Picking a Bible – update on ESV and NIV

I wrote an article at the start of the blog about picking a bible translation.  I need to add some comments about the English Standard Version (ESV).  The ESV strives to be as literal as possible while being readable.  It has become very popular in Evangelical church circles, and for many through the ESV Study Bible.

Positives:  Unlike some “literal” translations, the ESV does recognize paragraphs and poetic structure.  I never liked the NASB’s format of puling every verse to the side, as if the bible came divided that way.  It is usually readable, and they do try to retain continuity in translating the same words the same way.  For example it uses “keep, keeps and keeper” in Psalm 121 for all the uses of the same hebrew root.  the NIV is more free and you can miss the repetition.

I also like the ESV Literary Study Bible – it gives a minimum of literary form and outline information and lets you read the text yourself.  I did scan the ESV Study Bible at the book store and found it heavy and overly laden with comments, so that the page I was reading was about 25% bible and 75% comment.  I prefer a leaner bible and a couple of good reference works on the side – like a  Bible dictionary and a commentary.

Negatives:  The language is frequently rather poor English style, and somewhat dated sounding.  This reflects the desire to be more literal, but also an older slightly dated English that the one I hear in daily life.  I find that the editors have worked too hard to keep the male gender intact – often the male in Greek or Hebrew are generic, and translating male pronoun for male pronouns from original to English add s the English gender baggage to the text.  Men may not notice, but women will.  (Confession, I like the NRSV for this reason.)

Conclusion: I use the ESV as a good manuscript study text – it is a good source for seeing connections and sensing the structure of the original language.  It is only OK for general reading, and I do not preach from it very often, unless my default NIV (old version) is inadequate.  That is partly because our “Pew Bibles” are NIV.

The NEW NIV:  The NIV was updated in 2011, so if you want to read the one you are familiar with that is called the NIV 84.  I have not yet read a lot of the new NIV, but it does attempt to be more gender generic – that is to translate into
English as neutral when the original may have been formally masculine but was understood as generic.  English worked that way until maybe 1968 and thereafter we have moved on.  So I do not have a problem with the approach. There are a number of other updates and I have not read enough to draw any conclusions.