Why I Chose the ESV over the NASB

by Jun 14, 2010Bible Typography, ChurchLife52 comments

esv vs nasb

The ESV and the NASB are very similar translations. When the ESV first came out in 2001 I started an Excel spreadsheet to record passages where I believed one to be superior to the other. I evaluated them based on accuracy, mainly. In the end, they came out neck and neck. I just looked at that file again, and I’m not sure I’d make all the same choices, but reading the two translations over the years has led me to the same conclusion.

Both the ESV and the NASB are conservative translations. Both are more apt (there are plenty of exceptions, as Dave Brunn has shown) to leave historical distance in the text than the NIV—like calling people “fat” instead of “healthy” in Psalm 73:4. Both tend to give the reader credit to recognize figurative speech rather than concretizing it—like “cleanness of teeth” instead of “empty stomachs” in Amos 4:6. Both are willing to leave inspired ambiguity in the text instead of shunting readers into one interpretation or another—like “the obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5. There is value in a translation which makes many interpretive choices for you—especially if you know that’s what you’re reading. But for teaching and study, I want to know all the options available to me. The ESV and NASB both (often, though not always) provide those options—though the Greek and Hebrew are even better, of course!

The ESV is generally regarded as having greater literary beauty than the often “wooden” NASB, and the ESV follows more clearly than the NASB in the great line of English Bible translations stretching back to the KJV. That means it’s closer to what I grew up reading and memorizing, and that has a value. But so does reading something like the NASB which forces you to rethink what you may have glossed over or assumed growing up.

Through various means I keep coming back to a near parity in these two translations. So which one should I make my primary Bible? If their quality as translations is more or less equal, on what basis do I choose?

Because they are similar in the most important respects, I felt free to make my choice based on more pragmatic considerations:

  1. The ESV has many more editions available than the NASB, and their typography and general quality far exceeds the available NASB editions. As a part-time graphic designer who enjoys making websites for small churches, this means a lot to me. Other things being equal (and they pretty much are in this case), a beautiful Bible is better than an ugly one. And I’m convinced that typography is more important to Bible reading than most people realize.
  2. the Single-Column Heritage Bible is Beautifully Designed and Executed

    The ESV Single-Column Heritage Bible is beautifully designed and executed. I know of nothing similar in the NASB.

    The ESV comes in multiple innovative editions, like the journaling Bible and the various single-column Bibles, some of which are drop-dead gorgeous. The NASB had a single-column reader’s Bible I saw once, but it appears no longer to be available.

  3. The ESV seems more likely to me to stick around than the NASB, even though it’s newer. The NASB has failed to gain much market share over its long existence. It’s hovering at and below the tenth spot in CBA’s list of unit sales, last time I checked (Sep-Dec 2014)—beaten out by Bibles no conservatives would use like the Common English Bible, and even by the main Spanish version, the Reina Valera. The ESV goes up and down in the top ten, currently standing at a respectable third place behind the behemoths (NIV and KJV). If English-speaking conservative Christians ever hope to recover the value of using one common translation in the language we actually speak, and if they want it to be a bit more literal than interpretive, this may be our best chance.unit sales
  4. I like Crossway; they have a distinct conservative identity and a notable spirit of excellence, one that attracts conservative writers who are making real contributions to the church. I also know many or most of the scholars who produced the ESV; I have their exegetical commentaries, and that work gives me confidence about their translation work. The Lockman foundation has no identity apart from the NASB, and it lacks that drive for excellence (its website, for example, looks like it comes from the previous millennium).uglyoutdatedwebsite
  5. Crossway showed a commitment from the beginning—which they have kept up actively since 2001—to making the ESV available in innovative technological formats. I use the ESV website probably 15-50 times a day. It looks great without being overwhelming (no ads), and it has helpful features such as free audio Bibles, “apps,” and different text display options. Crossway gets technology: they realized that making the ESV available freely online (and for Kindle, iPad, etc.) will encourage people to use the translation. The NASB folks just don’t get the technological world. I know of no comparably beautiful and useful online resource for that translation. That matters a lot to me.

Other pragmatic considerations may lead you a different direction—for example, your church may use the NASB (as mine does). For the sake of ease in your own church, you may want to go with the NASB. But this blog post on the relative merits of the NASB and ESV has become one of my most popular (it regularly gets a substantial number of hits multiple years after it was posted) for a reason: a lot of people must be asking this question.

I’d like to end with what I take to be an important comment: NASB or ESV? What a good problem to have! I regularly use all the major conservative English Bible translations (especially within Logos Bible Software). Making one translation “primary,” for me, doesn’t actually mean a whole lot beyond my own family, and probably won’t mean a lot unless I become a pastor or elder making a choice for my whole congregation someday. I encourage all readers to own and use both the ESV and the NASB—along with the rest of the embarrassment of riches we have in English Bible translations. You’ll find, as I have since I first bought the Comparative Study Bible for $50 in 1999, that close reading of multiple translations will enrich you a great deal more often than it will confuse you. When one translation “differs” from another, it’s still usually saying the same thing, just in a different way. I find that the slight variation in nuance helps me understand. And when you are confused, you’ll be driven to ask good questions. Don’t let ESV vs. NASB be an either-or. Use both.


