ESV or NASB Agenda?

esvthinline5038.jpg For Starters…I am a fan of both Translations. I have been using the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for quite sometime now. Then with the introduction of the English Standard Version (ESV), I was very intrigued and began to see a lot of other people begin to make the switch. I think for some good reasons…It tends to be a a little more readable than the NASB, while still being a word for word translation, as opposed to a thought for thought (NIV) or paraphrase (The Message). Now…I’m not one of those guys who says…you are of the devil if you use the NIV or The Message…I think they still have some value. NIV is great for getting the gist of a passage and The Message is almost like a commentary, which is what I use it for sometimes…but yes..we still need to be discerning.

Discernment is of utmost importance when it comes to any area of Christianity. There are teachers who are famous in some circles and have a mass of followers…who would have been burned alive 200 years ago if they were teaching the same thing as they are now…but that is another conversation.

I have had a problem with the ESV lately. Mainly this. Look at your Bible. Whatever translation you have go grab it and I’ll post the verses here for you as well.

Look at Genesis 17. A very important chapter in the book, as this is the beginning of circumcision and some other details for the Abrahamic Covenant, that are mentioned earlier in the book. Look at verses 1 – 2. I’ll put it here first in the NASB, then ESV and a few others for you.

17:1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2”I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.”(NASB)

17: 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,
2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (ESV)

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (NIV)

17: 1-2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, “I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I’ll make a covenant between us and I’ll give you a huge family.” (THE MESSAGE)

17: 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (TNIV)

Go back and read those passage and notice what has been put in bold and see the differences between the verses.

I really want to draw your attention to the first two verses that were posted and the difference between the NASB and the ESV rendering of that verse.

The NASB says…that God told Abraham to be blameless. Verse 2 then says “I WILL”. Meaning plainly, that God is going to establish His covenant with Abraham. Not a lot of fancy interpretation is needed.

Now..the ESV says in verse 1 the same, a call for Abraham to be blameless. Verse 2, however picks up with a clausal phrase, “that I may.” Very different from the NASB. This rendering brings a totally different meaning to the passage.

The ESV is saying, that God is telling Abraham to live his life a certain way and He has to do it, so God can establish His covenant with Abraham (The Abrahamic Covenant, which consists of Land (Promised Land), Seed (Isaac, eventually Christ), Blessing (Be a blessing to the Nations by Christ, and he will be blessed). By the ESV putting a clausal phrase on the verse, they allowed for some implications. Specifically for a bent towards a certain Theology.

Reformed Theology has many facets to it. I love reformed Theology, I love the Doctrines of Grace…but, I have some issues with Covenant Theology. If you want to know more about Covenant Theology go to and begin a search. I don’t have the time to get into it or Dispensational Theology. Basically, Covenant Theology will say that all of the promises to Israel and all of their blessings have been Transferred over to the Church and they are no longer for Israel but the Church. Dispensational Theology says that is not true. Now why is this important you might be thinking??? Well..

Typically reformed theology folks will have a bent towards covenant theology. And I have heard and seen that most of the guys who helped translate the ESV are…reformed.

So as I read the rendering of Genesis 17 in the ESV, I am a little surprised. Because it is an overwhelming difference than that of the NASB…they (ESV translators) have put their theology/belief system/hermeneutic into their translation of that passage.

Which may not seem like a big deal…but as I sat in a bible study that discussed whether or not the Abrhamic Covenant is conditional (able to be broken) or unconditional (nothing can change it)…a lot of the argument came out of this passage…translated by the ESV. And people will point to this passage saying that since Abraham didn’t walk blamelessly before God, these promises to him and the nation of Israel have been transferred to the bride of Christ, the Church.  I believe…that is not true, the Church has been grafted into the promise and has been adopted as sons and brought near to the covenants of the promise by the blood of Chirst, and we are going to make the Jews jealous and they will eventually turn their affections to the one whom they piereced (summary of the end times).

God makes a promise and He doesn’t break it. Ever. The Abrahamic Covenant is of utmost importance in the Bible, it is the main covenant and all of the other covenants are just falling under this one! If the Abrahamic Covenant falls down, they all do. I have heard it be described as the lynch pin for the Old Testament.

