ESV #3, by Mark Strauss

Idioms Missed in the ESV

Almost all the problem translations cited in this paper could be called “idioms missed,” since most literalist errors result from idiomatic differences between languages. Here we focus on phrases or clauses that the ESV has tried to render literally, resulting in awkward, nonsensical or inaccurate English.

Mark 1:2 (pars. Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:27)
ESV: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face

Comment: The Greek idiom pro prosōpou sou (lit. “before your face”) means “ahead of you.” I would never say, “I arrived at the restaurant before your face.” Most versions recognize the idiom and translate accurately (HCSB, NET, NIV, NAB, NLT, REB, GNT, GW). While the original NASB used “before your face,” its 1995 update (NASU) recognized the idiom and corrected it to “ahead of you.” The NRSV similarly revised the RSV. Curiously, the ESV misses the idiom here (and parallels), but gets it right in Luke 9:52 and 10:1, where pro prosōpou autou is translated “ahead of him.”
TNIV: “I will send my messenger ahead of you,”
NASU: “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you.”

Luke 22:3
ESV Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.
Comment: This is not English. The Greek idiom means “one of the Twelve”
TNIV Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
NET Then Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.

Luke 2:36
ESV Anna…was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,
Comment: The Greek idiom (lit.) “advanced in many days” means “very old.” The idiom “from her virginity” means “after she was married.” This illustrates one of the common mistakes made by literalist translators. They suppose that by reproducing a few words from the idiom (“advanced” and “virginity”), you get closer to the meaning. But it is the whole idiom that carries the meaning, not random words.
TNIV She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
HCSB She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

Acts 22:22
ESV Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
Comment: This is another example of misguided literalism. The ESV has tried to translate the Greek idiom, “take up from the earth such a one,” literally. By leaving a few words intact (“such,” “from the earth”), the ESV supposes it has retained the meaning.8 But of course no one speaking English would ever say this.
TNIV …“Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
HCSB …“Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!”

Matt. 5:2 (cf. Acts 8:35)
ESV And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Comment: The ESV has missed the Greek idiom, which does not indicate two actions, but one—an introduction to a speech. No one speaking English would say, “The teacher opened her mouth and taught the students, saying…”
TNIV and he began to teach them. He said… (cf. NET, HCSB, etc.)

Genesis 27:31 (and 61 times)
ESV Isaac answered and said to Esau.
Comment: Again, no English speaker would say “the teacher answered and said to me,” but rather she “answered” or “replied.” The Hebrew (and Greek) idiom does not describe two actions but one. All of the functional equivalent versions (GNT, CEV, GW, NCV, NLT) and the mediating ones (NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NET, NAB) recognize the idiom and translate it correctly as “answered,” or “replied.” While the original NASB used “answered and said” 186 times in the Old and New Testaments, its revision (NASU) uses it only 75 times, usually replacing it with “replied.” The revisers evidently recognized that this was a Hebrew idiom not an English one. Strangely, while the RSV correctly interpreted the idiom as “answered” in all but seven instances, its revision the ESV reintroduced “answered and said” sixty-one times in the Old Testament (but never in the New Testament!).
TNIV, NIV Isaac answered Esau.
NET, NJB, NASU Isaac replied to Esau
8 Even the TNIV and HCSB feel the need to retain the word “earth.” But the Greek idiom may well mean simply “kill him!” without the reader consciously thinking about departure from the earth (see NLT, REB, TEV, CEV).

Acts 8:23
ESV For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
Comment: The “gall of bitterness” is a Greek idiom that means bitterly resentful or envious. Very few English readers have any idea what “gall” is. The translation “bile of bitterness” might be better but is still obscure and inaccurate, since this was likely a dead metaphor by the first century. The second phrase “bond of iniquity” is also obscure and archaic.
TNIV For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.
NET For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.

