Recently I’ve been researching different Bible translations and whether they measure up. Part of this is the result of the kinds of textual issues I’ve studied lately which I brought up in my previous post. Until this week, I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool user of the English Standard Version (ESV). I didn’t even know about it until a few years ago when I was looking into purchasing a Reformation Study Bible. Numerous Reformed pastors and theologians gave the ESV glowing endorsements and by all accounts it seemed to be pretty solid. Most of my fellow seminary students were using it as well.
Over time I jumped on the bandwagon and became an avid reader of this translation. However I recently came across some information which made me reconsider my use of the ESV. In the spirit of semper reformanda, I have to be open to biblical correction and changing my views where necessary. As much as I enjoyed reading and using the ESV, I had to address its inherent problems with which I was confronted. I realized too, that I made the mistake of assuming that a translation must be good if a respected Reformed theologian endorses it. As Christians, we need to eschew the cults of personality and learn to exercise our own discernment–especially on matters as important as Scripture itself.
A few days ago I listened to a teaching lecture given my Pastor Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church (our sister church in Charlottesville) on the topic of the ESV translation. In the first place, I was shocked to hear that the ESV has the copyright of the heretical National Council of Churches. The translation itself is nothing new, but simply a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which is itself an extremely problematic translation. I’m told that only a small percentage of the RSV was actually changed in the form of the ESV. Not good at all.
Moreover, the ESV is translated from the Critical Text of the New Testament rather than the Majority Text. I’ve already gone over my objections to the Critical Text in my previous post, so I won’t labor that point any further here. I’ll simply say that the Majority Text appears to be the better platform for translation. What I’ve just done above is to summarize what Pastor Riddle has said in the aforementioned audio link (this is also available in a text format). I encourage my readers to listen to what he has to day.
In terms of my own personal use, I’m coming to the conclusion that the NKJV is probably the best option for me. It’s based upon the traditional texts, has a good reputation, and is very readable. I’m pleased that Ligonier Ministries has chosen to publish the Reformation Study Bible in the NKJV translation as well. Given the popularity of the ESV, it will be hard to dethrone it and many people don’t like to hear of its flaws. As fallible men, we like to stay comfortable in our traditions. And if the ESV is as bad as Pastor Riddle and others say it is, then let’s hope the English Standard Version doesn’t become the English standard version.