Google sends dozens of people a week to this post, a fact which tells me that people are interested in English Bible translation. If you found my take helpful, check out my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. The book is “Highly recommended” by D.A. Carson, and endorsed by John Frame, Tom Schreiner, Mark Strauss, Andy Naselli, John McWhorter, Kevin Bauder, and Mark Minnick.

Read More 

A Little Help for Your Charitableness from Kevin DeYoung

A Little Help for Your Charitableness from Kevin DeYoung

There are few figures on the national evangelical scene that I like and trust more than Kevin DeYoung. I think he nails the balance between, on the one hand, graciousness and fairness and charity and, on the other (can anything be on the other hand from...

Why My Church Has Closed

Why My Church Has Closed

I am an extremely minor public figure, sort of semi-public. Sort of like the Richard Dean Anderson of redheaded Christian YouTubers. The guy you sort of think maybe you’ve heard of, but you can’t place him. So I need to make a small semi-public statement about the...

Answer a Fool According to His Folly, or Answer Not?

Answer a Fool According to His Folly, or Answer Not?

I want to talk through a super common issue on the internet. I invite your wisdom and input; I also invite your prayer. Because I want and need—desperately need—divine wisdom for whether and how to answer all kinds of internet comments from all kinds of strangers with...

Review: Small Preaching by Jonathan Pennington

Review: Small Preaching by Jonathan Pennington

Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Become a Better Preacher, by Jonathan Pennington (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021). Very few pp.Great little title. Punchy and short. Genuinely full of wisdom. The three things that stood out to me most: The very...

Leave a comment.

  1. brothersteve55

    I know this a dated blog, but I thought I would leave a comment anyway. I have both a NASBU and ESV right here with me and struggle to decide on which to make my primary. I just ordered the Macarthur in NASBU…time will tell..but I sure do love the ESV..argh..

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      I will pray for you right now to have wisdom. What becomes your “primary” Bible may have a lot to do with your particular calling and circumstances. I feel as if the current state of my calling and circumstances has not afforded me the luxury of having a “primary” Bible. I’m required in some forums of ministry to use the KJV, which I would prefer not to use because of its antiquated language. I’ve found it beneficial in my outreach ministry to use the NIrV, because I preach weekly to people with low educational levels. My pastor preaches from the NASB. I tend to prefer (for reasons I’ve given above) the ESV. But my preferred Bible format is only available in the NIV(2011) and TNIV—so right now I’m reading through the NIV.


      There was a value in English-speaking Christendom’s long-standing agreement to use the KJV. That unity, it appears to me, has been lost for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to muddle through until Chinese takes over. =)

  2. Brian Phillips

    Have had the same struggle. I had used the NASB since 1991 but switched recently, after noticing that I tripped up often when reading large portions of the NASB aloud. However, I find if frustrating when ESV interprets for me (“from glory to glory” -> “from one degree of glory to another” at 2 Cor 3:18, for example). But, I recently ordered a wide-margin, verse-by-verse ESV made by R.L. Allan, and it’s absolutely beautiful, so the expense of that sort of forces me to stick with ESV. Thanks for giving me some peace of mind in that decision! 🙂

  3. Eric Weaver

    Who would have thought an article 4 years old would still be receiving a comment? First, I appreciate your reasons for liking the ESV without trying to sound so spiritual. In my comparison of the two, along with the NKJV I have chosen to use the ESV as my primary translation. I do refer and quote the others in preaching along with the Amplified version for a further breakdown of the verse (this is only used if people can see the verse, such as power point. I do not read it alone.). I have chosen the ESV, (hopefully based on the leadership of the Holy Spirit) due to the quality of their work on the outreach New Testament and the economy edition. Our body hands these out or gives them away to anyone. My thought is, if this is the one I’m giving away, it’s the one I want to be the most familiar with. Once again, not so spiritual, just common sense. With that being said, I do believe the ESV to be a great translation along with the NASB and the NKJV. Using the ESV primarily just works for me. Our assembly does not use one single version and we have a plurality of elders that split time preaching. No translation is used all the time. Each man has his primary preference with referring to others. By the way, I grew up on the KJV and still find myself quoting it more than any other translation.

  4. Mark Ward

    Eric, I also grew up with the KJV and I also find myself quoting it more than any other translation, but I learned more than half my lifetime ago to “translate” those quotations for others on the fly.

    I like your comment about not trying to sound so spiritual. =) That’s great. The reality is, we have many great translations available. I do fear that our choice of translation has become a badge of tribal membership more than a reasoned conclusion to careful study. That makes perfect sense, because comparing Bible translations knowledgeably requires several demanding skills, and most of us just end up having to trust someone who has—or claims to have—those skills.

    I regularly use all the good translations—and in my Bible software I’ve been known to check the not-so-good ones, too.

  5. peter bennett

    the best bible , is the one you obey,

    • Mark Ward

      I don’t know the back story here, so forgive me if I’m misjudging, but I can’t let this apparently innocuous statement slip through without a comment: I would like to banish from all Bible translation discussion the equivocal use of the word “Bible,” as in “Which Bible is best?” The NASB and ESV and NIV are not different “Bibles.” They’re the same Bible in different translations. The KJVO crowd—even (in my experience) the ones who say their main beef is the Greek text, not the English—commonly introduce a drastically unnecessary emotionalism into Bible translation discussion by making it seem as if it’s a war among different Bibles.