I would say that, verse one of Genesis 17 is an exhortation to Abraham to ‘be holy, to live right, to be blameless, to begin to walk as one who is following the one true God..YAHWEH.’ Then verse two follows with God saying, “I am going to keep my promise!” Because back when God made the covenant with Abraham, God put him to sleep and walked through the torn pieces of an animal, a symbol of a covenant of blood. Normally both parties in the agreement would walk through it together, to share the responsibility, but God…walked it by Himself. Declaring that it is He who is upholding this promise/arrangement and now one else. And if the Covenant was up the Abrahams (or our) ability to live a good life that would leave room for bragging or holding hands with God and being able to say, “Look what we did!!” When the reality is…Look what God did.

So all of that to say, that we must always be careful when we are reading and teaching scripture. And to not ever have an agenda. I pray that was not their motive in how they translated this passage, but that they honestly thought that is what the original text looked like. We must never begin to read our beliefs into Scripture, but always let Scripture mold and break what we believe. Even if we don’t like what we see. Let Scripture speak.

I am a little disappointed with the ESV. What do you think????



Filed under Bible

49 responses to “ESV or NASB Agenda?

  1. Tubbs

    This is a somewhat tragic translational bias. It is no wonder that most of the people who advocate the ESV who are the heavy-hitters, as it were, are of the covenantal persuasion. (For those who are confused about the covenantal vs. dispensational stuff, I will post some stuff about it soon).

    What is even more tragic is that when someone speaks of people who are are Reformed (note the capital “R”) it is sad that covenantal theology is largely associated with Reformed thought–to the point that they are nigh synonmous. It is sadly the case that someone who does not imbrace covenant theology cannot call themselves capital “R” Reformed. That is why I refer to myself as reformed (note the little “r”) in soteriology (i.e., as it relates to salvation) but not in eschatology (i.e., as it relates to end times).

    But as for translations I am a strong NASB advocate and have always used it. I do not condemn other translations but I do believe that for serious study and if you want to get as close to what God actually said you need a translation closest to the original. Since the NASB is the closest to the original language I believe it is manifestly the best.

    Serving the King,
    Justin Tubbs

  2. Wow, thank you for pointing that out. I too am disapointed. I’m a fan of both the NASB and ESV. I use the NASB a lot, and it’s the bible of choice at my school and I use it when committing His word to memory. I am a big fan of the ESV but I’m really gonna do a bit more research and compare the two versions.

    It’s funny because I had heard that the ESV was the closest to the original language while Justin mentions the NASB is. I’m not raising an argument at all whatsoever but I do question why I heard such a thing. hmmm. gives me something to ponder on, thanks.

    Seeking Him always,

  3. Kevin

    Hey guys…

    Nice points. Jeff, good summary of the problem with the ESV, especially in Genesis 17. I think one of my concerns with the ESV is exactly what you mentioned, that almost all, if not completely all, of their translation team is of the Reformed Persuasion. While this is not a bad thing, theologically, I think it left the translators without much of a balanced accountability when translating such difficult passages.

    In the end, I think we must be careful when proclaiming that any one translation is perfect over the others. Because in the end, they are ALL exactly what we call them… TRANSLATIONS! Since the bible was not written in English, each translation has done it’s best to give “translate” the exact words/meaning of the text. But what it is most important in translation? Meaning? Exact Wording? This is not perfectly clear for sure. That’s why I hesitate to impugn the NIV, which, for all its issues, still does a nice job of conveying meaning, even while losing some appropriate words in places. I use the NASB myself, but I don’t think I could go so far as to say it is the only appropriate Bible for study purposes. I really think, for study purposes, we should use several different translations, so we might see where they differ, and try to understand exactly why they differ, and what the original text was trying to convey.

    Or we could just all learn Greek and Hebrew and forget these transaltions???

    That was a joke.

  4. Thanks for your points. I really want to make a good choice regarding which Bible I should use, and just like everyone else here, I enjoy both the NASB and the ESV. Right now I use the Geneva 1599 version, but for me that is too hard to work with right now. Maybe when I’m older I’ll switch back to it, but for the present I need a more modern translation.

    Does anyone know where I could purchase a good leather NASB?

  5. Interesting point. I don’t think the ESV is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, in this instance, I think it has more grounds for it’s rendering of v2 than it appears to at first sight.

    The Hebrew word in v2 is: wü´eTTünâ… which between Bibleworks and Firefox has just become a jumble of letters. Anyway… the word is made up of two parts:
    a) a conjunction (and, so, then, when, now, or, but, that), and
    b) qal (to give, set)

    searching for this exact word construction gives 14 instances in the OT. 4 of them in Genesis itself.
    The 4 instances from Genesis are:
    17v2; 34v12; 45v18; 47v16

    And, if you look up the other 3 occurrances in the NASB, it is clear that a promise is being made *dependent upon a previous clause*.