Acts 9:28 (cf. Acts 1:21)
ESV So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly.
Comment: The ESV phrase is very strange, and certainly not standard English. The Greek idiom “going in and going out” means going around the city with them, with the implications that this was done in the open.
TNIV So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem…
NET So he was staying with them, associating openly with them…

1 Cor. 9:16
ESV “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me.”
Comment: “For necessity is laid upon me” is not English. The Greek idiom indicates compulsion.
TNIV “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach.
NLT “Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it.”

Phil. 4:11
ESV “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
Comment: The ESV misses the point. Paul is not saying that he is not speaking about being in need (he is speaking about it!). He is saying, he is not in need. This is a mistranslation of the Greek idiom, “speak according to lack/need.”
TNIV I am not saying this because I am in need…
NJB I do not say this because I have lacked anything…

Phil. 4:12
ESV “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.”
Comment: Paul doesn’t mean he knows how to be brought low, but rather he knows what it is like and how to get along while living in poverty. Other literal versions have gotten the idiom right NASB: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.” NRSV: “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”
TNIV “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”
NLT “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”

Matt. 23:32
ESV “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.”
Comment: Nonsensical English. NLT, REB and NJB get the idiom right.
TNIV “Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your ancestors!”
REB “Go on then, finish off what your fathers began!” (cf. NLT; NJB)

Rom. 9:7
ESV “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”
Comment: The ESV misses the point. This is not about “naming” offspring. The Greek idiom (lit.), “in Isaac seed will be called for you,” means “Your name will be carried on through Isaac” (see REB) or simply “Your descendants will come through Isaac.”
TNIV “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
REB “It is through the line of Isaac’s descendants that your name will be traced.”

2 Cor. 6:12
ESV “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.”
Comment: Paul’s point is that he has not held back his affection toward the Corinthians, but they have held theirs back from him. ESV misses this and sounds like Paul is freeing the Corinthians from some restrictions. The second clause in the ESV is simply obscure. What does “restricted” in your emotions mean?
TNIV “We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.”
NLT2 “There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us.”

Joshua 10:6
ESV “the men of Gibeon [said], ‘Do not relax your hand from your servants.’”
TNIV “… ‘Do not abandon your servants.’”
NASU “… ‘Do not abandon your servants.’” (cf. HCSB, NRSV, NET; NKJV)
Comment: The ESV has simply missed the idiom (by following the RSV). The ESV’s “Do not relax your hand” is obscure, but would probably be misunderstood as “Don’t stop putting pressure on.” In fact, the idiom means “don’t abandon” (HCSB, NRSV, NET; etc.) or “don’t forsake” (NKJV).

2 Sam. 18:25
ESV the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.”
Comment: This is not an English idiom. I would never say, “Here comes Johnny with news in his mouth.”
TNIV The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.”
NET The king said, “If he is by himself, he brings good news.”

Ps. 12:2
ESV with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
Comment: The Hebrew idiom is “with a heart and a heart,” which means with deceptive hearts. Nobody speaking English would say they speak “with a double heart.”
TNIV they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.
HCSB they speak with flattering lips and deceptive hearts.

Isaiah 6:10
ESV Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy,
Comment: What are “heavy ears”? The Hebrew idiom means deaf or hard of hearing. The TNIV is only slightly better. HCSB and NLT capture the sense.
TNIV …make their ears dull
HCSB …deafen their ears.
NLT2 …plug their ears (cf. GW)

Isaiah 22:17
ESV “… the LORD… will seize firm hold on you”
Comment: “Seize firm hold on” is very strange English.
TNIV “…the LORD…is about to take firm hold of you”
NASU “…the LORD is about to grasp you firmly.”

Jer. 12:2
ESV “the wicked… you are near in their mouth and far from their heart.”
Comment: The ESV’s “near in their mouth” is nonsensical. The NET is clearest.
TNIV “…You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.”
NET “…They always talk about you, but they really care nothing about you.

