Why the ESV?, Part 4

Why the ESV?, Part 4 February 4, 2013

The third (and final!) reason I prefer the EnglishStandard Version for use in the church is its textual basis, particularly inthe New Testament. As most people know who are familiar with the Bible, God’sword was originally written in Hebrew (in the OT, plus a little Aramaic) andGreek (in the NT). To our knowledge, none of the original manuscripts hasendured, but we do have thousands of copies—some as small fragments of a singlepage, and others as whole volumes bound together like a modern book.

For the Old Testament, the ESV translators relied on aHebrew text called the Masoretic Text (MT), the same one used for every otherEnglish, Protestant translation. The name comes from a group of Jews known asthe Masoretes who copied, edited and distributed the Hebrew Bible during thefirst half of the Medieval period. Interesting note: prior to the discovery ofthe Dead Sea Scrolls, our oldest copies of the MT dated from around the 9thcentury AD, with almost no variation from one copy to the next. The Dead SeaScrolls offered further confirmation of the MT’s reliability, when scholarsdiscovered that some of the Scrolls differed from the MT in only about 1 letterper 1,000, even though the Scrolls predate the MT by almost 1,000 years!

For the New Testament, the story is somewhat different.Scores of ancient Greek manuscripts have been discovered in the past 100-200years, some of which vary slightly from copy to copy. Most of these differencesare very minor (e.g., spelling, word order), and none of the variationschallenges a major Christian doctrine. In fact, the 5,000+ existing Greekmanuscripts agree down to the letter about 95% of the time, which is anunprecedented degree of reliability for an ancient document. Anyway, thetextual differences have forced scholars to wrestle with the options presentedby the different readings in the Greek texts. Considering all this complexdata, textual scholars have reconstructed an eclectic Greek text that, in theirestimation, best represents the originals. The ESV and virtually every otherEnglish translation has followed this approach, with the exception of the KJVand NKJV; and it’s a strategy that makes good sense to me.