      Otherwise, what you say is pretty much true! I don’t know of a Bible translation that is so bad that it isn’t worth obeying. Even the New World Translation, with its purposeful twisting of John 1, still contains precious truth.

  6. Kevin Grady

    Wow, I thought I was the only one who struggled with this. I’ve been a Christian since 1970. My first Bible was Good News. Then I was given the Living Bible. I was later introduced to the NASB but to be honest, I was a teen in HS and it felt over my head. The church I went to HATED the NIV and called it a false bible and only the KJV was Of God. I later went to the NKJV as I understood it better. In my 30s I switched to the NIV when the Study Bible came out. I am 60 now and I have every translation out there. I study from them all. I use the NIV 2011 the most, however our church has been using the NIV and our new pastor prefers the NASB. I have one, but I so agree with your comment about the ESV and the NASB lack of desire to come into the 21 Century. I have been going back to either the ESV or the NSB but I believe from your wise I put to stick with the ESV for personal use and I use th NIV with people I minister too in jail. They understand that much better. Thanks again for your wise and sensitive post. And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

  7. shonnerinh

    I was browsing through the bibles section of a family christian magazine and was wondering what version to get. I have read in about two books now about investing in the NASB. But the journaling bible I wanted (illustrator and designer=visual learner/note taker lol) means a lot to me and like you said it had a version of the ESV. I might just get that right now and get a “regular” NASB bible later. I have a NIV (Zondervan) bible, and I hate the fact that he has taken some scriptures out. I’m glad I’v finally made up my mind on what type of Bible to get now.

  8. Alexander Thomson

    The ESV is an excellent Bible, and is supported by many resources. BUT, it does have inaccuracies, infelicitous expressions and antiquqted syntax. As all translations of enduring and heavily-used translations, it needs CONSTANT LIGHT REVISION..possibly by interim amendment reports and (say) five-to-ten-years republication. The problem is that publishers invest very heavily in one particular edition – which, in any event, is never aired in draft for a pre-publication period so that the potential users may make suggestions for improvement – so that the chances of rectifying faults is slim! We need to recognise that, by handing over the publishing of OUR Bible to others, we have enslaved ourselves to the oppressive academic/ business cartel! We do NOT have the Bible translation(s) that we need and desire, and we are being charged exorbitant prices! But I don’t expect today’s Christians to have the oomph or the ability to challenge the system! I am writing this from the UK into the US..but I don’t suppose that matters are better or worse on either side of The Big Pond!
    Every blessing!

  9. Mark Ward

    Alexander, I can’t say I share your view. I do agree that the ESV is imperfect. I also agree that the ESV needs constant light revision—and as I understand it, that’s precisely what it’s getting. I can’t find an official statement, but it was revised in 2007 and in 2011, six and ten years after its publication, respectively.

    Looking at the list of people involved in the production of the ESV makes me unwilling to say I’m the victim of an oppressive academic/business cartel. These are people who have dedicated their lives to serving the church. I don’t feel oppressed; I feel served. Who else is going to translate the Bible? Laypeople? Who’s going to publish it? Should we all just go to FedEx Kinko’s? And the ESV is not exorbitantly priced, not in the least. It’s free online, and you can get a copy for less than $10.

  10. Scott Morse

    Since you provided a link to the ESV website, not including a link to the Lockman (NASB) web site hardly seems appropriate — especially because you “featured” a screen shot. (I have an immediate interest on this because http://www.lockman.org doesn’t seem to be online now — amusingly relevant but hopefully a temporary problem).

    Alexander T. points out the revision schedule, not mentioned in the main post. Frequent revisions are death to the discipline of verbatim memorization (not that many care, of course).

    Of course our language changes. But speaking strictly for personal use, I prefer that change to be reckoned on a longer cycle.

    I respect the NASB team for having one revision (which was greatly helpful). Since 1990 I have despised the NIV largely for this reason, and the ESV is likely to end up alongside it on my bookshelf.

    • Mark Ward

      Ha! That is too funny. And sad. The NASB is a good translation deserving of better promotional machinery. This is the first I’ve heard about a revision—I’m glad to hear it!

      In general, I too think that language change doesn’t happen so fast that revisions every ten years or so should be necessary. Maybe every thirty instead? But I’ve become so averse to My-Version-Only-ism that I support more frequent revisions. If I memorized a passage and the wording was later changed, what harm does that do to me? Has my memory work been wasted? I think not. If anything, here will be one passage in which I’ll be impelled to figure out the reason for the change rather than not even noticing it—which is what happens with 99% of updates. And what will happen if I am impelled to figure out the reason for the change? I might learn something.

      And I have to believe that this is an excessively rare phenomenon: the Bible is a big book, and the chances that you have memorized a passage that gets altered are low. The chances that you have recently memorized such a passage—how many passages do you hold on to for years and years?—are even lower.

