English Standard Version

J. I. Packer, ed., The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles (a division of Good News Publishers), 2001.

This is an evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version that corrects the non-Christian interpretations of the RSV in the Old Testament and improves the accuracy throughout with more literal renderings. It also updates the language somewhat. The makers of this version undertook the work with the idea that there was a need for an evangelical version that was more literal than the New International Version but more idiomatic than the New American Standard Bible. The Revised Standard Version seemed close enough to this middle ground that it might be suitably revised in a short period of time. The following paragraphs from WORLD magazine (June 5, 1999) reveal the interesting circumstances in which the ESV was conceived:

The English Standard Version (ESV), announced in February by Crossway Books, had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.

The night prior to the meeting, critics of regendered language gathered in a Colorado Springs hotel room to discuss the next day’s strategy. During the course of the evening it became clear their concerns with the NIV extended beyond gender issues. The group discussed the merits of the Revised Standard Version, first published in 1952 by the National Council of Churches and recently replaced by the New Revised Standard Version, a regendered update.

Some months later, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Wayne Grudem and Crossway President Lane Dennis entered into negotiations with the National Council of Churches to use the 1971 revision of the Revised Standard Version as the basis for a new translation. An agreement was reached in September 1998 allowing translators freedom to modify the original text of the RSV as necessary to rid it of de-Christianing translation choices.

The meeting referred to in this article resulted in an agreement signed by all the participants (the Colorado Springs Guidelines), which set forth principles of translation that would rule out the use of gender-neutral language. Clearly the ESV was projected as a version that would deliberately adhere to these guidelines, and this is confirmed in the Preface to the version, which gives three paragraphs in defense of generic masculine terms.

Concerning the revisers the ESV preface states, “The ESV publishing team includes more than a hundred people. The fourteen-member Translation Oversight Committee has benefited from the work of fifty biblical experts serving as Translation Review Scholars and from the comments of the more than fifty members of the Advisory Council, all of which has been carried out under the auspices of the Good News Publishers Board of Directors. This hundred-member team, which shares a common commitment to the truth of God’s Word and to historic Christian orthodoxy, is international in scope and includes leaders in many denominations.” A complete list of the “publishing team” is provided here.

The first edition of the ESV, which became available in late September 2001, was the ESV Classic Reference Bible, which featured brief introductions to each of the books, section headings within the text, and a center column very full of cross-references. The introductions briefly and simply present the traditional views of the authorship and purpose of the books.

In order to give an idea of the frequency and types of changes in the revision, I have given below a full collation of the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans in the RSV and the first edition of the ESV. It will be noted that in these chapters there are as many changes as there are verses, and that the great majority of them serve to make the version more literal. There are however six instances in which the ESV seems less literal than the RSV, and four of these have to do with gender language. Two of these (at 3.4 and 3.28) involve the elimination of the word “man” as a translation of anthropos, one (2.29) involves the replacement of “men” with “man,” and one (2.28) involves the elimination of the word “he.” There is also in the margin at 1.13 a long note explaining that adelphoi “brothers” may be translated “brothers and sisters.” The ESV revisers have normally left unchanged the RSV’s generic use of “man” and “men” (see the translation of anthropos in 1.18, 1.23, 2.1, 2.3, 2.16, 2.29) and also “his” (see 2.6, 2.29), and so it is hard to see on what principle they have changed or qualified “men,” “man,” “brothers,” and “he” in these places. But apart from these few places, the changes of the ESV are a distinct improvement upon the RSV.

