Many of you at Town North may wonder why I use the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. After all, what’s wrong with the King James Version (KJV), or the New International Version (NIV), or the New American Standard Bible (NASB)?
First of all, I would say that nothing is wrong with any of the English translations just mentioned. You will hear the Word from each. It is important to know that you do not need to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to have confidence that you are hearing the Word of God. You can be fed by God through an English translation.
But secondly, it is true that there are differences among English translations. Each translation uses a different philosophy for translation. Some translators lean toward a literal “word-for-word” philosophy, and others lean toward a “thought-for-thought” philosophy. There are pluses and minuses with each.
The English Standard Version leans toward a “word-for-word” philosophy. The translators have termed it an “essentially literal” translation. That means it “…seeks as much as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text…” (Preface to the English Standard Version Study Bible, 19)
One of the main drawbacks to this type of translation is usually a loss of readability. The more literal word-for-word philosophy is often more clumsy or difficult for English readers. However, the translators of the ESV have done a very good job of maintaining readability.
Another benefit I have seen with the ESV is consistency. At every possible point the ESV translators have tried to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original. This makes it easier for English readers notice key words, and emphasis, used by biblical writers.
One example of this is found with the Greek word sarx. This word is often translated “flesh” in English, and has a range of meanings. It can refer to the human body. Or, it can refer to the sinful nature. Or, it can simply refer to a human being, or human existence.
Paul uses this word many times to emphasize a point, but that emphasis can be obscured by translation. The clearest example is found in Romans 8. Paul uses this word sarx 13 times in this chapter. The NIV translates the word in various ways in order to express the thought. The NIV translates it as “sinful nature” (verses 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13), and “sinful man” (verses 3, 6), and “sinful mind” (verse 7). However, the ESV translates the word as “flesh” each time, and due to this consistency Paul’s distinction between living in the “realm of the flesh” or the “realm of the Spirit” appears to leap off the page for the careful English reader.
I believe it is helpful to lean toward a word-for-word translation, and it is also helpful to have the English flow more smoothly for devotional reading. Therefore, I lean toward the English Standard Version.
However, at the end of the day the main question is not: Which translation are you reading? The main question is: Are you reading? It’s vital for disciples of Jesus Christ to have regular feeding on His Word.
Rev. David J. Rogers
Senior Pastor, Town North Presbyterian Church