did it successfully, he was considered a great Bible scholar and Bible preacher.
    The use of the NIV solves a lot of problems in preaching and teaching. It is already in modern English. There are some drawbacks like any translation.

  21. What about the NRSV? I have a copy of the ESV but have found it to not be very readable much like the NASB. I love how the NIV and TNIV have always been very readable. However, I find that the NRSV does the best job of balancing readability and word-for-word translation accuracy. I was using the TNIV which I thought was a great improvement over its parent translation the NIV but since Christian politics has brought an end to the TNIV, I have gone back to the NRSV.

    Of course all translations and translations, with questions about the translation offered that often reflect the biases of the translator(s).

    Grace and peace,


  22. I quit using the KJV while in New Zealand. I would read a text, and people would look at me as if they did not comprehend it – until I translated the translation for them. I experimented with the RSV (in 1970 or so). When I read it, there was comprehension in their eyes – so I switched to the RSV. I later adopted the NIV, at least partially because my graduate school major professor, Dr. Lewis Foster, was on the NIV translation committee. I have been using it now for more than 30 years – but I am not completely happy with it. In more serious study, I use multiple translations plus consult different Greek texts.

    Recently, I have considered looking more seriously at switching to the ESV, as it seems to be growing in popularity and has support from a number of people whom I respect highly. Hence, all of the comments in Jay’s article and in response to it are much appreciated. Thank all of you!


  23. Jay, I too prefer formal equivalence translations (NASB, ESV, RSV, etc.) over dynamic equivalence translations (NIV, NLT, etc.) for serious study.

    Lately, I’ve started using the NET Bible as my main study Bible because of its extensive footnotes, that allow me – someone not knowledgeable about Greek or Hebrew – to feel like I’m looking over the translators’ shoulders while they work.

    I perceive the NET to be somewhat dynamic, but I really appreciate the translators’ willingness to translate without undue concern about how their choices will be perceived by the public. For example, read Psalm 23 and its attendant translators’ notes. Sheds some new light (at least for me) on a very familiar passage.

    Jay, have you – or other contributors – had opportunity to work with the NET?


  24. Lately I have began regularly using the New Living Translation i got for Christmas. I believe this translation does an excellent job of translating the ideas of what was being written from Hebrew/ Greek to English resulting in the very same expressions and ideas the original audience would have gotten hearing those words in their heart language.

  25. Adam,
    I agree about the NLT. It is a great translation. The more literal translation, the more the culture of that time colors the message to us. The more dynamic translation speak our language, but may lose some of the original meanings. A translation somewhere in the middle or closer to (but not all) formal equivalence is best, in my opinion.

  26. Jay and others,
    Look at betterbibles.com
    Wayne Lehman has some good articles which show some of the shortcomings of the ESV. Some of the mistranslations are minor and a few are strange. This bears looking at before I or anyone gives the ESV a blanket endorsement.

  27. Theodore,

    I’m not normal in that I post a 1,500 word essay on a spiritual topic every day — and then some — while holding down many other responsibilities. Most people have better sense.

  28. Charles,

    I’m aware of Goodspeed but not familiar with it. For readers unfamiliar with it, http://www.bible-researcher.com/goodspeed.html has an introduction. It’s a one-man translation, with the NT coming out in 1923. It has never been very popular in my lifetime.

  29. Alan S,

    I agree that NASB is a bit awkward. It came out at the same time as the NIV, nearly, but never caught on as well. Part of the problem was the very bad decision to separately paragraph each verse, which hurts readability. And the NIV is an easier read.

  30. Nick,

    No less an authority than N. T. Wright commends the NRSV, although he was speaking in the context of Paul. I notice that some commentaries are now using the NRSV. I’ve never really used it but will likely experiment with it a bit.

  31. Alabama John,

    My brother-in-law was trying out for a preaching job, teaching a Sunday school class. He expounded on the Greek meaning of a word, when an older student upbraided him: “If God meant for us to know Greek, he’d have written it in Greek!!”

  32. John,

    The MSS differences between the modern, critical text and the texts used by the KJV translators are significant — but they wouldn’t make a difference in someone’s salvation and likely wouldn’t affect anyone’s choice of denomination (other than snake handling, I suppose).

  33. Matt,

    Thanks. That’s helpful.

  34. Alan,

    There are serious arguments to make in favor of the Majority (or Byzantine) Text — essentially the text compiled by taking the most common readings among all available manuscripts, without regard to age or origin. I strongly disagree with those arguments, but they are not insubstantial.

