Book Review

English Standard Version

reviewed by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version





English Standard Version (ESV) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002) The ESV is the "best word-for-word translation" and the "best KJV substitute for reading from the pulpit." The ESV made vast literary improvements to the 1952 RSV, including the total elimination of the old English thee's, thou's, and thine's, and it nearly equals the 1977 NASB [book review] in literalness. (Unfortunately, the NASB also includes a considerable amount of corrupt text that was not part of the original biblical texts.)

The ESV could substitute almost transparently for the KJV when reading to the public, while the ESV also has the benefit of omitting KJV words, phrases, and even entire verses that clearly were not part of the original texts, as best represented in the United Bible Society's (UBS) Hebrew and Greek texts.

There are only three instances in the New Testament in which the ESV omitted wording where (1) the UBS Greek New Testament Editorial Committee indecisively retained in square brackets in its definitive Greek New Testament, 4th Revised Edition (UBS4) text and (2) the omissions make a substantive difference in the understanding of those verses. The three instances are Mat 12:47 [textual commentary]; Mat 27:16,17 [texual commentary]; and Col 3:6 [textual commentary]. In each instance the ESV had strong support for its omissions from very early ancient manuscripts, which always include support from Codex Sinaiticus (a.k.a., Aleph or Codex 01, 4th century) and/or Codex Vaticanus (a.k.a., B or Codex 03; 4th century). There are forty other instances where the ESV also omitted wording from its text that the UBS4 retained in bracketed text, but with each of them the omitted wording has virtually no impact on the meaning of the verse, and in every case the ESV had strong support from very early ancient manuscripts, again always including support from Codex Sinaiticus and/or Codex Vaticanus and often from such 2nd and 3rd century manuscripts as P5, P46, P47, P66, P69, and P75. In almost all cases where the ESV did omit the inconclusive UBS4-based bracketed wording, it includes footnotes on the same page, along with the explanation that some ancient manuscripts included the omitted wording.

(The NRSV [book review] also removed some the same text that the ESV removed and sometimes removed text that the ESV did not remove.)

Bruce Metzger (The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Third Edition, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992, pages 42, 47-48) writes:

Primacy of position in the list of New Testament manuscripts is customarily given to the fourth-century codex of the Greek Bible ... known as codex Sinaiticus [Aleph]... One of the most valuable of all the manuscripts of the Greek Bible is codex Vaticanus [B]... Some scholars believe that these two manuscripts [Aleph and B] were originally among the fifty copies of the Scriptures which the Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to have written.

Jack Finegan (Encountering New Testament Manuscripts: A Working Introduction to Textual Criticism, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, page 74) explains that Westcott and Hort earlier had propounded:

Where B and Aleph agree we have the strongest evidence for the earliest accessible form of the text, and are not far from the original itself.

The UBS4 explains the meaning of its use of brackets (UBS4, pages 2-3 of the "Introduction"):

[ ] Brackets in the text indicate that the enclosed word, words, or parts of words may be regarded as part of the text, but that in the present state of New Testament textual scholarship this cannot be taken as completely certain. Such passages have a C-rating in the ciritical apparatus... The letter C ... indicates that the Committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.

Jack Finegan (ibid., page 69) wrote that the UBS Committee's C rating indicated "that there is considerable degree of doubt." It should be noted that on many verses the conclusions of the UBS Greek NT Editorial Committee as to the correct original wording are not unanimous.

The conclusion regarding the ESV: The ESV is a very solid translation with a very solid text-basis. Wherever it has removed wording that was bracketed in UBS4, there is sound scholarly justification for doing so. Having carefully examined (1) every instance where the UBS4 bracketed some wording, (2) every instance where the ESV removed UBS4-bracketed wording, and (3) all of the manuscript evidence for and against the omitting of bracketed wording, I can state without hesitation that the ESV is a very reliable translation, has exercised its editorial role very responsibly, and is more word-for-word literal than either the NAB or the NRSV. Though no translation is without its flaws, the ESV is an outstanding word-for-word Bible translation and an excellent substitute for the KJV for reading in public.

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Copyright 1996-2005 Robert Nguyen Cramer