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Several years ago our church switched to the ESV. To help with this transition I wrote a lengthy paper for the congregation. Last year Crossway asked if they could turn that paper into a short booklet. You can read more about the pamphlet on the Crossway blog.

The previous link explains how you can download the book for free. You can also access the PDF here.

We are blessed with many fine English translations. But I have been a reader of the ESV since it first came out and I am very happy our church made the switch.


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24 thoughts on “Reasons for the ESV”

  1. Cristiano says:

    Our Presbyterian Church in Brazil uses the Geneva Study Bible, which I like, but recently I’ve bought the ESV for Kindle, and it’s becoming now my “main” translation. I’ve also ordered a beautiful edition (with a celtic cross in its cover) in Amazon.com, and I hope it’ll arrive by these days.

    I’m glad to see that I’ve made the right choice. It’s really a very good translation.

  2. Ben K. says:

    Thanks for the link to the PDF. I hadn’t gotten a chance to read this before but I’m glad that I have now. I’ve been a reader of the ESV for about 2-3 years (had been an NASBer for 3-4 years prior after giving up the NIV) and I’m very pleased.

    Thanks again for the pamphlet. Thanks also to the ESV translation team. Oh, that we would rid ourselves of our excuses for not being in the Word!

  3. Blake White says:

    Here is a paper I wrote for our church on why I switched from the ESV to the NIV 2011:

    https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1PZp8ZXEefTaHhshXa0TK-6CBTBAtFA7IHmZpCr_N2os

  4. Cari Ross says:

    My church adopted ESV, too. I was pleased to find it an easy yet “essentially literal” read. However, I was disappointed to find a passage as controversial as Hebrews 6:4-6 phrased differently in two of my ESV Bibles. My “Journaling Bible” has a copyright of 2001: “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” My ESV Study Bible, “ESV Text Edition: 2007″ phrases these verses differently: For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Though the message may be similar enough, which version is more literal? Why are there differences between the 2007 and 2001 versions, and are there more differences that I haven’t found yet?

  5. JS Park says:

    Personally I prefer the NIV1984 because of familiarity and its ease of use. I’m not a big fan of the ESV because there are is some very strange phrasing and I’m not sure it’s as literal as it claims. However, I do use the NASB and ESV as complementary study tools for sermon prep. I’m interested in reading your reasoning.

  6. jason says:

    Here we go again, in case you missed it before it got censored from this blog:

    I don’t appreciate how the ESV translates “arsenokoitai” to mean “male homosexual” in 1 Cor. 6:9. They should at least have included a footnote discussing how debatable the meaning of the greek word there is. Martin Luther and John Calvin both interpreted “arsenokoitai” in both Timothy and 1 Corinthians as “masturbators.” One thousand years earlier, n the writings of St. John the Faster of Constantinople, he says that arsenokoitai is something that some men do to their wives. So obviously he didn’t think it was to be understood to mean “homosexual.”

    Only some of the recent translations, mainly translated by social conservatives, say those words mean “homosexual.” In history the word there has variously been translated as “male prostitutes” (who sleep with men or women), male rapists, masturbators (as Martin Luther believed), and “abusers of themselves with mankind,” which itself could really mean anything. The King James, Bishops Bible, Reims-Douai Bible, and Tyndale Bible translators translated arsenokoitai as “abusers of themselves with mankind.” The modern New American Bible (NAB), interprets “arsenokoitai” as a ” boy prostitute.” The Jerusalem Bible translates the triad in 1 Timothy as: “those who are immoral with women or with boys or with men.”

    Modern socially conservative Christians have re-translated the word to “homosexuals” so that they can say the Bible clearly calls “homosexuality” a sin. Unfortunately, they have produced quite a few of the modern translations. They should at least be intelletually honest enough to include the historical debate surrounding the word in a footnote.

  7. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Jason, I deleted your earlier comments for two reasons.

    (1) The thread between you and “Jerry” was already out of hand. Jerry said you were probably gay, which was way out of line (so I deleted his comment too). But you responded with charges of homophobia and biting sarcasm about Ted Haggard. Nothing profitable was going to come out of such an exchange.

    (2) The comment you just posted above was not the same comment you posted earlier (and I deleted). In that earlier comment you charge the ESV translators as being “anti-homosexual” and re-translating certain passages “to give them an added homophobic boost.” Such ad hominem attacks are not acceptable. That’s why I also deleted your comment about me keeping my congregation ignorant. To raise concern about the translation of a controversial Greek word is appropriate. The rest of the rhetoric is not.