    However, the Textus Receptus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textus_Receptus) is a medieval text largely compiled by Erasmus and used by the KJV translators. As Matt explained, that text has significant known shortcomings. The Wikipedia states,

    Textus Receptus has some additions and variants which did not exist in the Byzantine text before the 16th century. The Comma Johanneum in 1 John 5:7 is well known example, but there are also other texts like: Matt 10:8; 27:35; Luke 17:36; John 3:25; Acts 8:37; 9:5; 15:34; and some readings (“book of life” instead of “tree of life” in Revelation 22:19) which the Byzantine text did not have. In these cases the majority of manuscripts agree with the Alexandrian text-type against the Textus Receptus.

    F. H. A. Scrivener (1813-1891) remarked that Matt. 22:28, 23:25, 27:52, 28:3, 4, 19, 20; Mark 7:18, 19, 26, 10:1, 12:22, 15:46; Luke 1:16, 61, 2:43, 9:1, 15, 11:49; John 1:28, 10:8, 13:20 are under the influence of Minuscule 1 (Caesarean text-type). Scrivener showed that some texts were incorporated from the Vulgate (for example, Acts 9:6; Rev 17:4.8). Daniel B. Wallace enumerated that in 1,838 places (1005 are translatable) Textus Receptus differs from the Byzantine text-type.

    Dean Burgon, one of the main supporters of the Textus Receptus, declared that the Textus Receptus needs correction. He suggested 150 corrections in the Textus Receptus Gospel of Matthew alone.

  35. John Miller,

    I’ve used the NET Bible on occasion. It can be quite good in places. http://bible.org/netbible/ To continue the examples from the main post —

    2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong.

    A footnote to “done wrong” states,

    Grk “because he stood condemned.”

    From 1 Cor 13 —

    13:6 It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. 13:7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    13:8 Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 13:10 but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.

    A footnote to “perfect” says “or completion.”

    For detailed study, the footnotes can be very helpful.

  36. Jay;

    I am always glad to be able to agree with you.

    You most definitely are not normal.


  37. Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that the KJV isn’t the inspired version that Paul used?! What heresy 😉

    As I continue to labor just north of Tuscaloosa in the mission field of Walker County, I always enjoy reading people’s opinions on translations. I feel like a little runt tugboat trying to pull (or is it push?) the Titanic towards the shores of reason and logical thought.

    Needless to say, unfortunately there are some in our brotherhood who will die convinced that Paul did in fact use the KJV and to use any other is heresy. It makes for a good laugh, once you get past the frustration and sadness.

    Remember, if you want the best translation – learn Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic!


  38. Jay, that sounds like something I would say!

    It has always been interesting though that for the best understanding of the bible, we go to the Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew and those very people that shoud understand it so much better than we are not christian themselves.

    Makes sense to me that if it is so much easier to understand in their own language why do they not understand?

  39. “If God meant for us to know Greek, he’d have written it in Greek!!”

    This brings up a question in my mind , that has never popped up before.
    Why, was Hebrews written in Greek? Wasn’t it written for the Jews?
    Come to think about it why was any of the Gospel written in Greek, a story about a Jewish God and his people who were Jewish. Wern’t all the writers except one Jewish. Is the Greek that was found a translation of the original? It does bring up some questions .

  40. Laymond,

    By the time the NT was written, Greek was the language for most of that part of the world. A couple hundred years before Jesus, there was even a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was widely used (and often quoted in the NT). Thanks in large part to Alexander the Great, Greek was the most commonly spoken/written language of the time.


  41. Thanks Brad, I know Greek was a language of necessity, but why the language of choice, it is not the language of choice in the region now, so evidently they did not prefer it over their own.
    I understand why Paul had his letters written in Greek, he was a roman citizen, I know he claimed to be a Hebrew’s Hebrew, but he acted more like a Roman’s Roman. but I don’t understand why those who had read the Hebrew Bible, which was not written in a foreign language preferred to bring their message in Greek.

  42. Unless, The Septuagint, was the influence for them to do so.
    I guess nobody else wanted to chime in. 🙂

  43. Hi Jay,

    Are all the commenters male? Looks that way, although I found a sole mention of the problems of the ESV regarding the treatment of women.

    Suzanne, who is quite literate in Greek has several blogs about problems with the ESV. Here are links to two:



    I am a woman, and I have 5 daughters (as well as 3 sons). If a Bible chooses to mis-translate to preserve traditional prejudices against women, its not speaking for God IMO. To me, that’s a “make or break” issue.


  44. Laymond,
    The world of Jesus and Paul and the early church was a Greek-Roman world. Koine Greek was the trade language common to many many people. The Septuagint put the Hebrew Bible into Greek 200 years before Jesus. Then there was the Diasphora of Jews and synagogues in many of the major Mediterranean cities. More than likely the Septuagint was widely used among the Jewish diaphora, and Paul went there first. Then he turned to the Gentiles, most of whom spoke Greek, Even Romans who had Latin as their first language spoke Greek.
    The majority of the OT quotes in the New Testament were from the LXX. The NT, in spite of what the Syriac church says, was written in Greek originally. Greek was the universal language, and that is why God gave the world of that day a Greek Bible with the LXX and the Greek NT.

