Why the ESV?

I've been using the English Standard Version of the Bible for study and preaching for about a year and a half now. I really love this translation. I had preached from the New International Version for years and still believe this is a great version. This is the version most people own, and several have asked why switch?. There are several reasons I believe this is the best version for preaching and more in-depth study.

Before I go there, though, let me just say that this is not an attack on any other version of the Bible. I regularly read from multiple versions. For instance, in my daily devotional time I'm reading through The Message this year. I also consult the NIV, TNIV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and CEV versions regularly. They are all excellent translations that I would recommend to anyone. I believe the key to finding a good reading Bible is finding one that is readable. This is the reason I never recommend the King James Version. Not that the KJV is a bad translation - on the contrary, it's a very good one. The problem is that it is a very outdated translation. The language is one that we simply don't use anymore. Even though it's English, the reader must translate 17th century English into 21st century English. That said, here are my primary reasons for preaching from the ESV.

1. The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation.
My Greek professor used to say that "all translation is, at best, approximation". When we translate from one language to another (in our case, from Greek and Hebrew to English). There are some things that will not literally translate. One language may use words or phrases that we just don't have an exact equivalent to. It's the job of the translator to come as close to the writer's intent as possible. This is why we say the ESV is "essentially literal" - it's as literal as possible. Why is a literal translation important? Because we believe that the Scriptures are the very words of God, not just the thoughts or ideas of God. He chose the words He chose for a reason. So as best as we are able, we need to know what those words were. For example, the NIV is a "dynamic equivalent" translation. It focuses on the overall thought of a passage, rather than the individual words used. Generally this is not a big deal. But when a translator is trying to translate the thoughts and intentions of a writer, rather than the words the writer wrote, the result is often the translator's personal commentary on the passage. If we are studying or receiving preaching from a passage, we need to know what it actually says before we can get to what it means.

2. The ESV maintains the theological language of the Scriptures.
Many modern translations have removed theological terms like atonement, justification, propitiation, and even sin. These words have meaning and are used for a reason. Substitutionary words don't convey all the layers of meaning that these words, when explained properly, convey. My job as pastor/teacher is not to dumb down the message, but rather to unpack it and convey all the intended meaning in a clear, but accurate, way. The ESV also maintains the gender language of the Scriptures. When God is referred to as He or Father, it is for a reason. When the Bible speaks to man or woman, it is for a reason. It should not be the job of the translator to make the Bible politically correct.

3. The ESV did not sacrifice readability in an effort to be "essentially literal".
Before the ESV was released in 2001, it was widely held that the New American Standard Bible was the most literal modern translation. While it was quite literal, it was also a bit of a mess in some areas. In an effort to be literal, much of the beauty of the language of Scripture was lost. The poetry was, well, not very poetic. The translators of the ESV (who are by the way the most widely respected scholars today in the fields of language study and theology) did a fantastic job of maintaining the beauty of the Scripture. I've always found paraphrases, like The Message, enjoyable because of their readability - I could sit and read long passages like I would a modern novel. I get some of that same sense from the ESV. It is quite readable.

These are just a few of the reasons I choose to preach from the ESV. If you attend Living Hope Church, do you need to rush out and purchase another Bible? Absolutely not. Keep reading the Bible you love. But if you're interested in checking out something new, I'd recommend giving the ESV a look. All the versions mentioned above are perfectly fine for devotional reading. But for the purpose of preaching/teaching, I believe this is the best choice. Many other churches across the nation are making the switch as well. For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of the ESV check out Pastor Mark Driscoll's article at http://www.marshillchurch.org/content/esv. Mark is the pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle and one of the best Bible teachers I know of. He does a much better job of writing on this topic than I did here and goes into great detail on how we got the Scripture and differences in the various translations. Hope this helps answer some questions.


Anonymous said...

I love my ESV! I'm so glad that such a tranlation exists. I think you might have been the one to turn me on to it a year or so ago Jeff. A heads up though: Crossway is the publisher of the ESV. Their paper and binding quality is gaining a reputation for being way below par. My copy is about 16 months old and and is still in great shape but I REALLY baby it(bordering on idolatry), always leave it in the original box and never let my kids be in the same room w/ it....like I said...idolatry. Hey, it retailed for $180, but I got it off Ebay for $75. Anyways, pick up a copy...you won't regret it.


Jeff Myers said...


I still think there's something wrong with spending that much on a Bible. For that much money it better preach for you. To everyone else out there, a $20 version is just as good. Heck, the $5 paperback version you can pick up free at the church is just as good.


Anonymous said...

It actually sanctifies you! Atleast that's what my wife and friends have told me.... :)


Mookie said...

The second they have a Bible you can open up and have it preach to you, you let me know! I need all the help I can get!

The Seeking Disciple said...

Good post. I too love the ESV and have found it to be my favorite translation. Early on I used the NIV, switched in college to the NASB, preached from the NKJV, and now I have found the ESV captures all of them into one! While not a perfect translation, it does capture the Greek text into English that we can both read and understand.

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Stephanie said...

I absolutely adore the ESV; I switched from the NASB and before that I had an NIV and before that a NKJV.
I've had my journaling Bible for about 4 months now and love it.
I liked the NASB because it was literal and my study Bible even highlighted key Greek and Hebrew words.
My one problem so far with the ESV is one I've had with all other translations as well- the translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. There is a lot in the Greek that is not reflected in translation. The aforementioned Mark Driscoll is a fan of the English translation and in my opinion it has stifled many a Spirit-given word in the history of the Church.