    17v2 is the only one of those 4 where the straight rendering “I will” wouldn’t easily carry the meaning of dependence upon the previous clause… so it makes sense why the ESV translators would “help us see that” by giving the rendering they have.

    That *doesn’t* necessarily mean the ESV is correct. And I’ll reiterate, that I *don’t* think the ESV is perfect… but in this instance… I think there is a very reasonable case for the translation decision they’ve made.

    So, the translation committee might be wrong (I don’t know, I’d have to put more time into making my mind up about it) – but I don’t think we can say that they’re worryingly, or unreasonably wrong… or necessarily biased… they’re just trying to help us read a word consistently in meaning through the same book.

    Finally – if the reason for writing the ESV was the translation committee were unhappy with the accuracy of previous English translations, then it makes sense that we would find verses like this where the rendering of the ESV is different to all the other English translations. If it wasn’t unique at points, then what was the reason for writing the translation? (as all that would prove is that the current set of translations we have in English are “good enough” without producing *yet another*)

    God bless 🙂

  6. Have you looked at verses 6, 7 an 8 in the ESV? These have an unequivocal usage of “I Will” instead of “that I may.”

    I think it is a bit presumptuous to assume the ESV translators were simply letting their theological bias influence their rendering of the text. I would expect that they made every effort to avoid letting their interpretation sway them and would strongly disagree with the assumption that they are simply letting their views dictate their translational decisions.

    Just my thoughts as a non-hebrew scholar who has found the ESV to be very consistent and useful in its rendering of the Greek NT. Now I wish I knew Hebrew as well…

  7. Joel

    Although I am no longer of the Reformed (capital R) persuasion, I did spend a good deal of time in that camp. I have never met a Reformed person who believed that the promises to Abraham were transferred from Israel to the Church. Rather, the covenant with Abraham finds its fulfillment in the person of Christ (not in a nation of people), and all those in Christ are joint heirs.

    Thus I don’t think that a rendering of “that I may” would have a particularly Reformed bias.

    That’s just from my experience. Y’all have probably done more reading than I have.

  8. When I compare the ESV to the NASB in a parallel Bible, they often read very similarly.

  9. Gregory

    All to often, when we read scripture we don’t want to think. Many words can have multiple shades of meaning. In English there are words that can used in past or present tense, plural or singular, ect. without ever changing form or spelling. Also, there are instances were it takes a five word phrase to translate the Hebrew or Greek into English, or it may take a five word phrase in Greek or Hebrew to communicate what one English word will fully communicate.

    I grew up in a home where English and Tslaligi (Cherokee) were spoken equally. (You can’t get two more distinctly different languages, both in usage an thought patterns.) This taught me that we must think about the multiple uses of a word when translating or when reading a translation.

    I would suggest that we use many translations, both formal and dynamic equivalent (literal and thought for thought). The use of lexicons and other Hebrew/Greek helps are a must. Unless you are going to learn Hebrew and Greek. (No Joke!)

    Beyond the language, if you truly want to understand the Scripture you must study the culture and history of both the writer and the recipients of the book or letter. Thomas Nelson has some great easy to use reference books on manners and customs of the various peoples mentioned in the Bible. Many of them are less that twenty dollars, tax and all.

    Wado (Cherokee for “farewell”, that carries with it a entire blessing)

  10. Enoch Thomas

    I was wondering how accurate is the NASB updated. I like it best, but I hear people say many different things. Can you help on this? God Bless.

  11. Steve

    What a great discussion!

    I too, as are apparently most who have posted here, am a fan of NASB. I think we may be making more of this than is necessary.

    When I think of the word “establish” I typically think of instituting something or beginning something. But God was not “instituting” His covenant, was He? As the original poster pointed out, the covenant was instituted long before and confirmed in Gen 15 in such a way as to show it’s fulfillment was totally dependant upon God.

    The NASB gives a footnote that the Hebrew word translated “establish” is literally “give”. But was God “giving” the covenant for the first time?

    Another definition of “establish” is “to make firm”. I think this is more in keeping with what we see going on here. God is “making firm” or confirming His covenant. That seems to make the command to holy living more logical.

    “I am the all powerful God, so walk before in holiness and be blameless. I will (or that I may) confirm My covenant with you” would be my paraphrase. And either “I will” or “that I may” seems to work.