  8. Jesse says:

    Jason:

    I normally don’t post comments on blogs; however, I wanted to address your belief that only recent socially conservative scholars have interpreted arsenokoitai as “men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor 6.9).

    Forgive me for the length, but I wanted to share a few reasons why I disagree with you and agree with the translators that worked on the ESV.

    First, following the work of David Wright, it is believed that arsenokoitai was coined by Paul’s use of two words from the Septuagint’s translation of the Levitical proscriptions of homosexual acts in Lev. 18.22 and 20.13.

    The term ἄρσενος is defined as “male,” while κοίτη is understood to mean “bed” or “lying.” The latter can also be used as a euphemism designating sexual intercourse. In this conflated statement, κοίτη has attached the masculine suffix – της, which indicates the agent of the action is masculine. This means that ἄρσενος serves as the object of κοίτης.

    What is more, “of comparable compounds [of – koites] the first element in fact specifies the object of the ‘sleeping’ or its scene or sphere” (David Wright). With this being said, ἀρσενοκοίτης is believed to indicate “a man who lies in bed with another male, a homosexual,” in particular the active partner within a homosexual act.

    Furthermore, being derived from the Levitical Holiness Code, lends further support that this term should be contemporarily understood to refer to all “males who sexually penetrate males.”
    Second, the definition of ἀρσενοκοίτης is not only ascertained by its morphology, but is also confirmed by its context and usage in antiquity. It has been argued that ἀρσενοκοίτης is to be paired with μαλακοὶ within the vice list of 1 Cor. 6.9-10 (Following attributed to Robert Gagnon).

    This argument is based upon the chiastic sequence of the vices, as well as the frequent correlation of idolatry and adultery in the Old Testament. Therefore, if these two vices are paired, then μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοίτης constitute a pair, thus confirming that ἀρσενοκοίτης refers to the active partner in a homosexual act.

    In contrast to your above statements, this is also confirmed in antiquity when considering that “every instance where the arsenokoit- word group occurs in a context that offers clues as to its meaning (i.e., beyond mere inclusion in a vice list) it denotes homosexual intercourse” (Gagnon, 316).

    When moving beyond the vice list to the literary context of 1 Cor. 5, we observe the supposition that ἀρσενοκοίτης refer to the active partners in a homosexual act is confirmed. When taking into consideration that incest was proscribed in 1 Cor. 5, which derives from the same Levitical context of the proscription of homosexual behavior, lends further credence that ἀρσενοκοίτης refers to male same-sex.

    Third, yes, there have been varying opinions suggested as to the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίτης. For instance, in an attempt to broaden the meaning Dale Martin advocates that we should understand it as referring to exploitative sexual relations (i.e., men that exploit men or women). Such a broadening of the term does not take into consideration the derivation of the word or its literal meaning. Contextually he disregards its pairing with μαλακοὶ, thus overlooking the reality that both passive and active partners are addressed, not just those that exploit others.

    Moreover, in providing a narrower meaning, Robin Scroggs states that it refers to “the active partner who keeps the malakos as a ‘mistress’ or who hires him on occasion to satisfy his sexual desires.” Scroggs bases his rendition from the prevailing Greco-Roman culture. To force such a meaning patently fails to distinguish between the difference of the Greco-Roman and 1st Century Jewish culture opinions on homosexuality. Paul readily identified himself as a Pharisaical Jew and clearly bases his opinion on his Jewish heritage. Not only is this the case, but if Paul desired to limit himself to pederasty, he could have done so by using the term “pederast.”

    In addition, John Boswell suggests that ἀρσενοκοίτης means “male sexual agents, i.e., active male prostitutes…” Grammatically this proposal fails, for it does not take into consideration that the individual words of this conflated statement do not insinuate trade, buying, or selling.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Jesse

  9. KB says:

    Here’s my frustration over the ESV:
    1. If the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and if it’s the church who is to contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), then why does she so easily yield to publishing companies like Crossway to translate the Word of God?

    2. While I’m not a textus receptus only person, the ESV absolutely ignores a valid and historic textual tradition.

    3. Crossway’s continual promotional material to plug their version has gotten over the top ridiculous and a bit annoying. No offense to the author, but the most recent publication of the above booklet is another promotional gig from a high-profiled YRR that Crossway is using to say “Buy your Bible from us!”