Matt. 20:12
ESV “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
Comment: “Borne the burden of the day” is not an English idiom.
TNIV “…who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day
NLT “…who worked all day in the scorching heat.”

Acts 24:22
ESV But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Comment: The ESV has missed the Greek idiom, which doesn’t mean to put someone off, but to formally adjourn or postpone a legal hearing (see NIV, HCSB, NRSV, REB, NLT, etc., and the commentaries).
TNIV “Then Felix…adjourned the proceedings….”
HCSB “Felix …adjourned the hearing…”

2 Cor. 6:15
ESV What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
Comment: The Greek literally says “what part/share a believer with an unbeliever,” which means “what do they have in common?” The ESV makes it sound like the two are splitting a piece of pie. Also, “accord” is awkward. Better English is “agreement” or “harmony.”
TNIV What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
NET And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever?

Luke 7:1
ESV After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people,
Comment: Both phrases “all his sayings” and “in the hearing of the people” are strange and awkward English. No one would ever say, “The politician finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people.”
TNIV When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening,
NLT2 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people,

Acts 1:17
ESV For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.
Comment: Both phrases in the ESV are unnatural English. “Numbered among us” means he was considered to be one of us. “Allotted his share” means he participated with us. It is not standard English to say, “The
youth pastor was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
TNIV He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
NLT2 Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.

Acts 5:36
ESV For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody…
Comment: The Greek idiom “before these days” means “some time ago.” No one speaking English would say, “I visited my brother before these days.”
TNIV Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody
NET For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody,

Acts 7:23
ESV “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.
Comment: “It came into his heart” is not an English idiom. I would never say, “It came to my heart to visit my brother.” The Greek (lit.) “it rose up into his heart” means either “it occurred to him” (REB) or “he decided” (TNIV).
TNIV “…he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites.” (cf. HCSB)
REB “…when it occurred to him to visit his fellow-countrymen the Israelites.”

Ephesians 2:10
ESV “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.”
Comment: In English I would never say I’m going to “walk in good works.” The Greek idiom “walk in” in many contexts has lost any pedestrian connotations and means to live by certain standards. This is clearly a matter of “doing” the good works that God prepared for us.
TNIV “…which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
NET “…that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
NRSV “…which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Colossians 4:5
ESV “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.”
Comment: To “walk…toward” someone in English can only mean literally to walk in that direction. The Greek peripateō (live; walk) is surely a dead metaphor here, as even other literal versions recognize (see NASB below). NRSV reads, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders.” This question of “walking” in terms of conduct is a difficult one in translation. Sometimes the idiom may be a live metaphor, envisioning a traveler on life’s journey. In other cases (as the two cited above), it is clearly a dead metaphor. Translators
must be particularly sensitive to contextual factors. It is beyond the scope of this paper to survey the data, but this metaphor would probably be worth a dissertation.
TNIV “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders;”
NASB “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.”

1 Thess. 4:12
ESV so that you may walk properly before outsiders…
TNIV so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…
NAB that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders…

1 Samuel 10:9
ESV When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.
Comment: To give someone a new heart in English means a heart transplant. The point here is a change of heart or transformed disposition.
TNIV …God changed Saul’s heart. (cf. NASU)
God’s Word “…God changed Saul’s attitude.

Esther 1:14
ESV “the seven princes of Persia and Media who saw the king’s face.”
Comment: The idiom here refers to close advisors with special access, not the literal act of seeing someone’s face.
TNIV the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king.”
NRSV the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king,”

Esther 2:21
ESV “two of the king’s eunuchs…sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.”
Comment: The Hebrew idiom (lit.) “sought to send a hand” means to conspire to seize or to kill. Here is another example where the translators assumed that retaining a few words from the idiom would preserve the meaning. But idioms work as a whole, not through their individual parts.
TNIV…conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus. (cf. NRSV)
HCSB… tried to assassinate King Ahasuerus.

