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Darkness to Light - Vol. IV, No.8

Darkness to Light
Volume IV, Number 8


Presented by Darkness to Light Web site
Director: Gary F. Zeolla

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Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Second Edition - Translated by Gary F. Zeolla. The ideal version for personal Bible study. The only Bible that is a literal translation of the second edition of the Byzantine Majority Greek Text, brings out nuances of the Greek text, and includes study aids within the text. Promotes understanding of what the New Testament writers originally wrote. Available in paperback, hardback, and eBook formats.

Review of the English Standard Version

Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

My book, Differences Between Bible Versions was published in June 2001. The English Standard Version (ESV) was published in October of the same year. So it was not possible to have included mention of the ESV in my book. But since the publication of the ESV, I have received many questions about it. So in this three-part article, I will review the ESV.

This first part will look at background information on the ESV. Parts Two and Three will then evaluate sample passages from the ESV. Information on the ESV for this article will be taken from the official ESV Web site (2005 The Standard Bible Society).

Background to the ESV

The following is taken from the page "Introduction to the ESV Bible" on the ESV Web site.

The English Standard Version (ESV) is a "word-for-word," essentially literal translation because every word of the Bible is inspired by God.

The ESV Bible is a new, essentially literal Bible translation that combines word-for-word precision and accuracy with literary excellence, beauty, and readability.

So the ESV claims to be a literal translation. In my book I explain while I believe a literal translation method is to be preferred to other translation principles. The main reason I believe as such is, as the first quote states, "every word of the Bible is inspired by God." As such, every word should be translated. This is why my own translation, the Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT), is a strictly literal translation that translates every original word.

It is also good to see the ESV strives for "literary excellence, beauty, and readability." The latter is especially important. It is difficult but not impossible to produce a version that is both accurate and readable. If a version is not readable, then people will not read it.

The following quotes are from the page "Translation Philosophy."

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

This quote again shows the ESV's desire to be a literal translation. However, note the mention of "taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom." It is true Hebrew and Greek grammar and syntax often differs from the English practice, so some minor alterations need to be made to the text to make it readable in English. But this is not an excuse to make major alterations as is often done in modern 0versions. But hopefully, the ESV will strive as I did in the ALT to make such alterations as minor as possible.

However, the mention of "idioms" is potentially more troubling. This seems to be saying the ESV will not be translating idioms literally, but instead it will try to "interpret" such idioms for its readers. I discuss the possible problems with doing so in my book. And later, this problem will be seen in one of the sample passages.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a "thought-for-thought" rather than "word-for-word" translation philosophy, emphasizing "dynamic equivalence" rather than the "essentially literal" meaning of the original. A "thought-for-thought" translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.

This paragraph is very true and expresses why I do not particularly like "dynamic equivalence" translations.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be "as literal as possible" while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

With this quote, the ESV seems to be giving itself some "breathing room" to deviate from a strictly literal translation when such a translation would be overly awkward. It is true that at times a literal translation can be awkward, but often this can be overcome without deviating too far from a literal rendering. The question is, how far is the deviation and how often is it deemed "necessary" to alter the text? If many large deviations occur, then a translation cannot be honestly labeled as "literal."

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original

This is a worthwhile goal that I also sought to do in the ALT. Consistently translating the same original word with the same English word is not always possible, but the greater the consistency the easier it is for English readers to do word studies on important topics.

So in many ways I would agree with the ESV's basic translation philosophy. However, they seem to have opened the door for some less than literal renderings. Also, there is no mention of offsetting words added for clarity.

Very often it is necessary to add words to the text to make it readable in English and to concur with English grammar. But any such added words are not God-inspired like the original words are, so it is necessary for translators to differentiate between their added words and God's original words. I did so by placing such added words in brackets in the ALT; most literal versions place added words in italics. Either way, there is a clear distinction.

