Category Archives: The English Standard Version

The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible–Why?

Spiritually, I am a child of the Jesus Movement in the late 1960’s and 70’s.  I confessed Christ at Explo’72 in Dallas, TX an event developed by Campus Crusade for Christ.  That said, I moved to the New International Version (NIV) of the English Bible in the mid-seventies as I worked with teenagers and realized how much trouble they were having reading and understanding the trusted King James Version (KJV) of the English Bible.  About the same time, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was published but did not read quite as smoothly as the NIV.  Another translation that accomplished the same thing but was never quite as popular even though it was quite good was the New King James Version (NKJV).  Each of these translations serve a great purpose to update the quite old British of the KJV.  An old professor I studied under was known to say, “I find at times I need to read the King James with the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) on my desk.”

About three years ago I had a conversation with a young man that was attending a church whose members only used the KJV.  Somehow in the course of conversation, we talked about the Bible and translations.  He eventually asked me why I liked the ESV and with the knowledge that his church used only the KJV I responded, “the ESV is in the line of the KJV as a translation.”  I explained it thusly.

The “Authorized Version of the Holy  Scriptures–the English translation otherwise known as the King James Bible,” and that which is now in common use–was undertaken 1607, and first published in 1611.  The Revised Version of the King James Bible “set forth in A.D. 1611,” was published in 1881.  This is the revision of the translation called the “Authorized Version,” and not a new translation.
(“Items of Information Concerning the Bible,” The Holy Bible, The Authorized King James Version, World Publishing Co., NY, [no date–presumably the 1960’s]).

While I did not give this formal a response, I thought it appropriate to do so here.  I continued explaining the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible in our conversation.  This was an American translation and revision of the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901.  The translators of the ASV worked hard to be as precise and accurate as language would permit which meant that the English translation was often stilted, wooden, even hard to read.  The National Counsel of Churches, the counterpart to the Evangelical Protestant body of churches in the USA, held to the “high criticism of the German scholars.”  This view relegated much of Scripture to a manmade religious device.  Such is not the view of Evangelical Christians worldwide.  The RSV did serve to improve the readability of the English but it also protrayed the theology of the “higher critics” of the Bible.

In 1937, the revision was authorized by vote of the Council [National Council of Churches, NCC] , which drected that the resulting version should “embody the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of the Scriptures, and express this meaning in English diction which is designed for use in public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King James Version a supreme place in English Literature.  (The Guideposts Parallel Bible, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981), p. vii.

The catch word in the paragraph cited is “modern scholarship as to the meaning of the Scriptures”.  The key is that the higher critics thought and believed that the modern mind of man knew more about the Word of God, the transmission of that Word, and what it meant in its original context than those to whom and by whom it was written.  The RSV while holding the KJV as a standard, the committee of translators did not hold to the uniqueness of Scripture as the church had for centuries.

The British not to be outdone produced in 1971 the New English Bible; a somewhat parallel effort to the NIV and the NASB.  This effort began 1946.

The Joint Committee [said committee was appointed by the several primary church bodies representing the Christian peoples of Britian] provided for the actual work of translation from the original tongues by appointing three panels, to deal , respectively, with the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament.  Their members were scholars from various British universities, whom the Committee believed to be rerpesentative of competent biblical scholarship at the present time.  Apreehnding, however, that sound scholarship does not necessarily carry with it a delicate sense of English style, the Committee appointed a fourth panel, of trusted literary advisers, to whom all the work of the tranlating panels was to be submitted for scrutiny.  It should  be said that denominational considerations played no part in the appointment of the panels.  (The New English Bible, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. v.

This brings us historically to the present efforts of the translation and revision committee of the NIV.  Along with others that study and love the Bible as a revelation of God Himself to His creation mankind, I rejected The New International Version of 2011.

New International Version Preface (2011)

One of the main reasons the task of Bible translation is never finished is the change in our own language, English. Although a basic core of the language remains relatively stable, many diverse and complex linguistic factors continue to bring about subtle shifts in the meanings and/or connotations of even old, well-established words and phrases. One of the shifts that creates particular challenges to writers and translators alike is the manner in which gender is presented. The original NIV (1978) was published in a time when “a man” would naturally be understood, in many contexts, to be referring to a person, whether male of female. But most English speakers today tend to hear a distinctly male connotation in this word. In recognition of this change in English, this edition of the NIV, along with almost all other recent English translations, substitutes other expressions when the original text intends to refer generically to men and women equally. Thus, for instance, the NIV (1984) rendering of 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But the man who loves God is known by God” becomes in this edition “But whoever loves God is known by God.” On the other hand, “man” and “mankind,” as ways of denoting the human race, are still widely used. This edition of the NIV therefore continues to use these words, along with other expressions, in this way.

A related shift in English creates a greater challenge for modern translations: the move away from using the third-person masculine singular pronouns — “he/him/his” — to refer to men and women equally. This usage does persist at a low level in some forms of English, and this revision therefore occasionally uses these pronouns in a generic sense. But the tendency, recognized in day-to-day usage and confirmed by extensive research, is away from the generic use of “he,” “him,” and “his.” In recognition of this shift in language and in an effort to translate into the “common” English that people are actually using, this revision of the NIV generally uses other constructions when the biblical text is plainly addressed to men and women equally.  (

In the minds of Bible believing and Bible loving persons around the world, social and political changes have not place in considerations for translating the Bible.  We are just that opinionated, sorry.

Now to the ESV, I will give my personal reason for adopting it and leave to you the reading of the full introductory material.  It is quite involved and well worth your time.  However, I must return to the conversation I had with the young man a few years ago.  While there are thousands upon thousands that use the KJV religiously today, it is difficult to understand and with each passing generation the language difficulties increase as the Bible is read less and less.  My experience has taught me that if someone reads the Bible that is a great thing, but if someone reads and understands the Bible it is a wonderful thing.  I love the Word of God and have given my life to the study, teaching, and spreading it to those that come in my sphere of influence.  I now give the ESV to those I encounter because it is readable, accurate, and precise in its translation.

Just a brief word about translation theory and this applies to the translation of any book or article when it is translated from one language to another.   There are three criteria that must be considered: accuracy, precision, and clarity (readability).  These three must be given a priority in the translation process.  While there must be a priority given to the process and final product, no one of these can be ignored if a translation is successful.  The ESV has succeeded in my estimation.

Continuing our review of my conversation mentioned above, I assured the young man that he would not be disloyal to the Word of God if he began reading and hopefully using the ESV as his preferred translation of the Bible.  Since he was a student in a university and an engineering student, I knew he was widely read even though more in applied science than anything else, I appealed to his intellect to consider the ESV as the best presentation of the Word of God available to modern (well, post-modern) man.  He has not returned either of the two Bibles I have given him in ESV, so I presume he has at least “tried them on for size.”

You can find the entire introductory material to the ESV here:
or, purcahse one at Crossway or at any local bookstore.

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