ESV by Mark Strauss: links to each part

Here, for the convenience of readers coming to this late, are links to the 13 parts of Mark Strauss’ ETS paper on ESV:

  1. Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version, by Mark Strauss
  2. ESV #2, by Mark Strauss
  3. ESV #3, by Mark Strauss
  4. ESV #4, by Mark Strauss
  5. ESV #5, by Mark Strauss
  6. ESV #6, by Mark Strauss
  7. ESV #7, by Mark Strauss
  8. ESV #8, by Mark Strauss
  9. ESV #9, by Mark Strauss
  10. ESV #10, by Mark Strauss
  11. ESV #11, by Mark Strauss
  12. ESV #12, by Mark Strauss
  13. ESV #13, by Mark Strauss

See also:

ESV #13, by Mark Strauss


As noted earlier, this survey is just the tip of the iceberg. It should be evident, however, that the ESV needs a major revision with reference to its English style. I would recommend that the ESV committee enlist competent English stylists to carefully review the entire text with an eye toward standard English idiom.

There is an unfortunate tendency among biblical scholars—who live in the world of Hebrew and Greek—to think they are getting it “right” if they mimic the form of the original languages. The unfortunate result is a tendency to create “half-idioms” (half-English/half-Greek), transferring a few words of the original, but missing its meaning in standard English. This is what the ESV does when people speak “with a double heart” (Ps. 12:2), have “news in their mouths” (2Sam. 18:25), “go in and out among them” (Acts 1:21; 9:28), or “fill up the measure of their fathers” (Matt. 23:32). These are half-idioms—Biblish rather than English. As noted earlier, idioms work as a whole rather than through their individual parts. In translating the English idiom, “He’s really in a pickle,” it would be a mistake to preserve cucumbers in the translation. It is not the component parts but the statement as a whole that communicates its meaning.

Some critics have claimed that the only way to protect the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture is to translate literally. This, of course, is linguistic nonsense. The translation that best preserves the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture is one that clearly and accurately communicates the meaning of the text as the original author intended it to be heard. The Greek idioms that Paul or John or Luke used did not sound awkward, obscure or stilted to their original readers. They sounded like normal idiomatic Greek. Verbal and plenary inspiration is most respected when we allow the original meaning of the text to come through.

Asking the simple question, “Would anyone speaking English actually say this?” is a good test for standard English. This simple question could transform our Bible versions and bring them in line with the finest translation practices used around the world. We must remember that the ultimate goal of Bible translation is not to give our students a “crib” on their weekly Greek and Hebrew assignments, but to clearly and accurately communicate the meaning of God’s inspired and authoritative Word.

This concludes our postings of Mark Strauss’ paper. (Click here for the first post in this series on the ESV.) Thank you to each one who has interacted with the posts. You are welcome to continue interacting with them. The latest version of Dr. Strauss’ paper is available for download from my ESV Links webpage. Click here to download his paper from that webpage.

Dr. Strauss’ paper generated great interest at the ETS conference, and the interest continues as bloggers follow up on it. Here are some followup posts I am aware of:

We will add links to other followup posts as we become aware of them. If you know of any which are not yet in our list, please send to to me, either by email or in a comment on this post.

ESV #11, by Mark Strauss

Run-on Sentences and Tortured English

Greek loves long complex sentences with many subordinate clauses. English style favors shorter sentences. All English versions, including the ESV, break long Greek sentences into much shorter English ones (see, for example, Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 1:3-10). Yet at times the ESV retains long run-on sentences. Consider these examples:

Titus 2:11 ESV For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Eph. 6:18-20 ESV To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Comment This run-on sentence is awkward enough, but the phrase “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth” is truly tortured.

Col. 1:21-23 ESV And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Comment: Another awkward run-on sentence that completely loses the reader, with many non-standard English phrases. Reading this aloud in church would leave the speaker gasping for air.

Gal. 4:18-19

ESV It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Comment: Run-on sentence with confused logic. The REB captures much more naturally Paul’s sense: “To be the object of sincere attentions is always good, and not just when I am with you. You are my own children, and I am in labour with you all over again until you come to have the form of Christ.”

1 Cor. 15:1-2 ESV Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

Comment: ESV creates an awkward run-on sentence, with a hanging phrase at the end.

1 Thess. 4:1 ESV Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.


ESV #9, by Mark Strauss

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.

Mark 3:28

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…

Luke 12:50

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.)

Matt. 1:20

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.)

Matt. 6:34

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.

Mark 6:31

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

Matt. 14:5

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.


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.”

Acts 14:11

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!”

Acts 11:30

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.

Matt. 18:3

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

Matt. 14:10

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.

Matt. 12:34

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.

Matt. 9:4

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

Titus 3:4-5

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

Phil. 4:6

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.”

TNIVpresent your requests to God.

NETtell your requests to God.

Gal. 4:7

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.”

Luke 17:4

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.)


