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.
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!
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,
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,
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.)
ESV “Lord, 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?
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.
TNIV …and 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.
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…
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?
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,
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.”
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,
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
ESV And there followed him a great multitude of the people
TNIV A large number of people followed him,
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)
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.”
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.”
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.
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)
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.