The ESV v The NIV: FIGHT!!

The ESV v The NIV: FIGHT!!

When I was in Chicago recently for the Gospel Coalition conference there was a huge banner hanging in the hall advertising the ESV as a version you could trust because ‘men you trust’ believe in it. Then there was a picture of John Piper and several others. One, my friend informed me, was Kevin DeYoung and the other a guy called Matt Chandler (who I’d never actually heard of and so the ad was lost on me). Anyway, it seems like everybody was getting in on this ‘ESV for president’ campaign out there and we even got a free one upon arrival.

I must admit I have been reading it since I got back mainly because unlike the formal equivalence of my NKJV, I like the dynamic nature of this translation and I find it helpful in preparing sermons in a more idiomatic style. Nah…not really. I can’t find my little leather NKJV, so the ESV was the first thing to hand!

My personal preference is to study with the NKJV and to preach from the NIV. So, when we come to problems in the NIV (and there are some) I can safely navigate my way through them having studied with (in my mind)a more textually rigorous version. A friend has sent me an article on the shortcomings of the ESV and he thought it might be fun to publish something about it on the blog. I will, for the sake of information, but also knowing that most people reading this, if they’re anything like me: DON’T CARE. I would be happy to get my people reading any version of the Bible (except The Message obviously) as long as they were getting into it.

Anyway, Mark L Strauss, a professor of Greek & Hebrew from Bethel seminary, San Diego has written a long article on why the ESV is not as good as it is being marketed as. In a section entitled, ‘Oops’ he says:

Occasionally translators will render a text “literally” without realizing the potential for misunderstanding or double meaning. All versions must watch out for this, but literal ones are particularly susceptible. For example, the ESV (following the RSV) originally rendered Gen. 30:35, “But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped …and put them in charge of his sons.”
It is remarkable that Laban had so much confidence in his goats! This gaffe was pointed out and a second printing of the ESV corrected it, taking authority away from Laban’s goats: “… and put them in the charge of his sons.”

He then goes on to cite many more such examples. One of my personal favourites being:  “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”(Luke 17:35) His point being that most versions clarify that this means grinding “grain,” “meal” or “flour”.

His article lays out his problem with the ESV in 11 broad categories and is worth a read here.Here is part of his conclusion.

Some critics have claimed that the only way to protect the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture is to translate literally. This, of course, is linguistic nonsense. The translation that best preserves the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture is one that clearly and accurately communicates the meaning of the text as the original author intended it to be heard. The Greek idioms that Paul or John or Luke used did not sound awkward, obscure or stilted to their original readers. They sounded like normal idiomatic Greek. Verbal and plenary inspiration is most respected when we allow the original meaning of the text to come through.

Asking the simple question, “Would anyone speaking English actually say this?” is a good test for standard English. This simple question could transform our Bible versions and bring them in line with the finest translation practices used around the world. We must remember that the ultimate goal of Bible translation is not to give our students a “crib” on their weekly Greek and Hebrew assignments, but to clearly and accurately communicate the meaning of God’s inspired and authoritative Word.

Happy hunting!