ESV #8, by Mark Strauss

Inconsistent Gender-Language in the ESV

The ESV arose in part as a response against the gender-inclusive language of other versions like the TNIV and the NLT. At the same time, the ESV revisers obviously recognized the major changes in gender-language taking place in English, since they removed the words “man” or “men” 671 times from the RSV![1]

While removing these masculine words in many cases, in many others where the context was equally inclusive, the terms were retained. Such inconsistency can create confusion for the reader, who cannot tell when the Hebrew or Greek behind the ESV is an inclusive term and when it is not. Consider the following examples.

Men or People?

All scholars agree that the primary sense of the Greek anthrōpos is “person” or “human” being,” not “man” (= male). The ESV recognizes this and often translates the term as “one” instead of “man.” Rom. 3:28 ESV reads, “For we hold that one (anthrōpos) is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” While someone might wonder how an “essentially literal” translation could justify translating a Greek word meaning “person” as “one,” at least the ESV has recognized that the Greek term is inclusive.

In many cases, the ESV uses inclusive language for anthrōpos. Rom. 10:5 ESV reads, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person (anthrōpos) who does the commandments shall live by them.” Similarly, Acts 10:28 ESV reads “…God has shown me that I should not call any person (anthrōpos) common or unclean.[2]

The ESV is not always consistent, however, and in many generic contexts the noun is translated “man” or “men.” 1 Thess. 2:4 reads, “we speak, not to please man (anthrōpoi), but to please God who tests our hearts.” “Man” here is the plural anthrōpoi, which clearly means “people.” Curiously, the ESV has changed a Greek plural into an English singular—exactly the kind of number change that some members of the ESV committee have condemned other versions for doing!

The same thing happens in Matt. 19:26: “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man (anthrōpoi—plural) this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Again, the ESV has changed a plural meaning “people” into a singular, and translated it “man.” Again in John 12:43 ESV: “for they loved the glory that comes from man (anthrōpoi—plural, meaning “people”) more than the glory that comes from God.”

While in some cases the plural anthrōpoi is translated “people,” in other cases it is translated “man” or “men” with apparently no difference in meaning. Consider these examples:

Rom. 5:18 ESV: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men (anthrōpoi), so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (anthrōpoi).”

Comment: Anthrōpoi clearly means “people”. We might expect that in a context about salvation, the translators would consider an inclusive term.

Matt. 4:19 ESV: “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (anthrōpoi).’”

Comment: The disciples were, of course, called to fish for people, not just men.

1 Cor. 2:5 ESV: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men (anthrōpoi) but in the power of God.”

Comment: This is surely human wisdom, not the wisdom of males.

There are many similar examples:

Eph. 4:8 ESV: “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men (anthrōpoi).’”

Matt. 10:32-33 ESV: “So every one who acknowledges me before men (anthrōpoi), I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men (anthrōpoi), I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Matt. 19:26 ESV: “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men (anthrōpoi) this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Rom. 1:18 ESV: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men (anthrōpoi) who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”

Sometimes the ESV is inconsistent in a single context. Matthew 12:11-12 reads “Which one (anthrōpos) of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man (anthrōpos) than a sheep!” The same Greek word is translated inclusively (“one”) in the first instance and as “man” in the second. In both, anthrōpos clearly refers to a human being.

Similar inconsistency appears in John 1:4 ESV: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men (anthrōpoi).” A few sentences later we read “The true light, which enlightens everyone (pas anthrōpos), was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV) Again, the same term is translated as “men” in one instance and “everyone” in the next.

Consider also 2Tim. 2:2: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men (anthrōpoi) who will be able to teach others also.” Although anthrōpoi normally means “people,” it is here translated “men,” presumabley because of the reference to teaching. Yet just a chapter later the same term is translated “people,” here in a context of sinful behavior: “For people (anthrōpoi) will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” (2Tim. 3:2).

Sons or Children?

Gender inconsistency also appears with reference to generational terms. The same Greek phrase, huioi tou Israēl is sometimes translated “sons of Israel” (Matt. 27:9; Rom. 9:27; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12) and other times “children of Israel” (Luke 1:16; Acts 7:23; 9:15), without any clear difference in meaning. Romans 9:27 reads, “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,” while Luke 1:16 reads, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”

Particularly striking is Acts 7:23, where the masculine term “brothers” is placed beside the inclusive term children: “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” Shouldn’t this be “brothers and sisters”?

Matt. 23:15 ESV: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” The Colorado Springs Guidelines (produced in 1997 in reaction against gender-inclusive Bible translation[3]) insist that huios must be translated as “son” rather than “child.” Strikingly, the only time the ESV translates the singular hiuos as “child” is in the phrase “child of hell.” Hell is gender-inclusive but heaven is not?

“Brothers” or “Brothers and Sisters”?