A Collation of the RSV and ESV for Romans 1-3

verseRSV 2nd editionESVNotes
1.1Jesus ChristChrist JesusESV follows the Greek text of the UBS 4th ed.
1.3the gospel concerningconcerningESV more literal
1.4designated Sondeclared to be the SonESV more literal
1.6yourselvesyouESV more idiomatic
1.7to all God’s beloved in Rome, who are calledto all those in Rome who are loved by God and calledESV more literal
margin: Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.
ESV text more idiomatic
margin: that is, non-Greeks
ESV adds an idiomatic footnote
1.16it is the powerfor it is the powerESV more literal
1.16has faithbelievesESV more literal
1.17through faith for faithfrom faith for faith
margin: or, beginning and ending in faith
ESV more literal
1.17text:he who through faith is righteous shall live
margin: the righteous shall live by faith
text: the righteous shall live by faith
margin: the one who by faith is righteous shall live
ESV gives the traditional rendering in the text
1.18wickednessunrighteousness (twice)ESV uses a broader term
1.20Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and diety, has been clearly perceivedFor his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the worldESV more literal
1.21senseless mindsfoolish heartsESV more literal
1.23or birds or animals or reptilesand birds and animals and reptilesESV more literal
1.26Their womenFor their womenESV more literal
1.26unnaturalthose that are contrary to natureESV prevents the quibble that “homosexuality is not unnatural for a homosexual”
1.27in their own personsin themselvesESV more literal
1.28a base mind and to improper conducta debased mind to do what ought not to be doneESV more literal
1.29wickednessunrighteousnessESV uses a broader term
1.29Full of envy ... theyThey are full of envy ... TheyESV improves the logic
1.29malignitymaliciousnessESV more idiomatic
1.32do such thingspractice such thingsESV more literal
1.32approvegive approval toESV more idiomatic
2.1whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon himevery one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on anotherESV renders the participle differently
2.1are doingpracticeESV more literal
2.2falls uponfalls onESV more idiomatic
2.3Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge ... you will escapeDo you suppose, O man - you who judge ... - that you will escapeESV renders the participle differently
2.4presume uponpresume onESV more idiomatic (?)
2.4patience? Do you not knowpatience, not knowingESV more literal
2.5by your hardbecause of your hardESV more idiomatic
2.6For heHe (beginnning a new paragraph)ESV more literal
margin: contentious
ESV gives a different interpretation of the word
2.8wickednessunrighteousnessESV uses a broader term
2.12All who have sinnedFor all who have sinnedESV more literal
2.14when GentilesFor when GentilesESV more literal
2.14Gentiles who have not the law do by natureGentiles, who do not have the law, by nature doESV more literal
2.15what the law requiresthe work of the lawESV more literal
2.15perhaps excuseeven excuseESV more literal
2.17rely uponrely onESV more idiomatic
2.17boast of your relation to Godboast in GodESV more literal
2.18instructed in the lawinstructed from the lawESV more literal
2.19you are a guideyou yourself are a guideESV more literal
2.20corrector of the foolishinstructor of the foolishESV more literal
2.21will you not teachdo you not teachESV more literal
2.23You who boast in the law, do you dishonor GodYou who boast in the law dishonor GodESV more literal
2.25CircumcisionFor circumcisionESV more literal
2.27those who are ... keephe who is ... keepsESV more literal
2.28he is not a real Jew who is one outwardlyno one is a Jew who is merely one outwardlyESV less literal
2.28nor is true circumcision something externalnor is circumcision outwardESV more literal
2.29He is a Jew who is one inwardlyBut a Jew is one inwardlyESV more literal
2.29real circumcisioncircumcisionESV more literal
2.29spiritual and not literalby the Spirit, not by the letterESV more literal
2.29not from mennot from manESV less literal
3.2are entrustedwere entrustedESV more literal
3.4though every man be falsethough every one were a liarESV less literal. Greek anthropos is a generic masculine.
3.4thou mayest ... thy ... thou artyou may ... your ... you areESV uses modern english pronouns in addressing God
3.5wickednessunrighteousnessESV uses a broader term
3.5justice of Godrighteousness of GodESV renders the word dikaiosune consistently
3.5unjustunrighteousESV renders consistently
3.7falsehoodlieESV more literal
3.7truthfulnesstruthESV gives a slightly different interpretation
3.9Are we JewsAre we Jews
margin: Greek, Are we
ESV margin more literal
3.9I have
margin: Greek, we have
we haveESV more literal
3.12gone wrongbecome worthlessESV more literal
3.17do not knowhave not knownESV more literal
3.20For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the lawFor by works of the law no human being [margin: Greek, flesh] will be jusified in his sightESV more literal
3.21apart from lawapart from the lawESV less literal
3.23since allfor allESV renders gar consistently
3.24they are justifiedand are justifiedESV more literal
3.25expiationpropitiationESV more literal
3.26to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faithto show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faithESV more literal
3.27on what principle? ... on the principle ... on the principleby what kind of law? ... by a law ... by the lawESV renders nomos consistently
3.28a man is justifiedone is justifiedESV less literal and less idiomatic. Greek anthropos is a generic masculine.
3.28of lawof the lawESV less literal
3.30God is one; and he will justifyGod is one. He will justifythe Greek says, God is one, who will justify
3.30on the ground of their faith ... through their faithby faith ... through faithESV more literal

In 2007 a slightly revised edition appeared, in which about 360 changes were made. In 2011 another 276 changes were made. See the list of changes in the 2007 edition and the list of changes in the 2011 edition on this site.

Text-Critical Treatment of the Old Testament

In the Old Testament the ESV revisers tend to be more conservative than the RSV in their handling of text-critical questions. In many places where the RSV rendering was based upon an emended text, the ESV revision represents a return to the Masoretic text. The deliberateness of this tendency is especially noticeable in the Book of Job. The RSV had made sixty-three emendations in this book (often by somewhat hazardous conjectures), but in the ESV revision all but six of them have been eliminated. We will give a few examples of the same tendency from Genesis:

In these examples we see that the ESV revisers preferred to translate the existing Hebrew text, without speculative text-critical alterations. But the ESV does not always follow the traditional Hebrew text. Sometimes it lets the emendations of the RSV stand (e.g. Gen. 47:21, “he made slaves [ESV servants] of them”; 2 Sam. 17:25, “Ishmaelite”; 1 Kings 10:19, “at the back of the throne was a calf’s head”; Jeremiah 23:33, “you are the burden”).

