ESV #10, by Mark Strauss

Word Order Problems

Sometimes literal versions retain Hebrew or Greek word order without due consideration for normal English style. This can create awkward English and also miscommunication. The ESV sometimes sounds like Yoda from the Star Wars trilogy.

Matt. 7:27

ESV And the rain fell, and the floods came…and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Comment: The ESV is tortured English here. The HCSB gets the word order right, but produces an unnatural construction, implying that the collapse was a great thing.

TNIV …and it fell with a great crash.”

HCSB it collapsed. And its collapse was great!


Phil. 3:20

ESV But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Comment: This is both a word order problem and a translation error. The ESV makes it sound like we are in heaven awaiting a Savior, rather than that we are awaiting a Savior from heaven.

TNIV …in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

NET…in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Matt. 24:32

ESV From the fig tree learn its lesson

Comment: Placing the preposition phrase first and then adding a resumptive pronoun “its” creates very strange English. Though happy with it Yoda would be.

TNIV Now learn this lesson from the fig tree

NET Learn this parable from the fig tree

1 Cor. 15:41

ESV There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Comment: It is odd to say “There is one glory of the sun.” Better English would say “The sun has one kind of glory”

TNIV The sun has one kind of splendor….

NLT The sun has one kind of glory

Psalm 37:1 cf. 37:7, 8, 19

ESV Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

Comment: Nearly everyone who has reviewed the ESV has noted the large number of archaic word orderings with English “not.” Interestingly, the ESV team did change many, but not all, of these archaisms to the normal English word order.

TNIV Do not fret because of those who are evil.

NASB Do not fret because of evildoers,

Matt. 24:30

ESV Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man

Comment: Word order is backwards.

TNIV At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,

NET Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, (cf. NASB; NRSV, etc.)

Matt. 18:21

ESVLord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Comment It sounds like Peter is asking how many times his brother is likely to sin against him!

TNIV “Lord, how many times shall I forgive a brother or sister who sins against me?

Matt. 7:13-14

ESV “For the gate is wide… and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow… and those who find it are few.

Comment: Awkward word order.

TNIVand many enter through it and only a few find it.

NASB and there are many who enter through it…. and there are few who find it.

Luke 6:45

ESV The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil…

Comment: Another odd word order.

TNIV Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart…

Luke 13:23

ESV “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

TNIV “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

NRSV Lord, will only a few be saved?

Luke 22:29

ESV and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,

Comment: The word “kingdom” is hanging awkwardly at the end of the line.

TNIV And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me,

HCSB I bestow on you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one on Me,

Luke 21:6

ESV “…the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Comment: The subject “not one stone…” should be first. Also, the relative clause at the end is awkward.

TNIV “…the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

Luke 22:47

ESV While he was still speaking, there came a crowd,

Comment: Should be “a crowd came,” not “there came a crowd.”

TNIV While he was still speaking a crowd came up,

Luke 23:15

ESV “Look [why not ‘Behold’?] , nothing deserving death has been done by him.”

Comment: Backwards English. It should be “he has done nothing deserving of death.”

TNIV as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.

NRSV Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death


Luke 23:27

ESV And there followed him a great multitude of the people

TNIV A large number of people followed him,

Luke 24:24

ESV Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

Comment: TNIV also places “him” first, perhaps for emphasis. But the NRSV and NET are more natural English with little change in emphasis.

TNIV but him they did not see.

NRSV But they did not see him. (cf. NET)

Luke 18:16

ESV “Let the children come to me…for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

TNIV “…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

NASB “…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Matt. 9:29

ESV Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

Comment: The TNIV improves the ESV’s “be it done to you,” but the NET has the more natural word order.

TNIV According to your faith let it be done to you

NET Let it be done for you according to your faith.”

Luke 2:20

ESV And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Comment: Tacking this phrase onto the end makes it sound like they were told to praise God, instead of that these events occurred just as the angel said they would.

TNIV glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 1:53

ESV he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Comment: The ESV is less parallel in the two lines and so less poetic, as well as more awkward.

TNIV He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (cf. NASU; NRSV)

1Cor. 15:31

ESV I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!