    Having said that, let me make this comment. That the translators of ESV were influenced by their theology is only logical. What we believe always influences what we do, what we say and what we think. If it didn’t, I would question if you really believe it. But the same complaint has been made about the NASB. It has been criticized for having a strongly evangelical bent. Being evangelic myself, I say “Praise the Lord!” But others do not agree with me.

    Does this rise to the level of an “agenda”? Giving my fellow believers (the translators) the benefit of the doubt, since I do not know them personally, I would say not. I think it is no more an agenda that the translators of the NASB using “establish” and then conceding the word is literally “give”. (If it is literally “give”, then translate it as “give”! Especially in what is proported to be the ‘most literal’ of translations.)

    Is this Reformed theology influence something to be aware of? Absolutely!

    From what I read, most of the translators and influential supporters (such as Albert Mohler) are pretty much 5 petal Calvinists. So I fully expect that to influence their translations. I agree with much that Calvin had to say, but I personally am not a 5 petal guy by no stretch of the imagination. But knowing this, I can approach the ESV with a more informed eye. That is exactly what I do, because I use it in my study. As an earlier post indicated, we should use mulitple translations and wrestle with an understanding of the Word in our studies. Translations like ESV (which in most instances seems almost word for word with the NASB) cause me to think more and wrestle more with what God is saying. Personally I feel just sticking with my personal favorite is equal to having my ears tickled. I want to know what minds greater than mine think so I can prayerfully evaluate them. Prayerfully becaue, after all, none of can really understand what Scripture says without it’s revelation by the Holy Spirit (1 Co 2.12-14).

  12. I think it is a perfectly acceptable rendering. Go to Genesis 22:15-18, in any translation, and what does it say?

    Emphasis is placed on Abraham’s obedience!

    This can be confusing since the covenant was an unconditional covenant. But think about this – even in salvation, which is entirely a work of God’s grace, God still demands obedience to the Gospel on our part.

    How God’s sovereignty interacts with man’s will is a mystery to us. It is also something we should not waste our time trying to figure out. To clarify this last statement – God is totally sovereign over His creation. In that sovereignty He allows men to make choices and still work out everything according to His good pleasure. It is a mind boggling, but I find much comfort in it.

  13. My opinion on this matter is rather a simple one. And please hear it as such – an opinion.

    I believe that though it is perhaps a bit more difficult to read, NASB captures – in the be form we are currently able – the most literal transliteration of the Greek and Hebrew texts. I’ve spent some hours with my Greek new testament, along with several other amplified translations, and it seems to me that both syntactically and hermeneutically the NASB is a pretty solid translation.

    All of this being said. I have an increasing enjoyment in reading the ESV. And, really, the most important thing to remember in all this is the following: ” 12Now we (X)have received, not the spirit of (Y)the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,

    13which things we also speak, (Z)not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

    14But a (AA)natural man (AB)does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are (AC)foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

    15But he who is (AD)spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.

    16For (AE)WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But (AF)we have the mind of Christ. ”
    – 1 Corinthians 2:12-16,

    The word of God is “Spirit-breathed” and for we who are believers, the same Holy Spirit has residence in us. So, no matter whether TNIV or NASB, it is the Spirit who teaches us, and “…leads us into all Truth.”

  14. John

    You can get a really nice leather NASB from Cambridge—

  15. Clifton

    The ESV isn’t the only translation to imply that the covenant is conditional.

    Moreover, we have other examples, some already cited by others, of conditional covenants like John 3:16 or Luke 9:23 et cetera.

    Could it possibly be that the level of scholarship has improved since the late 60s and early 70s?

    The KJV was translated with the best manuscripts and scholarship of it’s day but today we realize that it too is flawed. Likewise, the NASB was translated sincerely and extremely literally.

    However, it is a subject of scholarly debate as to whether “the cohortative following the imperative in fact implies predication.

    When a language is translated purely literally, giving the majority of consideration to word-for-word translation, meaning can be a casualty.

    Ex- “The guys car was really cool!”
    Translated literally, the sentence conveys the temperature of the automobile, when in fact we know it’s an aesthetic statement.

    Anyway, just food for thought. I surely am no authority on these questions.

