ESV #7, by Mark Strauss

[Note from Wayne: Reformatting each paragraph, boldfacing, etc. is taking up too much of my time. So for this section I have copied from a pre-conference edition of the paper in Microsoft Word, instead of from Mark’s “final” PDF document. Copying from MS Word retains boldfacing and underlining (which I have not had time to include in previous posts) but confuses paragraphing. There seems to be a conflict over paragraphing between MS Word and WordPress. To save time, let’s live with it for now. We are nearing the end of this series. At the end I will include a link to the latest official PDF version of Mark’s paper. I hope you are benefitting from this series. Obviously, not everyone will agree with Mark’s analysis for each verse, but I hope that there can be agreement that further revision was needed to bring the RSV text up to current standards of good literary English to produce the ESV. Hopefully, input from scholars such as Dr. Strauss will benefit the ESV revision committee, just as similar input benefits the revision committees for TNIV, NET, NLT, HCSB, ISV, and other current English Bible versions.]

ESV Archaisms

Archaisms are also often literal fallacies, but this category also applies to words or phrases that were likely retained because they sounded “biblical,” which normally means “Elizabethan”— entering the language through the King James Version. We must ask whether these expressions would be considered normal English today.

Matt. 1:18

ESV When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together

Comment: Both “betrothed” and “came together” are archaic. Nobody in English today say would say “though betrothed, my wife and I had not yet come together when I started college.”

TNIV His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

NLT His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place

Matt. 1:18

ESV …she was found to be with child,

Comment: The ESV is not literal here (the Greek idiom is “having in belly”), so this can only be classified as an archaism. Of course I would never say today my wife is “with child” unless I were trying to sound archaic and “biblical.”

TNIV …she was found to be pregnant,

REB …it was discovered… that she was pregnant

Matt. 1:25

ESV Joseph… knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

Comment: The euphemism “knew her not” is both awkward and archaic. Reverse this to normal English word order —“he did not know her”—and I think everyone would agree this is inadequate. The TNIV’s “had no union with her” is not much better. Phrases like “marital relations” or “sexual relations” are much clearer and still euphemistic.

TNIV Joseph…had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.

NET did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son,

NLT Joseph… did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born.

Mark 12:20

ESV “there were seven brothers…the first one took a wife,”

Comment: No one in contemporary English says “I took a wife.” This archaism is unlikely to be used today even in the context of an arranged marriage.

TNIV “…the first one married,”

NRSV “…the first one married,”

1 Cor. 10:26 (Ps. 24:1)

ESV “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

Comment: “The fullness thereof” is not contemporary English. The Greek idiom to plērōma autēs means “everything in it” or “the things it produces.” No one speaking English would say, “I own that farm and the fullness thereof.”

TNIV “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

HCSB the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.”

Acts 15:25

ESV it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men…

Comment: “Came to one accord” is not contemporary English. I would never say “the school board came to one accord,” but rather “they reached a unanimous decision” or “they all agreed.”

TNIV So we all agreed to choose some men…

NET we have unanimously decided to choose men…

2 Tim. 2:19

ESV Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.

Comment: “Depart from iniquity” is archaic. “Iniquity” is adikias, meaning unrighteousenss, wickedness or injustice. We would never say of someone who turned away from a sinful life that “he departed from iniquity.”

TNIVturn away from wickedness.

NLT turn away from evil.

Deut. 19:3

ESV set apart three cities…so that any manslayer can flee to them.

Comment: “Manslayer” is surely archaic.

TNIV …so that anyone who kills someone else may flee there.

REB that anyone who commits manslaughter can flee to these cities.

Acts 15:18

ESV says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.

Comment: Whether in poetry or not, “known from of old” is not English. Known “from ages past” or “from long ago” would also be poetic, but not so archaic.

TNIVknown from long ago.

NETknown from long ago.

Luke 1:15

ESV And he must not drink wine or strong drink

Comment: Sicera refers to fermented beverages other than wine, usually beer (= grain alcohol). Nobody today uses the phrase “strong drink,” which for modern people suggests distilled beverages, which were unknown in the ancient world.

TNIV …wine or other fermented drink, (cf. NLT)

HCSB …wine or beer,

Acts 2:3

ESV And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them…

TNIV They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire

NET And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them…

Acts 2:4

ESV And they…began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

TNIV …as the Spirit enabled them.

NRSV …as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 7:3

ESV Go out from your land and from your kindred

TNIV Leave your country and your people,

NET Go out from your country and from your relatives,

Matt. 26:7

ESV she poured it [the ointment] on his head as he reclined at table.

TNIV as he was reclining at the table.

NRSVas he sat at the table.

Matt. 21:19

ESV And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it…

TNIV Seeing a fig tree by the road

NASU Seeing a lone fig tree by the road… (cf. NRSV; NKJV; HCSB; NET etc.)

Matt. 8:26

ESV “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

Comment: An archaism. There is no “O” in the Greek, which is one word, oligopistoi.

TNIVYou of little faith,

NASB you of little faith,

Luke 1:25

ESVThus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Comment: Three awkward English phrases.