Psalm 10:4
ESV In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him”
Comment: “The pride of his face” is strange English. The Hebrew idiom refers to a prideful attitude.
TNIV In their pride the wicked do not seek him;
NET The wicked in their pride do not seek God;

Psalm 11:6
ESV “a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”
Comment: “The portion of their cup” is nonsensical for most English readers. The idiom means “their lot” or “what they deserve.” It was certainly a dead metaphor.
TNIV “a scorching wind will be their lot.”
NET “A whirlwind is what they deserve!”

Jer. 12:11
ESV The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.
Comment: “No man lays it to heart” is not an English idiom.
TNIV …because there is no one who cares.
NET …But no one living in it will pay any heed.

Jer. 12:6
ESV For even your brothers…have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you;
Comment: The Hebrew idiom, “called after you fully” probably means to raise their voices in anger or to cry out against.
TNIV they have raised a loud cry against you.
NET Even they have plotted to do away with you.

Ex. 13:2
ESV Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel.
Comment: “First to open the womb” is not a normal English way to speak of a firstborn child. The TNIV is only a little better, retaining the odd “of every womb.” The NLT is the most accurate to contemporary English.
TNIV The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites.
NLT2 every firstborn among the Israelites.

Deut. 15:7
ESV you should not…shut your hand from your poor brother.
Comment: Not an English idiom.
TNIV do not be…tightfisted toward them.
HCSB you must not be …tightfisted toward your poor brother.

1 Kings 2:10
ESV Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
Comment: The Hebrew idiom is actually “David lay down (shkv) with his ancestors,” which would certainly be better than the contemporary connotations associated with “slept with.”
TNIV Then David rested with his ancestors…
NET Then David passed away…

Rom. 8:37
ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Comment: The verb hupernikaō does not mean “more than” conquerors (how can you be more than the winner?), but that we conquer completely or overwhelmingly. Absolute victory is ours. The TNIV has the same problem. The NET and NLT get it right.
TNIV …we are more than conquerors…
NET …we have complete victory…
NLT …overwhelming victory is ours …

Matt. 27:1
ESV all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
Comment: “Took counsel against” is unnatural English. The NASU’s “conferred together” is a higher register than the TNIV’s “came to a decision,” but both are normal English.
TNIV …came to the decision to put Jesus to death.
NASU …conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death


29 thoughts on “ESV #3, by Mark Strauss

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    John, this is hardly an advertisement for TNIV when it contains comments like “The TNIV is only slightly better” and “The TNIV has the same problem”. The reason for regularly quoting TNIV is given in the first part:

    For most categories, I will note the ESV rendering and then compare it to at least two other versions that use more standard English. One of these will always be the TNIV, which will serve as a “control” text. This is to avoid the criticism that I am selectively choosing whichever version happens to improve upon the ESV. Sometimes, in fact, I will criticize both the ESV and the TNIV.

  2. Keith Schooley says:

    Hi guys,

    It appears that in the process of cutting and pasting, you have moved the footnotes into places in which they make no sense.
    Apparently you are trying to reproduce the original paginated form in a wooden, word-for-word manner. I assure you that no one writing for the web would express themselves this way. I suggest that you take a more dynamic approach and move the footnotes directly below the items they are intended to modify.



  3. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    This is one of the longest TNIV advertisements I’ve ever seen. I guess this type of article is retaliation for the many negative TNIV reviews–like this one.

    John, I counseled Mark on this before he read the paper. I believe it would have been better if he would have not used the TNIV as a control text for comparison, for the very reason that you mention, that it can have the *appearance* of being retaliation against the anti-TNIV people, several of whom serve on the ESV team.

    It would be good for all of us to try to read Mark’s paper and understand the particular point he is making for each example, regardless of which other translations he compares the ESV example to. Besides, as I told Mark before he read his paper, the TNIV itself has some of the same kinds of issues that the ESV does. In fact, Mark admits as much. I have sent hundreds of exx. to the TNIV team where they need to revise so that there is no need for a similar kind of paper to be given on grammatical and other problems in the TNIV. And we could do the same for other English versions.

