Here is the problem we have had for almost thirty years in the English speaking world. The New International Version has become the most popular modern translation of the Bible in the Evangelical Church . But the NIV is very much of a paraphrase rather than a more literal translation. When I first read it in 1975 I knew I could never teach or preach from it, because of how much interpretation it does that I think the reader should do, not the translator. I will illustrate in a moment.
There have been two main alternatives to the NIV. One is the King James Version, which was translated into 17 th century English and not suitable as a translation into contemporary English. The other is the New American Standard Bible, which we have used in this church for some 20 years. The problem with the NASB is that, while being quite literal, it is not as readable as it might be. In other words, we were forced for 30 years to choose between the more readable, but less literal, NIV and the less readable, but more literal, NASB.
We are no longer limited to those two choices. The English Standard Version was published two years ago and is far more literal than the NIV and far more readable than the NASB. Not only is it a better balance, in my judgment, of literalness and readability, but it has the advantage of being in the lineage of the King James Version. Here’s what I mean by lineage. The King James Version was published in 1611. A revision was published in 1901 called the American Standard Version. Then in 1952 the King James Version and the American Standard Version were revised and published as the Revised Standard Version. It was a good translation, but with a few liberal theological biases and some free-wheeling speculation in certain Old Testament poetry.
This version went out of print and was replaced in 1989 by the New Revised Standard Version. For most Evangelicals the NRSV was so lopsided in its handling of gender issues it never became a common version.
I am deeply thankful to God that Crossway Books made the decision to call for a preservation of the King James lineage by publishing a light revision of the Revised Standard Version. That is what the ESV is. Here you will find the cadences and much of the wording that you may have absorbed from the King James even without reading the King James—just because its impact on our culture for almost 500 years has been enormous.
Why the ESV Instead of the NIV?
The key practical question that should be asked is: Why not the NIV? So many people use it. Children have been raised on it. Why encourage people to change? Please know, that is all we are doing: encouraging. We do not require anyone to change in the Bible you use for your own personal reading and meditation and memorization. We hope that we can persuade you to move over to the ESV and that over the next several years there can be enough unity in this move as a church that we can do congregational recitations and readings right from our own Bible.
So why is the ESV better for us than the NIV? Now let me say again that the NIV is the precious Word of God. Oh, how careful we must be not to belittle the Word of God. And yet we must not put any human translation above criticism. God has used the NIV to bring millions of people to faith in Christ over the last 40 years. But its essential weakness is that the translators do for the reader what they should be allowed to do for themselves—they go well beyond necessary interpretation that is always involved in translation, and make decisions for the reader that good English does not require. Far too often the NIV replaces the ambiguity of the original with the decision of the translator, not because good English demands it, but because the philosophy of translation favors translator-clarity over apostolic-ambiguity. In all the following cases the ESV keeps the more literal translation and the NIV gives the interpretation of the translator instead of the ambiguity of the original.
Romans 1:5 ( hupakoen pisteos )
ESV the obedience of faith
NIV the obedience that comes from faith
Romans 3:20 ( ex ergon nomou )
ESV By works of the law
NIV by observing the law
Romans 13:8 ( medeni meden opheilete )
ESV Owe no one anything
NIV Let no debt remain outstanding
Hebrews 6:1 ( nekron ergon )
ESV dead works
NIV acts that lead to death
James 2:12 ( nomou eleutherias )
ESV the law of liberty
NIV the law that gives freedom
John 11:6 ( hos oun ekousen ) This is not an ambiguity removed. It is a meaning reversed, perhaps because the translation could not see what meaning “therefore” could have.
ESV So, when he heard
NIV Yet when he heard
Romans 8:35-36 ( thanatoumetha holen ten hemeran ) Again this is not a removal of ambiguity but a softening of the original. But the effect is to play into the hands of those who might argue: Christians only “face death” in persecution and calamity. They can be spared if they have enough faith. But the text says, “We are being killed.”
ESV we are being killed all the day long.
NIV we face death all day long.
Well, I am deeply thankful that the ESV exists. I pray that it will become the primary reading, preaching, teaching, memorizing Bible version of the English speaking world. It would be a wonderful thing if there could be glad-hearted common usage in local churches so that almost everyone is using the same Bible. Whether that happens will be finally God’s doing, not ours.
There are hundreds of them available to you, and the fighter verse packs are now available in NIV and ESV. I hope you will consider the ESV for your family and for yourself.