What Now Shall I Read: A Case for the ESV

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A very special thank you to Jason from Pastoral Musings for joining us in this project, “What now Shall I Read?” Previous entries are here: Intro , NIV , NRSV , NAB and NLT. And now, let’s give Jason a very warm political Jesus welcome as he tells me why he uses the ESV version.

First of all, I must say that I primarily use the King James Version.  I am a former King James Only-ite.

The English Standard Version (henceforth ESV) was one of the first translations other than the KJV that I took seriously.  The NKJV simply didn’t leave me feeling comfortable.  As one friend stated, reading the NKJV after the KJV is like kissing one’s cousin.

I truly like the NASB, but there’s a certain stuffiness about it that I can’t explain.  I like the reading, because it’s pretty clear.  It simply doesn’t have the cadence that the KJV has.  The ESV has retained much of that cadence.

The ESV has managed to capture a good deal of the beauty of the KJV while still updating the archaic language.  It is also an understandable translation.  There is one very unfortunate place in the Old Testament that I dislike.  I hope that they will correct it later.

For a person who is leaving the KJV as his only Bible, the ESV is something that I highly recommend, as it will leave that person relatively comfortable.

The ESV is readable, too.  It’s not difficult to me.  I like that.  I also like a translation that seeks to be “essentially literal” (to use the words of Leland Ryken), or a formal equivalence translation.  The ESV does a good job, I think, and is a good English translation.

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0 thoughts on “What Now Shall I Read: A Case for the ESV

  1. Jennifer

    Disclaimer: I am not a KJV-only-er and I read whatever is around except things like “The Message.” My primary go-to Bible translations are NIV and NKJV.

    THAT BEING SAID. I do not like that the texts ESV, NIV, NASB, et al are translated from, leave out whole verses which I believe enrich the meaning and power of certain passages.


    Luke 4:4 (NIV)

    4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.”

    The same verse (KJV)

    4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, **but by every word of God.**

    Also in Luke 4:


    8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’

    Now here’s the KJV version:

    8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

    There are a myriad of other such examples, and yes, the KJV and NKJV just seem more “complete” for those reasons.

    (I DO NOT ENDORSE THE VIEWS HELD BY THIS SITE, but it provides some of the other specific instances which this is the case –> http://gloryriders.com/KJV.html )

    I also appreciate the idea that the great Christian preachers of the past from Jonathan Edwards to Martin Luther King Jr. read KJV. The great writers of literature such as John Milton and William Shakespeare did too…(I am not a literature hound by any means, but perhaps there is something to be said that whether a believer or not, those who were reared on the KJV happened to write and speak more beautifully than people do in modern times.)

    So yes, the translation has a sense of continuity and tradition about it. When referring to it, I feel more closely connected to my historic, spiritual Christian heritage overall.

    I do like the Psalms in ESV, but I believe the version overall has not managed to preserve much of the original cadence and beauty of the KJV. The majesty is certainly lost (and shouldn’t we use majestic language when being introduced to a majestic GOD?)

    I personally find the ESV just as choppy as the NASB in many places and therefore awkward to commit verses to memory. KJV verses just stick to memory more easily for some reason. I think it’s because of the rhythm.

    Honestly, the ESV just seems overhyped up the wazoo in general. People make it sound as if it added some stunning new addition to the Christian canon. While a welcome addition, it’s not exactly groundbreaking.

    1. Jennifer

      Clarifications and a few more thoughts on ESV:

      * Okay, Shakespeare’s primary Bible of reference was actually The GENEVA Bible, not the KJV (the two are quite similar anyway) — but my point still stands that all the great authors, lyricists, et al. of the English tradition primarily were influenced by the KJV.

      * When I said the ESV was “hyped up the wazoo” — I primarily mean within the Reformed community of which I am a part. Okay, well mainly the *online* Reformed community. The way some advertised the upcoming release of the ESV *Study* Bible in particular, you would think Jesus were coming back or something. I just don’t appreciate feeling like I’m being sucked in by some calculated marketing ploy, which unfortunately is how a lot of the Reformed leaders tend to run their ministries (via constant new book releases, mega-conferences, etc…)

      It’s as if putting together a new translation seems more of a business decision rather than a selfless project stemming from genuine spiritual and scholarly concerns. It can get a bit ridiculous that within the span of less than half a century, the number of Bible translations are becoming equal with the number of Protestant denominations. Again, I DO find value in having a variety of translations to refer to, but at a certain point I can see how it can confuse unbelievers who are already skeptical of the Word as a whole, thereby affecting our witness to the outside world.

      EVEN Leland Ryken said in his book, that the original *RSV* revealed implications of theological “liberalism” only in a handful of instances. I am not so sure that those 5 or 6 instances necessarily merit a grand reworking of the entire Bible? Some critics sympathetic to the ESV point out that aspects of the ESV were rushed and in need of re-editing — perhaps because the publishers were so eager to have it released at the same time the “heretical” TNIV was completed.

      Again, I am NOT anti-ESV –> but hopefully it won’t get to the point where Calvinists get to “ESV-only” territory.

