ESV #12, by Mark Strauss

Mistranslated Genitives

First-year Greek students are often taught to translate genitives with the English prepositional phraes “of + NOUN,” as in “the word of God.” They quickly learn, however, that this is a gross simplification of the multitude of genitival functions. Unfortunately, literal versions often default to the “of” construction without due consideration of the meaning of the genitive phrase in context. Here are a few examples from the ESV of genitives that are obscure, nonsensical, or misleading.

Heb. 1:3

ESV he [Christ] upholds the universe by the word of his power

Comment: Nonsensical (word that his power possesses?). This is an attributive genitive, meaning “his powerful word”

TNIV his powerful word (cf, NIV, NET, HCSB, GNT, NRSV).

Luke 24:49

ESV And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.

Comment: Jesus is not sending the promise, but what his Father promised—the Holy Spirit. This is a subjective genitive.

TNIV I am going to send you what my Father has promised;

HCSB And look, I am sending you what My Father promised.

Mark 4:5

ESV and immediately it [the seed] sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.

Comment: Awkward, non-English phrase.

TNIV …because the soil was shallow.

HCSB … since it didn’t have deep soil.

Rom. 6:4

ESV we too might walk in newness of life.

Comment: This is an attributed genitive, meaning “a new life” (cf. NJB, GW, NLT, TEV, CEV).

TNIV we too may live a new life

NET we too may live a new life

John 5:29

ESV those who have done good to the resurrection of life

Comment: ESV sounds like “life” is being resurrected, rather than life as the destination of the resurrection. This is a genitive of destination.[1]

TNIV those who have done what is good will rise to live

NET the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life

Rom. 8:2

ESV For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus …

Comment: “Spirit of life” sounds like the vibrancy of life, rather than the Holy Spirit who gives life (a genitive of product[2]).

TNIV …the law of the Spirit who gives life

NET …the law of the life-giving Spirit

Rom. 8:21

ESV the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Comment: Nonsensical English. Glory is free? (The NET reflects an attributive genitive.[3])

TNIVthe freedom and glory of the children of God.

NET the glorious freedom of God’s children

2Cor. 3:7

ESV Now if the ministry of death…came with such glory..

Comment: The ESV suggests that the ministry is death, when in fact it is the OT system of law. This is a genitive of product.[4]

TNIV the ministry that brought death,

NET the ministry that produced death

Eph. 1:17

ESV the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,

Comment: Does God beget glory? This is an attributive genitive, meaning “glorious Father.”[5]

TNIV the glorious Father (cf. HCSB, GW, NLT, TEV, CEV)

HCSB the glorious Father

1 Thess. 1:3

ESV We recall…your…steadfastness of hope

Comment: No English speaker would use this expression.

TNIV endurance inspired by hope

NLT2 the enduring hope you have

Heb. 2:9

ESV crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.

Comment: ESV makes it sound like death suffers.

TNIV because he suffered death (cf. NET, REB, NLT, etc.)

2Pet. 3:4

ESV They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?”

Comment: The ESV makes it sound like these scoffers are asking where the promise is, rather than questioning Christ’s return. This is an objective genitive.[6]

TNIV They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”

NET and saying, “Where is his promised return?” (cf. REB)

Heb. 10:7

ESV as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

Comment: “Scroll of the book” is redundant and nonsensical. Is it a scroll or a book? This is an idiomatic way of speaking of the scroll itself by referring to its pages or rolled sheets.

TNIV it is written about me in the scroll (cf. REB).

James 1:10

ESV like a flower of the grass

Comment: Odd expression. The idiom probably means a wild flower.

TNIV like a wild flower (cf. NET, REB, etc.)


[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 101.

[2] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 106.

[3] Wallace, Greek, Grammar, 86-87.

[4] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 106.

[5] Wallace, Greek, Grammar, 86-87.

[6] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 116-118.


4 thoughts on “ESV #12, by Mark Strauss

  1. John says:

    Some of these examples make sense in and of themselves, but finally, a section of his paper that is actually constructive! Woo hoo! : )

  2. Josie Sterne says:

    I wonder what you think of ESV translation of Psalm 35:13 which I think fails to give the literal translation? Surely prayers can go unanswered by God because of sinful attitudes, or unconfessed sin or in Job’s case because God was testing his righteousness.

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