However, the ESV does not state it will be making such a distinction. And in the examples to follow, it will be seen that many times the ESV adds words to the text without indicating it has done so. This is discouraging for a literal translation. How are readers supposed to know when they are reading God's actual words versus the translators' added words?

Gender Issues

The following is from the page "Gender Issues."

In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original.

For example, "anyone" replaces "any man" where there is no word corresponding to "man" in the original languages, and "people" rather than "men" is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the words "man" and "men" are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew.

The first sentence presents a very good philosophy to hold when dealing with this controversial issue. The paragraph then is basically correct, but it simplifies the issue a bit too much.

In Greek, there are two words that are often rendered as "man" anthropos and aner. The former word can be used to refer to an adult male. However, more often, it is used in an "inclusive" sense and more correctly refers to both males and females. Hence, "person" or "people" would be better renderings.

However, the latter word more specifically refers to an adult male. Hence, "man" or "men" would be the best rendering. In my ALT, I used the philosophy of rendering anthropos in an inclusive manner, unless the context clearly indicated a masculine meaning. But I consistently rendered aner in a masculine manner. Examples will be given later of how the ESV deals with two these words.

Similarly, the English word "brothers" (translating the Greek word adelphoi) is retained as an important familial form of address between fellow-Jews and fellow-Christians in the first century. A recurring note is included to indicate that the term "brothers" (adelphoi) was often used in Greek to refer to both men and women, and to indicate the specific instances in the text where this is the case.

In addition, the English word "sons" (translating the Greek word huioi) is retained in specific instances because of its meaning as a legal term in the adoption and inheritance laws of first-century Rome. As used by the apostle Paul, this term refers to the status of all Christians, both men and women, who, having been adopted into God's family, now enjoy all the privileges, obligations, and inheritance rights of God's children.

The ESV page correctly indicates that at times the terms "brothers" and "sons" have an inclusive sense to them. So the ESV renders them in a masculine manner but uses footnotes to indicate the inclusive meaning when appropriate. This practice is much better than changing the text itself as many other modern versions do.

The inclusive use of the generic "he" has also regularly been retained, because this is consistent with similar usage in the original languages and because an essentially literal translation would be impossible without it.

Similarly, where God and man are compared or contrasted in the original, the ESV retains the generic use of "man" as the clearest way to express the contrast within the framework of essentially literal translation.

In each case the objective has been transparency to the original text, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own terms rather than on the terms of our present-day culture.

This is all very good. At times, the only way to render the text in an inclusive manner would be to change the text. So, for instance, in some modern versions "he" is changed to "they" to force an inclusive rendering. But the changing of singular to plural pronouns goes beyond a literal rendering, and it is good the ESV recognizes this.

Textual Base

The following quotes are from the page "Manuscripts Used in Translating the ESV."

The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), and on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.), edited by Nestle and Aland.

The Masoretic text is the Hebrew text used for most translations of the Old Testament. If I had done an ALT version of the Old Testament, I would have used this text. So there is no disagreement on the Old Testament Text.

However, the indicated UBS/ Nestle-Aland text is the most recent version of what I call in my book the "Critical Text" (CT). This text differs from the Textus Receptus (TR) that the King James and New King James versions are based, and the Majority Text (MT) that my version is based on. The TR and MT are rather similar, while both differ in some significant places from the CT. And it is here that my biggest disagreement with the ESV enters.

I present in detail in my book why I believe the MT or even the TR is to be preferred to the CT. So I will not present the arguments here. However, the importance of the differing Greek text will be seen in some of the examples to follow.

The footnotes that accompany the ESV text inform the reader of textual variations and difficulties and show how these have been resolved by the ESV Translation Team. In addition to this, the footnotes indicate significant alternative readings and occasionally provide an explanation for technical terms or for a difficult reading in the text.

So the ESV will include footnotes. And some of these notes will indicate textual variants. This is good. A version should indicate when there are important textual variants. This is why my translation includes an "Important Textual Variants" appendix.

