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Dub McClish

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Test The Translations: The English Standard Version (ESV)

Jess Whitlock

I have been asked to review one of the “new” versions. The English Standard Version was released in 2001. This new version has gained quite a following in the past 15 years. Many of the “new” versions make a few noteworthy “blunders” that should mark them as versions one may use for comparative purposes; but not take on as one’s main study Bible for serious students of God’s Holy Word. Warning: like so many others, there is no use of italics in the text of the ESV. Italics are used to show when the translators are adding words of their own to the passage. The ESV cites Paul, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). In lieu of “perceive” the KJV and NKJV both have “understand.” The Bible, the only book that God ever wrote, was written so that men can fully “understand” the message of God. When there are no italics in the text, this allows men to make subtle changes to God’s Word (2nd Cor. 11:3). A word here, a word there, something added here, something omitted there, a verse missing here, and another verse explained away by the use of dubious footnotes here and there… but, no italics! Now, think about this. Rat poison looks like good food to the rat, but it is only two percent poison and the rest is all good and wholesome. Yet, the two percent gets the job done! How much change can we make to the Word of God and still have the Word of God?
The ESV is deadly to Truth in many instances. The ESV in its preface states, “…each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text”(v). I do wish that they had somehow been able to live up to that high standard. I fear however, they failed the test.
The Preface furthermore reads: “The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text… its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence…letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original” (v). Again, I wish that they had been able to succeed in this noble promise and pledge.
We will present this test of the ESV by comparing the Gospel narratives, and a few passages from the pen of Luke and the apostle Paul. As we study remember these words from the ESV translation: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
THE GOSPEL NARRATIVES
The first thing I noted was a difficulty involving Matthew 5:17, where the ESV reads, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Paul then states, “…by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph. 2:15). The translators cannot have it both ways! Do we accept the teaching of Christ or the teaching of Paul?
By changing the word “destroy” to the word “abolish” in Matthew’s account, they have Christ say that He did not come to abolish the Law, yet, have Paul, an inspired apostle to say that he did (Eph. 2:15; cf. Heb. 10:9). Christ’s coming did not destroy the Law; rather He was the fulfillment of that Law. Only when the Law was fulfilled could Christ then remove (abolish) and take the law out of the way. Even the ESV rightfully states, “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands, this he set aside nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). The Old Law had to be removed before the New Law could take effect.
Second, let’s note Matthew 19:9 in the ESV: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Many of the new versions have done away with the word “fornication” and replaced it with “sexual immorality.” Reading a dime novel that doesn’t cost a dime anymore, watching X-rated movies, or going to Hooters would all constitute “sexual immorality.” Sinful? Yes. But not a Scriptural ground for divorce! The ESV translators consistently changed the Greek porneia and moicheia, for “sexual immorality” (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20; 21:25; 1st Cor. 5:1; 6:9, 13, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2nd Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3, 5; Col. 3:5; Heb. 12:6; and Jude 7).
Did you notice that part of this verse was actually missing? If someone should marry a husband or a wife who was put away for adultery, does that one then commit adultery? The ESV offers no help here; but consider the ASV, KJV, or NKJV.
Third, the ESV caught me off guard with Matthew 19:28. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne…” Admittedly the footnote says, “Greek in the regeneration.” The 47 scholars that translated the KJV and the 101 scholars that translated the ASV (1901) all have “regeneration.” Did you know the RSV (1952) used this premillennial term, “new world”?
Fourth, notice Mark 16:9-20 in the ESV. What do you notice? In brackets, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.” They add in a footnote, “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20.” The RSV (1946) simply left out these twelve verses of 160 Greek words. Many of the new versions want to cast doubt on the authenticity of this portion of God’s Word. It is my strong suspicion they cannot handle the truth of Mark 16:16.
Fifth, listen to Luke 1:3 in the ESV, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” The KJV tells us that Luke had “perfect understanding of all things from the very first” and the ASV used “accurately,” and the NKJV followed the rendering of the KJV. Why attack the inspiration of Luke as did the RSV (1946)? Weathermen can follow the weather “closely for some time” and still miss their forecast! Luke wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore possessed “perfect understanding.” The eight men who penned the Greek New Testament of God all had “perfect understanding” (John 8:32; 17:17; Rom. 3:2; Eph. 6:17; 2nd Tim. 3:16-17).
Sixth, Luke 4:4 reads, “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” There are no footnotes in my copy of the ESV. Whatever happened to the rest of that verse? (Rev. 22:18-19).
