Why is the New Lutheran Study Bible an ESV Translation instead of a NIV Translation?

Yesterday we posted an article on The Lutheran Study Bible and the videos that CPH put out to promote it. Some of the comments on that post questioned the  replacement of the  NIV with the ESV  translation.

The NIV question is a common one. Simply put, the NIV was put in the balance and was found wanting by:

  • The translation committee of The Commission on Worship, some heavy hitters there including Baue and Chris Mitchell.
  • The Commission on Worship itself, under Paul Grime and Jon Vieker’s leadership.
  • The CTCR
  • The two seminaries both have adopted the ESV as their translation of choice.
  • Synod in convention (2004 Resolution 2-03A) approved the LSB with ESV translation, and rejected an amendment to allow voting on the translation used.

In other words, the ESV was chosen very deliberately and carefully. The NIV has just enough of a “dynamic equivalence” flavor to it to give any good, solid Lutheran a good case of the translation heebie-jeebies.  Dynamic equivalence is a level of translation that is lower than a word-for-word translation. Of course there is no such thing as a perfect word-for-word translation when you are moving from one language to another but the translators of the King James and the ESV, for example, sought to be as close to a word-for-word translation as possible. The translators of the NIV were more satisfied with a dynamic equivalence – in other words, they  sought to capture the meaning as close as possible but were a little more free in their translation for the sake of reaching the  culture for which we are translating. Communication was a higher concern than accuracy.

There are many other reasons the ESV is superior.  It was translated  to a higher education level and thus it uses  a greater vocabulary which allows for a more accurate translation. There are also numerous little touches that help support a sacramental and liturgical approach to church which are more accurately translated from the Greek in the ESV than in the NIV.

The Lutheran Service Book (the hymnal that came out in 2006) uses ESV for all its bible refernces.  Some of the studies are still available on the COW web site under the lectionary section on the worship project. We encourage you to check these out for a fuller defense of the ESV.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Why is the New Lutheran Study Bible an ESV Translation instead of a NIV Translation? — 19 Comments

  1. It seems to me that the leadership of the LCMS is currently seeking a “Dynamic Equivalence” of Lutheranism. How’s that working out?

  2. Caleb,

    Good point in #2. The ESV was brought to us through the good solid leaders that exist here and there in the synod and not via Team Kieschnick. Team Kieschnick has not been able to control every last “knook and cranny” of the LCMS.


  3. I’ve been using the ESV a few years now.(I bought a cheap paperback to see if I’d like it) At first I thought it didn’t read quite as smoothly, but reads more like the RSV. Now, I really like it. I am really looking forward to getting The New Lutheran Study Bible this fall.

  4. Kari,

    You are correct. It does not read as smoothly as the NIV. That is one of the things you sacrifice with a more literal translation. There is one exception. The King James version was translated by the king’s best exegetes and then was worked over by his best poets. That is why the translation lasted so long.

    The ESV translators actually sought to restore some of the word order of the KJV. Without the aid of the “king’s English” and his poets however, they did fall a little short on the rhythm and flow part of the equation.

    None the less, it is the best translation available right now and I am glad to hear that you are getting to be at home with it. I have found that after twenty years of reading the NIV from the lectern, I am stumbling over a few phrases in the ESV. It is amazing how much a translation becomes a part of our soul. I look forward to becoming a “soul mate” with the ESV over the next couple of decades.


  5. Just a warning to others out there — something that confused me for a while is that the ESV Bible currently on sale at CPH or the ESV Study Bible available at Crossways is NOT “The Lutheran Study Bible” that is coming out on October 31st. Don’t read these promotional material and then go out and buy the wrong bible!

    Check out Cyberbrethren.

  6. anon #6.

    To further add to the confusion, The ELCA is also promoting a new ESV study Bible called (I think) “Lutheran Study Bible” (no “The” in the title). It has ELCA approved footnotes, etc.

