After floating around in the cloud of translations for a while, we’re now coming in for a landing. These translations in this post are translations that many use in their Bible study, and often they are the person’s one main Bible. Any one of them I could choose as my own main Bible, but for one reason or another they all come up just a little bit short of the mark, in my humble opinion. In my next post I will tell you which are my three favorites, and I think one of them might be a bit of a surprise.

In alphabetical order:

1. The ESV (English Standard Bible) As you are probably well aware, the ESV is being aggressively, even brilliantly marketed by its publisher, Crossway Bibles. They have taken a page out of Zondervan’s marketing book, and are producing ESV Bibles with beautiful, sculpted, colorful leather-like imitation leather covers, as well as more traditional bonded leather and genuine leather covers. Plus, they have licensed some of the finest British Bible-makers, Cambridge and R.L. Allan, to make exceptional ESV Bibles which are available here on this side of the Atlantic as well. To top it off, they are also making what is possibly the very best study Bible available, the ESV Study Bible.

It’s too bad they haven’t invested more into the translation itself. The ESV is not a new translation in and of itself, as you probably know by now. The ESV is actually a mild revision of the old Revised Standard Version. The old RSV was originally reviled by the evangelical camp as a “liberal” Bible, but these days it turned out to be good enough for these evangelical and reformed scholars, who used it as the basis for the ESV. The got rid of any perceived “liberalisms” in order to “evangelicalize” the text. Don’t get me wrong, the ESV is not a “bad” translation. But they could have made it so much better. As it is, it is really a remarkably mediocre translation, in beautiful leather and brilliantly marketed.

The ESV is plagued by odd renderings and word order, as well as some archaic language. A major peeve I have with it is their use of the phrase, “at table”. I don’t know where they came up with it; I have never in my whole life heard anybody say they were “at table”. I don’t know if it’s a regional colloquialism or what. But I’ve never heard it nor seen it until I got an ESV Bible. We don’t say, “I was sitting ‘in chair'” or “I was sitting ‘behind steering wheel'”. I doubt that the old RSV used the phrase; I think the ESV revision team put it in there, and I have no idea why.

Put simply, I own two of them, I use them, but I find it a disappointing translation.

2. The HCSB (Holman CSB or Holman Christian Standard Bible In the years since I last reviewed the HCSB, I have been unable to change my opinion of it. The HCSB was a bright, new, shining star when it was first published — it was an all-new translation from the original languages. While it was a refreshing new translation, alas, it was plagued by some rather odd renderings, such as “winnowing shovel” where everybody else translates it as “winnowing fork”. There have been times that I’ve been quite happy using the Holman, but then I go reading along and suddenly come to a very strange rendering, and pretty soon I am tired of seeing them and so I put down the Holman and pick up a different translation.

The HCSB was originally seen by many as a “Baptist” Bible, which is quite false when it comes down to the translation team. However, the stigma lives on, as the Holman is most commonly used in Baptist churches and is marketed heavily by the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist Bible bookstores. Much of the problem is that it’s simply not being aggressively marketed like Crossway and Zondervan do with their Bible translations.

3. The NKJV (New King James Version) The New King James is a major in-house translation owned by Thomas Nelson Publishing. It is basically a revision of the old King James Bible, and uses the same texts as the KJV. That fact, and the fact that it still has a lot of archaic English, keeps it out of my top ratings in this comparison. It seems that few people go out looking to buy a NKJV Bible, they usually just stumble upon it and buy it not knowing what they have, except that it’s a Bible.

Like the ESV, it’s not a bad translation, and oddly enough, it’s actually easier to understand in many instances. It’s marketed unexcitedly by Nelson, almost as if they wished it were better. I wish it was, too.

4. The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) The NRSV is the unofficial “official” Bible of the mainline churches and the academicians. As its name suggests, it is a recent revision of the Revised Standard Version. Many perceive it to be a “liberal” Bible, and in fact it is part of the reason for the existence of the ESV, because the evangelical/reformed camp saw the NRSV as an extremely liberal Bible, and so they came out with their ESV in response to it.

While there is some truth to the charge of “liberalism”, in that the NRSV was sponsored by the very liberal “National Council of Churches” and it’s accepted as the Bible in the liberal mainlines; and in fact there were charges by translators when the NRSV first came out that a group of liberal editors from the NCC edited the translation after the translators were done with it…
…the fact is, the NRSV is not really a liberal Bible. They couldn’t make it a bad Bible. I find the translation itself is a bit muddy at times, but basically it is an easier-to-read revision of the old RSV, much easier to read than the ESV.

The NRSV is poorly marketed. It is rarely seen outside of the mainline churches and academia. The publishers do not push it in the media or in stores very much at all. A couple years ago the rights to publish the NRSV was granted to Harper San Francisco, and we were all hoping they’d market it aggressively. While they’ve done a little better than the previous publishers, they still have a long way to go.

While the NRSV is quite a good translation, unfortunately it, too, doesn’t quite make the cut.

Next post, my top three.