      I just don’t see why any major (evangelical) translation out there needs to be “despised.”

  11. SallyMJ

    Thank you for this article – even though I see you wrote it a few years ago! My experience is a bit different from yours – but I think we’ve come to the same conclusion.

    The NASB is the first version Bible I ever had as a young Christian. I loved it. I found it beautiful, poetic – and I think because of those things, easy to memorize. When I moved and started attending another church that used the NIV, I found the translation clunky, dull, non–poetic – which for me, made it extremely difficult to memorize.

    I feel as if the NIV scholars wanted to make my interpretation decisions for me. Rather than allowing me to work through possibly difficult metaphors or phraseology, or to understand what it meant in the Hebrew or the Greek, they wanted to “dumb it down” for the masses.

    To me, the wording in the NIV just doesn’t flow, as it does in the NASB. And now that I’m becoming familiar with the ESV, I find that even more poetic – as you said, kind of a modern version if the KJV.

    • Mark Ward

      Good thoughts, and I used to talk just like you do about the NIV. But I’ve come to see things a little differently. If the NIV is making interpretive decisions for me, that’s helpful in one major, common reading situation: namely when I’m reading big chunks of the Bible. When my purpose is to get the big picture, I don’t need to be hung up on interpretive difficulties.

      And, the fact is, Jesus told us to permit the little children to come to him, and James tells us not to tell the poor man to sit under our footstools, and Paul tells us to “condescend to men of low estate.” The masses need the Bible, too. Even if I disagree with individual decisions of the NIV translators, and even if I would choose a literal translation if I had to have only one (I don’t, thankfully), I get help from the NIV—why would I want to deny that help to the masses?

  12. Joe Midgett

    Awesome article. I have weighed these two translations for years now. I do love them both, though I love the KJV for it’s poeticness and is the translation I use in preaching, I use the NASB and the ESV in my devotional reading and study. I love having this dilemma of which version I like best. It causes me to read the verses multiple times in multiple versions, which can only help my study of God’s word.

  13. Dan Pelletier

    Thanks for the article. It is very helpful. Having read through most modern translations multiple times it does seem that these two translations have come down to the ones that I believe will outlast the KJV.

    Interestingly enough, several years ago I was much more KJVO in my thinking. Then, I spent some time on the mission field and ran across a fellow American in the church I was working with who carried an NIV. Half-joking, I scolded him. “Why don’t you get a REAL Bible?!”.

    His reply changed my thinking totally. “You preachers use the KJV for job security,” he replied.

    Upon asking for clarification he said, “You’re the only ones who understand it. You spend half your sermons explaining it. Without it, your sermons would be half as long. Why don’t you just let me use a Bible I can read for myself.”

    Ouch. Point taken.

  14. Mark Ward

    Great comment, Dan. You reacted humbly to that guy. May God give me grace to cast logs out of my eye when people point them out, even through off-hand comments.

  15. Alexander Thomson

    Here in the UK, the choice is really between the NIV and the ESV, so I have opted for the ESV for most evangelistic and seminar work. But, serious Christians and non-Christians appreciate and even prefer the NASB, especially the excellent Side-Reference Bible, alas now discontinued, pending the release of the 2018/2019 revised NASB. The hardback edition of this excellent Bible cost only £25/$20! There is also the popular Topical Bible, at around £22/$25 cost, but stocks of it also are dwindling. For the moment, therefore, I think I am locked into the ESV. But, there is a gain, as I can get very attractive ESV individual Gospels for 50p/80c each : these are excellent for evangelism and even seminars. We are facing the large “opposition” of the NIV : it has many excellent qualities, but it does need vital correction in places! I really would like to see the NSSB produced in excellent cost-effective editions! Rumour has it that, along with the revised NASB, Lockman is going to deliver a much improved marketing and distribution system – I hope so!

  16. Mike Gratis

    I see folks are still commenting – I appreciate your observations and am using articles such as this to make decisions on my Bible reading. Having gotten back into religion a few years back, after many years of being pretty blasé about it (thank God for bringing a woman into my life who makes me feel both very blessed & loved), I have spent time with the NIV & NET, before recently deciding to look closely at the ESV & NASB. Thanks….

  17. Steve

    I have been having this argument in my head constantly lately. I started out using NLT and I found that it didn’t seem to have the ring to it, so I purchased an NIV translation and used it for awhile until someone let me borrow an NASB bible. I found I really like NASB a lot. So, NASB has been my “Go To” bible ever since. But, my wife got me an ESV Study Bible for my birthday and I like that a lot. So, I have been trying to figure out which one I should stay with and I have come to the conclusion:
    Your favorite bible should be “the one you have in your hand at the time”. If it leads you to pick it up and read God’s Word it has done its job and it is deserving to keep. I learn form them all. I pretty much stay now with either ESV or NASB. But I am tired of pondering this question anymore.
    Remeber one thing, “Opinions Vary”
    Do what works for you and brings you closer to God.
    God bless and I hope you all have a blessed day.

    • Mark Ward

      You nailed it.