At Genesis 49:10 the ESV is based on a repointing of the Masoretic text’s יָבֹא שִׁילֹה “until Shiloh comes” to יָבֹא שַׁי לֹה “until tribute comes to him” (comp. שַׁי “gifts, tribute” in Psalm 68:29, 76:11, Isaiah 18:7). This also requires a different division of the consonants, but at least it avoids the consonantal emendation that is required for the RSV’s “until he comes to whom it belongs,” which involves the removal of one י and repointing to יָבֹא שֶׁלֹּה. The ESV committee’s decision here was probably influenced by Gordon Wenham, a committee member whose recent commentary on Genesis favors this solution. 1

In Deuteronomy 32:43 the ESV adopts a reading from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

RSV: Praise his people, O you nations; for he avenges the blood of his servants, and takes vengeance on his adversaries, and makes expiation for the land of his peopleESV: Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.

This reading is partly supported by the Septuagint also, but we notice that one line found in both the Septuagint and in the Masoretic text has been omitted: “Rejoice, O nations, with his people” (NASB, rendered “Praise his people, O you nations” in the RSV). Do the ESV translators realize that they have removed a line quoted by the Apostle Paul? They have quoted it in a footnote which states that “Rejoice his people, O nations” is found in the Masoretic text, but the footnote fails to indicate that it is also in the Septuagint and in Romans 15:10, in the form “Rejoice, O nations, with his people.” Their handling of this is rather disappointing.

The RSV footnote at 1 Samuel 14:41 has been revised by some person who was ignorant of the textual facts. Here the Hebrew has only: “and Saul said to YHWH the God of Israel, Give thammim.” But the RSV had, “Therefore Saul said, O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim.” This is a translation not of the Hebrew but of some Vulgate manuscripts and the Septuagint. The RSV translators had decided that here the ancient versions represent the original form of the Hebrew text, which has lost some words because they were accidentally omitted by an ancient copyist. The absence of all the words between “God of Israel” and “give thammin” in the Hebrew text was indicated in the RSV footnote which read “Vg Compare Gk: Heb Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel”, with the footnote mark placed just before “give Thummin” in the text. But in the ESV the footnote marker has been moved to a different position, immediately after the word “why,” and the note has been revised to read: “Vulgate (compare Septuagint); Hebrew Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Why …” — as if the version’s only divergence from the Hebrew text were “O Lord” instead of “to the Lord.” This seems to be the work of an editor who did not understand the RSV note, and who was trying to clarify it, without looking at the Hebrew.

Some Corrected Prophecies

More significant than any of the changes listed above are the following three examples from the Old Testament. The passages of the RSV given below are examples of the many which were found to be highly objectionable by evangelicals, and prevented the RSV from ever gaining acceptance outside of liberal circles.

Genesis 22:15-18

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your decendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your decendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice. And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

This passage is in the RSV a good example of that version’s tendency to interpret the Old Testament without reference to the New Testament. The true Christological meaning of the blessing and the prophecy given here is simply ruled out by the RSV, though it is practically required by a New Testament passage (see Galatians 3:16) which interprets the blessing of Abraham as a prophecy of Christ. The ESV restores this interpretation, on the authority of the Apostle Paul. A similar revision is made in the related passages, Genesis 12:3, 22:18, 26:4, and 28:14. See also “offspring” in Psalm 89:4, 29, and 36 in relation to John 12:34 (to which the ESV points in a cross-reference note at Psalm 89:4).

Psalm 2:11-12

Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

The ESV gives a literal rendering of the Hebrew text here, with the word בר (son) understood as an Aramaism. The meaning ought to be clear to any Christian. The RSV translators gave instead a conjectural emendation of the text, with the footnote, “Cn [correction]: The Hebrew of 11b and 12a is uncertain.”

Psalm 16:10

For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

In Acts 2:31 Peter points out that this verse cannot apply to David, its human author, because David did in fact “see corruption.” His body has decayed. Therefore, we must understand that “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” Peter’s argument here depends in part upon the translation “corruption” for the Hebrew word שחת, shachat. The RSV translators preferred, however, to understand it otherwise, undermining Peter’s argument. The ESV has corrected this. 2

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

This verse gives a prophecy of Christ, as explained in Matthew 1:23. The RSV translators chose to ignore the New Testament, as usual, and it was their belief that the immediate context made “young woman” a more likely interpretation of the hebrew word עלמה almah here. It may however be understood as “virgin,” and evidently it was understood thus by the translators of the Septuagint and by St. Matthew, who translated it παρθένος. The ESV reflects the interpretation of Matthew, and includes no footnote giving an alternate rendering.

Many similar examples could be given where the ESV has restored traditional Christian interpretations in the Old Testament.

Weak Points

Although the ESV is in general more literal and reliable than most English versions published in recent years, it does need correction or improvement in a few places, and in some places the changes from the RSV are not for the better. Here I offer some criticism of weak renderings and other problems I have noticed here and there in the version.