One of the most interesting gender issues related to the ESV concerns its translation of the Greek plural adelphoi, a term which can mean “siblings,” “brothers and sisters,” “brothers,” or “fellow believers” (BDAG). While the original draft of the Colorado Springs Guidelines asserted that adelphoi should always be translated “brothers,” this was quickly revised when the authors of the Guidelines were informed by Greek scholars that adelphoi was often used inclusively to refer to both men and women, i.e., siblings, or “brothers and sisters.”

This admission did not make it into the text of the ESV, but it did make it into the footnotes. While consistently translating adelphoi as “brothers” in the text, the ESV includes a footnote at its first occurrence in each NT book acknowledging that it actually means “brothers and sisters”:

*Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.

Consider, for example, Rom. 12:1 ESV, where Paul is certainly referring to all the members of the church: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,* by the mercies of God, at present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” One wonders why, if the ESV footnote acknowledges that adelphoi here means “brothers and sisters,” it was not translated as such. The most likely answer is that the translators were concerned about their constituents, who would have objected to this perceived condescension to a feminist agenda. All translation is to some extent political, and in this case perhaps it was deemed necessary to sacrifice accuracy for expediency.

[1] Confirmed by a comparative search on Accordance Bible software.

[2] Consider this surprising example, where the ESV uses “person” and the TNIV “man.” 1 Cor. 7:26 TNIV: “Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man (anthrōpos) to remain as he is.” 1 Cor. 7:26 ESV “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person (anthrōpos) to remain as he is.

[3]See Mark L. Strauss, “Linguistic and Hermeneutical Fallacies in the Guidelines Established at the ‘Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture’,” JETS 41/2 (June 1998) 239-262.


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


ESV #6, by Mark Strauss

Collocational Clashes in the ESV

Collocations are words that are used together in a language to express a particular meaning. For example, in English you “take a walk” but in Spanish you “give a walk” (dar un paseo). Spanish uses a different collocation to express the same meaning. Collocational clashes occur when translators render words literally without considering their collocational relationships in the target language. Here are some ESV examples.

Rom. 3:19
ESV Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped,
Comment: Mouths are not stopped; they are silenced or shut.
TNIV …so that every mouth may be silenced… (cf. NET; NRSV)
HCSB … so that every mouth may be shut… (cf. NASB)

Heb. 11:33
ESV who through faith…stopped the mouths of lions,”
Comment: Again, “stopping” a mouth in an odd collocation.
TNIV …shut the mouths of lions (cf. HCSB; NLT; NASU; NRSV; NET; REB, etc.)

Acts 20:9
ESV …he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
Comment: “Taken up dead” is an odd collocation.
TNIV …and was picked up dead.
NET …and was picked up dead.

1 Timothy 4:6
ESV If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus…
Comment: The natural collocation is to “point out to” (cf. TNIV; NASB; NET; HCSB)
TNIV If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters…
NET By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters…

Phil. 2:29
ESV So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
Comment: “All joy” makes little sense. Greek pas (“all”) can be used in an emphatic sense meaning “with great joy” or simply “joyfully.”
TNIV Welcome him in the Lord with great joy,
NET So welcome him in the Lord with great joy,

1Tim. 3:6
ESV He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Comment “Fall into the condemnation” is strange English.
TNIV …and fall under the same judgment”
NAB …incur the devil’s punishment”

Eph. 6:7
ESV …rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
Comment The whole sentence is awkward, but especially the collocation “service with a good will.” We normally speak of “willing” “cheerful” or “enthusiastic” service.
TNIV Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,
NRSV Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,

1Cor. 15:58
ESV …be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…
Comment “Abounding in the work” is an odd collocation. I can’t image someone today saying, “He abounds in the Lord’s work.”
TNIV …Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord…
NET Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord…

1Cor. 13:2
ESV …and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love…
Comment: “All faith” doesn’t make sense in English. The Greek collocation pas tēn pistin means either “sufficient faith” or “the kind of faith.”
TNIV and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love…
NLT2 and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others,

1Cor. 6:1
ESV When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
Comment: In English we don’t “go to law,” we “go to court” or seek a judgment in a case.
TNIV …do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment…?
NET …does he dare go to court before the unrighteous…?

Acts 6:7
ESV And the word of God continued to increase…
Comment: A message doesn’t “increase” (except in volume) it “spreads,” as almost all versions have it.
TNIV So the word of God spread (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV; REB; NLT; NET, etc.)

Luke 12:51
ESV Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Comment: We don’t normally say, “give peace,” but rather “bring” or “establish” it.
TNIV to bring peace on earth (cf. NRSV; NET; NLT, etc.)

