Sunday, June 24, 2007


I decided, this past weekend, to go looking for a new Bible. My Bible, since I was 17 or so, has always been a New Student Bible, which I [mostly] like, but I felt it was time for a new one. Mostly because I’ve already read all of the notes in the Student Bible, so they aren’t as helpful anymore—I no longer need to read them, because I know what they say.

The translation used by the Student Bible is the New International Version (NIV), which I like. I find it very readable, and, from what I’ve heard, it’s also a very accurate translation. But I’d been hearing about the English Standard Version (ESV); I forget where I heard about it first, but I know that my pastor switched to that version, for his own use, and I’d also heard about it on the Withering Fig blog. (I first came across the Withering Fig blog because of an article he wrote on 5 Keys to Picking the Best Bible Translation for You, which I liked.)

Just to clarify, I asked my pastor about it again on Friday, as to his reasons for switching to the ESV. To sum up the conversation, this is what I remember:

  • The NIV is a very accurate translation, in that it captures what the original authors were trying to say, but it also can fall into more colloquial language, which doesn’t always translate well for every audience. If you’re reading for your own personal learning, and you use the same types of idioms that are used in the NIV, then you’ll probably find it very readable.
  • The ESV is also very accurate, but because of the issue mentioned above with the NIV, the ESV is better to preach from. If you’re trying to make the intent of a passage clear to a wider audience, than the ESV is probably better for you. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s not readable; the guy from Withering Fig seems to use the ESV as his translation of choice, and apparently likes the way it reads.
  • If you want the most accurate translation, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is probably the best, although it will not be as readable. For example, Andrea mentioned to me that the NASB always makes it clear when the Bible is using a word that means “men” (multiple male persons) versus “people” (multiple persons of any gender), which can be very helpful, in some situations, whereas other translations might use the word “men” in both places. (Some translations will have a footnote, in some cases, to clarify whether the word is gender neutral or gender specific, although I have to admit that I don’t always read the footnotes, when I’m reading the Bible.)
So I decided to give the ESV a try. From what I can tell, there aren’t yet any “study Bibles” that use the ESV translation, so I just went ahead and got a regular Bible.

As a side note, I was shocked how expensive Bibles are! I got mine for $7.50, which is a “bare bones” soft-cover Bible, with no bells and whistles, but the average price of the Bibles I saw was $40–50. I also saw some that were $80–90, which is just absolutely ridiculous. Aside from price, it also blows me away, when looking through Christian bookstores, to see all of the gimmicks on display from “Christian” publishers. Anything from commonplace gimmicks, like a leather-bound Bible with an imprint of a crown of thorns on it—Christians will buy almost anything that has a crown of thorns or cross logo on it—to over the top gimmicks like the “Duct Table Bible,” which, literally, has duct tape over the cover, to just plain morally terrible gimmicks, like Bibles that are made to look like teen magazines, full of pictures of “pretty” white Christians, embodying all of the same stereotypes of beauty that Christians aren’t supposed to care about. (Let your beauty come from within? No? Anybody?)

Anyway, ranting aside, I’m going to continue quoting from the NIV translation on this blog, for the time being. But if I really start to like the ESV translation, I may switch, and start quoting from that, instead. I even toyed with the idea of starting to put all of my quotes in two versions, side by side; perhaps NIV or ESB, and then NASB. However, in many cases, that might be overkill; in some instances, the NASB might make the author’s intent more clear, but in other cases, it won’t add anything. I suppose what I should do is include the side by side quotes when it will help, and just use a readable version in other cases. We’ll see.


Anonymous said...

I cannot find anywhere if the ESV and ESB are same. Seems like most use the two as if they are the same. Anyone know? Thnx, bob

David Hunter said...

I don’t think there is an “ESB” version of the Bible, just ESV. I’ve looked around, including the list of versions made available on the Bible Gateway, and can’t seem to find an ESB Bible—except for this post, of course, where I mis-typed ESB, when I meant to say ESV. (Sorry about that.)