  18. Steve

    I have been thinking about the same situation. I have really been loyal to my NASB over the past few years. But, my wife got me a new ESV Study Bible for Christmas cause I had been talking about trying a ESV. I really really like it alot. I wish the font was bigger. The font is 9 and the comments are a 7. But, I have been thinking about just choose one and stick with it. But, I have always had one answer when people would ask me which translation I prefer, or think they should use. I have always said “Stick with the one that makes you want to pick it up and read it” But, I just can’t make myself stick with one of the two. I read one sometimes and the other sometimes. But, I always seem to have one of them open laying in my lap all the time. But, either way you can’t go wrong. Just keep using both until……!

  19. joe

    Super late to the conversation. But overall I prefer the NASB. Here’s my three reasons:

    1. I like how the NASB italicizes words that were added to the text to make it readable. The KJV and NKJV also do this. I think for serious Bible study this is a really nice feature.

    2. I like how the NASB capitalizes pronouns when referring to deity. This isn’t exactly necessary, but it’s a show of reverence.

    3. I don’t like how the ESV is constantly being updated. It makes me weary to memorize Scripture because I might be memorizing an outdated rendering of a verse by the time rhe next edition of the ESV comes out. I like the relative stability of the NASB.

    And honestly, I find that the “wooden” claims about the NASB are highly exaggerated. At least when it comes up the updated version, I find it every bit as easy to read as the ESV.

    • Mark Ward

      1. That is indeed useful. But there are pros and cons. (Question of genuine curiosity—I’ve been wanting to hear: can you give me an example of a time when italics helped you understand the text of Scripture better?)

      2. That is indeed useful. But there are pros and cons.

      3. The likelihood that the verse you memorized will be revised is rather low.

  20. joe

    (I think I accidentally posted this on another page… and if you got this a couple times, I’m sorry, I’ve been having trouble with my internet connection today)

    1. Sure a couple of things come to mind actually. With the italics, Jesus’ “I Am” statements become more obvious. For example, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:28, NASB)

    I can’t show italics on here, but the “He” is italicized which means the translators added this to the NASB text. Without it, Jesus is saying, “…you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” This is less obvious in a translation that doesn’t italicize, because unless you already knew that the “He” is an addition, you’d have no obvious way to know this just from the text itself.

    Also, italics can show the translators’ bias, or their interpretation of a text. For instance, “And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (2 Sam 21:19, KJV)

    “brother of” is in italics, meaning the KJV translators added this to their text. This can reveal how the interpreters fix this apparent textual problem. Whether you think the translators should do some interpreting for the readers, or have “build-in apologetics” isn’t the issue, but what is the issue is that if they are going to do stuff like that, then it’s nice to know that it’s their writings, not the text they’re translating from.

    Now, you said there were cons to italicizing words that are added to the translation. I’m curious to know what those would be because I honestly can’t think of any reason not to have them. All things being equal, I would always prefer italicizing words or phrases not found in the original (or just have some way of knowing what’s added).

    2. I read your article on this, and you do have some good points. This is definitely just a preference of mine. But keep in mind that most of the Bible was written in hindsight.

    3. You may be surprised actually. Just a couple of years ago during Bible study, we had a little debate about the meaning of Genesis 3:16, but the current 2016 edition of the ESV leaves little room for interpretation.

    Also, for memory verses, just one example is, James 2:10. I’ve committed this verse to memory, and use during my witnessing (particularly to those who try to use James 2:17 as a proof-text that works are a requirement for salvation). Now don’t get me wrong, the 2016 ESV and the previous editions have the same meaning. But the fact is it is changed… and for no good reason as far as I can tell since both mean the exact same thing. I could also point to other verses I use often that I have committed to memory that have been changed in the newest edition of the ESV. So yes, the continual updates of the ESV does make me a little weary of making it a memory-verse Bible. I’d much prefer using a “stable” Bible like the NASB, NKJV or even the NIV.

  21. Mark Ward

    Joe, you’re a good Bible reader. I wish more people were like you. You gave some great responses. I’ll respond 1, 2, 3.

    1. A couple thoughts… If you don’t know Greek (and I’m not assuming you don’t know Greek, but let’s imagine), how do you know when the “He” is supplied because Greek demands or strongly implies it and when “He” is supplied because the translators are trying to be helpfully interpretive?

    All the major translations go with “I am He” rather than “I am.” It makes better sense in context than “I am.” There may be a reference to the I am, and the NLT translators thought there was, so they found a different way to indicate it: they put “I AM” in small caps, reflecting yet another convention of English Bibles.

    In my book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, I mention Psalm 14:1:

    So the con of italics is that it invites some interpreters to think they know what’s going on when they don’t. Another is that some readers will see emphasis, which is what italics usually mean. “I am *He*!” Another is that the italics often are too fastidious: they mark words that really *are* there in the original, just by ellipsis. The copula (*is*), for example, is often “left out” in Hebrew, but it’s there; the idea is necessarily implied. In English the verb has to be stated explicitly in those cases, so English translations rightly include it. The italics aren’t really accurate in that case.

    As for 2 Sam 21:19, that’s a good example of the usefulness of italics. But I think I’d rather that be dealt with in a footnote.