Luke 24:47
ESV Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise…
Comment: It is not that Christ “should” suffer, but that he “will” or “would” suffer.
TNIV …The Messiah will suffer and rise… (NKJV; NRSV; etc.)
NET that the Christ would suffer and would rise… (cf. NASB)

Rom. 15:13
ESV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
Comment: The phrase “in believing” doesn’t quite go with “all joy and peace.”
TNIV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
NET Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him,

Rom. 14:11

ESV “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
Comment: “Confess to God” is odd here. Confess what? The Greek verb exomologeō here means either “acknowledge” or “praise.” The ESV and TNIV both miss the idiom.
TNIV “…every tongue will confess to God.”
NET “…every tongue will give praise to God.”
“…every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Rom. 14:7
ESV For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
Comment: This is not about living “to the Lord” (whatever that means) but living “for the Lord” —a dative of advantage. Both the ESV and TNIV miss the collocation.
TNIV For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone.
NET For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself.
NASU For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;

Rom. 12:11
ESV Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Comment: Slothful in zeal?
TNIV Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,
NET Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit,

1Tim. 1:5
ESV The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Comment: Combining “aim” and “charge” makes Paul sound more military than exhortational.
TNIV The goal of this command is love,
NASU But the goal of our instruction is love

1 Timothy 5:19
ESV Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Comment: “Admit a charge” is an unusual English collocation.
TNIV Do not entertain an accusation against an elder ….
NET Do not accept an accusation against an elder…

Matt. 7:16
ESV Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Comment You don’t “gather” grapes or figs; you pick them.
TNIV Do people pick grapes from thornbushes (cf. NLT; REB, etc.)

Luke 24:17
ESV And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”
Comment: You would normally “have a conversation,” not “hold a conversation”
TNIV He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

Luke 22:40
ESV “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Comment We would normally say either “pray that you won’t give in to temptation,” or “pray that you won’t be tempted.” The TNIV’s “fall into temptation” (cf. NET) is only a little better.
NLT2 “…give in to temptation.”

Luke 21:7
ESV “Teacher, when will these things be…?”
Comment: Events don’t usually “be.” They happen or occur.
TNIV “when will these things happen?”
NASB “when therefore will these things happen?” (cf. NET; NLT)

Luke 22:49
ESV And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”
Comment We normally see “what was coming” or “what was about to happen.” Most other literal versions get this one right (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV, etc.).
TNIV what was going to happen

Matt. 1:22
ESV All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
Comment: More natural to say the Lord spoke “through” the prophet. Most literal versions get this right (cf. NASB; NKJV; NRSV, etc.).
TNIV … through the prophet

Acts 21:5
ESV When our days there were ended, we departed…
Comment: Unnatural English.
TNIV When it was time to leave; NET When our time was over,


ESV #5, by Mark Strauss

Exegetical Errors in the ESV

All translations must make difficult exegetical decisions, and some errors are inevitable. Here are some examples where an overly literal approach contributes to errors in the ESV.

Luke 7:47
ESV Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”
Comment: The woman’s sins were not forgiven because she loved much (which would be salvation by works). Jesus’ parable teaches the opposite: gratitude results from forgiveness. She loved much because her sins were forgiven. Both TNIV and NET make this clear.
TNIV Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.
NET Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much.

Luke 1:15
ESV and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Comment: Luke does not mean that John will be filled with the Spirit “from” his mother’s womb, but
“already while in” his mother’s womb (see Luke 1:41, 44).
TNIV …even before he is born. (cf. NET; NRSV; NLT)
HCSB …while still in his mother’s womb. (cf. NASU)

Rom. 11:6
ESV But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Comment: The ESV implies that salvation once came by works, but it no longer does. The Greek ouketi is not being used temporally (“no longer”), but logically, meaning “it is therefore not the case that….”11 TNIV and HCSB get it right.
TNIV And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works…
HCSB Now if by grace, then it is not by works…


11 See Moo, Romans, 678, n. 42; cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1988) 639.


1Tim. 1:3
ESV remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,
Comment: Heterodidaskalō here likely means doctrinal errors. The ESV’s “different doctrine” is too weak.
TNIV …not to teach false doctrines
NET…not to spread false teachings

2Thess. 2:2
ESV we ask you, brothers… not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us…
Comment: “A spirit” will be misunderstood by most readers as an evil spirit or a demon. In this context is surely means a prophetic utterance. See the commentaries. “Shaken in mind” is also strange English.
TNIV …whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter…
REB …by any prophetic utterance, any pronouncement, or any letter…

Matt. 13:21
ESV As for what was sown on rocky ground…he has no root in himself, but endures for a while…
Comment: In addition to the very strange “no root in himself,” the ESV misses the Greek idiom proskairos estin, which means “is temporary.” The point is not that he is able to endure for a while, but that he is shortlived.
TNIV But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
NLT2 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long.

Gal. 3:5
ESV Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
Comment: The ESV makes it sound like God performs miracles by the works of the law. The TNIV and NET clarify this with “your.”
TNIV …by your observing the law, or by your believing what you heard?
NET by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Matt. 24:41
ESV Two women will be grinding at the mill…
Comment: The phrase en to mulo likely means “with a handmill,” not “at the mill.” See the commentaries.
TNIV …grinding with a handmill
NET …grinding with a mill


ESV #4, by Mark Strauss

ESV Lexical Errors and Problems

One of the more common errors of literal versions is the attempt to use only one English word for every Greek or Hebrew word. This error—common also to first year Greek students!—fails to recognize the semantic range of words. Here are a some examples in the ESV.