    We need to be sure everyone knows to look for the CPH Bible when it released in October.

  7. Correction: Jim Claybourn (#10):

    The ELCA study bible is indeed titled “Lutheran Study Bible” which undoubtedly will lead to all kinds of confusion .. most people are trained to ignore “The” in a title, but in this case it is critical.

    It is NOT, though, an ESV bible; the ELCA “Lutheran Study Bible” is the gender-neutral New Revised Standard.

    From the CoW’s Comparative Study of Bible Translations linked to above in comment # 11:

    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    The NRSV, published in 1989 by the National Council of Churches, is an improvement over the RSV in that it updates the archaic language addressed to God (as in the Psalms). However, it perpetuates the worst aspects of the RSV: faulty Christology and inaccurate translations of passages about the fulfillment of prophecy (examples 26, 27, 30). It adds a few new problems that were not present in the RSV, such as changing many masculine singular forms into generic plural forms for the sake of inclusive language (examples 3, 4, 5, 6; see also 28). Its rendering of some verses raises questions about other important doctrinal issues, such as the inerrancy of Scripture (example 35) and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (examples 9, 10, 11, 12).

  8. Norm,
    I don’t think the ELCA promotes belief in the inerrancy of scripture. I think they threw that away years ago. So, I’m sure they don’t have problems with those doctrinal issues. I just hope that people don’t buy the wrong Bible. The names are so similar, but if they stick with CPH they will be okay.

  9. @Kari #13
    I believe that the ELCA “Lutheran” Study “Bible” is an “updated” NASB version. I say “Lutheran” in quotes because the ELCA certainly does not speak for even the majority of Lutherans; “Bible” in quotes because their gender-neutral version cannot be termed a correct translation of either the Hebrew or Greek and therefore falls into the category of paraphrase rather than translation; and I say “updated” version because it very deceptively alters the words of that formerly excellent translation. Same goes for Zondervan’s NIV 2011 paraphrase of the Word.
    David Beatty

  10. I challenge the translation of Matt 2:2 in the ESV:

    While listening to the Gospel lesson for Epiphany Sunday (Matt. 2:1-12,) I heard the phrase “For we saw his star WHEN IT ROSE and have come to worship him.” I didn’t recall hearing “when it rose” over the years, so I checked a few translations. None had any verbiage to support translating this as “when it rose.” (In 2 Pet. 1:19-21 above, the word for ‘rise’ isn’t in Matthew [anateile].)

    Greek (English interlinear:) “…..for we saw of him the star in the east, and came to worship him.”

    NASB: “For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

    NIV: “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

    KJV: “…..for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”

    Next, Herod (Matt 2:7) wanted to know what time the star “appeared,” “phenomenou” in my Greek bible. Other translations say essentially the same thing as the interlinear:

    Greek (English interlinear:) “Then Herod secretly calling the Magi inquired carefully from them the time of the appearing star,…..”

    The star was a “phenomenon.” So, in four well known translations, not one has any reference to a “rising” star. Stars “rise” and “fall” according to the earth’s rotation, except a few, e.g. Polaris. How then does ESV support the translation “when it rose?”

  11. @Keith Christian #15

    HI Keith,
    My ESV, The Lutheran Study Bible, has a few notes on a portion of Matthew 2:2. After the phrase, ‘when it rose’, note 2 reads, ‘Or in the east; also verse 9’. Also the note at the bottom of page 1579 states – ‘Gk term for “east” and “rising” is the same”.

    In Christ,

  12. As any professional linguist knows, there is no such thing as an accurate translation (or any use of language) that does not communicate one’s thought – what one means to say, accurately. Thus, just as the New Testament used the commonly spoken Greek, so any proper translation into English must do the same with a focus on recreating the sense and meaning of the original. That is, words are everywhere and always used to one end: The clear and accurate communication of meaning. If you are only concerned with words, publish dictionaries, not translations.

