ESV Lexical Errors and Problems
One of the more common errors of literal versions is the attempt to use only one English word for every Greek or Hebrew word. This error—common also to first year Greek students!—fails to recognize the semantic range of words. Here are a some examples in the ESV.
ESV For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Comment The ESV’s “one word” is actually seven in English and six in Greek. Greek logos has a large semantic range (it doesn’t literally mean “word”!). Here it clearly means “statement” or “command.”
TNIV For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command…
HCSB For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement:
1 Cor. 1:18
ESV For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Comment The “word” here means the “message” of the cross. Even NJKV gets it right (“message”; cf. NRSV). Elsewhere the ESV translates logos as “message” (Mark 16:20). In 2 Cor. 5:19, logos is the “message” of reconciliation (cf. Heb. 2:2).
TNIV For the message of the cross is foolishness…
NET For the message about the cross is foolishness…
ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Comment: Commentators agree that megalē is a Semitism for the superlative “greatest.”9
TNIV “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
NRSV “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
9See D. Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (WBC 33A; Nashville: Thomas Nelsonm, 1993), and D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositors Bible Commentary (vol. 8; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 464.
ESV But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Comment: The saying was not hidden (Jesus just said it!). The meaning was hidden. ESV has not recognized that rhēma here refers to the meaning of the saying, not the saying itself.
TNIV …Its meaning was hidden from them,
REB …its meaning was concealed from them.
ESV “We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God,
Comment: “Vain” in contemporary English means “related to pride or vanity,” but the Greek mataios here means “worthless” or “of no value.” Of course “of like nature with you” is also unnatural English, something no one speaking or writing English would actually say.
TNIV We too are only human, like you….turn from these worthless things to the living God,
NRSV We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God,
ESV To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Comment: The ESV makes it sound like this is an issue of personal protection. The meaning is a safeguard, an extra source of spiritual protection.
TNIV … and it is a safeguard for you.
NRSV …and for you it is a safeguard.
2 Tim. 1:15
ESV You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
Comment Multiple problems here. “Turned away from” is not quite right. The phrase means “deserted.” “Among whom are” is very awkward English. Standard English is “including.” Finally, contemporary English readers will consider Asia to be the continent, rather than the Roman province. The TNIV corrects all of these:
TNIV “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.”
NLT2 As you know, everyone from the province of Asia has deserted me—even Phygelus and Hermogenes.
2 Thess. 3:8
ESV …nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it…
Comment: Greek artos does not always mean “bread,” but “any kind of food or nourishment” (BDAG). The meaning here is clearly “food.”10
TNIV …nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.
NET …and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying.
ESV But refuse to enroll younger widows, for…they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.
Comment: Pistis doesn’t mean “faith” here, but a pledge made to the Lord (BDAG). The ESV sounds like the widows’ remarriage results in apostasy.
TNIV …they have broken their first pledge.
NRSV …having violated their first pledge.
ESV the fullness of the Gentiles
Comment: “Fullness of..” is very strange English. The meaning the complete number of Gentiles.
TNIV the full number of Gentiles
HCSB the full number of the Gentiles
ESV …when they [unbelieving husbands] see your respectful and pure conduct.
Comment: The phrase (lit.) “your pure conduct in fear,” certainly refers to reverence to God, not “respect” for husbands. 10 Interestingly, a few verses later, the same expression is translated idiomatically in the ESV: “…to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (lit. “eat their own bread/food”).
TNIV …when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (cf. NET; NRSV; NLT; NJB; HCSB, etc.)
ESV And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes…
Comment There is no “country,” of the Gadarenes. This is a region or territory associated with the Gadarenes.
TNIV …region of the Gadarenes (cf. NET; NLT, etc.)
ESV And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth…
Comment: The village of Nazareth could hardly be classified as a “city,” either by ancient or modern standards. Polis here means town or village.
TNIV …town called Nazareth… (cf. NRSV; NET; NLT; REB; HCSB, etc.)
ESV Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer,
Comment: The disciples are commanded not to “meditate” beforehand? One would think prayer and meditation would be a good idea before facing a trial for Christ. The sense seems to be to prepare or rehearse (BDF §392.2).
TNIV “worry beforehand”; NET “rehearse ahead of time”; NASB “prepare beforehand”
ESV But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.
Comment: Pneuma here probably means a “ghost,” a disembodied person, rather than a good or evil spirit.
TNIV thinking they saw a ghost. (Cf. NET; NRSV; HCSB; NLT; etc.)
Acts 7:19, 21
ESV “He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants ….(v. 21) and when he [Moses] was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him…”
Comment: To “expose” a child is to abandon it to death, but many readers will not know this technical sense. If they do get it, the second reference in v. 21 sounds as though Moses’ mother tried to kill him.
TNIV to throw out their newborn babies… he [Moses] was placed outside…
NLT abandon their newborn babies…had to abandon him [Moses].
1 Tim. 6:5
ESV and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Comment: The ESV is open to misunderstanding, since godliness is a means to gain—spiritual gain. The word “gain” here clearly means financial profit, as TNIV and HCSB make clear:
TNIV godliness is a means to financial gain.
HCSB godliness is a way to material gain
ESV for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
Comment: A “humble estate” in English would normally be a modest home. It would be better to say “state.”