Exegetical Errors in the ESV
All translations must make difficult exegetical decisions, and some errors are inevitable. Here are some examples where an overly literal approach contributes to errors in the ESV.
ESV Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”
Comment: The woman’s sins were not forgiven because she loved much (which would be salvation by works). Jesus’ parable teaches the opposite: gratitude results from forgiveness. She loved much because her sins were forgiven. Both TNIV and NET make this clear.
TNIV Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.
NET Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much.
ESV and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Comment: Luke does not mean that John will be filled with the Spirit “from” his mother’s womb, but
“already while in” his mother’s womb (see Luke 1:41, 44).
TNIV …even before he is born. (cf. NET; NRSV; NLT)
HCSB …while still in his mother’s womb. (cf. NASU)
ESV But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Comment: The ESV implies that salvation once came by works, but it no longer does. The Greek ouketi is not being used temporally (“no longer”), but logically, meaning “it is therefore not the case that….”11 TNIV and HCSB get it right.
TNIV And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works…
HCSB Now if by grace, then it is not by works…
11 See Moo, Romans, 678, n. 42; cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1988) 639.
ESV remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,
Comment: Heterodidaskalō here likely means doctrinal errors. The ESV’s “different doctrine” is too weak.
TNIV …not to teach false doctrines
NET…not to spread false teachings
ESV we ask you, brothers… not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us…
Comment: “A spirit” will be misunderstood by most readers as an evil spirit or a demon. In this context is surely means a prophetic utterance. See the commentaries. “Shaken in mind” is also strange English.
TNIV …whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter…
REB …by any prophetic utterance, any pronouncement, or any letter…
ESV As for what was sown on rocky ground…he has no root in himself, but endures for a while…
Comment: In addition to the very strange “no root in himself,” the ESV misses the Greek idiom proskairos estin, which means “is temporary.” The point is not that he is able to endure for a while, but that he is shortlived.
TNIV But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
NLT2 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long.
ESV Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
Comment: The ESV makes it sound like God performs miracles by the works of the law. The TNIV and NET clarify this with “your.”
TNIV …by your observing the law, or by your believing what you heard?
NET by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?
ESV Two women will be grinding at the mill…
Comment: The phrase en to mulo likely means “with a handmill,” not “at the mill.” See the commentaries.
TNIV …grinding with a handmill
NET …grinding with a mill