Gal. 5:14
ESV For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Comment The ESV’s “one word” is actually seven in English and six in Greek. Greek logos has a large semantic range (it doesn’t literally mean “word”!). Here it clearly means “statement” or “command.”
TNIV For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command…
HCSB For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement:

1 Cor. 1:18
ESV For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Comment The “word” here means the “message” of the cross. Even NJKV gets it right (“message”; cf. NRSV). Elsewhere the ESV translates logos as “message” (Mark 16:20). In 2 Cor. 5:19, logos is the “message” of reconciliation (cf. Heb. 2:2).
TNIV For the message of the cross is foolishness…
NET For the message about the cross is foolishness…

Matt. 22:36
ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Comment: Commentators agree that megalē is a Semitism for the superlative “greatest.”9
TNIV “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
NRSV “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”


9See D. Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (WBC 33A; Nashville: Thomas Nelsonm, 1993), and D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositors Bible Commentary (vol. 8; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 464.


Luke 18:34
ESV But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Comment: The saying was not hidden (Jesus just said it!). The meaning was hidden. ESV has not recognized that rhēma here refers to the meaning of the saying, not the saying itself.
TNIV …Its meaning was hidden from them,
REB …its meaning was concealed from them.

Acts 14:15
ESV “We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God,
Comment: “Vain” in contemporary English means “related to pride or vanity,” but the Greek mataios here means “worthless” or “of no value.” Of course “of like nature with you” is also unnatural English, something no one speaking or writing English would actually say.
TNIV We too are only human, like you….turn from these worthless things to the living God,
NRSV We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God,

Phil. 3:1
ESV To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Comment: The ESV makes it sound like this is an issue of personal protection. The meaning is a safeguard, an extra source of spiritual protection.
TNIV … and it is a safeguard for you.
NRSV …and for you it is a safeguard.

2 Tim. 1:15
ESV You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
Comment Multiple problems here. “Turned away from” is not quite right. The phrase means “deserted.” “Among whom are” is very awkward English. Standard English is “including.” Finally, contemporary English readers will consider Asia to be the continent, rather than the Roman province. The TNIV corrects all of these:
TNIV “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.”
NLT2 As you know, everyone from the province of Asia has deserted me—even Phygelus and Hermogenes.

2 Thess. 3:8
ESV …nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it…
Comment: Greek artos does not always mean “bread,” but “any kind of food or nourishment” (BDAG). The meaning here is clearly “food.”10
TNIV …nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.
NET …and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying.

1Tim. 5:11-12
ESV But refuse to enroll younger widows, for…they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.
Comment: Pistis doesn’t mean “faith” here, but a pledge made to the Lord (BDAG). The ESV sounds like the widows’ remarriage results in apostasy.
TNIV …they have broken their first pledge.
NRSV …having violated their first pledge.

Rom. 11:25
ESV the fullness of the Gentiles
Comment: “Fullness of..” is very strange English. The meaning the complete number of Gentiles.
TNIV the full number of Gentiles
HCSB the full number of the Gentiles

1Pet. 3:2
ESV …when they [unbelieving husbands] see your respectful and pure conduct.
Comment: The phrase (lit.) “your pure conduct in fear,” certainly refers to reverence to God, not “respect” for husbands. 10 Interestingly, a few verses later, the same expression is translated idiomatically in the ESV: “…to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (lit. “eat their own bread/food”).
TNIV …when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (cf. NET; NRSV; NLT; NJB; HCSB, etc.)

Matt. 8:28
ESV And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes…
Comment There is no “country,” of the Gadarenes. This is a region or territory associated with the Gadarenes.
TNIV …region of the Gadarenes (cf. NET; NLT, etc.)

Matt. 2:23
ESV And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth…
Comment: The village of Nazareth could hardly be classified as a “city,” either by ancient or modern standards. Polis here means town or village.
TNIV …town called Nazareth… (cf. NRSV; NET; NLT; REB; HCSB, etc.)

Luke 21:14
ESV Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer,
Comment: The disciples are commanded not to “meditate” beforehand? One would think prayer and meditation would be a good idea before facing a trial for Christ. The sense seems to be to prepare or rehearse (BDF §392.2).
TNIV “worry beforehand”; NET “rehearse ahead of time”; NASB “prepare beforehand”

Luke 24:37
ESV But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.
Comment: Pneuma here probably means a “ghost,” a disembodied person, rather than a good or evil spirit.
TNIV thinking they saw a ghost. (Cf. NET; NRSV; HCSB; NLT; etc.)

