TNIV and ESV: new bible translations–Part 2

The ESV translation is a very good translation that has not yet been noticed by many in the mainstream bible-reading community. Much of the text is very similar to the RSV, and many parts of it have even remained RSV word-for-word. (Try doing a parallel scripture search and you’ll see the striking similarities). The ESV translators (ESV blog) have made many corrections and improvements over the RSV due to more current scholarship and discoveries; the same goes for the TNIV (TNIV blog). I think many will like the ESV’s dual benefits of literalness and its readabilty, fluidity and beauty of the English language. It is much more readable than the literal New American Standard (NASB). Those who use the NASB for indepth study may find they will really like the ESV for its readability. The ESV is also more literal than the TNIV, which is a more of an idea-for-idea (dynamic) translation Its word-for-word literalness brings it closer to the original Hebrew/Greek than the TNIV, and yet it reads more smoothly than the NASB. So now that the ESV has come around, it just might become a favorite translation for many. Its readership is slowly becoming more familiar with the evangelical crowd but I don’t see many displayed yet on the shelves of Christian bookstores. It seems like it is gradually becoming the standard amongst many Reformed readers and churches. And the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church almost switched over entirely to the ESV but decided to stick with the NIV. Mainliners who read the RSV might also find an easy transition over to the ESV since it uses the RSV as sort of a platform. I predict that in the long-term, there is a bright future for both the ESV and TNIV. Both versions are the work of solid evangelical scholars; and both versions have been endorsed by many well-known figures. For December 2006, the ESV ranks in the #5 position, and the TNIV is #7 . For the current top 10 rankings, check out the CBA website. And for more in-depth discussion of various translations, check out the Better Bibles blog. You will find other blogs talking about their favorite translation. Blogger Adrian Warnock is a huge fan of the ESV and has extended discussions about it on his blog archives in 2005.

5 thoughts on “TNIV and ESV: new bible translations–Part 2

  1. Rick,
    The NASB is a better translation in the sense that it holds to a more strict formal equivalence in translation philosophy. The ESV is probably a better all-around translation than the NASB probably just because it is more readable but still holds to formal equivalence. I admit that formal equivalence does not always work, but there are pros and cons to both formal and dynamic. A lot of it is just a judgement call for the translators.


  2. Correction: The ESV does not translate σπέρματος in Rom 1:3, as opposed to not translating γενομένου as I originally stated. Either word could be the root behind the ESV’s use of “descended.” I knew that one word was not translated, so I guessed but guessed wrong. I looked this up in the ESV Reverse Interlinear this morning to be sure.


  3. My desire is really not to knock the ESV. If it speaks to you, then by all means read it. But I feel as if the promoters of it have made exaggerated claims including that it is literal like the NASB, but more readable. I just don’t feel this bares out close analysis and feel that in the sum of all things, the NASB is still a better translation.

    Regarding Heb 13:2, yes “unawares” is a leftover from the RSV, but that’s merely a case in point. The greatest weakness of the ESV is that it didn’t change enough in the RSV and therefore it reads very uneven. Further, a revised ESV New Testament was released this past Fall with the ESV Reverse Interlinear (the entire revised ESV will be released any day now). My jaw literally dropped when I saw that they did not change verses like Heb 13:2 when they certainly had five years since the 2001 initial release to make the changes. It’s one thing to try to stay close to the original languages; it’s another to use nonstandard English. Look at my post Truth Unchanged Not Changed That Much: A Preliminary Survey of Updates to the ESV New Testament for more details.

    Regarding Rom 1:3, I don’t see the TNIV rendering as flawed at all. First of all the ESV isn’t entirely literal in this verse either; the translators completely leave out any rendering of γενομένου (cf the NASB). But I won’t claim that the ESV is taking away from scripture. They are just attempting to translate using modern usage. Nevertheless, “according to the flesh” (κατὰ σάρκα) while a literal rendering doesn’t say that much. Although there’s part of me that likes rendering σάρξ as “flesh” because it triggers in my mind the Greek word, I know for a fact that for the average church-goer and every non-church-goer, “according to the flesh” is a meaningless phrase. You know what it means because you’ve got the background for it. But try to step outside your learning and think about the phrase from the ESV: “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.” That is just unintelligble to those who don’t understand what it means.

    Obviously all Paul is saying is that Jesus was a descendent (υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος) of David only in regard to earthly body. He’s being very careful not to imply that David actually came first. Therefore, the TNIV’s rendering “who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David” fully communicates Paul’s intention. Yes, the ESV is more literal in the strictest sense, but in way similar to the point I was trying to prove in “Grinding Another Man’s Grain,” if literal is unintelligble, it is certainly not accurate.

    Also note that the TNIV indeed has a footnote to this verse that says “Or who according to the flesh” which I feel is an INCREDIBLY responsible way to handle the verse. It gives a very readable rendering in the text and a literal rendering in the footnote. The best of both worlds, wouldn’t you say?

    Incidentally, the NIV did not use “flesh” either rendered σάρξ as “his human nature.” The TNIV’s rendering is an improvement over this because “human nature” can sometimes be confused for “sinful nature” as in “well, it’s just human nature.”


  4. Rick,
    The Heb. 13:2 “unawares” was a leftover from the old RSV translation which that should have got changed. The NRSV and all modern translations got that one changed. Yes, I have to admit the ESV missed a few places but overall, it is still an excellent translation. When doing bible studies, the T/NIV still seems a little loose in certain places. Every translation has its few weak spots and you pointed that out.

    The TNIV also has its flaws. In Rom. 1:3, it changed it to “regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David.” In the ESV and NIV, it uses “flesh”. I think Paul wanted to use “flesh” to express the idea of “body”. The TNIV might be a bit too loose in using “earthly life”. It’s only a possible intended meaning but not necessarily what Paul actually wanted to express in using “flesh”.


  5. I believe the claim that the ESV is more readable than the NASB may not be tenable. Compare for instance, Matt 7:1 in both translations. The ESV uses a reverse negative form that I never hear in modern speech except when I listen to Yoda in a Star Wars movie. Also compare Heb 13:2 in both the ESV and NASB. What’s up with the archaic “unawares” in the ESV? Not only is is bad English, but it makes the verse sound like a hillbilly translation.

    I would also disagree that the ESV’s literalness makes it closer to the original Greek and Hebrew than the TNIV. I think this stems from a misunderstanding of formal and dynamic equivalent translation philosophies. It’s been demonstrated over and over that formal equivalent translation doesn’t always communicate original meaning at all. See my post, Grinding Another Man’s Grain as an example of a passage where a midrange dynamic approach best communicates the author’s original intention.


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