TNIV vs. ESV: Who is winning so far?

I have tried not to get too involved with the battle of the bibles but here I am again with another post on it. I love my bibles so I can’t help it; it’s almost like a sport but with a religious twist to it. The TNIV bible sales are picking up and I think that it has the potential to become as popular as the NLT. Thus far, the TNIV is on its way to becoming more popular than the ESV. I went to a couple of bible bookstores in town and browsed their shelves. In the first bookstore, there were at least 20 copies on the shelf. In the second bookstore, there were at least the same number. This says a lot about how the sales of the TNIV are going. Just from my observation of the shelves of the local bible bookstores, I can safely predict that bible sales of the TNIV are going to increase steadily in the next few years. What about the ESV? Well, it’a dramatic difference with the ESV. One store had only 3 copies of the ESV. A second store in town also had about 3 copies. It was really pathetic to see only 3 copies of the ESV in each store. Even the HCSB, God’s Word, and the Message bibles had more copies than the ESV. If this doesn’t say something about the bible sales of the ESV, I don’t know what else it can mean. It has now been a few years since the ESV has arrived onto the bible scene but it has not made a big impact in bible sales–at least where I live. Last month, I spoke to the regional representative from the Canadian Bible Society (Canadian counterpart to American Bible Society) and asked him how the sales of the ESV were going in this region. He told me that it was not going very well at all, and it seems to be the same story in other areas of the country too-at least in this part of Canada. And I haven’t even mentioned the big box bookstores yet. They seem to carry more of the TNIV than the ESV.

Take a look at the uncanny similarities from Romans 8:2-5:

ESV:
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

RSV
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

I don’t see how the ESV has differentiated itself enough from the RSV. What value has the ESV brought that makes it better than the RSV? There are some value-added improvements but they are not substantial enough for it to be considered a large enough improvement over the RSV. If the future 2nd edition of the ESV does not contain more improvements over the first edition, it will not have a chance against the TNIV. It is not differentiated enough from the RSV for people to feel justified to make a purchase. If the ESV translators had made more of an effort to improve or change the way it reads from the RSV, it might be a different story today. Sure there is not a huge difference between the TNIV and the NIV but at least the TNIV translators have made more changes in the area of gender-neutral language, plus some textual improvements over the NIV. These changes have given the TNIV more value over the NIV. In the end, when it all comes down. It is marketing that makes or breaks a bible (or even a book for that matter), but the quality also has a large part in its success too. In the world of business marketing, what differentiates one product from the other is in the value it provides for the reader. Perhaps, in the future, the publisher of the ESV should push for bigger improvements. So who is winning so far? You tell me.

11 Replies to “TNIV vs. ESV: Who is winning so far?”

  1. The 3 things you mentioned: textual, theological, and gender-inclusivity are significant. The ESV translators have done a lot of improvements but it seems like the TNIV translators have done more work on their’s. But then, the TNIV also seems more gender-neutral than the ESV…maybe it’s just the TNIV’s translation philosophy of trying to be more gender-inclusive. That’s just my reading of it.

    I never got into the NIV when I was younger because I was more into the NKJV. But the ESV is probably closer to the Tyndale tradition than the TNIV is. In my earlier days, I did find the NIV language a bit too loose but I’ve loosened up myself so I can accept the TNIV and even NLT2 language. I’ve learned that a more formal translation is not necessarily more accurate in meaning of idea/concepts, just in word order and meaning of words. But it’s nice to have a more formal translation close at hand. Dynamic translations are nice to read (and I’m a fan of the NLT2) but something in me still likes to refer to formal translations in my study too.

    You said: I don’t know why they were willing to allow the NRSV to be so significant a change without expecting as much from the ESV.

    I bet the NCCC were okay with giving the NRSV translators to have free reign over any changes they wanted to make in the RSV because they knew they had the rights for the NRSV anyway. But their fear might have been that if the ESV team made too many good positive changes, it might jeopardize the NRSV’s future sales. … but that’s just my theory.

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  2. One more thing: a lot of people who are younger who grew up with the NIV are preferring to switch to something a little more form-equivalent but have never had an RSV on their shelves. If they’re going to get something new, they might as well get an ESV for its improvements, even if the changes aren’t sweeping. Even if it’s a little better, you might as well get the one that’s a little better if you’re choosing between the two. It’s people who already have the RSV who will have a harder time deciding whether the changes are enough. So they shouldn’t be marketing it to older people who likely have an RSV and prefer its language. They should be doing what they’re doing in marketing it to NIV-users who are frustrated at its looseness with form and to KJV-users who are frustrated with its being too archaic but who still like formal translation. That’s who they’re marketing it to now, and that’s why they’re doing as well as they’re doing. They’ve figured out exactly who would want exactly the kind of translation they’ve produced.

    By the way, the people who hold the copyright to the RSV were frustrated that the ESV translators changed as much as they did. They wanted it to be a much less thorough-going revision, and they thought they’d agreed to much less than what occurred. I don’t know why they were willing to allow the NRSV to be so significant a change without expecting as much from the ESV.