Acts 7:19, 21
ESV “He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants ….(v. 21) and when he [Moses] was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him…”
Comment: To “expose” a child is to abandon it to death, but many readers will not know this technical sense. If they do get it, the second reference in v. 21 sounds as though Moses’ mother tried to kill him.
TNIV to throw out their newborn babies… he [Moses] was placed outside…
NLT abandon their newborn babies…had to abandon him [Moses].

1 Tim. 6:5
ESV and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Comment: The ESV is open to misunderstanding, since godliness is a means to gain—spiritual gain. The word “gain” here clearly means financial profit, as TNIV and HCSB make clear:
TNIV godliness is a means to financial gain.
HCSB godliness is a way to material gain

Luke 1:48
ESV for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
Comment: A “humble estate” in English would normally be a modest home. It would be better to say “state.”


ESV #3, by Mark Strauss

Idioms Missed in the ESV

Almost all the problem translations cited in this paper could be called “idioms missed,” since most literalist errors result from idiomatic differences between languages. Here we focus on phrases or clauses that the ESV has tried to render literally, resulting in awkward, nonsensical or inaccurate English.

Mark 1:2 (pars. Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:27)
ESV: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face

Comment: The Greek idiom pro prosōpou sou (lit. “before your face”) means “ahead of you.” I would never say, “I arrived at the restaurant before your face.” Most versions recognize the idiom and translate accurately (HCSB, NET, NIV, NAB, NLT, REB, GNT, GW). While the original NASB used “before your face,” its 1995 update (NASU) recognized the idiom and corrected it to “ahead of you.” The NRSV similarly revised the RSV. Curiously, the ESV misses the idiom here (and parallels), but gets it right in Luke 9:52 and 10:1, where pro prosōpou autou is translated “ahead of him.”
TNIV: “I will send my messenger ahead of you,”
NASU: “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you.”

Luke 22:3
ESV Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.
Comment: This is not English. The Greek idiom means “one of the Twelve”
TNIV Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
NET Then Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.

Luke 2:36
ESV Anna…was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,
Comment: The Greek idiom (lit.) “advanced in many days” means “very old.” The idiom “from her virginity” means “after she was married.” This illustrates one of the common mistakes made by literalist translators. They suppose that by reproducing a few words from the idiom (“advanced” and “virginity”), you get closer to the meaning. But it is the whole idiom that carries the meaning, not random words.
TNIV She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
HCSB She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

Acts 22:22
ESV Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
Comment: This is another example of misguided literalism. The ESV has tried to translate the Greek idiom, “take up from the earth such a one,” literally. By leaving a few words intact (“such,” “from the earth”), the ESV supposes it has retained the meaning.8 But of course no one speaking English would ever say this.
TNIV …“Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
HCSB …“Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!”

Matt. 5:2 (cf. Acts 8:35)
ESV And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Comment: The ESV has missed the Greek idiom, which does not indicate two actions, but one—an introduction to a speech. No one speaking English would say, “The teacher opened her mouth and taught the students, saying…”
TNIV and he began to teach them. He said… (cf. NET, HCSB, etc.)

Genesis 27:31 (and 61 times)
ESV Isaac answered and said to Esau.
Comment: Again, no English speaker would say “the teacher answered and said to me,” but rather she “answered” or “replied.” The Hebrew (and Greek) idiom does not describe two actions but one. All of the functional equivalent versions (GNT, CEV, GW, NCV, NLT) and the mediating ones (NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NET, NAB) recognize the idiom and translate it correctly as “answered,” or “replied.” While the original NASB used “answered and said” 186 times in the Old and New Testaments, its revision (NASU) uses it only 75 times, usually replacing it with “replied.” The revisers evidently recognized that this was a Hebrew idiom not an English one. Strangely, while the RSV correctly interpreted the idiom as “answered” in all but seven instances, its revision the ESV reintroduced “answered and said” sixty-one times in the Old Testament (but never in the New Testament!).
TNIV, NIV Isaac answered Esau.
NET, NJB, NASU Isaac replied to Esau
8 Even the TNIV and HCSB feel the need to retain the word “earth.” But the Greek idiom may well mean simply “kill him!” without the reader consciously thinking about departure from the earth (see NLT, REB, TEV, CEV).

Acts 8:23
ESV For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
Comment: The “gall of bitterness” is a Greek idiom that means bitterly resentful or envious. Very few English readers have any idea what “gall” is. The translation “bile of bitterness” might be better but is still obscure and inaccurate, since this was likely a dead metaphor by the first century. The second phrase “bond of iniquity” is also obscure and archaic.
TNIV For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.
NET For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.

Acts 9:28 (cf. Acts 1:21)
ESV So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly.
Comment: The ESV phrase is very strange, and certainly not standard English. The Greek idiom “going in and going out” means going around the city with them, with the implications that this was done in the open.
TNIV So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem…
NET So he was staying with them, associating openly with them…

1 Cor. 9:16
ESV “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me.”
Comment: “For necessity is laid upon me” is not English. The Greek idiom indicates compulsion.
TNIV “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach.
NLT “Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it.”

