On Using the ESV and the NIV

Depends on where I’m reading in the Scriptures, you may find me either reading the ESV or the NIV(2011).

  • In the Old Testament, except for the Psalms (ESV), I lean on the NIV.  I tend to like it’s flow, allowing a kind of ease in reading large portions that I find more taxing with the ESV.

      I particularly like the cadence of the ESV in the  Psalms.

  • In the New Testament, my reading is more evenly distributed between the two.  From the Gospel through Acts, I tend to like the NIV. 
  • In  Paul’s Letters and the General Letters, I tend to like the ESV, for it gives me more interpretative options.  For example in 2 Corinthians 10:2-4, we find Paul’s back and forth use of “flesh,” Greek sarx.  In Paul, “flesh” may refer to (1) human existence, physical descent or life in the body; or “flesh” may refer to (2) fallen, sinful humanity’s nature, in rebellion against God and his will or worldly standards or wisdom.
  • In the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, I do like the NIV.

In other worlds, while there is no perfect Bible translation, the wisdom that the best translation is a use of multiple Bible translations–remains an attractive and useful one.

In the end, to each their own.

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9 Responses to On Using the ESV and the NIV

  1. Simon says:

    I think you’re right about the Psalms. The more literal translations give you more of a feel for what the author is trying to say (i.e. it preserves the genre far better), same with Lamentations. The dynamic translations provide more understanding for personal study perhaps. Liturgically, the literal translations are better for praying and reading the Scriptures.

    I started really reading the Bible with the NIV. I have now settled on the old RSV as my preferred translation, even though I use the NRSV quite a lot as well.

    Translation philosophy plays a big role here. I have come to appreciate the literal translations more, because, although they are harder to read sometimes, literal translations really assume that the reader is studying scripture in a community of believers – where difficult passages can be explained etc. Whereas the more dynamic translations assume that the reader is alone and hence the text needs to find modern equivilences (“dynamic equivalence” as Fee would say). I have read Gordon Fee’s “Reading the Bible for all its worth”. He leans to the dynamic equivalence translations, which he argues for successfully I think. But his underlying assumption is that the reader is alone and is reading the Bible privately, like they would read a novel (I don’t mean this in the sense of genre, but in terms of reading it privately at home etc).

    • TC says:

      “Reading the Bible for all its Worth” is quite a good one. Yes, while dynamic equivalent translations read well, they tend to miss that formal structure that you want to trace as engage the text beyond mere reading.

      With the option of the ESV, why go back to the RSV?

      • Simon says:

        I think the ESV is too narrow theologically. It is a good translation. But mostly, I just prefer the RSV. I like the way it reads. I think the translation is more ecumenical as well, which means that parochial translations of certain passages are avoided. For example, the ESV is very naughty, in my opinion, with 1 Tim 3:15 by using the indefinite article “a” instead of the definite “the”. It may be technically correct to do so, but it’s really unwarranted in context. I do use the NRSV too. But I don’t think it was a great improvement on the RSV. The NRSV is really poor in some places. Very good in others. Not consistent enough for my liking. I do lean towards the literal translation now. But you’re right, if you are studying passages, then using a range of translations is best.

  2. TC says:

    Yes, the ESV does have theological biases. But it does remain a good translation. I find the NRSV quite careless.

    I see your point at 1 Tim. 3:15. But what is at stake here?

  3. Simon says:

    This passage is very difficult from a sola scriptura perspective. And this is precisely why the ESV translators were troubled by this passage. They have gone against all other translations at this point. I think it is very from the context that St Paul is saying rather clearly that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. This is rather problematic for inerrantist evangelicals. That passage makes an explicit statement about the Church being the truth bearer. The NT never makes such a claim about scripture. It says that Scripture is inspired, God-breathed, good for doctrine, reproof and so on. The NT also says that Scripture can be twisted by untaught men (and I believe this is what is happening in much of the evangelical world). Truth is placed with the Church.

    I don’t think I would call the NRSV careless. I do think the translators were trying to be very careful and probably were. I just think some of the choices they made were poor. It is really good in some places as well.

    • TC says:

      Simon, since there is no definite article in the Greek text at 1 Tim. 3:15, it’s really a judgment call, based on context. But I see your point. Are we sure, though, that this matter of inerrancy was in these translators mind?

      I have in mind the gender approach taking by the NRSV translators back in the day.

  4. Simon says:

    I think that it’s rather clear that this is the issue the ESV translators had in mind. You’re right, there is no definite article. There is also no indefinite article. So context should guide us. That’s why I think it was a rather naughty choice to use the indefinite article. If you read the context of the passage, the context is rather obvious. Technically, they are not incorrect – I agree.

    I don’t mind some of the gender stuff. Using “brothers and sisters” instead of simply “brothers” seems to me to be the best translation. I do think the culture wars in America makes both sides overreact in translating gender sensitive passages in Scripture. I mean, the ESV is pretty bad in Romans 16 with Junia. And I’m not for female clergy either, I just think it was more a political choice than a scholarly one. Just little things like that put off both the ESV and NRSV. Another reason why I prefer to old RSV.

    • TC says:

      Yes, I too would go for the definite article, given the force of the context. As we both agree, the ESV has its issues.

      Yes, I truly don’t like ESV at Romans 16 with Junia – a case of a narrow theology taking over. But of course, all translating is interpreting at some levels.

      • Simon says:

        There’s no perfect translation. The ESV is generally very good otherwise. I agree with you, it actually reads very well. I guess my objection to it is biased too! I prefer not to support the Reformed enterprise – Crossway, Reformed seminaries etc.

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