      1. Jennifer

        Now more thoughts on the KJV:

        In his pro-ESV book on English Bible translations, Leland Ryken constantly praised the KJV, except for its antiquated language AND that the ancient texts it was taken from were somehow unreliable. I haven’t read the whole book yet, but rather than expanding upon this “unreliable texts” argument, it seems as though he states this presumption as an academic “given” — as if it’s some sort of default basis of information by which all Biblical and theological scholars already agree on and operate from.

        Now, I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, nor an expert on the “Textus Receptus” and the “Alexandrian” (or Westcott & Hort) texts, BUT I do see that for every crazy “KJV-onlyer” there’s also an uninformed “anti-KJV” hack, who believes the Bible itself is a conspiracy because of King James’ supposed involvement. *rolleyes*

        Prominent liberal academics refuse to allow their students to refer to the KJV, yet they’re totally fine with the “conservative” NASB and ESV? This always seemed odd to me for some reason — that both “conservative” and “liberal-practically-agnostic” scholars and professors would be on the same bandwagon with regard to translations!

        And while I understand that there are some linguistic complaints against the KJV, I have yet to see a convincing verse by verse breakdown, or historical analysis of the KJV’s evolution that would reveal its supposed historical, textual, and most importantly, theological inferiority.

        Rather, the more I do learn, the more I realize there are a good number of SANE, devout, and respectable scholars who defend the Textus Receptus and have done a respectable job of exposing the numerous historical, textual, and *spiritual* weaknesses of he Alexandrian texts from which all the modern translations are based! And some of them are rather *glaring,* especially from a theological standpoint.

        It does bug me that in modern translations, for example, great verses like Acts 8:37 is missing, or that the words “obedience” and “disobedience” are often used instead of “belief” and “unbelief” — when in context, *faith* rather than *deeds* is clearly what is being stressed.

        1. Jennifer



          Going back to the whole cadence/rhythm discussion. I want to stress that it is more than just a matter of aesthetic preference. In large part because of its poetic flow and literary qualities, the KJV fostered a heritage and culture by which Scripture was memorized, read aloud, and more infused into everyday conversation and life in general.

          One thinks of Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:19 for us to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

          OR the Psalm 119:11 which says: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

          Nowadays, it seems as if many are more interested in “studying” and linguistically deconstructing the Bible alongside stacks of modern-day concordances, rather than to memorize and fully absorb the Word for personal application, to inform our worldview, and for the encouragement of others. The Word is primarily a spiritual, rather than scholarly document after all!

          SCRIPTURE, not John Macarthur’s footnotes, not advice from Rick Warren’s latest book should be at tips of our tongues! We should be more engaged with the very words of GOD, rather than the podcast sermons of the popular pastor-of-the-moment.

          We are so blessed to have this endless access to Bibles, and references and yet it seems to be this very point that leads us to take the Word for granted and forget its ultimate purpose!

          So if anything, the loss of the centrality of the Word in everyday life, is the greatest loss we suffer as a result of the disintegration of the “KJV culture.”

          1. Jennifer

            Last post and I realize nobody is reading this. Just airing my thought as I go along, as I am just now coming to understand what the “Bible wars” are about.

            I’ve been reading Leland Ryken’s book these past few days and it turns out that he brings up almost verbatim some of the important qualities I believe the KJV boasts…but as I said in an earlier post, he believes the language is too archaic and more importantly, that the texts they’re taken from are not “the best” or as accurate. (It is the last point I take issue with because it seems as though there is a concerted, academic effort to dismiss the KJV for its supposed lack of textual integrity, even though the evidence does not seem to support it. Oh well, still learning.)

            Indeed, the ESV really is just an “update” of the RSV moreso than a “grand reworking” of the Bible as I had intially suggested — though to be honest, it does seem to be marketed as this brand new, perfected translation rather than an alternative to the “NRSV” for the RSV.

            I ultimately disagree with Ryken’s views on translation as a whole because he places far too much importance on translation in the first place. I just don’t believe “the perfect translation” necessarily guarantees a stronger relationship with the LORD, which is what Bible-reading should be all about in the first place!

            The translation one uses does not necessarily cause nor correlate with the FRUIT a believer will ultimately bear in the faith. The power of the HOLY SPIRIT supercedes the words –> and that’s why there are devout Christians who became converted as a result of dreams rather than access to a complete Bible (Many ex-Muslims testify to meeting Jesus in their dreams.) –There are devout Christians in remote parts of the world with only a Gospel of John in their possession and a rough translation in their own language at that! There are believers who love the LORD who have grown to know Him via their “dynamic equivalent” NLT’s, GNT’s, et al. All while there are plenty of Biblical *SCHOLARS* who are flat out unbelievers!

            AND to think that for centuries, the vast majority of the Christian world was illiterate!

            Imagine that…

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  4. milam1

    The joke with the ESV is that it is the “Extremely Similar Version”. I have put it side by side with the NRSV and aside from the “conservative” word choices, there is not much difference at all. There are times when it is really good, but as was stated it is not some grand new translation.


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