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  3. The ESV has had to fight against the lies and slander of some of its detractors. They’re just not as loud or influential, and the lies are more subtle. But I do regularly encounter people who represent the ESV as being Grudem’s translation, as if all the translators hold Grudem’s view, something that’s simply not true. There are scholars who worked on both the ESV and the TNIV or both the ESV and the NLT and were happy to do so.

    The three biggest types of changes in the ESV from the RSV are textual, theological, and gender-inclusive. The textual information available for the ESV make it one of the most up-to-date translations you can get right now. Only the TNIV, HCSB, and NLT2 are recent enough to reflect a similar understanding of textual criticism. I much prefer the ESV over the RSV for that alone.

    It does help that they improved some of the theological language, e.g. updating “just” to “righteous” in the passage you selected and correcting for some of the no-longer-popular slants of the RSV like “expiation”. We also shouldn’t underestimate the value of updating the gender-inclusive language that the ESV does contain. It doesn’t use “man” for humanity very often, and it indicates gender-neutral meaning in footnotes when its translation philosophy doesn’t allow it to demonstrate that in the text.

    Whether you think that’s enough to purchase an ESV may depend on what you want in a translation, but I think these are all significant improvements, enough that I’d never want to use an RSV if I had access to an ESV. Since the ESV is much closer to what I want in my primary translation than the TNIV is (even if I really don’t like some of the things the ESV translators did and wish they’d done more than they did), I think it justifies my having an ESV.

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  4. Why does it have to be significantly different than the RSV to be marketable? Most people won’t even know that the ESV is based on the RSV.

    Orthodox, you’re right, most people don’t know that the ESV is based on the RSV. I didn’t know until I compared it side-by-side.

    The RSV is a dying or dead version that is not being used, especially by mainliners. The older generation still use it so I think perhaps the ESV-CBT or Crossway tried to take advantage of this to market their own translation. They might actually do better to market it to the older generation of RSV users who don’t like the gender-inclusive language but prefer the new textual scholarship. The larger bible-reading community is likely going to stick with the existing translations.

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  5. Why does it have to be significantly different than the RSV to be marketable? Most people won’t even know that the ESV is based on the RSV. Another thing is that a lot of people thought the RSV was fine to begin with apart from some some minor perceived liberal leanings.

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  6. Sorry I didn’t mean to leave anyone out. …and others like who may be like yourself are the majority of bible readers who read various versions, without whom bible publishers would not even be able to sell bibles.

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  7. People in the academic field will try to read from many versions so as not to be pinned-down to only one version… perception of open-mindedness, you know.

    Yeah, and then there are others, like me, who don’t read Greek & Hebrew, who search the many different translations trying to find out just what is the Bible really trying to say!

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  8. I think bible sales depends on religious demographics too. Here in Canada, there aren’t very many reformed. They’re pretty scarce up here, unlike in the USA (or Kentucky). Although some of the conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans tend to use the ESV…but it’s not surprising since they’re are quite a few of them on the translation team too. Even if they had officially made the switch from NIV to ESV, that may strengthened ESV sales a little, but they’re market isn’t huge anyway. The NIV has managed to get readers from all denominations except the mainline churches, which tend to stick with N/RSV.

    Gary, you’re right about the TNIV having to fight against the tide. Years ago, I would have been on the other side fighting against it until I saw the light. I don’t know if Walmart and big box bookstores are really in tune with the bible market’s taste. And if so, then whatever they are carrying doesn’t necessarily indicate what bible-readers are really reading. Some Anglicans are reformed like James I. Packer (Regent College) but there might be more reformed-minded LCMS Lutherans than Anglicans (in the predestination sense). I’m sure there are others like your friend Mr. Rogland who will read from many versions, which is good. People in the academic field will try to read from many versions so as not to be pinned-down to only one version… perception of open-mindedness, you know.

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  9. I was just reading on your link to the ESV translators, Kevin, and was looking through the list of “Translation Review Scholars”, and found this:
    Mr. Max Rogland
    Ph.D. (cand.) Leiden University
    B.A., B.Mus., University of Washington
    M.Div., Covenant Theological Seminary
    I know Max personally from a church-planting operation a few years ago here in our fair city. Wonderful man, but besides that, what made me laugh a little was when I remembered that Max’s preferred translation is the NIV! So while he himself points people to the NIV, his name is there on the ESV website.

    I’m sure he only reviewed the ESV for the translation team and doesn’t necessarily endorse it, but it just made me raise an eyebrow and chuckle a bit.

    Gary 😉

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  10. The ESV hasn’t had to fight against the lies and slander of its detractors like the TNIV has had to, either.

    One of these days I plan on checking out the local Bible bookstore to see how many of each they’re carrying. Last time I did, probably about 8 months ago, they had a fair selection of the ESV, and the saleslady was pushing it. (At the time, I wasn’t looking for the TNIV or NLT.)

    Last time I checked the local Wal-Mart all they had were NIVs and KJVs.

    I have an internet friend who is an Anglican, and he says the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) is using the ESV almost exclusively. Are the Anglicans considered reformed?

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  11. Currently the ESV is outselling the TNIV, but it also had a four year head start. I was in a booksamillion the other night and was pleased to see a very healthy selection of TNIV Bibles represented, but there was also a large selection of ESV as well.

    I was browsing the BIble shelves because I’m still looking for a good “public use” NLTse.

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