Why I prefer the English Standard Version

The interview link I posted the other day about the King James Bible got me thinking a bit about my favorite English translation of the Scriptures, the English Standard Version (ESV). For those who worship at Grace, or for those who visit, it may be helpful to understand why I, as the pastor, preach and teach from this version.

First, a little personal history is in order. I come from a non-church going home, so I was not exposed to any one version of the Bible. When I became a Christian as a young adult, I read mainly from the New International Version (NIV), since that was more or less the default translation for evangelical churches. Later, after I began attending a Reformed church, I bought and began reading the New Geneva Study Bible (now called the Reformation Study Bible). At the time, this was only available in the New King James Version (NKJV).

That study Bible was a great help to my understanding God’s Word, but reading the NKJV, especially the Prophets, was sometimes a struggle. Though it was my primary Bible when I went to seminary, I wasn’t completely satisfied with it. But while I was still a student at seminary, the English Standard Version was published (2001). After buying it and reading some of it, I immediately decided this was the English version I would make my own. And ever since, the ESV has been the Bible I have read and used for teaching and preaching.

Why do I prefer it? First, let me say that I don’t discourage other believers from reading different English versions, as long as they are decent translations. I know in our church people read the KJV and the NIV, and probably others as well. The ESV certainly isn’t the only faithful English translation out there. But here are four reasons why I prefer it:

1. Accuracy. The ESV touts itself as an “essentially literal” translation, and I believe that is true. No English version can be perfectly “literal”, because it is a translation from languages with different grammar, syntax, and idiom. But, the ESV is very faithful to the words of the Greek and Hebrew texts. This is by far the most important quality of any good English version, because the words being translated are God’s words!

2. Readability. I find the ESV to be easier to read than other versions, say the NASB (too wooden) and the KJV (too archaic).

3. Style. Though a modern translation, the ESV is rooted in the great English translations of the past, including the 1526 Tyndale New Testament and the 1611 KJV. The translators have done a wonderful job of retaining much of the majesty, dignity, and elegance of these older versions while making the language more readable for modern English speakers. When you hear passages read from the ESV, they sound appropriately “biblical”. You just can’t say the same for many modern versions that are far too colloquial.

Also, the ESV has preserved the nice-sounding cadences of the KJV in the poetic portions of the Scriptures, which greatly helps in memorizing Scripture.

4. Popularity (well, at least a growing popularity from what I can tell). This may sound strange, since we are often suspicious of things just because they are popular. But it seems to me that the more we are exposed to just one translation of the Bible, in reading, preaching, books, and so on, the more readily Bible verses and passages will “stick” in our hearts and minds. This can only be a good thing, and it also would facilitate memorizing the Scriptures.

The ESV is not perfect, to be sure (look up 1 Samuel 13:1 and ask yourself, how would I read this from the pulpit?). I’ve encountered passages that I thought could have been translated better. But I am convinced that for all the above reasons, the ESV is a translation worthy of its name, English Standard Version.

Pastor Scott