Comment: Awkward clause tacked on the end.

TNIV I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord.

NET Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(cont’d)

13 thoughts on “ESV #10, by Mark Strauss

  1. danny says:

    I remember debating word order in school. In Greek, word order can sometimes to be used for emphasis, translations preserving that word order (such as the ESV) presumably do so to keep the emphasis in place. My question is, do we actually use word order for emphasis in English? I’m hard pressed to think of an example, but perhaps we do. Can anyone think of examples?

  2. John says:

    None of this sounds like English that I either read, write, or speak. If word order is important in the original language, then I would think an interlinear translation would be the best for close word and sentence study. For English speaking people like myself, with no knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, I feel a literal translation, written in normal English, is the best we can do. I would suggest either the CSB or NKJV, depending on the textual basis for the translation you perfer.

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    I would suggest either the CSB or NKJV, depending on the textual basis for the translation you perfer.

    Right, John. The (H)CSB and NKJV both follow standard English word orders. I have not yet been able to find out why the ESV team chose not to revise the RSV to standard English word orders. The NASB, which used the same base translation (ASV) as the RSV, uses standard word orders. So does the NRSV which, like the ESV, is a revision of the RSV, which is a revision of the ASV. The NKJV follows standard word orders. Each of these translations (except for the HCSB) remains within the Tyndale-KJV tradition which is one of the selling points of the ESV.

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Danny asked:

    My question is, do we actually use word order for emphasis in English?

    Absolutely, we use altered word orders in English for contrast and emphasis:

    1. What do you like to eat for breakfast?

    2. Well, pancakes I don’t care for but bagels I like.

    Another example:

    “I like most aspects of my job, including the hours, pay, and compensation package. But the office gossip I really don’t like.”

    And another:

    1. I’ve heard that John has been kissing all the women in the office.
    2. Oh, no, no. Mary he kissed, but Liz, Jennifer, and Amber he just gave pecks on the cheek.

    These are simply examples I made up on the spur of the moment. I don’t know if I have ever used these word orders exactly like these, but I have used some similar to these. Perhaps others can cite examples which they have actually used or which they have seen used in written English.

    Altered word order for contrast and emphasis (and probably other functions, as well) has been studied extensively by English scholars. We alter word orders automatically, to vary rhetorical effect, without thinking twice about it.

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    Wayne, interestingly none of the examples you give, of fronting of an object seem to me correct good quality written English, although they are heard in conversation, and of course seen in poetry which is much more fluid in word order (and in which the fronting may be for other reasons than emphasis). In writing it would be better, at least in my dialect, to say for example “It was Mary that he kissed” or “Mary was the only one he kissed”. Even conversationally I would go for “But it’s the office gossip I really don’t like”, or else “But the office gossip – I really don’t like it” which is syntactically a quite different structure.

  6. danny says:

    Thanks, Wayne. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t speak that way very often, but I can understand how someone might. Or, I’d say it differently. So, instead of “…bagels I like”, I might say “bagels- I like those.” Make sense? Anyway, thanks for answering my question.

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    However, we do need to ask the question to the translation, “Has this properly captured original emphasis?” If the word order in the translation is there in order to convey a like original emphasis, then that’s a good thing. Though that still doesn’t excuse tortured English (unless the original author was making a point about tortured use of language). 🙂

    Reminds me of something: Winston Churchill is attributed with this response to someone correcting his use of prepositions: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

    Some might think it ironic, though actually it isn’t, this requirement for accurately translating emphasis will often mean a less literal translation. For example, the original may front the emphasized object. In English, it might be better to hold the reader in suspense until the end.

  8. Mike Sangrey says:

    I might add that it is very easy to “see” an emphasis in Greek that isn’t there simply because we’re interpreting the Greek according to English rules. The way to work through this difficulty is to let the meaning of the paragraph guide one’s decisions. If the emphasis propels the reader’s interpretation effort toward an accurate understanding of the paragraph, then it’s a win (and very likely a correct understanding of the emphasis). If it doesn’t move the reader toward that result, then incorporating the alleged emphasis isn’t very helpful, if at all.

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