In Genesis 3:6 the ESV follows the example of the NIV with “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate,” where the RSV had “she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” The RSV rendering is to be preferred here, because the Hebrew (lit. “she also gave some to her husband with her,” as in the KJV, ASV and NASB) does not say or imply that Adam was with Eve at the time and place of her temptation. The ordinary way of expressing “who was with her” would be אשר־עמה, not merely עמה. There is nothing corresponding to the words “who was” in the Hebrew, and the word עמה (“with her”) in 3:6 has an adverbial force, according to a common usage of the preposition (see עם in the lexicons). This sentence should be interpreted “she gave some to her husband as well, or also.” This is the interpretation of the Vulgate, RSV, Berkeley, NEB, REB, TEV and NJPS translations, and of most of the commentators. Gordon J. Wenham in his recent commentary (Genesis 1-15, in the Word Biblical Commentary series, published in 1987) ignores the NIV rendering, explains that the phrase “emphasizes the man’s association with the woman in the eating,” and points to the similar phrases in Genesis 6:18, 7:7, and 13:1. Clearly the narrative, which represents the Serpent talking only with Eve and not Adam, presupposes a situation where the serpent has caught Eve alone. It was the serpent’s clever plan to mislead the woman when she was alone, because she could be more easily led astray in the absence of her husband. He targets the more vulnerable woman first, and through her he eventually gets the man as well. The fact that later God blames Adam not for listening to the serpent but for “listening to the voice of your wife” (3:17) also indicates that Adam was not present to hear the serpent’s words; it was through Eve’s persuasion that he ate the fruit. Evidently he did not hear the serpent’s words directly. This, at any rate, is the ancient Jewish understanding of what happened, and it is also the view presupposed by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14, where the prohibition of female leadership in the church is based on the fact that Eve (and not Adam) was deceived by the serpent. If the ESV revisers meant to convey the idea here that Adam was at the tree with Eve while she was being tempted, watching silently while the serpent tells lies to his wife, it indicates a certain lack of exegetical sobriety and conservatism; but unfortunately it does seem that this was their intention. Several people who were involved in the production of the ESV have quoted this rendering in support of the idea that the root cause of the Fall (i.e. the “original sin”) was Adam’s passivity, his failure to take charge of the situation and control his wife’s behavior at this critical moment. 3 This is a pretty serious misuse of the text, enabled by a misleading translation of one Hebrew word.

In Genesis 41:8 the ESV translators were less careful than the RSV to indicate a departure from the Masoretic text. The RSV has here “Pharaoh told them his dream, but there was none who could interpret it,” and gives a footnote telling readers that the Hebrew actually says “there was none who could interpret them.” The ESV regularizes the grammar differently: “Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them,” but without indicating that the Hebrew says “dream,” not “dreams.”

In Genesis 41:56 the ESV footnote reads “Hebrew, all that was in them” where the RSV note said “Gk Vg Compare Syr: Heb all that was in them.” The RSV note is much more informative, and we cannot understand why the ESV revisers deleted the references to the ancient versions supporting the emendation.

In their revision of the RSV, the ESV editors tend to substitute numerals for words expressing quantities; for example, the ESV has “16,000” instead of the RSV’s “sixteen thousand” in Numbers 31:46. In this the ESV editors were merely using a convention of style used in modern books. But this usage of numerals carries with it an implication of precise enumeration which is obviously not intended by the biblical authors. For us, there is a difference between writing “1,000” and “a thousand.” It would have been better to leave the RSV’s old-fashioned “thousands” and “hundreds” alone.

In Exodus 20:19 we find that the RSV’s “but let not God speak to us” has been changed to “but do not let God speak to us,” as if the people thought that God needed Moses’ permission to speak. But this is not at all the meaning of the Hebrew jussive tense here, which expresses a command or plea, and not any idea of permission. Apparently an ESV style editor who knew neither Hebrew nor English very well thought that the RSV’s use of the English jussive form “Let not …” was just some stilted way of saying “Do not let.”

In Deuteronomy 15:4-5 the RSV punctuation is much better than the ESV’s. The ESV has obscured the meaning of the sentence with its revised punctuation, and there does not seem to be any good reason for it.

RSV: But there will be no poor among you (for the LORD will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess), if only you will obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment which I command you this day.ESV: But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.

For the mishandling of the textual issue in Deuteronomy 32:43 see the comments above under “Text-Critical Treatment of the Old Testament.” We really must question the wisdom of eliminating a line found in the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, and also quoted in Romans 15:10. But in addition to that, here we also must wonder why they have rendered כפר kipper as “cleanses” instead of the RSV’s “makes expiation.” The word כפר is full of cultic significance, being the word used when the priest makes atonement for sins at the altar of sacrifice. The BDB Lexicon explains that when God is the subject of this verb, “It is conceived that God in his sovereignty may himself provide an atonement or covering for men and their sins which could not be provided by men” (p. 497). The Christian meaning of this phrase leaps off the page at us in the RSV and other versions. But with the ESV’s rendering “cleanses” (a sense unsupported by either BDB or Koehler-Baumgartner) it is quite hidden from us. Where did this weak rendering come from? It seems that the ESV revisers have borrowed it from the NRSV (which also contains the same text-critical emendation of the verse). The NRSV had borrowed it from a Jewish version—the New JPS version of 1982, which in a note claimed that “the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain” here. But the meaning of the Hebrew is quite clear: God himself makes atonement for his people.

The ESV rendering of 2 Kings 5:13 is peculiar. “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it?” The Hebrew here is better understood along the lines of the RSV’s “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”

The RSV’s rendering of the words עִם־חָסִיד תִּתְחַסָּד in Psalm 18:25, “With the loyal thou dost show thyself loyal,” is better than the ESV’s “With the merciful you show yourself merciful.” Probably the best rendering here would be “faithful.”