  10. jason says:

    Jesse,

    I know that the term arsenokoitai is essentially a combination of the words for “man” and “bed.” However, from that alone we could conclude the word means anything from “men who have sex” to “men who lie down” to “homosexual” to men who rape or do many other things with sex. This is why it becomes necessary to look at how others closer in time to the origin of the word understood it.

    You wrote, “If Paul desired to limit himself to pederasty, he could have done so by using the term pederast.” By that same logic, if Paul had desired to reference all sexual activity between males, then he could have used the word “paiderasste.” That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual activity between males. He chose not to use that word.

    You wrote, “every instance where the arsenokoit- word group occurs in a context that offers clues as to its meaning (i.e., beyond mere inclusion in a vice list) it denotes homosexual intercourse.” That simply isn’t true. There are quite a few instances where the word is used in a context that clearly does not denote homosexual intercourse. For instance, as I said earlier, in the writings of St. John the Faster of Constantinople (~575 A.D) he says that arsenokoitai is something that some men do to their wives. So obviously he didn’t think it was to be understood to mean “homosexual.” A meaning for arsenokoitai reflecting homosexual rape appears in the second century Apology of Aristides (chapters 9 and 13) and the third century Refutatio Omnium Haeresium of Hippolytus. To argue that denotes condemnation of all “homosexuality” is like saying laws against male on female rape condemn all heterosexuality. Furthermore, the Sibylline Oracles 2.70-77, Acts of John, and Theophilus of Antioch’s Ad Autolycum use the word “arsenokoitai” to seemingly refer to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex (but not necessarily homosexual sex).” Probably “pimp” or “man living off of the avails of prostitution” would be the closest English translations. It is worth noting that a lot of Greek homosexual erotic literature has survived, none of it contains the word arsenokoitai. And, also again, at the time of Martin Luther, “arsenokoitai” was universally interpreted as masturbator. But by the 20th century, masturbation had become a more generally accepted behavior. So, new translations abandoned references to masturbators and have switched now to homosexuals.

    You wrote, “In addition, John Boswell suggests that [the word in question] means “male sexual agents, i.e., active male prostitutes…” Grammatically this proposal fails, for it does not take into consideration that the individual words of this conflated statement do not insinuate trade, buying, or selling.” The individual words themselves don’t insinuate anything except “men” and “bed” and their most basic level. That is why it is necessary to look into how people understood the word in the past. And prostitution is certainly in the mix given the works I’ve cited above.

    Finally, again, I’m not saying that I’m 100% certain that the translation “homosexual” is wrong. I’m simply calling for a little intellectual honesty about how debatable the meaning is. The fact is that there are many sources (many more than I’ve even listed) that dispute such a translation, and all the sources were much closer to the culture in which Paul came up with the word than you or I. This is probably the most obscure word in the entire New Testament, and the historical debate surrounding it is not even given a footnote!

    P.S. – Kevin, thanks for (hopefully) leaving the information up this time.

  11. Stephen Shead says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the pamphlet – I’m with you on a lot of it, right up to the point where you say, “I believe it is a better translation…”.

    I love the ESV and use it a lot in preparation. But in the last English-speaking church I worked in, the ESV wasn’t better – in fact, it was pretty much useless. The church was made up largely of non-University educated people and/or immigrants who spoke English as a second language. The decision to stick with the NIV as our pew and preaching Bible was pretty simple – despite the many frustrations when preaching! (And my experience of non-University churches is that far more people are sitting there not understanding what they are reading and hearing than are letting on…)

    I guess I’m reacting against any blanket “X is the better translation” statement. I feel it’s much more helpful to ask (1) What kind of translations are X and Y? (2) What are their strengths and weaknesses? and hence (3) For what situations might they be helpful translations?

    Oh, I also have big issues, in linguistic terms, with the assertion that “essentially literal” is a superior translation philosophy. An essentially literal translation tends towards being a sort of code for people who don’t have access to the original languages – which is a superb and invaluable resource, but not automatically “better” as an English translation of the text. (But that would probably take a longer discussion…)

    The ESV is excellent, yes; preferable in some contexts as the main preaching Bible, yes. “A better translation”?

