I’ve been using the ESV for around thirteen years. I generally like it because there are many strengths in this translation; it often makes good sense of the original languages behind the English. However, there are also a few weaknesses. One weakness I’ve noticed is the fact that some of the language in the ESV is dated or somewhat uncommon. I found a few instances of this while preaching through Luke’s Gospel. Here are some examples (note the underlined words):
Luke 11:8 – “because of his impudence“
Luke 19: 3 – “he was small in stature“
Luke 20:9 – “a man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants”
Luke 20:47 – “for a pretense make long prayers”
Luke 21:11 – “famines and pestilences“
Luke 21:34 – “weighed down with dissipation“
Luke 22:14 – “he reclined at table“
These words/phrases aren’t impossible for everyone to understand. But they do contain dated language, words and phrases that regular American English-speaking people rarely use. I have lived in four very different areas of the United States, and I have almost never heard people using these words or phrases in conversation or common writing. In fact, sometimes when reading Scripture in a group setting we’ve had to stop to explain the meaning of words and phrases like this in the ESV.
In case you’re wondering, many of the words/phrases in the ESV that I’ve listed above are found in slightly older translations like the RSV (and to some extent the ASV). Also in case you’re wondering, impudence means rude or harsh, small in stature means short (in height or years), let it out means loan or lend, pretense means the act of pretending, pestilences means plague-like diseases, dissipation means careless living (possibly because of drunkenness), and recline at table simply means sit down to eat.
I’m not saying we should throw out our ESVs. But I am saying that it’s helpful to use several translations when reading and studying the Word. Other translations I’ve come to appreciate include the NASB, the NIV, the HCSB, and the NET Bible. The NLT has also come in handy; we use it at home to read Scripture’s stories to our kids, and I’ve given it to a few Christians who don’t have a deep grasp of the English language. I have also use the NLT when preaching/teaching in a nursing home or jail setting where people aren’t familiar with Scripture and/or the English language.
For those interested, here are the words some other translations used for the verses I’ve listed above:
Luke 11:8 – “because of his shameless persistence” (NLT); “because of his friend’s persistence” (HCSB)
Luke 19:3 – “being a short man” (NET); “because he was short” (NIV)
Luke 20:9 – “[he] leased it to tenant farmers” (NLT); “rented it out to vine-growers” (NASB)
Luke 20:47 – “for appearance’s sake” (NASB); “for a show” (NIV)
Luke 21:11 – “plagues” (HCSB, NLT, NET)
Luke 21:34 – “carousing” (NIV, HCSB, NLT)
Luke 22:14 – “sat down together at the table” (NLT); “reclined at the table” (NASB)
If you run into a tough word or phrase in the ESV (or whatever translation you use), go to a few different translations to help make sense of it. There is no perfect translation, but there are enough good ones out there to help us better study and know God’s Word, which is what we want to do as Christ’s disciples.