NIV compared to ESV

A little while back this blogger posted some commentary regarding my possible switch over to the English Standard Version (ESV) of the bible. Crossway released it in 2001, I bought a copy in 2002 and now in March of 2007, I’m switching over to the ESV as my “Main” translation. What I mean by “main” is that it is the version I will use most frequently for study, meditation, memorizing and leading. Of course I will still use the NIV, NLT and maybe even some of Eugene Peterson’s The Message (for commentary) but the ESV will be home.

I grew up surrounded by the NIV. My denomination favors NIV. I’m young. Why would I succumb to a translation that is more wooden, less “contemporary” and even less hip? “Why not go TNIV?” you may be asking. “After all”, you say, “it is gender inclusive!”. Boy, it sure is. By which I mean, Person, it sure is. And that’s all well and good for some. But I want the most reliable and readable translation. If I were a fundamentalist/purist evangelical I would be KJV. If I were just a purist, I would read only the Hebrew & Greek texts. If I was hip, I would use the TNIV (very Rob Bell) or NLT (Finally! A version that I can understand without thinking!). I’m not either of those. I’m just a guy who thinks that God’s Word must go forward. If this is ture, then it’s also true that accuracy matters. We are relevant in our irrelevance. It may be offensive, unclear, thick… but is that okay? Know what I mean?

I’ve also noticed that the NIV is fairly supportive of the idea that God’s blessings to us are material, abundant and a sign of a response to our faith. Before you freak out, let me just say that God’s blessings are abundant, tend to be a response to our faith (but aren’t tied to it) but are not solely material. If you’re like me (and I know I am), you have probably heard Jeremiah 29:11 quoted ad nauseum for the sake of “proving” that God wants to bless you/help you/straighten you out/give you what you deserve. In the NIV, it reads:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Neat. There’s even a Saddleback song about it, which is how I memorized this text in High School. It made me feel good, like God would give me a house and a car and a family and good teeth and a decent retirement. All I needed to do was trust. And pray. Indeed, every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father. He is Jehovah Jireh — my provider. These ideas aren’t wrong, as long as they don’t become a pillar of your theology. For me, it had. My understanding of God was that he was the sky fairy, the heavenly pinata, the Prayer of Jabez guy who has the solutions to my agenda figured out. I was ready to live the American dream. Prosper. No harm. I’ll take it!

Then you go to the ESV of Jeremiah 29:11. It reads:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Same idea… right? Wholeness? That word makes me think less about stuff and more about my own spiritual condition. Evil? Again, this brings less attention to the “harm” around me and more attention to my own capacity for evil. And so it takes on a bit of a different angle… that the blessings of God are not material. The blessings of God are spiritual (with a nod to Ron Kopicko, for saying this the way you do).

God cares less about giving me stuff and more about having a wholeness. Wholeness gives me a future. A hope. That’s a better plan, anyway.

I’m not bashing the NIV, nor the translators. I’m just saying that the ESV renders things in a different way that, according to what I’ve read, has a higher degree of accuracy to the original texts. So… here I am.

To see others who have switched, check out:
Why John Piper’s Church Uses the ESV (Includes a great collection of comparisions to other versions)
Mark Driscoll’s Church Uses the ESV(Includes comments, both positive and negative, from other bloggers)

I blog ESV

Your thoughts?

About radamdavidson

When I'm not blogging, I'm hanging out with my family, pastoring a church, or listening to vinyl. I think and write about Jesus, music, communication, organizational leadership, family whatnot, and cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at, watch [RadCast], a daily 3 minute video devotional, or find me on socials (@radamdavidson). I also help Pastors in their preaching and public speaking (
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6 Responses to NIV compared to ESV

  1. Casserrelli says:

    I Agree. Within the “Bible Study” me and my friends have we have the KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT, and the ESV. As we look from all of those translations the one that seems the most accurate is the ESV.

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    the ESV renders things in a different way that, according to what I’ve read, has a higher degree of accuracy to the original texts.

    Where have you read such things? In the promotional material for ESV? (Do you believe ALL advertising?) On the sites of popular preachers like Piper and Driscoll who, great preachers and teachers as they are, know very little about Bible translation? From people who promote the ESV because they are on a witch hunt against egalitarianism to the extent that they are not only boycotting TNIV because of its alleged egalitarian bias but also NIV because it is published by the same people?

    For advice on Bible translation much of which comes from professional Bible translators, see the Better Bibles Blog.

  3. radblog says:

    Thanks for your comment. I can’t be sure but appears that you have written from a pro-feminist agenda. That’s why I can’t enter into this argument – we simply see gender equality differently. But I do appreciate your calling to make decisions, especially those concerning God’s Word, on more than advertising. Or agendas.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    No, Radblog, I am writing from an agenda of getting at the truth of this matter, and getting away from the spin and distortion of the issue from both sides. Just because I note that some people have an anti-egalitarian agenda, does that mean that I have a pro-feminist one, or even a pro-egalitarian one? I’m afraid it is typical of many ESV supporters’ rhetoric to refuse to give proper answers to any criticism of this version but instead only to make ad hominem comments about those who make the criticisms and their alleged agendas. I hoped you might be able to avoid doing the same.

  5. Tony Robertson says:

    reading your blog I could not help but think of Douglas Moo who is an outstanding New Testament scholar using the TNIV. What I find interesting is that the ESV footnotes the word brothers as meaning siblings both men and women. If the ESV believes this is the way this word is translated in general why does it use a masculine “word” associated with gender when in english masculine and feminine do not necessarily mean “gender” UUmmm.

  6. Emily says:

    Hi, I just stumbled upon this blog and found it to be a refreshing discussion of what bothers me about some translations of the Bible — pretending that men and women are the same.

    I was curious, what is your take on HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible)? It is my translation of choice right now. As a child in Sunday School, we only used KJV! My husband prefers NIV and teaches Sunday School using NIV. (NIV is my second choice.) My pastor, unfortunately, has said that he can only preach with “power” from the KJV or NASB!

    (I’m really not as familiar with ESV. I’m sure we have it around here as my husband is a minister and has more Bibles than we could probably count.)

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