Life. Hope. Love. Blog

What Does ESV Stand For?

Starting this Sunday we are switching the version of the Bible we use at Element from the NIV (New International Version) to the ESV (English Standard Version). The question most ask is "why?"

There are 3 simple approaches to Bibles today and how they are translated.

  • There is the Word for Word translations that try to simply take the text and translate it WORD FOR WORD. Current Word for Word translations would include the ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV.
  • Then there are Thought for Thought translations that seek to take a section and translate the entire thought in a way that keeps with the original wording but gives you the thought behind it. Poetry makes more sense in the scriptures in a Thought for Thought translation as many of the nuances can be kept. Current Thought for Thought translations would include the NIV, CEV, TNIV, NLT.
  • Lastly, there is the Paraphrase. A paraphrase is a modern attempt to rewrite the scriptures in a way that modern readers can see it in a contemporary light (many times changing some key meaning in a text). A Paraphrase would be the Message, The Story...

The problem with each new revision of the NIV (it has been revised a number of times in the last 4 decades) is that it moves further and further towards a Paraphrase rather than a Thought for Thought translation. For what it is worth Collin Hansen, who serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, likes the 2011 edition of the NIV.

Presently, there are more than 25 English translations. But The English Standard Version (ESV), in contrast to most modern translations, is not entirely "new." The ESV is the product of a rich translation legacy which spans almost 500 years. The modern starting point for the ESV was the 1971 Revised Standard Version (RSV). Over 90 percent of the RSV is retained in the ESV. The RSV was regarded by many as the best modern translation in terms of precision and literary elegance.

The ESV improves upon the RSV in 3 important ways.

[dropcap cap="1"] First, and most crucial to the evangelical community, is that the ESV corrects key Old Testament passages whose prophetic intent was dulled in the RSV.[/dropcap]

Another example of an important correction to the RSV was the translation of the Greek word hilasterion and its cognates (Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10) which the RSV translated "expiation." The ESV corrected this to "propitiation." Propitiation means to appease the wrath of someone by the substitution of an offering.  Thus Jesus bore the wrath of God that was due mankind.  The righteous anger that was due mankind was placed upon His Son. Christ's sacrifice had the effect of both bearing the sin of man (expiation) and the punishment due man for his wickedness (propitiation).

The NIV and the NRSV both took the "middle ground" and translated hilasterion as "atonement."  In so doing the translators decided not to take a stand on the issue since "atonement" captures both expiation and propitiation. Both the "Message," and the CEV translations have removed the heart of the meaning of propitiation from their respective translations entirely.  (See Romans 3:25)

[dropcap cap="2"] Archaic language was updated. (Thee, Thou, Art, Ye, Hearken, etc.) [/dropcap]

[dropcap cap="3"]The ESV translation is more literal than RSV. It attempts, as much as possible, "not to improve on the originals". Most people believe that different Bible translations are simply a function of varying levels of readability, though all roughly similar in accuracy; this is untrue. [/dropcap]

Since the middle of the 20th Century there have been a lot new translations whose focus is not transparency of the original languages, but rather to make the "thoughts" or the "meaning" of the text more comprehensible to the modern reader.  These translations (thought for thought) have noble intentions of making the Bible easier to understand, BUT the result has produced translations which compromise the meaning of the text.

We believe that when a person reads the Bible, he should be confident that he is actually reading the words of God, in the form God delivered them to the biblical authors.

At Element we would prefer to move our whole church to a more equivalent translation. Not only in scope, but so that we are all reading the same thing.


Having said all that there are at times problems with a literal Word for Word translation. I will give you some (because they are funny). When translators render a text “literally” without realizing the potential  for double meaning it gets funny.

Gen. 30:35, “But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped …and put them in charge of his sons.” This was corrected in the second printing of the ESV, taking authority away from Laban’s goats: “… and put them in the charge of his sons.”

Luke 17:35 “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” In todays culture "grinding together" has a totally different meaning.

Prov. 30:26 “the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;” I think you can see what this actually means.

Amos 4:6 “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities” The Hebrew idiom literally means they had nothing to eat.

Funny right? But seriously, all in all the ESV is one of the best translations out today. The work involved an exceptional team of more than 100 people worldwide, including: (1) the twelve-member Translation Oversight Committee, led by Dr. J. I. Packer as the General Editor; (2) sixty leading Bible Scholars; as well as (3) a sixty-member Advisory Council—all of whom are committed to historic Christian orthodoxy and to the timeless truth and authority of the Bible.

We hope you like the ESV.

By Aaron