In two recent comparisons (here and here) we saw where the NRSV was clearly better than the ESV in its revision of the 1971 RSV. And after reading through the Gospel narratives in the NRSV, there is no way I could recommend the ESV over the NRSV.
At whose house did Jesus have dinner according to Mark’s narrative, his or Levi’s?
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15, ESV, emphasis added)
I don’t think the ESV is of much help here. Now check out the NRSV:
So according to the NRSV’s reading, Jesus was sitting at Levi’s house (see HCSB, NLT, TNIV).
When was the woman with an alabaster jar of ointment healed, before or while at Simon the Pharisee’s house?
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47, ESV, emphasis added)
According to the ESV, the woman came to Simon’s house with her many sins and was not forgiven until Jesus did so that evening. Now here’s the NRSV:
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. (NRSV, emphasis added)
According to the NRSV’s reading, the woman came to Simon’s house to show her great love and gratitude because of what Jesus had done for her sometime earlier.
Here’s the grind: if I’m at a Christian bookstore and someone walks up to me, asking for a good “essentially literal” translation, I’m pointing them to the NRSV. But if they object and say that they’ve heard wonderful things about the ESV, I’m still pointing them to the NRSV.
Make a better investment. It’s that simple.