Two Changes I Wish the ESV Would Make

I’ve been toying with the idea of switching from my New King James Version Bible translation to the English Standard Version. If you have been around in evangelical circles for long, you know that the ESV is the new kid on the block concerning acceptable translations. In fact, Ligonier Ministries has so much confidence in the ESV that they shifted their Reformation Study Bible from the NKJV to the ESV.

I thought that I would have no problems in shifting to the newer ESV, but have come across two things that I wish translators would change in future editions.

The first reason is vertically focused and deals with the way the ESV translators chose to refer to God when using pronouns. The second reason is both vertical and horizontal, in that when they refer to the act of two men in coitus, they drop the term “sodomites” and substitute it for “those who practice homosexuality.” One is far more important than the other, but both would help the body of Christ in using the ESV.

Triune Pronouns

I know that this may not seem like a big deal to many, but please hear me out. The first change I would like to see is to return to the capitalization of the pronouns in reference to the godhead. I know that in the original Greek, this distinction was not made and it wasn’t added until the Bible was translated into English.

However, by not doing so, I believe we are not honoring God as we should. Again, I understand, originals were in all capitalization so the distinction wasn’t made. But we live in an age when making the distinction is quite a bit easier for us than it was for those who copied the original manuscripts.

We need the distinction because we need the reminder far more now than our forefathers in the faith that the name of God is to be hallowed. We pray this just about every Sunday in the LORD’s prayer, and yet, when it comes to referring to Him in our translations, we treat His pronoun as “common.” By the way, this is how we fail to honor His name, when we treat His name as a common thing. This is one way that it means to take His name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

It seems to me that the translators are showing a disregard of the holiness of His name when they fail to capitalize the pronoun. By not doing so, I believe we are failing to revere His names in all its usages.

But there is another reason to capitalize the pronouns. By doing so, it makes it easier on the readers.

This was made obvious to me last Sunday when I was in worship, and the the words to Philippians 2:5-11 were put on the screens before us. While the church is in the habit of using the ESV, they went back and capitalized all the pronouns in the text. Why? So that the congregation understood and clearly saw that the pronouns were referring to the Seconder Person of the godhead, specifically Christ in this case. Look following from verses 8-11:

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father (NKJV).

Interesting, as I was writing the above out, the translators of the NKJV were hallowing the pronouns. The text shows us why it should be done: He is LORD and we are to exalt Him. Doesn’t that exaltation begin in our Bible translations? Should we not treat the pronouns that represent Christ as more special, than the pronouns that represent, say, Judas Iscariot (see John 13:27)?

In this translation, it stands out that the He is clearly Christ. This is why I believe my church changed it for the congregation, because the ESV does not capitalize the pronouns. Here is verse 8:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross (ESV).”

The treatment of the pronouns is exactly the same as the pronouns when used for Judas Iscariot in John 13:27.

Again, some may think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I just happen to believe that God’s name, and the pronouns referring to Him, should be capitalized and set apart from the common, ordinary of pronouns referring to fallen men. God is NOT common. He is not ordinary, and we need to hallow His name in all references to Him.

Now I know some might look at the verses above and say, “why not also capitalize ‘name’ since it is referring to His name? Why not make His name bold in font as well?” Absolutely. I’m good with that. In all references to God’s name, we should set it apart from common usage and make it holy, for He is holy and deserves our veneration on every level, including the translation of His holy word.

Sodomites Verses Homosexuals

The second change I wish the ESV is to return to the use of the word “Sodomites” for those who are practicing homosexuals.

Here is the NKJV of 1 Corinthians 6:9

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…

In the ESV, the translators have dropped the use of the word “sodomites” for the more palatable translation: “those who practice homosexuality.” I think this is a mistake because it waters down the sin of sodomy and plays into the hands of the sodomite lobby, by allowing them to paint a better picture of their sinful lifestyles. Sadly, in doing so, they are also suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, by representing this sin as less sinful.