Phil. 4:11
ESV “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
Comment: The ESV misses the point. Paul is not saying that he is not speaking about being in need (he is speaking about it!). He is saying, he is not in need. This is a mistranslation of the Greek idiom, “speak according to lack/need.”
TNIV I am not saying this because I am in need…
NJB I do not say this because I have lacked anything…

Phil. 4:12
ESV “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.”
Comment: Paul doesn’t mean he knows how to be brought low, but rather he knows what it is like and how to get along while living in poverty. Other literal versions have gotten the idiom right NASB: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.” NRSV: “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”
TNIV “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”
NLT “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”

Matt. 23:32
ESV “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.”
Comment: Nonsensical English. NLT, REB and NJB get the idiom right.
TNIV “Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your ancestors!”
REB “Go on then, finish off what your fathers began!” (cf. NLT; NJB)

Rom. 9:7
ESV “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”
Comment: The ESV misses the point. This is not about “naming” offspring. The Greek idiom (lit.), “in Isaac seed will be called for you,” means “Your name will be carried on through Isaac” (see REB) or simply “Your descendants will come through Isaac.”
TNIV “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
REB “It is through the line of Isaac’s descendants that your name will be traced.”

2 Cor. 6:12
ESV “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.”
Comment: Paul’s point is that he has not held back his affection toward the Corinthians, but they have held theirs back from him. ESV misses this and sounds like Paul is freeing the Corinthians from some restrictions. The second clause in the ESV is simply obscure. What does “restricted” in your emotions mean?
TNIV “We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.”
NLT2 “There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us.”

Joshua 10:6
ESV “the men of Gibeon [said], ‘Do not relax your hand from your servants.’”
TNIV “… ‘Do not abandon your servants.’”
NASU “… ‘Do not abandon your servants.’” (cf. HCSB, NRSV, NET; NKJV)
Comment: The ESV has simply missed the idiom (by following the RSV). The ESV’s “Do not relax your hand” is obscure, but would probably be misunderstood as “Don’t stop putting pressure on.” In fact, the idiom means “don’t abandon” (HCSB, NRSV, NET; etc.) or “don’t forsake” (NKJV).

2 Sam. 18:25
ESV the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.”
Comment: This is not an English idiom. I would never say, “Here comes Johnny with news in his mouth.”
TNIV The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.”
NET The king said, “If he is by himself, he brings good news.”

Ps. 12:2
ESV with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
Comment: The Hebrew idiom is “with a heart and a heart,” which means with deceptive hearts. Nobody speaking English would say they speak “with a double heart.”
TNIV they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.
HCSB they speak with flattering lips and deceptive hearts.

Isaiah 6:10
ESV Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy,
Comment: What are “heavy ears”? The Hebrew idiom means deaf or hard of hearing. The TNIV is only slightly better. HCSB and NLT capture the sense.
TNIV …make their ears dull
HCSB …deafen their ears.
NLT2 …plug their ears (cf. GW)

Isaiah 22:17
ESV “… the LORD… will seize firm hold on you”
Comment: “Seize firm hold on” is very strange English.
TNIV “…the LORD…is about to take firm hold of you”
NASU “…the LORD is about to grasp you firmly.”

Jer. 12:2
ESV “the wicked… you are near in their mouth and far from their heart.”
Comment: The ESV’s “near in their mouth” is nonsensical. The NET is clearest.
TNIV “…You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.”
NET “…They always talk about you, but they really care nothing about you.

Matt. 20:12
ESV “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
Comment: “Borne the burden of the day” is not an English idiom.
TNIV “…who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day
NLT “…who worked all day in the scorching heat.”

Acts 24:22
ESV But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Comment: The ESV has missed the Greek idiom, which doesn’t mean to put someone off, but to formally adjourn or postpone a legal hearing (see NIV, HCSB, NRSV, REB, NLT, etc., and the commentaries).
TNIV “Then Felix…adjourned the proceedings….”
HCSB “Felix …adjourned the hearing…”

2 Cor. 6:15
ESV What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
Comment: The Greek literally says “what part/share a believer with an unbeliever,” which means “what do they have in common?” The ESV makes it sound like the two are splitting a piece of pie. Also, “accord” is awkward. Better English is “agreement” or “harmony.”
TNIV What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
NET And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever?

Luke 7:1
ESV After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people,
Comment: Both phrases “all his sayings” and “in the hearing of the people” are strange and awkward English. No one would ever say, “The politician finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people.”
TNIV When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening,
NLT2 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people,

Acts 1:17
ESV For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.
Comment: Both phrases in the ESV are unnatural English. “Numbered among us” means he was considered to be one of us. “Allotted his share” means he participated with us. It is not standard English to say, “The
youth pastor was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
TNIV He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
NLT2 Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.

