This blog post is pretty much inspired by Carson’s post on the NRSV, since he got me thinking about Bible translations, and why I’ve chosen the ESV. Although we have different preferences for our primary translation, I really appreciate the reasons he chooses the NRSV over the ESV, and in fact he’s the one that convinced me to buy an NRSV. It was my primary Bible for about six months, and I really enjoyed reading from it even though it didn’t “stick” for me. Without even really meaning to, I think I’ve kind of settled on the English Standard Verson for a while, and here’s why:
1) It’s familiar. I’ve been using the ESV since before it was cool. In 2002, it was one of the only freely available modern translations on the Internet—which made it my default in software like e-Sword or Xiphos. Second, the ESV retains traditional phrasing that just sounds right to me like “…the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23, and “deliver us from evil” in Matthew 6, for example. Most of Scripture I’ve memorized at this point (and that’s not nearly enough) is in KJV (just from hearing it a million times) or the ESV (which, conveniently, retains much of the same rhythm and structure of the KJV).
2) Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher with a mission. This means that the license for using the ESV is extremely permissive. Like I noted above, it was one of the first modern translantions to be freely available on the internet, and Crossway still makes the digital version available free in a number of formats for smartphones, etc. I dig the open, missionary spirit, which seems quite contrary to how many other publishers approach their translations. Access to the ESV is ubiquitous and easy.
3) The ESV Study Bible is awesome. Yeah, yeah, I know it has a bit of a Reformed bias and doesn’t really give women’s ordination or Christian Pacifism a fair shake (heck, I’ve complained about those things publically) but it does a great job of representing the classical/traditional Christian view of many issues and argues lucidly for them. Although I disagree on some points in the study articles, the vast majority of the content in the ESV Study Bible is high quality and academically very sound as far as I can tell. The exegetical notes are especially helpful when considering the historical, cultural, and theological context for a passage. Now, a great study bible doesn’t a great translation make, however it’s just one more thing that keeps bringin’ me back.
4) There’s plenty(!) of editions to choose from. You’ve got evangelistic paperbacks, nice compacts, a beautiful online edition, and fantastic premium bindings as well. Pretty much every book Crossway puts out is solid quality—in general a step above comparable Bibles from Tyndale and Zondervan. The ESV is also going to be coming soon in a Cambridge Clarion format, which is pretty much a dream come true for me. Not very many other translations are there yet.
5) It really is understandable and reliable. I know the ESV has its issues. There are some pretty opaque renderings, to be sure…but certainly no more than in any other major translation. And after 10 years on the market, the ESV still has a great reputation overall for both accuracy and readibility. I feel that I can trust it almost as much as the NASB in terms of its fidelity to the original languages, yet I can also be decently confident that it will sound okay (like the NKJV) when I read it aloud at home or in church.
6) The ESV is standard in circles I run with. This one is pretty big for me, actually. My Anglican church preaches and teaches from the ESV. The friends I interact with on a daily basis mostly use the ESV as well. It’s nice to immediately be working with the same translation, whether that be at church or at work, or hanging out online. When I’m talking over a passage, I don’t have to bring up a different version on my phone or computer, although it’s nice to be able to do that pretty easily when I need to!
7) There’s a growing eccumenical spirit surounding the ESV. The translation certainly didn’t start out as an eccumenical effort, and it clearly is still associated strongly with the Neo-Reformed internet rockstars. Yet, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has officially adopted the ESV, and I’m seeing many Evangelical Anglicans embracing it as well. The fact is that thanks to the excellent marketing efforts by Crossway, the ESV is pervasive—I think that it can’t help but move beyond Piper, Discoll, and Co.
I realized a long time ago that there’s no perfect translation. They’re mostly all pretty good, and each has strengths and weaknesses. It’s really easy for a guy like me to sink way to much time into finding “the one” translation, and reading up on the nuances of the TNIV vs. the NLT vs. the NET vs. whatever the hot new translation is. The fact is, I now have on my hands a translation that is reliable, sounds decent, and has endured at least a decade. Plus it’s what my church uses and I’m now very familiar with it. Throw in my dream Bible, and it’s starting to make sense why I’m gravitating that direction.