And notice the seventh objection. Let us note John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1st John 4:9. Four out of the five times we have the Greek word monogenes, it is rendered as “only Son” and in John 1:18 we have, “only Son of God.” The ESV aligned itself with the RSV, NEB, the Living Bible, Reader’s Digest Bible, and the NIV! The KJV, ASV, NKJV, and NASB correctly read “only begotten.” The Greek word mono means “one or only”; whereas genes means “born or begotten.” Any translation that uses the word “only” or “one” or “unique” et al. has only half-translated the compound Greek word monogenes! “Only begotten” is an accurate translation of the Greek, monogenes.
In the eighth place please note John 4:24 in the ESV, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” You may wonder what is wrong with that as a translation? They spelled God is “spirit” with lower-case “s.” I understand that there is no distinction in capital letters and the lower-case letters in our manuscripts of the New Testament. However, through the centuries, faithful translations have indicated references to deity by use of upper case letters. Note the upper case “S” in the KJV, ASV, and NKJV. Even the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, chose to use the upper case “S” at John 4:24.
Our final point in the Gospel narratives, takes us to John 7:53 – 8:11, which have been placed in brackets in the ESV. The brackets preceding this text reads, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” Their footnote does nothing but to add to the confusion. Now hear this: “Some manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text.” Now is all of that as clear as mud?
I am personally disappointed that the ASV places these verses in brackets as well.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Let us now look at Acts 8:36-38 in the ESV, {36} “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? {38} And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” Did you notice the jump from verse 36 to verse 38?
Oh, yes, there is a great footnote to explain this omission. Now put your ear down here, “Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37; And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” Most people pay little attention to the footnotes, since the footnotes are not in the “text.”
The late brother Eldred Stevens addressed this subject, saying that there is an unexplained gap in those translations that omit verse 37, and then followed with, “Boys, never leave out verse 37 in relating the conversion of the eunuch.” In almost 50 years of attempting to proclaim the Gospel of Christ I have never done so. In omitting verse 37, the eunuch receives no answer to his question.
I am personally disappointed in the ASV for omitting this verse, and the NKJV for their footnote: “NU-Text and M-Text omit this verse. It is found in Western texts, including the Latin tradition.”
SPECIAL LETTERS OF PAUL
First and foremost, let us go to Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” What? This passage has Paul granting justification at the point of belief, and even has salvation at the point of confessing Christ. The man made churches of our day will be ecstatic with this “good news.” This has been their plea for a couple of centuries now. Accept Christ as Lord and you will be saved. Even Max Lucado has said, “all you have to do is call Him Father!”
Can’t you just see it now? A brother is in a Bible discussion with a neighbor. They are down to his obedience to the Gospel. The brother contends that it is time to consider the subject of baptism for salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1st Pet. 3:21; etc.). The neighbor contends, “But I am saved already. The Bible (ESV) says, “…with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” You can object and try reasoning all you want. But the neighbor will continue to say, “The Bible (ESV) says so!” If there were no other objection to the ESV, this should demonstrate that this is a most dangerous perversion of God’s Word.
Second, we turn our attention to First Corinthians 7:36-38 in the ESV, “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry – it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.”
The Greek word mneusteuo is a rare verb found only three times in New Testament. It is used in the passive sense of “be promised in marriage” (i.e., to be betrothed). This word is not found in the Greek text of First Corinthians 7:36-38. It is used only in reference to Mary, the mother of our Lord, as one “betrothed” to Joseph. See Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27; 2:5.
The NIV, the RSV, as well as the ESV makes this passage refer to an engaged couple. This is an obvious case of a father and his daughter who is a virgin, as per the KJV, the ASV, and the NKJV. There is disagreement among brethren as to whether this passage refers to a man and his betrothed, or to a father and his daughter. Brother James Meadows addressed this subject and it is my conviction: “…the whole context makes the verses refer to a father-daughter relationship…if the man in these verses is not the father, then the groom to be has complete control in making the decision…his virgin would also be a peculiar designation of one’s fiancée…It seems that the sense ‘to give in marriage’ is best for the Greek word gamidzo. The force, it seems to me, is that of a father giving his daughter in marriage (William Woodson)” (James Meadows, Annual Denton Lectures, ed. Dub McClish, “Studies in First Corinthians, 1982, pp. 344-345).
While I am certain that there are other passages that ought to be considered, these should be sufficient to cause one to reflect upon the reliability of the English Standard Version, methinks I shall continue to stand with the King James Version, American Standard Version, and the New King James Version, for my personal study and in teaching and preaching purposes.
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One Response to “Test The Translations: The English Standard Version (ESV)”

  • Kent Bailey:

    Thanks for the excellent article by Jess Whitlock re: the ESV. Jess did a very complete review concerning specific problems in this specific translation.

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