  45. Laymond,

    Thanks for asking this question. There have already been some really good responses. I do see how confusing it would be from our point of view for Jesus and his disciples to be speaking Aramaic, familiar with reading from the Hebrew OT, and then writing these things down in Greek. But once you understand some of the cultural and linguistic information already provided in these comments things make a bit more sense.

    It wasn’t that the Septuagint (LXX) was the precedent for writing it in Greek. It was merely a practical thing. You are going to write something your audience will understand. For instance, if John is writing his Gospel for a group that contains both Jews and Gentiles, he would write it in Greek. Same for Paul, Peter, etc.

  46. Laymond,

    The book of Hebrews was written to the diasphora Jewish Christians. Greek may have been the first language of many of them, as well as the Godfearers and other Gentiles who followed Jesus.

    The LXX and Greek NT was the best Bible for its day in the language of many of that world. It was not too long till Syriac versions and Armenian versions were made to reach those people. Likewise with Jerome and the Vulgate Latin Bible, and Luther and the Luther Bible version, and the KJV and the English speaking people of the 1600’s to 1800’s. Since the 1800’s we have had several revisions of the KJV, but none has taken root in the mind of the English speaking people. The NIV has a large audience, and that may be a good thing. It is more of a dynamic translation, but so was the LXX of the Hebrew Bible before Jesus. I think God uses all of the translation to spead the Living Word.

  47. Would of been nice if there was one book inspired by the Holy Spirit and no matter who read it and in what language they could read it was in their language as they read. Sure would cut down confusion.

    Just like several speaking and the hearers all hearing in ther own language. Miracle was in the voices or the ears? I believe the ears as so many speaking at once and in so many languages was too hard to understand. No PA system either. More languages than apostles so some must of been speaking more than one language at once if it was the voice.

    Made a preacher mad once when he disagreed with me on this very point in a class of 50 -60 and when he started to continue the lesson I started mumbling something and he stopped and said, “John, the class can’t hear us both speaking”. Point made and we all got a laugh but he didn’t think it too funny.

  48. Alabama,
    God spoke to us through His Son Jesus, and the Bible is an inspired record of that. We do not have the original texts before us. What we do have is about 97% sure, the other 3 % does not affect any doctrine of the Bible.

  49. Gary

    I agree, but we all sure do read it differently don’t we. That’s what I meant, about us all reading it in our own language and with the same understanding. Never will happen though and now so many different translations that differ with each other to add to the confusion and differences among us. How many more to come? How many in the future to chose from for our children and grandchildren?

    I’m afraid next will come those slanted to each denomination. No more arguing verses, then we’ll differ on Bibles.

    Bible is the number one seller every year worldwide. More and more translations to come. Each wanting a piece of that sales financial pie.

    God is not the author of confusion. We are!

  50. Alabama,

    I don’t see more Bibles as a bad thing. If just one oerson reads a translation different from the one I read and gets saved, that is fine with me. I do not think we all need one Bible or the same Bible like the Moslems claim for the Koran.

  51. The different versions started a long time ago when the new testament writers picked up their ballpoint pen and notebook paper to tell the story of Jesus Christ, and his mission assigned to him by God.

    as Walter always ended his news cast “and that’s the way it was” until you changed channels and then it sounded differently.

    I have always heard “opinions are like _________, everyone has one” (you fill in the blank)

  52. I have an interest in giving people the Bible in their own language. I work as a fund-raiser for Eastern European Mission. Our target area is the old Soviet bloc of nations. With splits, there are now at least 26 (maybe more, depending on who recognizes whom as a “nation”) nations speaking 20 different languages. We work in all of them.

    Once I was meeting with a group of elders and deacons about supporting our work. Someone asked, “Do you use the King James translation?” I said, “No, the KJV is in English. Most of the people we are giving Bibles to speak Russian.”

    As has been pointed out, Koine Greek was the common language of the 1st Century. Of course, the authors of the Bible wrote in the common language of the people. We should also speak to them in their language – and the Bible we read from in the pulpit should be one the people can understand.


  53. Greg,

    I’m blushing.

  54. Gary

    I agree with you again.

    Not meaning to get off topic here, but in the mountains of NC and TENN at the time of my grandparents and father, there was a man that traveled on foot and brought only a book of John and gave it out to all that came to hear him preach. The book was Red as I heard them say many times.
    I have an old picture of my grandfather when pictures were a rare thing back in those mountains and it is of him sitting holding his first whole bible. First one any of them saw.

    So, to what you said, did those get saved that only had the book of John?
    Does it take all of the bible, whatever translation and a full and absolute understanding to be saved?