Some might say, “yes, but Timothy, this term ‘sodomite’ is really offensive.” Exactly, so is the sin it represents. To make it out to be any less than what it is, is again, to feed the lie that sodomy is “just another life choice.” Yet the sin of sodomy is still an abomination before the LORD (Leviticus 18:22).

Others might say that by returning to the use of the word “sodomites” it will be more difficult in reaching those who are sodomites for Christ. Really? So the gospel isn’t powerful enough to call sin for what it is, and still redeem those trapped in it?

We must never water down sin. To do so is to tell ourselves that we are not as bad as we think we are, and it makes God out to be less holy than He really is. Yes, the sin of sodomy is wretched. Yet the gospel is still the power unto salvation for those who are wretched (all of us.) We do a disservice to the body of Christ by telling those who live in this sin, that their sin is less sinful that scripture declares it to be. I believe our translations should not back down in doing so.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments have been disabled for this post. I stand by my opinion, but don’t want to fight about it.


6 thoughts on “Two Changes I Wish the ESV Would Make

  1. 1: So, what you want is to retrograde the English language. The capitalization rules have shifted in the past 40 years, and the ESV translators are tasked with translating the Hebrew and Greek of the manuscripts into modern English. Your complaint is actually not with the translation (ESV), but the rules of modern English. I understand what you are saying, but I also understand what you are saying.

    2. Since you have not given me the evidence from the Greek, I can’t speak to this one other than to say, “Are they watering down the text, or are they more accurately translating the text?” Many KJV/NKJV loyalists start with the presumption that the KJV/NKJV is the CORRECT translation, then compare all “inferior” translations to it. I say, “Where the KJV/NKJV is flawed, drop it. Depend on the manuscripts.” Since I don’t have access to Greek, I can’t judge the wording here. I do know that the KJV/NKJV depends on vastly inferior manuscript sources and vastly inferior textual criticism and vastly inferior biblical scholarship, but I don’t know about the text in question.


    • So we are going to let culture and modern grammar rules dictate how we refer to God? Every bone in my body is screaming “hell no!” We are the people of God. We are to be the ones setting the standard for God’s holy name. Not modern rules of grammar. This makes me want nothing to do with the ESV.


      • “This makes me want nothing to do with the ESV.” Yep. If the King James was good enough for Jesus and Paul, it’s good enough for me!

        You know, you should stop carrying around that compromising Neo King James crap, and get a real Bible!

        Actually, we might want to consider going back to the Greek and Hebrew for all Chruch…. oh, wait, we’re Reformed, and there’s something in being Reformed about having the scripture in your own language…. grrr!

        You guys keep complaining about every little, nonessential thing. I’m going to go feast on God’s Word in my dirty, old NIV.


  2. It is just more of the same: a lack of reverence for God and His holy name. Unless the translators understand that, and revere His name, perhaps they shouldn’t translate the Bible in the first place. Translating the Bible should be more than an academic exercise.


  3. I understand fully your complaint about capitalizing the pronouns for God. It is good and right and, as you point out, often important. No, not for “the proper translation”, but just for good understanding. I’ve come across many “he” and “he” texts where one refers to a man in the passage and the other to God in the passage and keeping separate what “he” (the man) did as opposed to what “He” (God) did is vital.

    On the “sodomite” thing, I understand, except that the example you give is, to me, a very, very poor one. That is, I think their translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 isn’t merely good, it’s the best I’ve seen. The term “sodomite” (setting aside the inflammatory nature of it) and the term “homosexual” (as in the NAS version) both convey a condition. “I am this way.” The Bible doesn’t see it as a condition; it sees it as an act, a sexual sin. So “those who practice homosexuality” refers to an act, not a condition. It defies the common label, “gay”, and refers instead to a behavior. And it is the behavior, not the inclination (the meaning of the term “homosexual” or “gay” today) that is the problem. So on that point I actually like the ESV translation.


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