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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ESV and TNIV, another comparison

Blogger and dedicated Bible reader David McKay today compares the ESV and TNIV. David has done his homework:
Now I have read the whole bible in both versions. All 260 chapters of the New Testament and all 929 chapters of the Old Testament. And what I have discovered is that both versions interpret, and the ESV does it much more than its promoters would like you to believe. I'm not criticising their translation technique, but I am warning that what is said about it is not completely accurate.

I think it may be true to say that the ESV is less interpretive than the TNIV.
David adds these important observations:
We are also led to believe that the TNIV uses gender-inclusive language, whereas the ESV retains the masculine language of the bible. But this is not really exact either. If you compare the RSV [on which the ESV is based] and the NIV [on which the TNIV is based] with their later incarnations, you will see immediately that the main differences between both old versions and their new editions is the use of gender-inclusive language.

For the most part, both new editions have removed the masculine language of the RSV and NIV where there was none in the original. Both versions also have used gender-inclusive language to clarify what the original authors meant.

However the ESV translation is fairly squeamish about translating a Hebrew or Greek masculine word by an inclusive word [or words] in English, even where it is clear that the word was used in an inclusive way.

So in Romans 1:13 where the TNIV has
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you
the ESV says
Romans 1:13 want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you
but has a rather lengthy, clarifying footnote link from the word brothers which says
Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated "brothers") refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God's family, the church.
Now if the TNIV occasionally uses gender-inclusive language where it is not necessary, it is also true that the ESV's retention of masculine language sometimes obscures the writer's meaning.
David concludes, fairly:
Which is the best version? I think we need both. We use the TNIV for daily reading, but I often check the ESV rendering for added clarity.


At Tue Feb 20, 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

This is a very good analysis. I will have to start following his blog. I am so thrilled that I have found these blogs. I have been wanting to find information like this on the net.

Can anyone recommend any other sites that are good for people who like different English Bible translations. I am also looking for sites that are aimed at people who are involved with mainline theology. I grew up a Southern Baptist in the 40s, 50s and 60s and feel the denomination left me in the 80s. I am now a Presbyterian but considering changing to Episcopalian.

You can write me directly at

At Tue Feb 20, 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Trierr said...

An interesting and balanced critique. I have read the entire TNIV NT and half of the OT (I'm bogged down in the wisdom books). When reading TNIV I often go and compare to the ESV, which I generally find less flowing than the TNIV. But I was surprised that others might do the same thing. I also compare to the Message just to get a very different read.

And once I complete my Greek and Hebrew studies, I'll want to compare to the original languages, but I'm not that far along yet. (Will I ever be?)

Anyways, thanks for posting the review and here's to hoping things calm down around this blog for a bit!

At Wed Feb 21, 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Brian said...

you wanted a link to the news of Bruce Metzger's homegoing.


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