  16. Michael

    There are things I like and dislike about all translations – including the ESV and NASB. But one major preference for me is keeping the personal pronouns capitalized when it pertains to Deity. And the NASB may be awkward at times, but the ESV is not without its faults for keeping strange Elizabethan English words and phrases and such. I like the ESV. My pastor uses the ESV. But I’ll stick with NASB for my own devotional/study use.

  17. joe

    I love this discussion. I agree that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to interpret – some things are obvious – others are not. That being said – I notice sometimes the Bible says something figuratively, and says so, then explains what it means – but if it does not – how do we know if it is said figuratively or literally? God bless you all – this is a great discussion!

  18. Cedric Credle

    I have read your comments,and it is good to debate or give your perspective on how you believe. Now we do need in this hour the revelation of the Holy Spirit.The start on the dicussion is very critical regarding is stated in Gen 17:1-2. Now I do not know how many of the denominations do have the bent on replacement theology,but that can be determined of how each think regarding the nation of Israel. In Gen 12:3 of the blessing to Israel and the cursing of Isreal,would that be a conditional or unconditional clause? Of those who comment on this subject and others please answer me this question;what was the name that the Father revealed himself to Moses? And also if the name we often use is true,why the question stated in Proverbs 30;4 is necessary?

  19. Gavin

    I would say the NASB seems more Calvinist in Gen. 17: 2 than the ESV.

    When the Lord says “I will”, I understand it as irrespective to what Abraham does, He WILL do it.
    The ESV inplys that Abraham must do his part before the Lord will do His part. Therefore our Reformed translators have taken a watered down Calvinistic view in the ESV. “THAT I may”. Interesting is that the original text does not water down the statement with “That I may”. It simply says “I will”.

    Thank God that our redemption does not rest on Abrahams ability to fullfill anything. He will do it no matter what!
    Praise God.

  20. Ryan

    The bottom line here I think is that one could find differences in renderings of the greek & hebrew amongst the many english versions of the Bible. There is no perfect translation. We have to remember that when reading God’s Word, we must ask the Holy Spirit to be our guide in reading it. After all, it is He who inspired man to write it. Is the NASB the better of the two? I’d say overall yes when it comes to word-for-word renderings. But, does it discount the ESV? No…the ESV in my opinion flows much better. Six to one…have a dozen to the other!

  21. Galatians 5:1-11 points me to think the ESV has it more clearly. It is a separate convent that requires purity because of its laws. We are to try and follow it, yet they added to it to much. I forget the passage that god says whatever the sons of David do on earth so shall he uphold in heaven.

    Would be nice to note the passage where Christ told the disciples not to circumcise to avoid the old law as well. Point is it is something separate from the new testament.

    Or am I just crazy? The website above decribes it more in detail. I found it on google. (Note I am not with them. I just read the bible enough to agree with what is pointed out.)

  22. Cedric

    It has been said that the best interpertaion on the bible is the word itself. Also that the bible contradicts itself. Have you not read in Matt. 5:17 when Jesus says;I have not come to destroy the law and the prophets. the word destroy have the indication that to make something,umimportant or irrevelant.But look at the next verse which says that all will be fulfilled,but it leaves out the word prophet,regarding prophecy. Realizing not all Old Covenant prophecy has been fulfilled yet,so a interesting question arises.As many says as indicated above if the Old Covenant is no longer valid then why did the Savior quotes from it many times? And it is interesting also the rest of the Renew Covernant does the same?

  23. Kristin

    I was just wondering where Jeff Goins found a parallel Bible with the ESV and NASB. I’m looking for one. I’ve just switched from the NIV to the NASB and thought it might be helpful.

  24. Cedric Credle

    There is a principle of what I have heard years ago about keeping things in context and also how the original scriptures were written. I have met a man who was once a Jewish rabbi,converted to a believer,after I had visited Israel. The first thing he said while in a group,we were in the book of Genesis. The original were not written in the way our modern bibles are,it was written from right to left,instead of left to right,and also there was no periods,or common,it was like a continious flow. So it does give a perspective of how we interpert scripture. But in this case now to just look at Gen 17:1-2 look at the begining when Yahweh (God) first appear to Moses in Gen 12. The times of the phrase I will is mentioned. But in the 17th chapter the covenant is mentioned again,even after the sin with Hagar,after yielding to his wife Sarai. Sound familar? But in chapter 17 it tells of Abram’s side of the covenant-his responsibility. The continious flow of the original scripture sound like the flow of water in a stream or a river.

  25. Cedric Credle

    For those who are looking for a parallel bible,not knowing, what part of the world, you are living in,you may be able to buy it on line at an Christian book distributors. company.

