Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review : ESV Student Study Edition

Reading any translation of the Bible for the first time is a funny thing. If one has familiarized oneself with another translation, adding an additional translation invariably requires time for acclimation. At the very least, it requires one devote a solid amount to time to learning the translation, appreciate it for what it is, and determine if and how one could incorporate it into one’s reading. When I received this review copy from Crossway, I made it a point to take time with it so as to appreciate it from two perspectives, that of someone who can translate from the original languages and that of someone placing the English Standard Version firmly in the tradition of English language bibles.

Truth be told, in modern times, there is no “terrible” translation of the Bible. Yes, a quick internet search will likely land on a more than a few pages who swear (on a stack of Bibles no less) that such and such a translation is corrupted for whatever reason. However, anyone with a background in the original languages will tell you something quite different. There are more or less literal or literary translations of the Bible. Every translation leans in one direction or the other, the text usually demonstrating both tendencies at points.

The ESV is firmly situated in the English pedigree established by the King James Version and continued by the RSV. The translation leans overall towards a literal, one-to-one technique, however, the translators, being familiar with both the original languages and their host language, know when to smooth over the translation. The ESV therefore makes restrained use of gender inclusive language and paraphrase. In every case I examined, these decisions were hard to contest; it simply makes the most sense to render the particular word or passage the way the translators have chosen. Like the RSV and NRSV, the ESV is set at a higher reading level than some contemporary translations. Unlike the NRSV, it avoids tortuous applications of inclusive language. As someone who is at home with the original text, I find impossible to complement the translators of the ESV enough for the sound judgment they applied when producing this text.

There are some minor quibbles one could raise. I am in favor of transliterating the names of God in Hebrew text as much as possible (cf., the New Jerusalem Bible). This perspective is, however, the minority opinion and runs contrary to what appears to have been the aim of the translators. As mentioned above, the ESV is designed to falls firmly within the lineage established by the KJV and continued down to the NRSV and its aims are similar.

The ESV takes account of the manuscript tradition. Alternate readings are noted and notes are provided where the translation defers to the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or another textual tradition instead of the Masoretic.

This particular version, as noted in the post title, is the Student Study edition. It is designed primarily as a bible that can serve as a first approach for persons (high school, college, or church) who do not necessarily have much background with Scripture or with Theology but want to increase their understanding. The format works well for this purpose. The introductory matter is easily accessible and there is plenty of “Did You Know?” content to elucidate points of Biblical Theology for the reader who is still attempting to grasp the subject. The binding seems pointedly designed for this purpose. It comes as a simple, but well bound hardback, with sewn binding. In point of fact, it is bound better than many Study Bibles and leather bound editions today – something to consider.


I first encountered the ESV a little after the turn of the millennium. At the time, it seemed like a curious offering; I had no idea where it had come from or what it hoped to achieve. I noted, however, that it sided with the LXX over the Masoretic in its reading of Deuteronomy 32:8 (a wise decision). I thought it would be interesting to see where the translation goes. In that short time, it has become, as it originally claimed, a standard among available English translations. It is impossible to convey how well established the ESV has become among readers and among churches with the freedom to evaluate versions of the bible for congregational use. Given that this is a student version, I cannot say what features are provided in the study or personal editions. I suspect, based upon the reviews circulating, the personal and study editions are worth consideration when looking for an edition of the Bible. Returning to this edition, Crossway has published an edition I would not hesitate to recommend for anyone who wants to begin a more sustained engagement with Scripture and the foundational elements of Christian theology.

Suffice it to say, I would like to see more of the ESV. There are a myriad of editions coming from Crossway (the copyright holder), Cambridge University Press, R L Allan, and Schuyler. Simply put, the ESV’s growth continues and justly so.

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