Acts 5:36
ESV For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody…
Comment: The Greek idiom “before these days” means “some time ago.” No one speaking English would say, “I visited my brother before these days.”
TNIV Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody
NET For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody,

Acts 7:23
ESV “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.
Comment: “It came into his heart” is not an English idiom. I would never say, “It came to my heart to visit my brother.” The Greek (lit.) “it rose up into his heart” means either “it occurred to him” (REB) or “he decided” (TNIV).
TNIV “…he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites.” (cf. HCSB)
REB “…when it occurred to him to visit his fellow-countrymen the Israelites.”

Ephesians 2:10
ESV “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.”
Comment: In English I would never say I’m going to “walk in good works.” The Greek idiom “walk in” in many contexts has lost any pedestrian connotations and means to live by certain standards. This is clearly a matter of “doing” the good works that God prepared for us.
TNIV “…which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
NET “…that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
NRSV “…which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Colossians 4:5
ESV “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders.”
Comment: To “walk…toward” someone in English can only mean literally to walk in that direction. The Greek peripateō (live; walk) is surely a dead metaphor here, as even other literal versions recognize (see NASB below). NRSV reads, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders.” This question of “walking” in terms of conduct is a difficult one in translation. Sometimes the idiom may be a live metaphor, envisioning a traveler on life’s journey. In other cases (as the two cited above), it is clearly a dead metaphor. Translators
must be particularly sensitive to contextual factors. It is beyond the scope of this paper to survey the data, but this metaphor would probably be worth a dissertation.
TNIV “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders;”
NASB “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.”

1 Thess. 4:12
ESV so that you may walk properly before outsiders…
TNIV so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…
NAB that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders…

1 Samuel 10:9
ESV When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.
Comment: To give someone a new heart in English means a heart transplant. The point here is a change of heart or transformed disposition.
TNIV …God changed Saul’s heart. (cf. NASU)
God’s Word “…God changed Saul’s attitude.

Esther 1:14
ESV “the seven princes of Persia and Media who saw the king’s face.”
Comment: The idiom here refers to close advisors with special access, not the literal act of seeing someone’s face.
TNIV the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king.”
NRSV the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king,”

Esther 2:21
ESV “two of the king’s eunuchs…sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.”
Comment: The Hebrew idiom (lit.) “sought to send a hand” means to conspire to seize or to kill. Here is another example where the translators assumed that retaining a few words from the idiom would preserve the meaning. But idioms work as a whole, not through their individual parts.
TNIV…conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus. (cf. NRSV)
HCSB… tried to assassinate King Ahasuerus.

Psalm 10:4
ESV In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him”
Comment: “The pride of his face” is strange English. The Hebrew idiom refers to a prideful attitude.
TNIV In their pride the wicked do not seek him;
NET The wicked in their pride do not seek God;

Psalm 11:6
ESV “a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”
Comment: “The portion of their cup” is nonsensical for most English readers. The idiom means “their lot” or “what they deserve.” It was certainly a dead metaphor.
TNIV “a scorching wind will be their lot.”
NET “A whirlwind is what they deserve!”

Jer. 12:11
ESV The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.
Comment: “No man lays it to heart” is not an English idiom.
TNIV …because there is no one who cares.
NET …But no one living in it will pay any heed.

Jer. 12:6
ESV For even your brothers…have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you;
Comment: The Hebrew idiom, “called after you fully” probably means to raise their voices in anger or to cry out against.
TNIV they have raised a loud cry against you.
NET Even they have plotted to do away with you.

Ex. 13:2
ESV Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel.
Comment: “First to open the womb” is not a normal English way to speak of a firstborn child. The TNIV is only a little better, retaining the odd “of every womb.” The NLT is the most accurate to contemporary English.
TNIV The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites.
NLT2 every firstborn among the Israelites.

Deut. 15:7
ESV you should not…shut your hand from your poor brother.
Comment: Not an English idiom.
TNIV do not be…tightfisted toward them.
HCSB you must not be …tightfisted toward your poor brother.

1 Kings 2:10
ESV Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
Comment: The Hebrew idiom is actually “David lay down (shkv) with his ancestors,” which would certainly be better than the contemporary connotations associated with “slept with.”
TNIV Then David rested with his ancestors…
NET Then David passed away…

Rom. 8:37
ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Comment: The verb hupernikaō does not mean “more than” conquerors (how can you be more than the winner?), but that we conquer completely or overwhelmingly. Absolute victory is ours. The TNIV has the same problem. The NET and NLT get it right.
TNIV …we are more than conquerors…
NET …we have complete victory…
NLT …overwhelming victory is ours …

Matt. 27:1
ESV all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
Comment: “Took counsel against” is unnatural English. The NASU’s “conferred together” is a higher register than the TNIV’s “came to a decision,” but both are normal English.
TNIV …came to the decision to put Jesus to death.
NASU …conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death