Why the ESV translation…

I am posting this just in case some of you have questions as to why we will use the English Standard Version (ESV) during our study on the book of James.  This information is taken from the website www.esv.org.   Feel free to comment…

Translation Philosophy

The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a “thought-for-thought” rather than “word-for-word” translation philosophy, emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. A “thought-for-thought” translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between “formal equivalence” in expression and “functional equivalence” in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be “as literal as possible” while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.

As an essentially literal translation, then, the ESV seeks to carry over every possible nuance of meaning in the original words of Scripture into our own language. As such, it is ideally suited for in-depth study of the Bible. Indeed, with its emphasis on literary excellence, the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization.

How is the ESV Different from Other Translations?

All Bible translations seek to faithfully communicate God’s Word. But, depending on translation philosophy and purpose, significant differences are evident when comparing Bible translations.

There are two main kinds of Bible translations. The first is commonly referred to as (1) “word-for-word” (or “formal equivalence”) translation, the second as (2) “thought-for-thought” (or “dynamic equivalence”) translation. The main difference between these two translation philosophies is that the first one places the primary emphasis on what the words of the original say and mean (in their context), while the second one places the primary emphasis on the main thought or idea in the phrases of the original.

As an “essentially literal” translation, the ESV is committed to the principle of “word-for-word” translation, as the translation philosophy that most accurately conveys the Bible’s own understanding that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), or as Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

This page explains how the ESV differs from eight of the most widely used Bible translations and paraphrases. You may also want to compare the ESV with selections from many of the translations discussed here.

King James Version (KJV) – The ESV Translation Team holds a deep respect for the work of the KJV translators as well as for the immeasurable impact this Bible has had on the English language and the English-speaking world for centuries. Though the KJV Bible is appreciated greatly for its literary beauty, much of the KJV language is now archaic and hard to understand. Also, the KJV was based on only a few original language manuscripts that were available 400 years ago. The ESV’s translators, however, had the advantage of access to much earlier manuscripts and the most up-to-date scholarly research. The result is that the ESV carries forward the KJV’s literary beauty and the essentially literal translation legacy, based on the best original language manuscripts. The ESV also retains the classic theological terms found in the King James Version, which modern translations often do not retain—terms such as “grace,” “justification,” “sanctification,” and “propitiation,” which are central to Christian doctrine.

New International Version (NIV) – Unlike the ESV, the NIV is a “dynamic equivalence” translation, though it is on the more conservative end of the dynamic equivalence spectrum. Thus the NIV focuses primarily on translating thoughts and ideas rather than translating the meaning of each word. While this translation philosophy emphasizes readability, readability can be achieved only at the expense of the word-for-word precision and consistency of an essentially literal translation. The NIV also lacks the historical legacy carried forward by the ESV.

Today’s New International Version (TNIV) – The TNIV (published in full in February 2005), like the NIV, is a dynamic equivalence translation, focusing primarily on thoughts and ideas rather than the literal meaning of each word. Further, the TNIV has adopted a “gender inclusive” translation philosophy resulting in thousands of gender language changes as compared to the NIV. In contrast, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own terms rather than on the terms of our present-day culture.

New Living Translation (NLT) – The NLT is on the looser end of the dynamic equivalence spectrum, describing itself as a “thought-for-thought” rather than a “word-for-word” translation. The NLT was intentionally translated at a junior high reading level. Also, the NLT has avoided using theological terms, and has adopted a “gender inclusive” translation philosophy similar to that of the TNIV. As with other “thought-for-thought” translations, the NLT emphasis on readability is achieved at the expense of word-for-word precision and consistency.

New King James Version (NKJV) – The NKJV translation philosophy is quite similar to that of the ESV. The NKJV, however, is not based on the earlier Bible manuscripts used by the ESV and by almost every other modern Bible translation. The ESV also benefits from translation work that was completed more recently than the work on the NKJV (2001 vs. 1982) and that was carried out by a much more extensive team of international evangelical Bible scholars.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) – The HCSB calls its translation philosophy “optimal equivalence.” Thus the HCSB sometimes follows a “word-for-word” and sometimes a “thought-for-thought” approach, as decided by the HCSB translators for any given text. The HCSB also differs from the ESV in that the HCSB is not part of the historic KJV translation stream.

The MessageThe Message is a paraphrase, rather than a translation.  As a paraphrase, The Message expresses the ideas and thoughts of the original Bible languages in a loose, informal, and unconventional way.  The result is often fresh and arresting, but at the expense of close correspondence to the original words of Scripture, and at the expense of consistency and precision in rendering theological language.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) – The NASB is a strictly literal translation, making it highly accurate. However, the NASB’s commitment to strictly literal translation often results in wording that sounds awkward. The ESV translators, while striving for accuracy and faithfulness to the original texts, also made clarity of expression and literary excellence high priorities. The language of the ESV, therefore, often flows more naturally than that of the NASB.


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