    The major pro of italics is that people who already have some idea of what’s going on in Greek and Hebrew can get helpful clues that keep them from having to actually check the Greek and Hebrew. But, of course, this is a tiny minority of Bible readers. In my ideal world, I’d relegate italics to the NASB and let that be our Bible that includes special code for people who know Greek and Hebrew.

    2. True! But the Pharisees didn’t know that their words would be quoted in hindsight. =) Again, pros and cons.

    3. I’d encourage you to give the team of PhDs behind every revision in the NIV2011 and ESV2016 the benefit of the doubt. If there were no reason for the change, and if the change made no difference, they wouldn’t have bothered. I think it’s healthiest to assume that they had good reasons for what they did. I do see a difference between these two:

    (2016) For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

    (2001) For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

    The 2016 translation is stronger, in my opinion.

    Two more thoughts on this:

    a) The desire to have a “stable” Bible is fully rational and defensible. I get it. But it’s also what gave us KJV-Onlyism. In other words, it can be easily abused, because the question naturally arises: how long should that stability be permitted? Language changes, and though I think publishers would be wise to space out their revisions, they need to reflect changes in English if they’re to fulfill their mandate to put the Bible in the hands of the people.

    b) When people who can’t read Greek or Hebrew ask for and get a stable Bible, KJV-Onlyism shows that a lot of them start to equate the English with the Greek and Hebrew, then start actually privileging the former over the latter. The English Bible, as the KJV translators said, *is* God’s word. But not at the ultimate point: no English translation can claim perfection or inspiration. Updates and revisions are helpful ways of reminding regular churchgoers that “the Bible” is, ultimately speaking, in Greek and Hebrew.

    Great thoughts. Thanks for commenting!

  22. joe


    Thank you for your in-depth reply. You’ve definitely given me things to consider and think about, and it’s definitely welcomed as my church primarily uses the ESV and the circle of Christians I associate with also use it as their primary Bible.

    That was a really interesting read about the cons of the italics, as I honestly couldn’t think of any. So thank you for sharing that, and yes, you’re correct in that I don’t know Greek.

    As for the updates in the ESV, I understand that languages change. But to me the changes in things like James 2:10 are trivial; I can get the meaning from either rendering. But I hope you understand why it is a little discouraging for Bible memorization purposes.

    Btw, I have started to use the ESV as my primary Bible over the NASB for a reason completely unrelated to what I’ve mentioned. And that is I know it is a good translation (I hope I didn’t give the impression that I disliked it), but also it’s popular and accessible. When I got out and witness, I want to use a version of the Bible that is accessible and would be more likely to be used should the person decide to check out a church.

    Thank you for taking the time to give me new insights.

  23. Mark L. Ward Jr.

    I like the internet when it brings me people like you, Joe. You violated all the internet rules of discourse: you listened, responded in good faith with something substantive and thoughtful, then listened again and stayed gracious after I 66% questioned (and 33% affirmed!) your viewpoint. I don’t know you at all, but I’m guessing from our brief interaction that James 3:17 may describe you: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17 ESV)

    Thank you.

  24. Steve

    I am super late to this post but have struggled for a very long time with which version to use. I understand the text regardless of the translation I’m reading but I think it comes down to when I’m reading through an entire book of the Bible or extensive reading. Which is the ESV or NKJV. I have a KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV(two editions including the most recent 2017 revision).
    A point I would like to make is that regardless of the translation, God’s Word does not go out and return void. He will deliver His message regardless.
    I think of translations like I think of various study Bibles. Some condemn the Scofield because of his past, others love Ryrie, ESV, Thompson Chain, and the list goes on. Are you less of a Christian for reading a commentary or study that is as old as Scofield or as new as ESV? I think not. You use the translation and study that God speaks to you most. The Bible is the Bible and God will use whatever translation to speak to you; it really just depends on the individual who is reading. Choose a translation that when you open it, you don’t want to close it. Just my opinion. Thank you for posting this.

  25. Kyle

    The NASB is superior in my eyes due to the Margin notes which are key to some important theological keys. The ESV severely lacks these in many cases and therefore the Hebrew meaning is never given to the reader. Thus they may never understand of connect ideas that God’s Word (Hebrew / Greek) is there, wanting a reader to see.

  26. Elroy Swarts

    You have made a wise decision.The ESV is the Bible of the future.I use the ESV as my primary Bible, but I also use the NKJV to compare from time to time.When I bought my ESV, it still wasn’t as popular as it currently is, and I am convinced that it will eventually surpass the NIV, and ultimately the much respected, but sadly often idolized KJV.I use my ESV for personal devotions, study, memorising, and as an Evangelist, I have built my ministry around the ESV.Glory to God!

    • Mark Ward

      I’m glad you’ve found the ESV so useful.

      I don’t think the future lies with any one translation, however. There’s no way to enforce that uniformity. I think we’re stuck with a multi-translation situation for the foreseeable future. And I think we should make the most of it, even be glad for it.

      Nonetheless, more power to you in loving and knowing a good translation like the ESV.

  27. adamdenny22

    I’m so glad you wrote this as it’s literally what’s been in my head for the last few weeks as I’m transitioning into a new pastorate and want to promote a primarily translation for our church. This is spot on where I am and thankful for your clarity in it. Also, I got a good laugh at Lockman’s website. They fell behind long ago in promoting the NASB. It actually saddens me because it is my favorite. Yet, I’ve come to be 100% ESV. Thanks again!