The ESV editors have added a footnote to Psalm 42:5, explaining that the Hebrew words which they have rendered “my salvation and my God” (RSV “my help and my God”) are literally “the salvation of my face and my God.” But the Masoretic text printed in the standard editions (e.g. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) says “the salvation of his face [i.e. his presence]. My God ....” (cf. the KJV, ASV, NASB, etc.) The RSV and ESV translators have employed an emendation here, which ought to have been mentioned in this note.

In Isaiah 31:5 the ESV leaves unrevised the RSV’s “he will spare,” a rather weak translation of the Hebrew פסח, lit. “pass over.” As R.B.Y. Scott observes, the KJV’s “passing over is better than he will spare, because it preserves the allusion to the deliverance commemorated by the Pesach (Passover) festival; the verb appears in the O.T. only here and in Exod. 12.” 4

In Isaiah 48:10 the ESV revisers have added a footnote indicating that the word translated “I have tried” (בחר) may be understood as “I have chosen,” and this is a step in the right direction. But “I have chosen” should be in the text itself. The RSV’s rendering “I have tried” is so poorly supported that it should not even be mentioned in a note. (For more on this, see the discussion in chapter 8 of my essay Against the Theory of Dynamic Equivalence.)

In Isaiah 55:1 the interjection הוי hoy at the beginning of the verse receives no proper equivalent in the ESV. The RSV, following the KJV, had interpreted it as a mere exclamation to attract attention: “Ho, every one who thirsts, come ...” But in the ESV (as in the NIV) it disappears completely: “Come, everyone who thirsts ...” Probably the ESV revisers felt that the RSV’s “Ho” was too archaic, but could not think of something more appropriate. “Oh!” would have served the purpose quite well. In Hebrew the interjection הוי is not just a meaningless shout like “hey!” — it is a cry of poignant emotion (usually translated “Alas”), and the ESV should not have stifled it. Also, the last sentence in this verse probably should have been revised along the lines of the rendering of the New JPS version: “Buy food without money, / Wine and milk without cost.” The verb שׁבר means “buy grain” or “buy food” when used intransitively, as may be seen in the immediately preceding clause (“buy food and eat”); and the conventions of parallelism in Hebrew poetry should lead us to expect separate objects for the two prepositional phrases “without money” and “without cost.”

In Jonah 3:3 the Hebrew states that Nineveh was a city “of three days’ walk” (מהלך שלשת ימים). The RSV interpreted this to mean that the city was “three days’ journey in breadth,” which implies that the biblical author thought that Nineveh was at least sixty miles across. This is obviously impossible, and the expression need not be interpreted this way. It may refer to the circumference of greater Nineveh, taking in the suburbs (this interpretation is supported by Genesis 10:11-12, in which Nineveh and its suburbs are collectively called the “great city”), or it may be interpreted as saying that it would take a man three days to walk through all of its streets, without attributing any error to the author. But the ESV revisers have not changed the RSV rendering here. They have added a footnote saying that it may mean “a visit was a three days’ journey” (a clumsy rendering borrowed from the NIV); but in the text they should have just gone back to the literal rendering of the KJV, “of three days’ journey.”

In Luke 17:21 the RSV rendering of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστίν, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” is left unchanged. This very questionable interpretation is also found in other modern versions. But ἐντὸς does not mean “in the midst,” it means “within” (same word translated “inside of” in Matt. 23:26), as in the KJV and NKJV. 5

In John’s Gospel the ESV (following most other modern versions) translates the word μονογενής monogenes as “only,” rather than “only-begotten.” Although most commentators of the present day have argued that “only” is an adequate translation of this word, others maintain that this is an undertranslation of an important theological term. The ESV revisers would do well to include a footnote informing readers of the traditional rendering, “only begotten.” For a full discussion of this matter see my recent article, The Only Begotten Son.

In John 3:31 the RSV’s rendering of καὶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ “and of the earth he speaks” is more literal and more accurate than the ESV’s “and speaks in an earthly way.” But better than both would be “and speaks from the earth.”

We are dismayed to find that in John 8:42 the ESV revisers have changed the RSV’s “I proceeded and came forth from God” to “I came from God and I am here,” in imitation of the NIV. This fails to indicate the true sense of the words. In the Greek text we read here ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον καὶ ἥκω, in which the combination of ἐκ and ἐξῆλθον is most naturally understood as a “proceeding out from” the Father. As Alford observes, “and come [καὶ ἥκω] conveys the result of proceeded forth [ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον] ... mere sending will not exhaust the term proceded forth, which must be taken in its deeper theological meaning, of the proceeding forth of the Eternal Son from the essence of the Father.” 6

In the next verse, John 8:43, the ESV carries over the RSV’s “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” This presents the verse as if Christ were saying that the unbelieving Jews could not understand his meaning because their minds were too stubborn to receive it. That may be true, but it is not what Jesus is saying here. The verse should be translated more literally: “Why do you not understand my speech [λαλια]? It is because you cannot hear my word [λογος].” The word λογος here is not just another way of saying λαλια; it refers to the mental concepts expressed by his figurative λαλια.

