ESV #6, by Mark Strauss

Collocational Clashes in the ESV

Collocations are words that are used together in a language to express a particular meaning. For example, in English you “take a walk” but in Spanish you “give a walk” (dar un paseo). Spanish uses a different collocation to express the same meaning. Collocational clashes occur when translators render words literally without considering their collocational relationships in the target language. Here are some ESV examples.

Rom. 3:19
ESV Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped,
Comment: Mouths are not stopped; they are silenced or shut.
TNIV …so that every mouth may be silenced… (cf. NET; NRSV)
HCSB … so that every mouth may be shut… (cf. NASB)

Heb. 11:33
ESV who through faith…stopped the mouths of lions,”
Comment: Again, “stopping” a mouth in an odd collocation.
TNIV …shut the mouths of lions (cf. HCSB; NLT; NASU; NRSV; NET; REB, etc.)

Acts 20:9
ESV …he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
Comment: “Taken up dead” is an odd collocation.
TNIV …and was picked up dead.
NET …and was picked up dead.

1 Timothy 4:6
ESV If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus…
Comment: The natural collocation is to “point out to” (cf. TNIV; NASB; NET; HCSB)
TNIV If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters…
NET By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters…

Phil. 2:29
ESV So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
Comment: “All joy” makes little sense. Greek pas (“all”) can be used in an emphatic sense meaning “with great joy” or simply “joyfully.”
TNIV Welcome him in the Lord with great joy,
NET So welcome him in the Lord with great joy,

1Tim. 3:6
ESV He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Comment “Fall into the condemnation” is strange English.
TNIV …and fall under the same judgment”
NAB …incur the devil’s punishment”

Eph. 6:7
ESV …rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
Comment The whole sentence is awkward, but especially the collocation “service with a good will.” We normally speak of “willing” “cheerful” or “enthusiastic” service.
TNIV Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,
NRSV Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,

1Cor. 15:58
ESV …be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…
Comment “Abounding in the work” is an odd collocation. I can’t image someone today saying, “He abounds in the Lord’s work.”
TNIV …Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord…
NET Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord…

1Cor. 13:2
ESV …and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love…
Comment: “All faith” doesn’t make sense in English. The Greek collocation pas tēn pistin means either “sufficient faith” or “the kind of faith.”
TNIV and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love…
NLT2 and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others,

1Cor. 6:1
ESV When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
Comment: In English we don’t “go to law,” we “go to court” or seek a judgment in a case.
TNIV …do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment…?
NET …does he dare go to court before the unrighteous…?

Acts 6:7
ESV And the word of God continued to increase…
Comment: A message doesn’t “increase” (except in volume) it “spreads,” as almost all versions have it.
TNIV So the word of God spread (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV; REB; NLT; NET, etc.)

Luke 12:51
ESV Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Comment: We don’t normally say, “give peace,” but rather “bring” or “establish” it.
TNIV to bring peace on earth (cf. NRSV; NET; NLT, etc.)

Luke 24:47
ESV Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise…
Comment: It is not that Christ “should” suffer, but that he “will” or “would” suffer.
TNIV …The Messiah will suffer and rise… (NKJV; NRSV; etc.)
NET that the Christ would suffer and would rise… (cf. NASB)

Rom. 15:13
ESV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
Comment: The phrase “in believing” doesn’t quite go with “all joy and peace.”
TNIV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
NET Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him,

Rom. 14:11

ESV “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
Comment: “Confess to God” is odd here. Confess what? The Greek verb exomologeō here means either “acknowledge” or “praise.” The ESV and TNIV both miss the idiom.
TNIV “…every tongue will confess to God.”
NET “…every tongue will give praise to God.”
“…every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Rom. 14:7
ESV For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
Comment: This is not about living “to the Lord” (whatever that means) but living “for the Lord” —a dative of advantage. Both the ESV and TNIV miss the collocation.
TNIV For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone.
NET For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself.
NASU For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;

Rom. 12:11
ESV Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Comment: Slothful in zeal?
TNIV Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,
NET Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit,

1Tim. 1:5
ESV The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Comment: Combining “aim” and “charge” makes Paul sound more military than exhortational.
TNIV The goal of this command is love,
NASU But the goal of our instruction is love

1 Timothy 5:19
ESV Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Comment: “Admit a charge” is an unusual English collocation.
TNIV Do not entertain an accusation against an elder ….
NET Do not accept an accusation against an elder…

Matt. 7:16
ESV Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Comment You don’t “gather” grapes or figs; you pick them.
TNIV Do people pick grapes from thornbushes (cf. NLT; REB, etc.)

