Awkward and Unnatural Style in the ESV
There are thousands of examples where the ESV is not necessarily wrong or exegetically inaccurate, but is awkward and unnatural English. Examples can be found on virtually every page. Here is a small sampling.
ESV “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man,
Comment: The phrase “children of man” is very odd, with a plural followed by a singular. Passive construction is also awkward
TNIV Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins…
ESV I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Comment: The cognate accusative in Greek (lit. “to be baptized a baptism”) just doesn’t work in English. We would never say “they are going to baptize with baptisms on Sunday.” Even the NASB catches the idiom.
TNIV But I have a baptism to undergo… (cf. NET; NASB, etc.)
ESV “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,”
Comment: “Fear to take” is an unnatural idiom. We would say “Don’t be afraid to take…”
TNIV “…do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,”
NASB “… do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” (cf. NET; REB; NJB; etc.)
ESV Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
TNIV Each day has enough trouble of its own.
NASB Each day has enough trouble of its own.
ESV For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Comment: “Leisure to eat” sounds like the idiom of a British country club.
TNIV they did not even have a chance to eat,
NET and there was no time to eat
ESV “he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.”
TNIV …because they considered him a prophet
NASB …because they regarded John as a prophet.
(NASB; cf. TNIV; NET; NLT)
Comment: Though a possible use of “hold,” this is awkward English. Idiomatic English would say they “considered him,” “regarded him” or “believe John was” (NLT). The ESV is trying to translation the Greek echō “literally” as “have” or “hold,” resulting in unnatural English. But the semantic range of echō is much larger than “have” or “hold.”
ESV And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”
Comment: Neither “lifted their voices” nor “the likeness of men” are natural English idioms. We would never say, the crowd in the stadium “lifted their voices.” We would say they “shouted” or “cried out.”
TNIV …they shouted…“The gods have come down to us in human form!”
NET …they shouted…“The gods have come down to us in human form!”
ESV And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Comment: “By the hand of” is unnatural English and surely a dead metaphor in Greek. It means “by means of,” “through the agency of,” or (most naturally) “with.” I would never say, “I sent that exam home by the hand of his wife.” That is Biblish.
TNIV …sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
God’s Word … and sent their contribution with Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
ESV unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Comment: The ESV’s “turn and become” is a very odd expression. Turn where?
TNIV unless you change and become like little children,
NLT unless you turn from your sins and become like little children,
HCSB unless you are converted and become like children
ESV He sent and had John beheaded in the prison,
Comment: The ESV’s “sent and had…” is very odd. Sent what? The Greek reads (lit.) “sending, he executed John.” The participle pempsas simply indicates agency. Herod didn’t do it himself; he sent orders or sent soldiers to accomplish the task. The TNIV captures the idiom accurately: “he…had John beheaded.”
TNIV he…had John beheaded in the prison.
HCSB So he sent orders and had John beheaded in the prison.
ESV You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Comment: In English to “speak good” means to be eloquent or clear. The ESV sounds like it is saying those who are evil don’t talk very well. The phrase means to say good things (NRSV) or to speak what is good (NASU). The ESV’s “out of the abundance” is simply obscure.
TNIV …how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
NET How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart.
ESV “Why do you think evil in your hearts?
Comment: English normally requires an object in such sentences.
TNIV …“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?
HCSB …“Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?
Matt. 1:21 (cf. Matt. 1:25; Luke 1:31)
ESV She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus
Comment: This is a unnatural English idiom. I would not say, “I called my son’s name Daniel.” I would say, “I called my son Daniel” or “I named my son Daniel.”
TNIV he will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,
NET he will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus
ESV …he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness…
Comment: “Works done by us in righteousness” is nonsensical English. The Greek means “righteous works that we have done.”
TNIV …not because of righteous things we had done…
NET …not by works of righteousness that we have done…
ESV do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Comment: Because so many of us memorized this as children, the phrasing here may sound “poetic,” but it is in fact tortured English. In normal English we would never say “let your request be made known to God.”
TNIV …present your requests to God.
NET …tell your requests to God.
ESV So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Comment: “An heir through God” is a very strange English expression. The preposition dia indicates agency, so a normal English way to say this would be “…and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (NIV) or, as in the REB: “and if a son, an heir by God’s own act.”
ESV and if he sins against you seven times in the day
Comment: Odd English. Shouldn’t this be “in one day” or “in a day”?
TNIV …seven times in a day (cf. NET; HCSB; REB; etc.)