  28. ALexander Thomson

    Further to adamdenny22’s comment : Lockman is hoping to release in 2020 its delayed revision of the NASB, but many of those who have seen the published extracts are underwhelmed. In essence, I think the NASB vs ESV question will have resolved itself in favour of the ESV.

  29. dcsj

    Hi Mark, surprised I hadn’t read this one before, but Alexander’s comment alerted me to it. I like the ESV in many ways, but two things… one, the word “rules” in the Psalms. Drives me crazy! (Short trip, I know). What’s wrong with “statutes” or something? “Rules” … somehow seems more legalistic, I don’t know. It just is jarring every time I read it.

    Second, though, is that the stark directness of the NAU is so refreshing to me. Makes me think about the text itself more directly. I am not sure if that is how a Koine Greek reader would have taken the epistles, but for me it is helpful.

    BTW, I have found recently the 1 column verse by verse NAU and use it as my preaching Bible. (Although, with Power Point, I am putting more and more text on the screen to read to our people. Everything is changing with digital.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Mark Ward

      Worthwhile points, Don.

  30. ironmancc

    I made a post almost 2 years ago (Mike Gratis), figured I’d make an update. First of all, what I have found is that the Bible essentially maintains its’ integrity across a wide variety of translations. Yes, there are differences here & there; but, maybe with the exception of what I’d consider some really radical translations, the message remains the same. My primary Bible is the ESV, though I regularly compare passages in it with the NASB & KJV. As someone mentioned a while back, the Bible you hold in your hand at any given moment, whether a book, app on your phone/tablet, or web site on your computer, is what really matters, not particularly which authoritative translation you are looking at. The fact that this post is still being commented on 9 years later speaks volumes on personal preferences and thoughts, I hope that’s still the case 9 years from now. God Bless….

    • Mark Ward

      Amen, Mike Gratis. Thanks for checking back.

  31. Jim Becker

    I am also torn between the two texts. I have always heard the NASB is the most literal (I have not studied Greek myself) but in my studies with my electronic Greek resources (LOGOS) I have found the ESV is right there with the NASB.
    I have decided to stick with the NASB though because of format preferences. For example; in Joel 2:32 the ESV has the covenant name of God in all caps “LORD”, but in the quotation of the verse by Paul in Romans 10:13 they changed it to “Lord” thus making it harder to see that Jesus is LORD.
    Little things like that bug me, but as far as the actual text and words are considered I have lots of respect for it.

  32. charles shanks

    I have always believed the NASB to be more literal,mainly because John MacArthur the pastor teacher that has helped me most and my trust in him. Since this post is dated you may know that with the NASB 2020 talk from Lockman (another NASB translation “update” I understand the ESV has had 3) The 3:16 bible publishers 316publishing.com/contact/ have come into existence, I have been told there are others new publishers committed to the NASB 95. I have a ESV by Crossway that seems to relish completely deleting verses and calling attention to Mark 16 and John 8. The NASB at least uses brackets to put across their view. I also must mention my past radio teacher J. Vernon McGee used the KJV but did not deny people using the modern English bibles. He did say that he turned down a spot on translating the NKJV because of time and his radio ministry. He also said that as a student of Greek 9 yrs and a teacher 2 yrs. that he knew of some modern translator that could not read a Greek menu in a restaurant in Athens, However I do and always have used comparisons as I was saved in 1976 and the pastor gave me a “Living New Testament” which I used for s couple years. I do like the way that the MacArthur ESV is made and laid out. I have one that I have studied for years. But resent the fact that ESV Gospels of John that I distribute along with NIVs insist on printing the controversy ‘s of John 7-8 in these evangelistic booklets that have an excellent presentation of the “Bridge”. Salvation through Jesus Christ 1 Cor. 15 1-8 Also the Lockman Foundation does have a page on FaceBook that compares the 95 and 2020 NASB’s

    • Mark Ward

      If I’m understanding you, it does seem a little odd to include textual-critical notes in a gospel-tract version of John…

      But let’s be careful here: do the translators and publisher of the ESV give you any indication that they “relish completely deleting verses” from the New Testament? Clearly not: these are faithful men who hold precisely the same view of NT textual criticism that is held by John MacArthur. And in that view, those verses are not being “deleted”; to say so is to prejudice the discussion, to assume that they couldn’t have been “added” at some point(s) in history.

      I couldn’t read a menu in Athens. I don’t know Modern Greek, and I don’t know food words that are absent from the New Testament. I wish I could speak Κοινή (Koine, New Testament) Greek as a living language; I cannot. I have the pretty standard training in Greek that most American residential seminarians get, plus a little extra maybe. And I insist that there’s a lot I can do with that knowledge. I can compare and evaluate English translations. I can almost always see, and see quickly, what various translations are doing when they differ.