  13. Interesting article. Choosing a Bible translation involves making choices. I think most of us know that Bible translations fall along a spectrum between a literal word for word translation, which seeks to accurately translate each word in their order, to convey the exact translation that was originally written in the Greek manuscripts. On the other end we have a functional or dynamic equivalency where the translators seek to take the meaning of what was said and translate them in such a way that idioms or linguistic structure from different languages do not hamper the understanding of the meaning of the passage. I think you would find that there is no Bible translation that fits perfectly at one end or the other on this spectrum. All Bible translations seek to do one or the other, but usually has to engage in both styles of translation so that the material is readable and understandable. That being said, I think the ESV does a pretty faithful job of trying to thread the needle on this spectrum to accomplish both. I grew up on the NIV and am getting away from it just because I feel that the translation model they are using is starting to get a bit further away from the word-for-word end of the spectrum and may be using modern day sensibilities to be read into the translation. I still think it is a good translation, I just think the trend is disturbing. As stated by someone else, there are plenty of good translations such as the NASB, etc. But I think the ESV is a faithful translation. I actually have several versions on my phone and like to compare versions when I see a passage that is difficult, just to get a broader perspective. I currently have NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, and NKJV. It’s kind of interesting to compare sometimes, especially for key passages such as say John 1:18. Just my $.02. The great thing is that we have so many amazing resources today. Biblehub for example, is a really neat tool.

  14. Your article is very kindly written. Much kinder than anything I would have written concerning the Reformed “dynamism” of the NIV. The difference is that before I became Lutheran, I was indoctrinated in a false theology that was in large part a reaction to Calvinism. My exposure to the LCMS and the Book of Concord Tappert Edition in 1983 changed everything.

    In recent years I have come to the solid conclusion that the NIV and the New NIV stink as valid Bible translations. I was first clued to this when Dr. David Scaer proclaimed in a Ft. Wayne seminary class in about 1990 that “God is not sovereign!” I was shocked! I liked the NASB and still do, although we now have the literally faithful ESV, but at that time the LCMS used the NIV Bible.

    So I went to my dorm room to check on the doctor’s statement to determine if it concurred with the common NIV Old Testament “Sovereign Lord” statements. I discovered that the word “sovereign” was not present in the Hebrew. I was not especially fond of Dr. Scaer, but I had to admit, he was right.

    Years later I checked on the Greek for Matthew 10:29. The old NIV was translated as saying: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s will.” This idea has made many people believe that it was God who killed their son, or daughter, or spouse, or friend — by a terrible accident or disease. (The New NIV changed it to your “Father’s care.” That is an improvement, but the New NIV is highly corrupt in other areas.) I realized that the NIV “dynamic equivalence” is most dynamic of all for a Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of Saints persuasion. Those are neither Lutheran, nor biblical emphases and have caused immeasurable damage to the body of Christ, in my opinion.

    Before I became convinced of the 1580 compilation of biblical Lutheran doctrine, I was indoctrinated in what was called Moral Government Theology (MGT)in Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The MGT persuasion held that there was no inherited sinful nature, that Christ’s death is not a payment for sin, and that God cannot know the future choices of free-will beings (now called the “Openness of God” or the “Open View of God). The teaching in YWAM was a basic reiteration of Charles Finney’s theology with the subtraction of his Arminian views on God’s foreknowledge, the sinful nature, etc.

    All the false teaching I learned and false practice I experienced in YWAM were primarily a reaction to Calvinistic/Reformed theology. Calvinistic/Reformed theology has fathered all kinds of damaging false teachings in the church and one of those teachings is that God is in the business of knocking sparrows out of the sky, that He is “sovereign” in the Reformed use of the word, does not want everyone to be saved, etc.

    Bottom line: Thank God we have a good Bible translation to use these days. I have often stated that I wish the NASB had been better marketed and had become as popular as the “dynamically-Reformed” NIV had been. If that had been the case, we probably would never have needed the ESV.

    God’s best to you!

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