  12. Jesse says:

    Jason:

    Thank you for taking the time to provide a thorough response. I appreciate the interaction.

    By diverting attention away from the support I provided in favor of the ESV’s translation of ἀρσενοκοίτης, your response gives the impression of a “red herring”. The reason I believe this is due to the fact that I provided evidence in support of the ESV translation of ἀρσενοκοίτης and you chose not to respond, in particular to its etymology.

    As a reply to your comments on the individual words that comprise ἀρσενοκοίτης:

    Yes, words may have a range of meaning. This is why context serves as the guiding force in determining their meaning by the author. Besides, your comments wholly ignore its etymology, which means you’re neglecting what was meant by Paul.

    Also, I think you’re playing fast and loose with your historical references. I don’t have time to respond to your references, but for a thorough treatment of the one’s you alluded to as well as others, see the following sources:

    De Young, James B. Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2000.

    _______ “Survey of New Interpretations of ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3. 1992: 193–215.

    _______“The Source and NT Meaning of Arsenokoitai, With Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 3/2 (1992)

    _______“The Contributions of the Septuagint to the Biblical Sanctions against Homosexuality.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Socieity, 34.157-77.

    Gagnon, Robert. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, 316-322.

    Hays, Richard. First Corinthians, 97.

    Pope, Marvin. “Homosexuality” in Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible

    Ukleja, P. Michael. “The Bible and Homosexuality, pt. 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (1983).

    Wold, Donald J. Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East

    Wright, David F. “Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of ARSENOKOITAI (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10),” Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 125-53.

    If you’re contention is with the translators of ESV decision to not include a footnote as to the “debated” meaning of ἀρσενοκοίτης, perhaps they don’t think its meaning is as contested as you’re lead to believe?

    SDG,

    Jesse

  13. Dan says:

    I have to agree with the folks who prefer the NIV(’84 or ’11) to the ESV. The ESV, like the NKJV, uses words and sentence structures that are not in use today. If we’re going to use Bibles that are difficult to understand then we may as well go back to the KJV.

    I currently use a NIV(84) and will be purchasing the 2011 version later this year.

    There is a copy of the ESV Study Bible on my shelf and I must confess that this is the best study Bible I’ve ever seen!

    Blake, I thank you for the link to your paper, I found it very helpful.

  14. Blake White says:

    You are welcome Dan. I think the ESV is a great translation – but for a previous generation. (E.g. Let not sin therefore reign, etc, etc)

    While I don’t think any translation is perfect, I do think the NIV 2011 is wonderful. I was never comfortable with the 84′ but the 2011 has improved almost every weakness the 84′ had.

    I should add that I am a complementarian and a calvinist. Sometimes one gets the feeling from blogs that the NIV 2011 is only for ‘liberals.’ This is simply ignorance.

  15. William says:

    Language loses its beauty and vigor when it is continually dumbed-down. It would be near heresy to retranslates Jane Austen into modern American English. Indeed, by doing so we would greatly miss tremendous richness of the original text. If we cannot handle a bit of uncommon word order and some stretched vocabulary, we are saying that we want to think as little as necessary, which is a very dangerous step to take when discussing Biblical truth. If we hold to verbal plenary inspiration, then the richness of language itself must be part of the inspiration and the glory of the Word of God. If we choose not to learn the original languages, we should at least desire to capture some of the beauty, poetry and metaphor of the original in our language.

  16. Blake White says:

    William,

    If your comment is aimed at mine, I would love for you to point out some specific examples. Anyone can throw out generalities. Where has the NIV 2011 ‘dumbed-down’ anything? These are the sorts of ignorant comments that are unhelpful and divisive.

    The Jane Austen analogy holds no weight. We are not talking about faithfulness to Victorian English, but Koine (common) Greek. Have you read up on translation philosophy? If not, you really haven’t earned a right to make such comments. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

    On meaning versus form, see Timothy Ward’s “Words of Life.” He will show you how verbal plenary inspiration relates to translation.

    The best book on translation is Fee/Strauss “How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth.” It is short and accessible.

    On Gender, Carson’s “Inclusive Language Debate” is excellent, even though its dated.

    Also see http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2003_limits_of_functional_equivalence.pdf

  17. Kevin,
    As one who has found the “translation wars” very frustrating over the last several years, I found your booklet very encouraging.

    Simple. To the point.

    I feel better about my ESV already.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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