  26. Mark

    Wow, thanks for the headsup on this flaw in the ESV translation. I checked three other translations on Genesis 17:1-2 that didn’t appear on your blog entry: NET, HCSB, and NAB. All three of the translations use the word “will” in verse 2 indicating surety of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (this is interesting considering that the NAB is a Catholic Bible translation). What doesn’t make sense is that the ESV translation of Genesis 17:1-2 sounds more Arminian/Catholic than Calvinist. One of the hallmarks of the Calvinistic system is that once God bestows a promissory blessing on a person, that blessing cannot be reneged even if the recipient of the blessing doesn’t live up to his or her side of the covenantal arrangement.

  27. Gavin

    Yep, that sjust the way it is Calvinism=Christianity=The Bible

  28. Joel Preston

    Fascinating post to be sure. I am also an avid user of the NASB as well as a dispensationalist. As a pastor, it is my responsibility to protect the flock & so I thank you for your insight.
    Another reason this appealed to me is that I am actually reading a book called “There Really is a Difference” by Renald Showers, which is a comparison of Covenant & Dispensational Theology.
    Of course, one of the hallmarks of the Covenatal sysytem is that the Abrahamic covenant was conditional & because of that, Israel is no loger the inheritor of God’s promises. This poor translation of God’s promise to Abraham definitely seems to be “intentional” to prove their point. Sad.
    I can’t help but think of this passage when I read this. Romans 3:1-4 “1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.”
    Thanks again for the heads up!

  29. Kent

    I didn’t read the whole response string here, but please be aware that either translation–ESV or NASB–is very much allowable from the HEBREW text. The Hebrew verb in question is “ntn,” which is used almost 2000 times in the OT. Interestingly, in one standard Hebrew Dictionary (“BDB”), it doesn’t translate “ntn” as “establish” once! Same for several other Hebrew dictionaries. The normal translation for the almost 2000 occurrences of the Hebrew verb is “to give, put, set, or make,” so the NAS is already moving 0utside the normal range of translation with “establish.” Too, the imperfect mood/mode can, in Biblical Hebrew syntax, denote either a cohortative sense (“I will make”) or a consequential sense (“I may make”). The Hebrew verb form as it stands in Gen 17.2 can carry either sense, and it is determined by the syntax of the surrounding pericope (paragraph). For more on this syntactic-grammatical breadth, see “An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax,” by Waltke and O’Connor, sections 31.4-31.6.

    The point is simply this: we should be careful to not assume that a translation’s wording is driven by theological bias (by the way, I’m a progressive dispensationalist, not a covenant theologian, so I’m not arguing the ESV from that bias). In the case you’ve raised here, the ESV’s translation decision is perfectly consonant with the Hebrew verb form, as is the NAS. Their decision may have been driven, not by (covenant) theology at all. They based it on a Hebrew syntactical decision that informed their translation every bit as much as the NASB had to base their translation on their syntactical decision.

    Quite frankly, the bigger issues here is not the mood/mode of the verb, but the NAS’s translation of the Hebrew verb with the VERY rarely used translation “to establish.” The ESV uses the far more commonly translated “to make,” which I think is more lexically consistent with the Hebrew term both here and throughout the OT.

    In the end, both the ESV and NAS made translational decisions based on the Hebrew, not on theology. We would do well to recognize that in this discussion thread about the ESV and NASB.

  30. Interesting discussion. Here’s the NET Bible:
    17:1 When Abram was 99 years old, 1 the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless. 17:2 Then I will confirm my covenant between me and you, and I will give you a multitude of descendants.”

    ESV translators consulted the NET translators translation notes. Here’s their note on “I will confirm my covenant between me and you…”

    Following the imperative, the cohortative indicates consequence. If Abram is blameless, then the Lord will ratify the covenant. Earlier the Lord ratified part of his promise to Abram (see Gen 15:18-21), guaranteeing him that his descendants would live in the land. But the expanded form of the promise, which includes numerous descendants and eternal possession of the land, remains to be ratified.

  31. Christian Books is the stuff i like coz i alway read the bible and i am a very religious person .

  32. I find it disconcerting that your argument is based completely on a perceived theological bias, yet at no time did you address the most important question: which translation is most true to the Hebrew text? I’m less concerned about which translation as which implications as to which translation most accurately presents the original text. Otherwise, your argument simply sounds like, “Which translation best fits my preconception of what the passage ought to say.”