Luke 24:17
ESV And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”
Comment: You would normally “have a conversation,” not “hold a conversation”
TNIV He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

Luke 22:40
ESV “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Comment We would normally say either “pray that you won’t give in to temptation,” or “pray that you won’t be tempted.” The TNIV’s “fall into temptation” (cf. NET) is only a little better.
NLT2 “…give in to temptation.”

Luke 21:7
ESV “Teacher, when will these things be…?”
Comment: Events don’t usually “be.” They happen or occur.
TNIV “when will these things happen?”
NASB “when therefore will these things happen?” (cf. NET; NLT)

Luke 22:49
ESV And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”
Comment We normally see “what was coming” or “what was about to happen.” Most other literal versions get this one right (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV, etc.).
TNIV what was going to happen

Matt. 1:22
ESV All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
Comment: More natural to say the Lord spoke “through” the prophet. Most literal versions get this right (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV, etc.).
TNIV … through the prophet

Acts 21:5
ESV When our days there were ended, we departed…
Comment: Unnatural English.
TNIV When it was time to leave; NET When our time was over,


10 thoughts on “ESV #6, by Mark Strauss

  1. mashmouth says:

    oh my. This takes criticism to a whole new level.
    It seems on most of those comments, I can realize and come away with the meaning of the verse in context. Also, I will have another version generally handy.
    But I comment mainly to say “wow, how much time did it take you to create all these ESV bashes?” Seriously, if one doesn’t care for it or prefer it, then use the one you prefer. But if it is to show those who use the version their clear subordinate position to some other wise perspective, your point is clear.

  2. mashmouth says:

    oops/ my bad.
    I apologize for not reading the clearly described section at top right of the page.
    This is a page for just that sort of thing.
    Thanks for your understanding, and I shant stay long.

  3. Dru says:

    This is fascinating, and some of these examples are excellent.
    As soon as one looks at it in this context, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” sounds really mangled.

    However, I’d class some of the others as either a bit picky, or simply condemning one lot of translators for having different priorities to ones own (see my comment on this a few days ago).

    For example, ‘grapes gathered from thornbushes’. Yes, the normal verb in modern English is ‘picked’, but ‘gathered’ gives an alliteration and ‘picked’ doesn’t.

    My understanding is that part of the ESV’s approach is to try and provide a translation which is within the descent of the AV, without being as restricted as say the NKJV. A phrase like “Teacher, when will these things be…?” is an example of this. I assume one of the reasons for this is so that Christians of different ages are quoting things that sound familiar to each each other. Those of us who learnt our memorised verses in older translations are not too far away from what is being read to us. One of the weaknesses of most modern translations – even the one I really like and use as my normal Bible – is that they aren’t as easy to memorise as the AV or the original RSV.

    I’d regard ‘gathered’ as a legitimate choice, even if it isn’t necessarily even the choice I’d have made.

    Likewise, ‘stopping’ mouths. I agree that mouths are more often ‘shut’, but ‘stopped’ is quite often used in various ways in normal speech. It does give a nice forceful feeling of someone putting a metaphorical plug in a mouth, rather than just closing it. Perhaps it would be better with the addition of ‘up’, but either way, I’d regard this as well within the range of legitimate choice.

    Another one, from the previous selection:-
    “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much.”

    The comment is “The woman’s sins were not forgiven because she loved much (which would be salvation by works).”

    I do not have the knowledge of the original text to be able to judge this one, but it is important not to choose which way to translate a verse simply because the alternative doesn’t fit what we would like it to say. There’s quite a lot in the gospels themselves that could be interpreted as suggesting that Jesus does not make the same distinction between faith and works as we’d sometimes like him to do. What for example is the ‘correct’ meaning of ‘as’ in “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us’?

    I think it is at least possible that one of the things that brought the woman to faith was that for all her sins, she had a great capacity to love. I do not have the knowledge to be able to speak on this one, but if so, the TNIV version that is cited carries more of that flavour than the NET one. Both the AV and RSV have a simple ‘for’. Perhaps the translators of the ESV took the view that if the original is not precise enough to be able to adopt a different translation, they would stick with the conjugation in those translations unless they thought it was actually wrong! If so, again, I’d say that is a legitimate choice, and should not be condemned even if it isn’t necessarily the choice one would have made oneself.

  4. John says:

    Dru, you use “one” correctly…amazing! There’s so few left! One must say it is a rare delight to find one who knows about that old feature. : )

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