  33. Jonah Emery ??? (@JonahEmery)

    I’ll hop in here from the perspective of a more progressive Christian. The ESV is a light revision of the older RSV released in 1952/1971. Only 6% of the RSV was changed for the ESV, which means it’s not really a “new” translation. It’s a shame that it’s marketed as new. A lot of the royalties for the sale of an ESV go to the National Council of Churches for its use of the RSV text. The NASB, while based somewhat on the ASV of 1901, is an original translation constructed from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. It is an original and new English translation. I’m happy that Zondervan has just now rereleased new editions of the NASB (February 20200, with its own Comfort Print font, and even a Premier edition. They are gorgeous.

    • Mark Ward

      It is my understanding that Crossway paid a lump sum to the NCC. I confess I could not find an official source for this, but I’ve heard it repeatedly over years, and I did see people saying it elsewhere on the internet when I searched just now. I don’t think any royalties go to the NCC.

      I’m also not worried about the fact that the ESV is marketed as new, because it’s also clear to anyone who does the tiniest bit of digging that the ESV is, in a very real way, just one of the most popular and recent revisions of the KJV (which is itself a revision of the Bishop’s and other Bibles, going back to Tyndale). I like the idea that my Bible stands in the same tradition as the KJV.

      I’m glad that Zondervan has come out with more beautiful NASB editions. I would be happy for them to catch up with Crossway. The more the merrier! The NASB is a fine translation.

  34. Philip M

    Hi, Mark. I just finished reading the Kindle edition of your “Authorized” book. I resonate with what you said in Chapter 6 Argument 7 about ease of memorization. I was born in 1970 to Indian parents. As a young kid, my mother helped me memorize passages like Psalm 23, 34, and 121 out of the KJV, because in India, that was the only English bible they had. The complete NIV came out right as I entered high school, and it’s what we ended up using in youth group. Then, until about the first decade of this century, I alternated between NIV and the Scofield King James, since Scofield helpfully updates the most archaic words in the KJV. Occasionally, I tried NASB, but I completely agree with what you said about that being a rather “wooden” translation. It was in some ways MORE difficult for me to understand than KJV!

    Right at the turn of the millennium, our church got a new pastoral team, and they quickly embraced the ESV as the standard Bible version for our church. I have been delighted by its commitment to balancing translation accuracy with literary elegance. Because our church is committed to expository preaching, a few years ago, the Lord laid it on my heart to begin more in-depth memorization than the few psalms my mother had taught me as a kid or the famous verses I learned in Sunday school. The approach I decided to take with NT memorization was to memorize whatever portion of text was preached each Sunday, so that by the end of the series, I would have memorized the entire book. By God’s grace, using this approach, he has thus far helped me to memorize about half of the NT epistles, including Romans and Hebrews. I am presently doing the same for our current series in 1 Corinthians. The ESV has been a superb translation for me in my memorization of the NT epistles, as was the case for your friend that you describe in Chapter 6 Argument 7. If I were to memorize more in the Psalms, I would probably prefer to use KJV for its literary beauty, but I am really benefitting from using the ESV for NT memorization. And the book that you wrote was very helpful as well! I read it right after reading D. A. Carson’s book on the KJV debate.

    • Mark Ward

      Great comment. And wow—you put me to shame. But you also challenge and encourage me: may the Lord help you in your efforts to memorize. You are like Vern Poythress. He has done something like that.

      My book is better than D.A. Carson’s in one and only one respect: I have an endorsement from D.A. Carson, and his book doesn’t. =) No, seriously: he tackles textual criticism and I quite purposely avoid it. We have the same goal but different paths to reach it. Great book.

  35. Mike Riggs

    Just heard that a team at The Master’s Seminary has been given the ok to revise the NASBU, with New Testament Psalms and Proverbs due around next March…

    • Mark Ward

      I have an article about this coming out soon on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

  36. Donnie

    I love the NASB but ESV has the selections like you mentioned. I was at the G3 conference and the tables for the ESV was huge compared to the NASB with only had one table.

    • Mark Ward

      My point exactly. =)

  37. Kurt Hamilton

    I’ve been struggling with this issue for a few weeks as I am ready to purchase a new study bible in either, as I’m currently using KJV. Romans 12:16 has me leaning towards the NASB though.

    “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” – Rom 12:16 NASB

    “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” – Rom 12:16 ESV

    You can live in harmony with anyone just by both sides keeping peace and being courteous and obeying the moral law.
    Being of the same mind, however, is very different and so much more.

    • Mark Ward

      I’d encourage you to consider the wisdom of the KJV translators here: judge something by its predominant character. This is their illustration: a handsome man with a few warts on his hand is not therefore considered unhansome.

      In the judgment of a lot of people without an apparent axe to grind, the ESV and NASB are very similar.

      Also: I just wouldn’t say “be of the same mind” and “live in harmony” are all that different. And if they are, one is literal and the other is interpretive. They complement one another. They at least, together, raise the question: what would the metaphor of “being of the same mind” have meant in the mind of Paul?


  1. How is the English Standard Version - ESV? - espinaCor Simply Shopping - […] Those who are using the ESV said that “The ESV is generally regarded as having greater literary beauty than…
  2. Four New ESV Editions, Or, How Does Crossway Do It? – By Faith We Understand - […] from Crossway than from any other organization serving the Bible-reading public. The most popular post in the history of…