  33. Cedric Credle

    Brian you do raise a value point,which translation comes close to the Hebrew text? Even in the Hebrew text would one scripture contradict the other? They say the proper interpetation of scripture,is the scripture themselves. Base on that arguement in which I bought up before,no one bother to mention,In the hebrew text of the name of the Almighty,which is his name? And even the question regarding the promise of Abraham,is it still valid today,or the proper teaching in some area,we are no under law,but under grace,I heard so much.
    But the problem is in Romans 4 it talks about this very subject,so it is under the confinement,that people may say is under the law?

  34. When I read this post before reading the comments, my thought was: but isn’t the real question which is closer to the original Hebrew, or whether they are in fact both acceptable translations of the language used? The question really shouldn’t be, when making a translation, what arguments will people be able to make from this if we translate it this way, but, what honestly reflects the text as we have it before us?

    Thanks so much to those of you who answered in the comments with some of this relevant information! Makes me wish I were a Hebrew scholar myself so I didn’t have to take only your word for it!

  35. Chris

    I have recently using the ESV for my daily Bible reading a couple thinks have surprised me. I can’t understand why the word “castle” is used instead of stronghold or fortress, just really cLangs for me. Also when reading 2 Samuel 8:18 the son’s of king Davidvarevdescribed as Priests. That was not possible and other translations use chief ministers or princes. Sorry for the couple typos, my iPad doesn’t make it easy to correct, without completely retyping whole paragraph.


    That is interesting Chris,in your ESV,I know that the NASB have a concordrance does the ESV have one? I have one for the KJV,I will look that up and see in that concorrdance and see if the,word castle comes up. Personally I would not thinks,but if it does surprise surprise surprise. On the orther version in this discussion,or those who uses it,is the same question applies.


    Pastor Joel I have never heard of this covenant system,I wonder what those who believe that,then how do they explain what is said in Jeramaih :31:31,and for those who says that the Old Covenat is done away with,mark the words of Jesus in Matt. 5:17-18, and chapters 9-11 of Romans Sorry guys got off the subject a little.

  38. Chris

    Interesting discussion. I am a pastor, and I use both the ESV and the NASB. I began using the NASB more as I begin studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and I find it to be very literal. The ESV does read better, but I have an issue with the lack of capitalization in reference to God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit. I studied and preached from the HCSB for a couple of years, but I have found a few passages where the HCSB did not use the best English word translation, which seemed to affect the meaning of the passage. It is not that I found the HCSB to be wrong, but it changed it enough to bother me. I am currently in a struggle as to which translation to use as my primary, the ESV or NASB. More than likely, I will end up using the NASB, because of how closely it follows the original languages. Great discussion.

  39. dustylenz

    Long ago I was a King James only guy. I thought all other bibles were “of the devil”. I am long past that, I personally use the NKJV out of preference. I can appreciate the value of the various versions mentioned, I have some comfort with the NASB and the ESV but I still stick with the NKJV. This may be because of my past KJV only experience. MY point here is that personal bias aside, I thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit in guiding in all truth. There is value in the various versions but it is the Holy Spirit that shines the light needed to make the truth a reality in each of our lives. I know I may sound like I am making a contradiction here but I will end by saying this, back in my King James only days I remember one of the points made against all other versions was have the other versions would lead to questioning what did God really say. “Yea hath God said” would cause us to question the validity of what God said and meant. I wonder sometimes if having all of these new versions is helpful. Sometimes a version seems like the “new flavor of the month”.

  40. Cedric Credle

    Interesting name dustylenz reminds of the scripture we see thru a glass darkly.You gave an interesting point and I know what you are talking about. Tradiition was when one comes to Christ such as I back, in the 70’s kinda of telling my age. Was that the prominent translation given was the KJV. Like dustylenz I am using the NKJV. Some time ago I had the NASB,but the flow of the translation I could go with. I did not go back because of some of the words for years I could comes to grips with. For the Holy Spirit, it was the Holy Ghost. The term Easter is a pagan holiday in which I know the Jews in the book of Acts did not celebrate it. So I stick with the NJKV. Another point I agree with is with all of these translations in which I have heard that these translations is to help people to understand. By the help of the Holy Spirit in how we are commanded to study,not just Paul telling Timothy,what is the point to carry a bible without the intense blessing of not reading it? They is a reason of studying the bible for yourself,and allowing the Spirit of God to bring revelation to you. But also the purpose of the five-fold ministry ecplained in Eph 4 11-16. If any of you who had the experience of studying the word for yourself and the Spirit of God has open to you truth either by listening someone speak or any way HE had chosen? The Holy Spirit is the original eye opener other than the soap. Praise His Name.