    That is why this blog exists, to try to help there be better Bibles. Are you willing to join us in that effort? We’d love to have you on board.

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Keith wrote:

    It appears that in the process of cutting and pasting, you have moved the footnotes into places in which they make no sense.

    Actually, Keith, the problem is, as you surmised in the rest of your comment, that I left the footnotes where they were, at the bottom of the pages of the original documents. All of the original markup (bolding, italics, etc.) of Mark’s document gets lost in the transfer from his PDF file to this blog. It takes me a long time to restore that formatting.

    Here’s what I will offer you, which will help. At the end of this series, I will tell you where Mark’s entire document is already uploaded to a website. From that website it can be downloaded for free.

    Until then I believe there is value in presenting his paper, section by section, so that we take more time to digest it and interact with it.

    Stay tuned!

  5. Black Hat says:

    Rom. 8:37
    ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
    Comment: how can you be more than the winner?

    You can be more than “just” the winner. For example, you could have won a race last summer in China that would have made you a winner of that race but also made you a world champion, a record-holder.

    For that matter “Absolute victory” (used in Straus’ critique) is kind of the same thing. Victory really doesn’t have degrees of success — at least according to Douglas MacArthur . . . Harry Truman didn’t agree.

  6. Randy Talbot says:

    I have found this article to be extremely biased against the ESV. It makes it seem that the ESV is the only translation that translation Mark 1:2 as “before your face” with comments such as. “7 This ESV gaffe was caught by Roy Ciampa.” This bias became clear to me when I have found that most literal translations of the Bible have translated it this way, such as the KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, Green’s Literal translation of the Bible, the Amplified Bible, Darby Translation, KJ2000, 21st Century King James Version, the World English Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation. Certainly a non bias article would read idioms missed by literal translations of the Bible. Why is the ESV pointed out exclusively as making this mistake. It is called a bias against the ESV.
    Randy Talbot

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Randy wrote:

    Why is the ESV pointed out exclusively as making this mistake. It is called a bias against the ESV.

    Hi Randy,

    Obviously, I can’t speak for Mark Strauss on this. But please do recall that he says several times throughout his article what you have just said, about the ESV problems appearing in other literal (and essentially literal) translations.

    Also, Mark’s article was already too long for the ETS conference. If he had included examples from the other literal translations you cite, that would have made the paper even longer. The focus of this article is the ESV. One reason why it is important to focus on the ESV is that its publisher and many who have endorsed it have claimed that it has such beautiful English. And yet those of us who have carefully read the ESV find that claim not to hold up under commonly understood definitions of “beautiful English”. English which is ungrammatical, obscure, and misleading cannot be “beautiful”, as far as I understand. The ESV English may be liked by those who prefer that version, but I don’t think their views of its English would be shared by many English professors or others who study English language usage.

    Obviously, a main reason that Mark Strauss gave this paper at the ETS conference is as a rebuttal to Dr. Grudem and others who have read similar papers against the TNIV at previous conferences. Clearly, the presentation of papers on English Bible versions at ETS or other venues shows that those who use English Bibles have some very different definitions of what constitutes good English and appropriate translation.

    I have already extended an invitation to a representative of the ESV translation team to respond on this blog, to present their claim that the English of the ESV is actually good, or at least not as bad as Mark Strauss is claiming. So far, my invitation has been rejected, but I hope that that decision will be reconsidered.

    As we read the paper by Mark Strauss, we should, for each example, ask if Mark’s analysis is true or not. Is he stating the exegesis of the verse correctly? Is he correct in what he says about how the English of the ESV communicates the intended meaning?