The RSV’s weak rendering “together” for ὁμοθυμαδον in Acts 2:46, 4:24, 5:12, 7:57, 19:29 and Romans 15:6 should have been changed to “with one accord” (as in the ASV and other literal versions).

In Acts 3:26 the RSV had, “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.” The problem here is that “every one of you” is too strong a rendering of ἕκαστον, which means nothing more than “each.” Many of those who heard Peter were blessed with such repentance, but not every one of them. The exaggerated translation was noticed by the NRSV revisers, who changed “every one of you” to “each of you.” the ESV revisers changed “in turning” to “by turning” (a mere stylistic change), but the more important problem escaped their attention.

In Romans 3:23 the ESV revisers should have at least added a footnote indicating that the word translated “fall short” may be understood as “are deprived,” in agreement with the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, Geneva Bible, Revised English Bible, New American Bible, and several modern commentators.

The RSV’s punctuation of Romans 4:16-17 should have been changed back to that of the ASV and KJV. The dashes here should be replaced with commas, and the clause “as it is written, I have made you the father of many nations” should be put in marks of parenthesis.

In Romans 8:20-21 the ESV’s “in hope that the creation” is clumsy, and likely to be misunderstood by readers.

The ESV revisers have omitted the RSV footnote at 1 Corinthians 7:21, which indicated that Paul may be telling slaves to “make use of your present condition instead” of setting their hearts on emancipation. (See a full discussion of the interpretation of this verse here.) This interpretation not only deserves a note, it should have been put in the text.

The ESV gives the word “betrothed” as a rendering for παρθένος in 1 Cor. 7:25, 34, 36, 37, 38. But παρθένος does not mean “betrothed,” it means “virgin.” The ESV rendering is an interpretation rather than a translation of the Greek.

What is meant by “baptized into Moses” in 1 Corinthians 10:2? This rendering of εἰς τὸν Μωϋσῆν ἐβαπτίσθησαν is carried over from the RSV, but it makes no sense. The ASV’s “unto Moses” was much better. It is likely that when Paul speaks of baptism εις Χριστον he has in mind the idea of incorporation, and so “into” may be best in Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27, and 1 Corinthians 12:13. But in places where the mystical union or incorporation into the body of Christ is not in view (e.g. Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 1:15 and 10:2), εις after the verb βαπτιζω should ordinarily be understood “unto” or “for,” not “into” or “in.”

In 1 Corinthians 10:11 the ESV revisers give a more accurate translation of the adverb τυπικῶς by substituting “as an example” for the RSV’s “as a warning,” but they overlooked the fact that this changes the thought in such a way that the δὲ in the following clause must be rendered “and” instead of “but.”

The ESV’s use of “wife” as a translation of γυνή in 1 Corinthians 11 is very questionable. This passage is about the status and behavior suitable to womankind, not just of wives. And there is no indication here that Paul viewed headcoverings as a symbol of the married state. But Wayne Grudem (who played a major role in the production of the ESV) has already used the ESV rendering to support his idea that “Today we obey the head covering commands for women in 1 Corinthians 11 by encouraging married women to wear whatever symbolizes being married in their own cultures ... married women today should not hide their wedding rings.” 7 The ESV rendering looks like an attempt to provide support for Grudem’s notion about the appropriate modern application in advance. (See Grudem’s discussion of the passage here, and a refutation of it here.)

In 2 Corinthians 4:16 we find another example of a weak RSV rendering which should have been improved in the ESV: “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.” The phrase “outer nature” does not convey the meaning of the Greek here, which says “outward man.” Paul means by this the same thing that he means when he speaks of the sin-prone “body of flesh.” So probably the best way to render it would be, “Though our outward body is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed ...” (Note: After 2007, printings of the ESV have “outer self” and “inner self.”)

There is a tendency in the ESV to substitute the singular “man” for the plural “men” in various places, and so we find the very odd expression “the children of man” instead of the familiar “children of men” or “sons of men” in some places. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man” (υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, Mark 3:28). Apparently the ESV editors decided that they would use the collective singular “man” inclusively, but not “men.” This editorial policy is arbitrary and artificial. People who are used to the all-inclusive use of “man” can also understand “men” when it is used in this sense. We also see that the ESV revisers often avoid translating the singular ανθρωπος as “man,” despite the fact that it means just that in Greek. This looks like a sop for those who have been demanding “inclusive language” revisions of the Bible. But there is no point in trying to please that crowd with half-measures like this.

In Galatians 1:15 “reveal his Son to me” should have been revised to “reveal his Son in me.” The preposition εν does not mean “to,” and as Raymond Stamm rightly points out, the RSV’s “to me ... does not express the mystical fellowship described in 2:20; cf. II Cor. 13:3.” 8 It should also be noted that Paul’s use of “in me” (εν εμοι) was likely prompted by “from the womb” in the preceding clause.

In Philippians 3:16 “hold true to” is a poor rendering for στοιχεῖν (stoichein). The rendering is sanctioned by Bauer’s Wörterbuch, but this is one of many weakened senses proposed in that lexicon with no real warrant. The word means “walk in line with others according to a rule” (see Vine, Vincent, Moule).