  41. I’m still confused as to why so many have jumped on the ESV bandwagon rather than shifting support to already existing texts, such as NASB and NKJV. It just seems like more hype, but that is because I’ve just become more cynical about all the political bashing that seems to accompany this or that new version of the Scriptures–ESV included. The NASB was updated, and I don’t understand why my young daughters can understand it, but other can’t. That makes no sense to me. I have found the ESV to be cumbersome and awkward in many instances, so I am sticking with my NASB and NKJV, along with using my Tanakh. Did we REALLY need the ESV? Jumping off my soapbox . . . .

  42. Leif Smedberg

    I believe the Bible is the word of God. God gets all the glory. When I read a verse that is questionable in meaning I compare it with other verses to get an over all meaning. I always ask who gets the glory, God or man. I’ve always enjoyed the NASB. I understand it was translated by man. Being translated by man like any version it’s going to have faults. Every time I open the Scripture I ask for the Lord to show me the truth. To God be the Glory.

  43. Cedric D. Credle

    I have heard of those who says that it did not matter which translation,one uses it is the Holy Spirit which gives the revelation. If that is true then why is so much division in the body? Now it had been a debate regarding the meaning of scriptures that,are in the old and how they are been quoted in the NT,have you all who have been in seminary ever had that argument?
    From all of you who uses the modern translations,even though of the two that is discussed here,,do you find that is it often true?

  44. Lory

    Wow. Fantastic discussion! Thanks for all of the insight. I’m looking into the ESV. I’m heavily involved in Bible quizzing and we’ve always used the NIV. With the 2011 translation of the NIV, however, a shift is being made. Each denomination is being asked to choose between the 2011 NIV (which I have serious problems with) and the ESV. I know it’s switching topics a little but do you have thoughts/insights on the 2011 NIV?

  45. David Gallagher

    Great duscussion, all! One further thought to consider, though. Why do we in the English world spend money frequently updating and revising the Bible when many other languages in the world have merely portions of scripture in their own language?

  46. Cedric D. Credle

    In seeing that this discusssion on this topic has lasted since 2007, I wonder if the the mold of newer translations has gotten away from the original intent of God as mentioned earlier. The word talks about from the words of Jesus;that my words are spirit and they are life. John 6:63-66. The unseen word of the Spirit is supposed to by the letter to confirm the unseen. But is seemed to bring the cart before the horse. God is a Spirit so as believers in Messiah we are made by the same substance,by the New Birth. Regarding the 2011 NIV I heard some years ago, there was a translation of the NIV that was to become gender sensitive is this the translastion? If so of what the idea of same sex marriage and what has transpired, this translation has not manisfested by accident. On a direction of a ship on automatic pilot, if it goes off course either 2-3 degrees either port of starboard, the original destination would not be reached. This can be the same as translations written, in which can deter man from the origianal destination of God

  47. Sorry, but this post completely misreprsents the real perspectives of Covenant Theology. It is not correct that CT’s believe promises/phrophecies have been “transferred” from Israel to the Church. It would take too long to get into the nitty gritty of this complex and often debated discussion. I will simply say that CT’s understand many promises/prophecies in the Old Testament to be FULFILLED in the Church (very different from “transferred”). Also, you have to understand that CT’s are not viewing the Church as this completely distinct and new phenomanon as is basically believed within Dispensationalism. Rather, there is continuity between the Old and New Covenants, and the Church is the continuation of true Israel. Also, CT does not endorse the idea that Abraham did not walk blameless before the Lord, or that the Abrahamic Covenant was not unconditional. Quite to the contrary.

    Further, I believe you are assuming way too much based on this text. More solid proof is needed to really convince me (and I hope others) that the ESV translators translated this text as they did because of their CT perspective. Not everyone on the translation committie is a Covenant theologian, nor is CT based on this one phrase in this one text.

    I will conclude by saying that I ejoy both translations. I’ve used the NASB for years, and am still wrestling with the idea of switching to the ESV.

    Grace and peace,


    I think this sermon, entitled “Covenant Theology Foundations,” gives a good overview of CT, traced out from Genesis 17 (Abrahamic Covenant). This may clarify some things.


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