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Lately, Biblical translations have come up frequently in conversations.
The reason I picked more recent translation the English Standard Version or ESV as my primarily translation is a lot more complicated than the readability or the ease of understanding the translation. These are important factors, of course, but even more important though is the quality of the translation. It is my favorite because it is the closest to the original Greek text. Let me explain:
Let me first be perfectly clear: I’m not a Greek scholar so my opinion isn’t truly an expert one, but I have studied that language and have done quite a bit of translating of the Koine Greek language to English. I go back to the Greek routinely.
It is an incredibly complicated language and the structure is entirely unlike anything in English. The part of speech is not determined by order as it is in English, but by the case. There are four cases and the endings of the words are determined by the case. In Koine Greek, conjugating is done not just for the verbs, but for nearly every word.
On top of that, no languages ever translate evenly to each other. Words often don’t always have exactly the same meanings and are often used differently as per culture and there can even be a geographical component.
With all of this going on, translating is very complicated. There are so many things a good translator or team of translators tries to hold in tandem: readability, nuance, original word choice, culture, and rhythm.
Because language is fluid, older translations don’t hold as much meaning for us that they did for previous generations. The King James Version might sound beautiful, but our language has changed so much since it was first done that we have a very hard time understanding it. This is why finding the best translation is so important and really, why it is really all about the Greek. And when it comes to Christ and what we are basing our lives on, accuracy is everything.
When I study scripture, I often have multiple Bibles out in front of me. I have a beloved interlinear Bible that has the Greek in the middle with word for word translation directly underneath and the NASB on one side of the page and the NIV on the other. I have an ESV open on the side.
Here’s how they stack up:
The NASB is a good translation, but it isn’t always the easiest to read for a lot of people. The NIV tends to simplify the text and, I think, sacrifices too much of the nuance of the Greek to make it simple. The ESV is the closest to the original language and has the readability that the NIV was trying to achieve. I think the ESV does a good job or retaining as much of the word order as possible and communicating the importance emphasized while being easy to understand. The word choice is the best and keeps the nuance as close as possible to the Greek.
Obviously, these are all good choices to read since the Bible is the most impactful book in most of our lives. But, if we are going to spend the time studying and wrestling with deep theological questions, it helps to pick the translation that gets us as close to the original text as possible: the ESV.
Honestly, don’t let my explanation of the difficulties of this language deter you. I think it is easy once out of school to let academic things slide by the wayside. Especially as a girl, people assume that I’m more interested in fluffy and inspirational encouragement rather than doctrine. I’ve even had guys try to “teach” me feel-good, unscriptural things and were offended because I wouldn’t just take their word for it; these low expectations of ourselves are only hurting the whole of the body. Studying theology is something we all desperately need to do.
If you don’t know any Greek, you might want to consider learning a little bit of the language and an interlinear Bible is a great place to start so you can see the words with translation. It makes it really easy to google Greek words to learn more about how they were used- that is, I promise, easy!
If you don’t have one yet, you can get a copy of the ESV Bible translation here at Amazon. This is an affiliate link and while you won’t be charged more for using it, I do make a small commission from any purchases you make through it. This helps me keep this site running and thank you so much for your support!
Check out the ESV!
14 thoughts on “Thoughtful Reads: ESV Translation”
I’ve come to the same conclusion. The ESV seems to have the alignment to the Greek as the NAS & the readability of the NIV. Good article!
I’m so glad you agree with me, especially since I learned my Greek from you 😉 Thank you and miss you!
I read this post with great interest… I will seriously have a look at the ESV version, I always thought the NIV lacked a little something, it’s flow precise but stilted a little… great article, thanks!
Thanks so much, Christine! I’m so glad this helped! You have to let me know what you think when you look into it!
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Such a blessing to understand a little more on various translations. Have recently discovered the ESV on an app and really enjoy the depth of it. Thank you for sharing your rich insights.
Thanks so much, Jeannie! That is wonderful to have the ESV on an app- my husband and I do too and it is so nice to always have it with me. So glad to connect with you, Jeanie!
I have the ESV on my Kindle, which I read at night. During the day I hit the NIV, and I’m fascinated at the differences sometime — so then, like you, I hit the interlinear Bible (learning Biblical Greek is on my list of things I wanna do someday, but until then, I am grateful for the interlinear). At the least, reading at least two different translations is helpful, if just to get the idea that this is a translation, and there are more than one way to look at how a word will be used. Good article.
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Yes! I totally agree that using multiple translations like this is a great way to see how the words are being used. While I think the ESV is the closest, it is so helpful to get a feel for the differing nuances that the other translations provide; it is a great way to get closer to the original Greek without actually translating. The interlinear is such a great substitute for learning Greek, in my opinion since it makes it so accessible. I’ve been so glad I have the background in it since it is so incredibly interesting. If you want to get into it a little, I would completely recommend The Basics of Biblical Greek by Mounce. It is really approachable and useful, even if you just want to peruse it and not study hard 🙂 Good luck! I’m so glad you stopped by!
I’ll have to check out the ESV more! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Caroline! You have to let me know what you think about it when you do; I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you like or don’t like about it. Thanks so much for stopping by!
I will have to check out the ESV. I have always had a NIV.
Thanks for stopping by, Kim! I hope you like the ESV 🙂 I’d love to hear what you think after taking a look at it!
I haven’t looked into the ESV translation but it sounds like I probably should!
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Tiffany! I love this translation and definitely think it is worth a look 🙂 Hope that you like it as much as I do! I’m so glad to connect with you!