    We all need to be prudent students of the Word, and translations of the Word, to see if they are accurate and accurately convey to a majority of current speakers of English the meanings that the translation teams intend to convey. And we need to check to see if the English used is appropriate for conveying those meanings.

    I suggest that English Bible translators may need to take some review courses in English grammar, literature, and composition so that their translations sound like good quality literary English.

  8. Randy Talbot says:

    I do stand by what I said about the bias against the ESV for the simple fact that the ESV is not a “new” translation but a revision of the RSV. With out mentioning this very important detail one wrongly concludes that this is the way that the ESV translators have translated it rather than the truth which is that this is the way that the RSV translators have translated it and the ESV has chosen not change it or update it. With the quote in the article above as “This ESV gaffe was caught by Roy Ciampa.”, should really have been “This RSV gaffe which the ESV translators did not correct or catch”. But, this would be too accurate and not bias enough against the ESV to be included in the above article.
    If the ESV was a fresh “new” translation than I can see your point, but it is not. And leaving out this very important information is what creates the bias, in my opinion.
    Randy Talbot

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    OK, Randy, I understand now what you’re saying. Often what I have said is that most of the problems with the English of the ESV are due to the fact that they used the RSV as their translation base. Interestingly, I’ve read some say in the past that the RSV had good English. I never got to use it myself, because my church and Bible school considered the RSV too theologically liberal.

    I have noted some places where the ESV team made the English in the RSV worse, but that’s not too often.

    I simply don’t understand how people can say that the English in the RSV or ESV is so good when I, as someone who has studied the English language, and taught an English course at university, and has been observing English language usage professionally for more than 30 years, have the same observations Mark Strauss does. (And there I went myself with a run-on sentence, which is not good English!)

    If the English in the RSV or ESV were good, I think I would be able to tell it. I can tell good English written by Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, the translation by J.B. Phillips, et al.

  10. Randy Talbot says:

    I believe we are on the same page now. Interestingly when the ESV first come out I remember reading from others, “Why? The RSV does not need to be updated.” I have also heard some of the comments your have listed above. Dr Leland Ryken Literary Chairman of the ESV is a professor of English at Wheaton College. He must have let some things slip through.
    Randy Talbot

  11. Curt Parton says:

    In Strauss’ defense, he does state in his opening paragraph that the ESV is a revision of the RSV, constituting only an approximate 6% revision of the RSV. Anything that follows should be read in that light.

    He also seems to be responding specifically to those clamoring for the ESV to be perceived as some kind of standard in English translations (hence the title of his paper). So this isn’t just weighing the ESV as one more translation, but as a supposedly preeminent one. Considering the frequency with which I encounter an ESV-onlyism, I think this kind of analysis is warranted.

  12. Rich says:

    One problem of the criticism is the uneven criticism. For instance, Mark berates the ESV translation in 1 Samuel 10:9 noting, “To give someone a new heart in English means a heart transplant. The point here is a change of heart or transformed disposition.” Then he uses the TNIV as an example of this principle.

    But in Ezekiel 36:26, the same terminology is used for the same condition, and note how the TNIV translate this text. ” I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” So why isn’t the TNIV criticized here as well?

  13. Wayne Leman says:

    Good question, Rich. Why don’t you email Mark with your question. His email address is at the beginning of his paper, first post in this series. He is friendly and open to suggestions like this.

  14. Wayne Leman says:

    Rich, I have already stated this in another comment, but I have noted that the TNIV has some of the same translation issues that the ESV does. And I have flagged them for the TNIV team and sent them to the team.

    I hope for a new day for English Bible translation, where translation practices required at the United Nations, commercial translation services, and elsewhere will be studied and implemented. That’s a major reason for this blog, to try to raise awareness of how much better English Bible versions can be, if exegetes are trained in how to translate to their own mother tongue.

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    Rich, the answer to your question is probably that in Ezekiel the reference to a new heart is part of an extended metaphor which is long and clear enough to be understood as a whole, whereas the 1 Samuel mention of a new heart is in passing and without explanation and so open to misunderstanding.