TNIV The Lord has done this for me… In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people

Luke 24:29

ESV “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”

TNIV “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

HCSB “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.”

Luke 23:41

ESVAnd we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds;”

TNIVWe are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

Luke 23:12

ESV And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

TNIV before this they had been enemies.

Acts 8:2

ESV Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.

Comment: In English we would never say “make great lamentations.” The collocation means to “mourn deeply” or to “lament loudly.”

TNIV Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.

HCSB But devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him.

Rev. 21:16

ESV The city lies foursquare,

TNIV The city was laid out like a square,

NASB The city is laid out as a square,

Genesis 1:29 (1061 times in the ESV)

ESV And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed

Comment: The English word “behold” occurs 1061 times in the ESV, usually rendering the Hebrew hinneh or the Greek idou. This is a difficult one for translators, since virtually no one speaking English uses the word this way. I can’t imagine exclaiming to my wife, “Behold, the beautiful sunset!” We would only use it in idiomatic expressions like “She’s a sight to behold!” So how should the term be translated? Sometimes “Look!” “See!” or “Listen!” works well, but in most cases the sense is much softer than this, and introducing any word creates unnatural English. Here we have tension between reproducing normal English and providing a window onto the Hebrew or Greek. My counsel would be for literal versions to retain “behold” and for standard English versions to either drop it or use “look” or “see” when appropriate.

TNIV Then God said, “I give you every seed–bearing plant

REB God also said, ‘Throughout the earth I give you all plants that bear seed

NRSV God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed

NLT Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant


15 thoughts on “ESV #7, by Mark Strauss

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    On Matthew 26:7, I’m not sure what the issue is, in the absence of any explanation. Is it the difference between “reclined” and “was reclining”? Or is it the concept of reclining? The problem here is that it is not the ESV wording but the actual custom described which is archaic, or more precisely culturally strange as reclining at table is still the norm in some oriental countries. So, TNIV is a little better than ESV, but we really should keep “reclined” or a synonym.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Peter wondered:

    On Matthew 26:7, I’m not sure what the issue is, in the absence of any explanation.

    Peter, as I have worked with Mark’s paper, in various drafts, I sense that he was rushed as the deadline approached to leave for ETS with his paper. Matt. 26:7 was one where Mark apparently did not have time to include an explanation. I flagged some other places like that in my email exchanges with him. Perhaps he will find time in the future to continue revising his paper, adding more explanations.

    As a speaker of one dialect of American English, I am guessing that Mark was keying into the un-American sound of “at table” in Matt. 26:7, just as we Americans are wordier and include “the” when we hear many Brits speak of someone being “in hospital” or having gone “to hospital.”

    Interestingly, those English versions which remain in the Tyndale-KJV tradition seem to have more Britishisms than versions which are produced from scratch on this side of the Atlantic. And, as you probably know, American Christians often feel that British English in Bibles or heard from British preachers sounds “holier” than American English. Somehow, I have my doubts that Brits return the favor when they hear American preachers or read Bibles written in American English.

  3. Tim says:

    “Somehow, I have my doubts that Brits return the favor when they hear American preachers or read Bibles written in American English.”

    Aye. LOL!

    I mean come on, it’s our language, so it should be written as such. Just as a little aside, my daughter used to teach English in Japan. She told me that ‘English’ English teachers got more students than ‘American’ English teachers, as they considered American English second rate.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    Wayne, it depends on the American English. The style of some of your wackier preachers, and even of your president-elect, comes over to us as “holy” in a not entirely positive sense. But then it’s nice that American Christians find our language holy, because American film-makers seem to find it villainous, although it’s good that it’s usually spoken by cultured and refined villains.

    I had to look for the context of “at the table” in TNIV. As the home of Simon has already been mentioned in the previous verse, a scenario has been evoked which would include a dining table, and so it is OK in my dialect to use the definite article here. Otherwise it would have to be “at a table”. I do find “at table” a little strange, but it didn’t occur to me that this might be the point Mark had in mind here.

  5. danny says:

    I thought for sure that the problem was the lack of an article. It does sound strange, at least to an American. To be sure, there are some instances in English that we don’t use an article: “she’s at school.” “At table” doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to that category.

  6. Nick Carter says:

    I’m not sure I actually agree with your comment on Matt. 1:25. I can see changing word order to match modern english (“knew her not” becoms “did not know her”) but to drop the euphemism would be a poor treatment of the Greek. First, ginosko meant more than just sex. If it were sex outside of marriage, it would have been porneo. However, ginosko means an overall deep relationship that (in the instance of a marriage relationship) includes sex.

    Second, It’s actually quite significant that the text uses “ginosko” to indicate a deep, intimate relationship when you consider other uses of that word in the Greek. Consider the term PROginosko, or “to know beforehand,” translated foreknowledge. It’s not just a knowledge of facts, but rather that God had a deep, intimate love for His elect before creation. Think also of Jesus saying, “depart from me, I never KNEW you.”

    If we don’t perpetuate some of the euphemisms in our translations, then people might miss some of them in important contexts.