In Colossians 1:16 ἐν αὐτῷ, which in the RSV was “in him,” has been changed to “by him” by the ESV revisers. This is the old rendering of the KJV, which in the past has caused people to think the apostle is saying the Son was actually the Creator. To prevent that misinterpretation the ESV revisers have added a note here, “That is, by means of; or in.” But why not simply put “by means of” in the text? We also note that in the following verse the RSV’s translation of ἐν αὐτῷ as “in him” has been left unrevised. Surely the rendering of the phrase should be the same in both places.

The RSV renderings for the adjective ατακτος in 1 Thess. 5:14, the adverb ατακτως in 2 Thess 3:6 and 3:11, and the verb ατακτεω in 2 Thess. 3:7 should have been revised. In these places, the RSV renderings (“idlers,” “in idleness,” and “were idle”) were retained, despite the fact that most scholars now agree that the old renderings of the KJV and ASV (“unruly/disorderly,” “disorderly,” and “behaved disorderly”) were more accurate. See the remarks on this subject in my review of the RSV. The difference here is not merely academic. If the words do not have the specific meaning of “idle” or “lazy,” and Paul is commanding the Thessalonians to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6, ASV), then the command has a much broader scope. For those who are seeking Scriptural guidance in matters of church discipline, the possibilities of application are different.

In 1 Timothy 1:10 the ESV’s “enslavers” is a less accurate rendering of ανδραποδισταις than the RSV’s “kidnappers.” With this inaccurate rendering (and with the deletion of the RSV footnote at 1 Corinthians 7:21) the ESV seems to be providing ammunition for Wayne Grudem’s recent arguments against liberals who like to equate the Bible’s statements about the place of woman with its statements about slavery. In response to one recent book that makes this comparison (William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals), Grudem writes that the Bible “gives principles that would modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery (1 Cor. 7:21-22; Gal. 3:28; Philem. 16, 21; and note the condemnation of ‘enslavers’ at 1 Tim. 1:10, ESV, a verse that was previously overlooked in this regard because it was often translated ‘kidnappers’).” 9

In Titus 1:1 the ESV renders the preposition κατα “for the sake of,” when it should be “in accordance with,” as in 2 Tim 1:1 and elsewhere. “For the sake of” is a rendering with little or no support in biblical Greek. Bauer cites only John 2:6 and 2 Cor 11:21 for this proposed meaning (enumerated as II.4 in his Wörterbuch), but in those places it is just as questionable, and with respect to Titus 1:1 he adds, “doch ist auch d. Bedeutung ‘entsprechend,’ ‘nach,’ ‘gemäß’ möglich.” (“though the meaning ‘correspond to,’ ‘according to,’ ‘suitable for’ is also possible.”) The translation “for the sake of” is employed here only because some commentators have objected to the idea that Paul would have described his apostleship as one which corresponds to or is in accordance with “the faith of God’s elect,” because this would imply that Paul’s authority receives its validity from his doctrinal agreement with “the faith” of the elect (Huther, followed by Alford and many others). But that is precisely what he is saying here! Compare Galatians 1:8. Calvin remarks, “It is as if he had said, ‘There is a mutual agreement between my apostleship and the faith of the elect of God; and therefore, it will not be rejected by any man who is not a reprobate and opposed to the true faith.’”

In Hebrews 11:1 the ESV leaves the RSV’s rendering unchanged, translating the words Εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις with “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” But Bauer states that the proposed sense “confidence, assurance” (Zutrauen, Zuversicht) for the word υποστασις “must be eliminated, since examples of it cannot be found,” and prefers the meaning “realization, materialization” (Verwirklichung). Helmut Köster in the TDNT (vol. 8, pp. 572-89) also rejects “assurance” is an “untenable” sense, and argues that in the Epistle to the Hebrews υποστασις is a developed theological term referring to the invisible, transcendent “reality” of God contrasted with the shadowy and insubstantial phenomena of this corruptible world. Günther Harder in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (1975) also rejects the proposed sense “assurance” and favors “realization.” According to Harder, the “realization” of things hoped for means that “the thing hoped for works through faith and produces action and attitudes. Thus Abraham hoped for a future city and therefore chose the life of a sojourner” (vol. 1, p. 714). The revised BDAG lexicon of 2000 continues to warn translators that the sense given in the RSV “must be eliminated” from consideration, but, citing now the usage of the word in non-literary papyri, suggests that “guarantee of ownership/entitlement, title deed” may be the sense of υποστασις in Hebrews 11:1. This concerns no minor point of exegesis: it makes a real difference in our understanding of an often-quoted verse which appears to set forth a definition of “faith,” and discussions of it may be found in any exegetical commentary. The original fault here was that of the RSV translators, who unwisely eliminated the footnote of the ASV (“or, the giving substance to” things hoped for), but the ESV revisers should at least have restored the ASV’s footnote here, or in some other way indicated that many (perhaps most) scholars who have carefully considered the matter have preferred other interpretations.

In 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 the ESV revisers have eliminated the RSV footnotes. But the marginal renderings “our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ” and “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (which appear in the text of the KJV and ASV) should continue to be acknowledged as viable alternatives to the renderings adopted in the ESV text. See further comments on these verses in my review of the NET Bible.