  55. Alabama,

    For years people got saved hearing the Living Word from the written Word in whatever translation: Greek, Latin, Geneva, KJV, ASV, NIV and many others.
    That being said , the first NT letter written was probably I Thess., or Galatians, and possibly James. They were mostly written in very late 40’s to early 50’s AD. The first Gospel was either Matthew or Mark (there is a debate there), and they were mid 50’s to 65 AD. Luke was written before the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70 AD. In fact, probably all of the NT was written before 70 AD. There is strong tradition that John was written in Ephesus around 98 AD. All that being said, Christianity started about 32 +/- AD, and there were no Gospels written for about 20 years. Many people were not literate, and the sayings and stories and words and deeds and crucifixion and resurrection were orally preached and transmitted without any text to refer to, except the Septuagint OT. The Gospel of Jesus is not the ink and paper of Matt., Mark, Luke and John. It is the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. It took at least 70 years to get the NT written and people relied upon the stories of and by Jesus by word of mouth. In fact, many parts of the Empire had different Gospels- the Hebrew Christians treasured Matthew, the Greeks treasured Mark, the Romans favored Luke, and Asia Minor was heavily influenced by the Gospel of John.
    I think different regions having only one Gospel written in addition to the spoken Gospel was fine.
    It is the Holy Spirit who interprets the Word and the Gospel to each heart. It takes a sufficient understanding of the work and person of Christ to be saved. The Holy Spirit knows that that means. Romans 10:9 answers it for me.

  56. Charis,

    I’m proud to say I have many female readers, many of whom comment now and again.

    The ESV translators defend their choice of pronouns in http://www.esv.org/translation/gender

    They use inclusive language when the original language permits, and not when the original language is gender specific. Some of the gender-inclusive translations actually conceal theological points by translating “son” as “child” for example. Consider —

    ESV Galatians 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

    KJV Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

    NAS Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

    NIV Galatians 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

    NLT Galatians 3:26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

    The Greek is literally “son” — and among Paul’s points is the right of Christians to the inheritance promised by God — and under the law of the day, only sons could inherit. Thus,

    (Gal 3:28-29 ESV) 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    The reason there is no “male and female” is because we are adopted is sons, that is, we are incorporated into the son-ness of Jesus — and so we’re all heirs and destined to sit on the throne of heaven with Jesus — women are promised the rights of an adopted son: the rights of inheritance and to rule as kings. The same, of course, is true of slaves and Gentiles, who also could not inherit land in the Promised Land. But our baptism into Jesus changes all that, giving us the standing of God’s own Son: priest, king, and heir — all roles previously denied to women, non-Jews, and slaves — but now held by all.

    The difficulty translators face is that gender sometimes carries subtle theological weight that is rarely noticed, because we so often read the Bible with gender-biased eyes (either seeing everything with bias or with no bias), and so we miss God’s work to undo bias by specifically negating the sexism of the day.

  57. Charis,

    I do agree with you that when the original language is not gender specific, the English translation should be the same.

  58. Laymond,

    I would only add that languages change with the flow of history. When Alexander created his Hellenistic empire, he insisted that Greek become the universal language. Rome chose to let Greek remain the universal language. However, when Islam conquered many of the same nations, Arabic became the universal language, as this was the language of the Koran and the ruling elites. Greek was soon forgotten in much of the Islamic world as people read the Koran rather than the New Testament.

  59. I prefer my translation to be from the best original texts, with sense for sense (rather than word for word) translation unit. Basically that rules out translaations before 1920s, and heavily paraphrased modern versions. (if the Dead Sea Scrolls are important then it elimates before 1970s.)
    About the early church use of Greek, note that from third century writings, most of the church was eastern Mediterranean, specifically Egypt to Turkey (Asia Minor). That are had been offically Greek for centures. I doubt that Italy or Spain (Gaul) preferred Greek, but Paul (and any other apostles) didn’t know Latin to use for Romans or any other NT book aimed at a west Med. audience.

  60. Larry and Jay,
    I like my translation to be from the Bible which more closely approximates the original text. That being said the “critical-electic” text is probably the closest to that.
    There some things to consider with the Hebrew Bible:
    The New Testament used the Septuagint for its OT quotes, The Septuagint/LXX was a dynamic transation of a Hebrew text earlier than the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible currently in use. Then there are the Dead Sea Scrolls: often an OT passage from the Scrolls agrees with the LXX against the Masoretic text. This is clear evidence of a more ancient Hebrew text known before the time of Jesus on Earth. Then we have the Aramaic Targums, they also testify to the Hebrew text.
    Jesus probably preached from the Targums, as well as the Hebrew scrolls available in His day. All of that being said, I recognize the value of the LXX, DSS, and Targums, as well as OT quotes in the writings of the Church fathers. Taken as a whole, they give us a dynamic translation of the OT.

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