  7. Tim says:


    Thanks for the Strauss article. I have enjoyed reading his comments and the lively debate. I really don’t have a horse in this race, so the different perspectives on the ESV are interesting.

    I would make one comment on Matthew 1:18: After thinking about it, I decided to look up some commentaries (NAB,NJB,ESVSB,TNIVSB) on the concept of “betrothal”, and it seems to me that simply translating it as “engaged” to give it a modern equivalence may be a bit misleading. From my understanding, back in those days one who was betrothed was closer to being a “husband” rather than our idea of “fiance”. And certainly in society today, where “engagements” break up all the time, translating this term simply as “engagement” could fail to show how firm the betrothal between two people were back then. I don’t think there is anything wrong with maintain certain words in a translation that may force people to look them up or consult a good commentary.

  8. Dru says:

    I have to admit I’m puzzled by this.

    There’s a difference between ‘in hospital’ or ‘to hospital’ and ‘in the hospital’ or ‘to the hospital’. ‘In hospital’ is general. It means you are in a hospital. The significant point is that you’ve gone somewhere medical. ‘In the hospital’ means the hospital is a specific hospital, not necessarily mentioned because speaker and hearer know which one it is already. There’s something significant about which one – even if it’s not that important.

    The same distinction potentially exists between ‘at table’, i.e. ‘eating’, ‘having a meal’ and ‘at the table’, meaning more ‘at our table’, or in this case at Simon’s table. Because most of us eat sitting round one table at a time, which has domestic resonance, the core of home life, ‘the table’ is more usual, as in ‘don’t leave the table before you’ve finished eating/I’ve told you you can’ or whatever.

    It’s the same difference as between ‘she’s at school’, i.e. ‘it’s during the daytime; she isn’t at home’ and ‘she’s at the school’, i.e. the little red schoolhouse on the hill with the bell on top of it.

    Most of us instinctively make these choices as we speak without noticing we’re doing it. It’s only when we are translating what somebody else said that it suddenly becomes an issue.

    On that basis, perhaps in this text, ‘at the table’ might be better. I’m not though convinced this is significant enough to argue about it.

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    Tim, you’re right, there is an important difference between the pre-marriage relationship Joseph had with Mary and an engagement. Whether or not the English word “betrothal” adequately captures that difference in something that needs to be researched and discussed.

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    Nick, indeed

    It’s actually quite significant that the text uses “ginosko” to indicate a deep, intimate relationship when you consider other uses of that word in the Greek.

    In fact more than this, in the context what is significant is that it was a sexual relationship.

    The trouble is that the English word “know” does not “indicate a deep, intimate relationship”, and certainly not a sexual one, but not much more than a casual acquaintance. In English we might say that a man was married, and presumably having normal marital relations, but didn’t really know his wife until some time of difficulty which brought them close together and deepened their relationship. Of course this idiom has no sexual connotations at all. I suspect that readers of this passage in ESV who don’t already know the story (if there are any) would very likely understand the passage along these lines, that the birth of Jesus was what restored the deep relationship broken by the revelation of verse 18. And so they would fail to understand the main point of the passage, which is that Mary was a virgin up to the time of Jesus’ birth.

    So an adequate translation has to find an English term which “indicate[s] a deep, intimate relationship” and in fact a sexual one. TNIV’s “had no union with her” may also be weak in that it focuses too much on the mechanical sexual aspect, but at least it clearly brings out the point that Mary remained a virgin. But can you suggest anything better? I can’t find a good rendering in any of the Bibles on my shelf.

  11. Dru says:

    I don’t think ‘know’ does mean ‘have a deep intimate emotional relationship’. That’s reading into first and seventeenth century understandings of life, aspirations for and understandings about married life more appropriate to the twentieth. I think ‘know’ is seventeenth century English for what we now mean by ‘consummate’. That is definitely not porneo. It is the opposite. It is what makes a marriage a marriage. Under English law at the time, it actually turned an engagement – i.e. a betrothal – into a marriage irrespective of a ceremony.

    I also think that virtually everybody down until the very recent past indeed (the last 15 years) will have understood these passages in this way. Irrespective of the differences of detail between cultures, this will have given them a reasonable working understanding of the significance of what the passages are describing.

    It is slightly odd that I can’t think of a translation that uses the word consummate, which I’d regard as the normal modern expression to describe what the passages are actually getting at.

  12. says:

    Thinking further overnight about my last comment and the earlier comments about ginosko, I’ve always assumed the use of ‘know’ as a euphemism was conventional C16, C17 language. It would be interesting to know whether that was actually so, or whether it entered C17 English because Bible translators used it in these passages in scripture as a convenient way to translate a Greek word which was already a euphemism in Greek.

  13. Dru says:

    Thanks Peter. I haven’t got a copy of the Message.

    Meanwhile, I’ve checked electronic versions of Geneva, Tyndale and Wycliffe, which also all have know. I’ve also checked the OED which thinks the usage was originally a hebraism that passed into Greek and Latin. It’s recorded in English by 1200, and Shakespeare, nor surprisingly, puns on it. The latest example seems to be 1623. So it might already have sounded slightly archaic, even biblish by the time the AV kept it.

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