However, in my appendix, I simply indicated the textual differences without comment. I save that for my Bible versions book. But it will be seen that some of the textual notes in the ESV are misleading.

The ESV footnotes also includes alternative translations and explanatory notes. These can be helpful at times.

ESV Preface

Included on the Web site is also a reprint of the "Preface" that appears in hardcopy versions of the ESV. Much of the information in the "Preface" has already been presented in the background pages. But a couple of new points are presented.

In punctuating, paragraphing, dividing long sentences, and rendering connectives, the ESV follows the path that seems to make the ongoing flow of thought clearest in English.

The original Hebrew and Greek texts were not divided into sentences and paragraphs, and they did not include any punctuation, so such grammatical points are always a translator's decision. I address this issue in depth in the appendix to my translation titled "Translation Decision and Explanations of Notations." I will not go into further details here, except to say, it is not always easy to make such decisions. But the ESV seems to have done as good of a job as any other version.

The biblical languages regularly connect sentences by frequent repetition of words such as "and," "but," and "for," in a way that goes beyond the conventions of literary English. Effective translation, however, requires that these links in the original be reproduced so that the flow of the argument will be transparent to the reader. We have therefore normally translated these connectives, though occasionally we have varied the rendering by using alternatives (such as "also," "however," "now," "so," "then," or "thus") when they better capture the sense in specific instances.

I discuss this issue at length in my book. Such conjunctions are important and should be translated. But unfortunately, many modern versions deem such words "unnecessary" and do not translate them. So it is good to see the ESV is not following this path, but instead realizes that if God inspired a conjunction, it should be translated.

The ESV is also correct that such conjunctions can have a variety of meanings, so it is not necessary to always translate them similarly. This might make the text a little les consistent, but much more accurate and readable.

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.

So the ESV was a major project, with many scholars involved, and much oversight. This lessens the possibility of errors or personal bias from entering the text. However, at times, having so many people working on a translation can force some "compromises" to be made. Translations that might step on someone's theological toes might be avoided even though they are the most accurate.

Conclusion to Part One

For the most part, this writer agrees with the English Standard Version's basic translation philosophy. It appears that it is striving to be mostly a literal translation. An important part of this philosophy is that every word of God is important and should be translated. And it appears that the ESV plans on doing so.

It is also good to read that the ESV intents on rendering the text in an inclusive manner, but only when the original allows such a rendering. The text should never be changed to make it inclusive when the original is not.

However, by not offsetting words adding for clarity, the ESV does not distinguish between the added words of the translators and the original words of God. As such, readers could end up basing important doctrinal or life decisions on words that are not the actual words of God.

Moreover, the textual base of the ESV is not what this writers believes is the best possible. But at least the ESV will be present footnotes for important textual variants. So the reader will be made aware of such variants.

How all of this works out in the actual translation will be seen in Part Two of this article when sample passages from the ESV are evaluated. It will appear in the next issue of Darkness to Light newsletter.


Powerlifting Contest

I will be competing in the American Powerlifting Federation Pennsylvania State Championships on September 2, 2006 in South Park, PA. As with my last contest, this contest will not require a hotel stay as it is less than an hour away.  But I will be making the trip twice, the morning before to weigh-in and then for the contest. So prayers would be appreciated for safety in travel and at the contest. I will post a contest report on my Fitness for One and All Web site the week afterwards.

Differences Between Bible Versions
Discusses translation principles, Greek text-types, and KJV Onlyism.
Advocates a literal or formal equivalence translation method.
Advocates  the use of the Textus Receptus or Majority Greek Text for translating the New Testament.
Over thirty Bible versions are compared and evaluated.

Also by Gary F. Zeolla:
Fitness for One and All
Web site and FitTips for One and All newsletter.
Helping people to attain their health, fitness, and performance goals.


All material in this newsletter is copyrighted 2006 by Gary F. Zeolla or as indicated otherwise.