  16. Randy Talbot says:

    Can you comment on any copyright issues in Bible translation? Several years ago I was amazed when I read this from the World English Bible (WEB) website
    “The WEB is different enough to avoid copyright infringement, but similar enough to avoid incurring the wrath of God.”
    And under “What kind of editing help do you want?”
    “Wording that may inadvertently be “too close” to any copyrighted Modern English translation for too many verses in a row (thus risking charges of copyright infringement).”
    I would think that this would be a big obstacle in good Bible translation. Could the copyright issues prevent the ESV from translating certain verses the way they want to for fear of being accused of having words sound too close to the way the NRSV or some other translation and thus be in violation of the copyright laws?
    Randy Talbot

  17. Bob MacDonald says:

    Each of these verses needs a separate thread – it is very hard to focus on anything in the presence of so much data.

    Re your two psalms crits here: face for nose is definitely wrong IMO in Psalm 10. It does not cohere with the later face in the same translation in verse 11 and it thus creates a false repeated word in a genre that uses root and word repetition as an intimate part of micro and macro structures. ‘Looking down his nose’ might be a starter for the verse 4.

    Re the owl/cup of psalm 11:6 – this is too important a strange word to get short shrift. I rendered it ‘offering’ in this context – but it needs some shrewdness given the potential to consider it a Hebrew-Greek connection to the treasure in earthen _vessel_s

  18. John says:

    Wayne, it’s interesting that you say Charles Dickens wrote good English: those of his time thought his English was aweful: reviews of his works thought his English was aweful; but his stories people liked, (including I). : )

  19. Wayne Leman says:

    Randy asked:

    Could the copyright issues prevent the ESV from translating certain verses the way they want to for fear of being accused of having words sound too close to the way the NRSV or some other translation and thus be in violation of the copyright laws?

    Well, copyright issues are way out of my area of training which is Bible translation and translation checking. But I would think that the issue you have raised would be at least a theoretical possibility. In practical terms, the ESV team had such a different ideological approach to translation of the Bible from the NRSV or NIV/TNIV, that I don’t think there would have been much danger of their translation being so similar that there would be a risk of copyright infringement. The ESV really is just a very minor revision of the RSV (but a relative major revision theologically). The NRSV is a much more extensive revision of the RSV. And the NASB, which is probably the closest to the ESV in terms of translation philosophy, was a revision of the ASV of 1901, not the RSV, which was also a revision of the ASV of 1901. And, although the RSV and NASB used the same English base translation, their theological and textual decisions were different enough that the NASB does not read very closely to the RSV, either.

    So, even though there are these relationships among these English versions, all of which are in the Tyndale-KJV tradition, there are significant enough differences in translation theory, theology, and desire to update obsolete language that there was little chance of copyright infringement problems for the ESV team. Now, if the ESV team had used the RSV as its base translation without the appropriate copyright and payment arrangement with the RSV copyright holder (National Council of Chuches), then there would definitely have been copyright infringement.

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    John, I’ve always considered this intro to Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities to be striking English:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

    Note the rhythm, contrasts, poetic license starting with “It” when the author has not yet established which time frame “it” was. All of these rhetorical devices (and more) are in the toolbox of good authors.

    I haven’t read all of Dickens’ works, so I’m sure I can’t speak about them as well as you can.

    Thanks for your comment.

  21. charlene says:

    if you want the bible wrote in our english today but be accurate with the kjv bible. i have the kjv,”all my life” a njkv,esv. we are now at the church my husband grew up at and are happy now. the preacher uses the nsv, but my use to the kjv. rewriting the bible is ackward to where you wonder it you all are trying to stray from the truth and confuse people, i just want to be able to read along with my preacher and know it’s the word of god, we he preaches out of the esv we read along with our kjv and he preaches as though is speaking from the kjv.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s