The research I have done concerning the Common English Bible (CEB) has prompted me to look more closely at the Bible translations I use and recommend, and even at some that I don’t use, or at least don’t use much. One of those that I don’t use much is the ESV. However, that is going to change.
For quite some time I have kept the ESV at arm’s length. The ESV was the translation whose supporters tried to demonize and destroy another perfectly good translation, the TNIV. The ESV supporters also had a tendency towards a clone of KJV-Onlyism, which we like to call ESV-Onlyism, of course. It is caused by the inability (unwillingness) to see beyond your own preferred translation. I was also put off by the use of archaic language and awkward word order in the ESV, as well as its apparent rejection of accurate gender translating principles, that is, the insistence on translating into the masculine gender even when the original was not written that way.
Well, I’m trying to put all that behind me. I’m trying to look at the ESV for what it is – a revision of the old Revised Standard Version (RSV) with the perceived “liberalisms” changed to reflect evangelical preferences.
The team of people who were brought together several years ago to make the ESV looked for a good starting place, and they found it in the RSV. The RSV itself was a mild revision of the old American Standard Version of 1901, so it stands solidly within the so-called Tyndale tradition which includes the KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, and now the ESV, along with perhaps a few others. So during public reading and/or Bible study it is not too difficult to use any of these translations and follow along with the text.
I have long criticized the ESV for its archaic, and sometimes odd, language and awkward word order, but there’s one thing I have never been able to criticize it for – theology problems. From what I have seen, the ESV is as solid theologically as a Bible can be. And that, more than anything else, is why I am now reconsidering it as one of my preferred translations. The ESV is clear where the Bible should be clear, and ambiguous where it should be ambiguous. It doesn’t falsely translate uncertainties with the language of certainty. It doesn’t give us the interpretations of the translators in place of the scriptures themselves. Yes, it is archaic in places; yes, it is awkward in places; yes, it certainly is odd in some places. But it is solid…it’s oh, so solid!
And another thing I like about the ESV is that it’s a smooth, easy reader compared to some translations. It certainly isn’t as easy to read and understand as the NLT or the TNIV/NIV, but its classic English (for the most part) is not clumsy or awkward. It reads smoothly and relatively easily.
Now I could choose any number of translations as my main Bibles, and I have in the past. I have a NASB 1995 update which I have worn out to the point it is barely usable. I could replace that NASB with another, but I have decided it may be a wiser move to switch to the ESV. Why? Because of Crossway’s marketing, the ESV is more widely accepted, more widely used, and more widely available. And not only that, because of its being in the Tyndale tradition, it is also more familiar to more people than just about any other translation, with the possible exception of the NIV.
So I have finally come back around to the ESV. I used to use it for a while back when Crossway first started publishing it, but then I didn’t really know anything about it. Now, I have knowledge on my side, and I’m making the choice intelligently. I know what I’m getting. And I’m getting the ESV.