I might add many other things to this collection of criticisms. Some of the faults are quite annoying. But mostly they are the kind of minor faults that may be observed in any version.


As modern versions go, the ESV should be counted as one of the best for use in teaching ministry. It is more literal than the NIV, and so it is largely free of the problems that come with the use of so-called “dynamic equivalence” versions; but it is not so severely literal that ordinary readers will struggle to understand it. Its English recalls the classic diction of the KJV, and so it has some literary power (this is not unimportant in a Bible version). Its handling of the Old Testament is agreeable to conservative principles of interpretation. As a revision of the RSV, it is much better than the NRSV in several ways. However, there are some weaknesses in it. We have noticed the bad influence of the NIV in several places. So, for close study the ESV is less suitable than the NASB or NKJV. These latter versions, despite their difficulties and obscurities, continue to be the most useful for detailed and careful study.

Michael Marlowe
December 2007


1. Genesis 16-50 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), pp. 477-8. E.A. Speiser also adopted this reading in his commentary (1964), “without undue confidence, as the one that is least objectionable” (p. 366). Other versions that have adopted it are the New English Bible and the New JPS Translation.

2. For a discussion of this point of Hebrew philology see Bruce K. Waltke, “Psalms: theology of,” in vol. 4 of The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), p. 1113.

3. See for example the discussion of Genesis 3:6 in William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 125, 131, 141; Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Piper and Grudem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), p. 96; and Thomas Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in Women in the Church, ed. Köstenberger, Schreiner, and Baldwin (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), p. 145. Ortlund says Adam “stood by passively, allowing the deception to progress without decisive intervention ... abandoned his post as head ... forsook his responsibility,” etc. Schreiner even goes so far as to say that the Genesis temptation is a “parable of what happens when male leadership is abrogated.” This explanation for Eve’s sin is less than twenty years old, but it has become so popular among gallant “complementarian” writers in recent years that Daniel Doriani in his book Women and Ministry (Crossway, 2003) blithely states that the Fall came about “when Adam failed to protect his wife” (p. 60), without offering any explanation for the statement. Clearly it owes much to the kind of pulpit exposition one commonly hears in evangelical churches, where the moral purity of women is always taken for granted, and preachers are mainly interested in reminding men of their duties.

4. Interpreter’s Bible, volume 5 (New York, 1956), p. 340.

5. There is no clear attestation for such a meaning as “among” or “in the midst” for this word in any ancient Greek source. It is indisputable that “within” is the ordinary meaning, and the immediate context here seems to favor this meaning. It was understood thus by the translators of all the ancient versions, and by all the Church fathers. Moreover, as S.C. Carpenter explains, “For ‘among’ S. Luke would have said ἐν μέσῳ, which occurs seven times in his Gospel (see especially xxii. 27) and four times in Acts.” (Christianity according to S. Luke [London: S.P.C.K., 1919], p. 103.) See also the more recent discussion in Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1965), pp. 61-3. A thorough review of the linguistic evidence is given in an article published online: Ilaria Ramelli, “Luke 17:21: ‘The Kingdom of God is inside you.’ The Ancient Syriac Versions in Support of the Correct Translation,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12/2 (Summer 2009), pp. 259-286. The rendering “in the midst” is used in some modern translations only because the translators think it is theologically impossible that Jesus would say that the Kingdom of God is “within” people. The circumstance that these words are addressed to unbelieving Jews does not make any difference, because as Olshausen says, “The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion.” (Biblical Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Hermann Olshausen … Translated from the German for Clark’s Foreign and Theological Library. First American Edition. Revised after the Fourth German Edition, by A.C. Kendrick. Vol. 2 [New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860], pp. 88-9.)

6. Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (London, 1866), ad loc. For a full exposition of the meaning see Charles H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953), p. 259. Dodd concludes that the meaning is, “He had His origin in the being of the Father. It is in this precise sense, and not in any vaguer sense which the words might also bear, that he is ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ.” Likewise, if ἐκ instead of παρὰ be the true reading in John 16:28, ἐξῆλθον ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ ἐλήλυθα εἰς τὸν κόσμον, Dodd asserts that it “can hardly mean anything else than ‘I issued out of the Father and came into the world.’”

7. Wayne A. Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than 100 Disputed Questions (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004), p. 336.

8. Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10 [1953], p. 458.

9. Wayne A. Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006), p. 77. We also observe that in the ESV Study Bible edited by Grudem (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2008), the note on 1 Tim. 1:10 fails to give a correct definition for the word ανδραποδιστης (andrapodistes), and misleads readers into thinking that it refers to any kind of “forcible enslavement.” And at 1 Cor. 7:21 the ESV Study Bible not only fails to mention the alternative rendering, which the ESV revisers have suppressed, but asserts that “The NT assumes that trafficking in human beings is a sin.” I do not think the ESV editors have dealt honestly with this issue. The New Testament, like the Old Testament, often mentions slavery, and sometimes it is spoken of as being an unfortunate condition; but we do not find in the NT any indication that its authors regarded the institution of slavery as being inherently immoral, and it should be understood that the political authorities of the day would have looked upon any denunciation of the institution as an incitement to revolt. For more information on this interpretive issue, see my article, Make Good Use of Your Servitude.