The ESV Disappoints On An Important Verse

My wife and I finally decided to purchase the English Standard Version Bible several months ago, and for the most part, we have thoroughly enjoyed the translation. We made the jump for two reasons: the ESV is easier for me to read aloud because it is a bit smoother than the New King James Version. This is important given that my calling requires me to read the Scriptures aloud to the congregation during worship. We also made the change because we know that most churches are moving in the direction of putting ESVs in their pews. When I preach and teach, I want my version to be the same as the congregation I’m preaching and teaching to for clarity sake.

However, we recently came across a translation of a verse that bothered me. We have been studying the issue of keeping the LORD’s day and one of the strongest verses showing that we are to shift from the seventh to the first day comes in Hebrews 4. There, the author of Hebrews is laboring to show that the believer has entered his rest from sin, once belief is real. For we who have believed enter that rest as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.” This was due to the Israelites unbelief. The point the writer is making is that we enter into a rest from our sin. We are not at our eternal rest, and there is yet a day appointed for us to worship Him. That would be the first day of the week.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest (first time the word for Sabbath is used in the text) for the people of God. Up to this point, the translation is fine. It is when we come to verse 10 that the ESV drops the ball. …for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Here is the implication of this translation. Are we saying that when we finally come to Christ, that we rest from our sin the way that God rested from His work in creation? Are we really going to equate those two things? Think about it, God was pleased with the work He rested from in creation. Are we to look back at the sin we are resting from and be pleased with it?

This understanding, which is taught by a great number of people, is the reason the translators translated verse 10 in this fashion. However, there is a better, more accurate translation:

For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (NKJV).

This reflects the reality that the pronoun is in the masculine singular. Who is the “he?” It is Christ. On the day of resurrection, His redeeming work was accomplished and He entered into His rest on the first day of the week, just as God did from His on the seventh in creation. Jesus is no longer laboring to bring about salvation, “it is finished.” The fruit from His work is still being seen, but His work is done and He is resting from His redemptive work.

This is why Christian’s celebrate the LORD’s day on the first day of the week (which also has precedent in the Feast of Booths, which celebrated with a holy and somber convocation on the first and fifteenth day of the week.) The day was changed by example of Christ. He rose from the dead on the first day, visited the apostles on the first day, and even poured out His Spirit on the first day, known as Pentecost. This is why we worship Christ on the Christian Sabbath. The change was made by Christ Himself, the LORD of the Sabbath, not the church. Translating Hebrews 4:10 as the NKJV does, help us see this truth more clearly.

For more on The LORD’s Day and our need to honor this commandment of the LORD, see Joseph A. Pipa’s book by the same name. He does an excellent job of answering the antinomians who decry Lord’s day observance, even answering those who abuse such passages as Colossians 2:16-17 (the sabbaths in this text are not referring to the Sabbath, but other days the Jews had set apart to be holy. These days were not ordained by God, but made up by men. Sort of like, Ash Wednesday and Lent among Catholics, and even Reformation Day among the reformed).

One final note: I call those who decry LORD’s Day observance antinomians, which means they declare that God’s law is no longer binding on the believer, because they are basically saying that we can live as we see fit. The question then becomes: is it OK to commit adultery since it is OK to break the Fourth Commandment? Remember, that the entire Ten Commandments stand or fall together. If you break one commandment, as many are in the habit of doing, then you break all of the commandments. This is why God wrote them with His very hand in stone, to demonstrate this point.


6 thoughts on “The ESV Disappoints On An Important Verse

  1. Looking at commentaries, John Gill agrees with you. It is not the believer, but Christ. On the other hand, Matthew Henry says of verse 10, “Every true believer hath ceased from his own works of righteousness, and from the burdensome works of the law, as God and Christ have ceased from their works of creation and redemption.”

    Unfortunately, your NKJV betrays you as much as the ESV. Notice the capitalization. The “His” there is capitalized, referring to God’s rest. The last “His” is capitalized for the same reason. But the first “he” and the second “his” are not, suggesting that they are NOT referring to deity. (The ESV doesn’t capitalize pronouns for deity.) I’m not sure how the NKJV has helped. (All of the translations I read that included capitalizations for pronouns referring to God had the first one in lowercase, arguing for non-deity “he”.) So I tend to side with Henry on this without siding with the antinomians, where the burden of work (“rest”) is seen, not that there is no more work.

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      Stan, this (link above) is a very solid consideration of the verses in question. Particularly the pronouns used in the text generally compared to those used in the verse in question. It is worth a listen.


  2. “an important verse” – do you mean, by implication,that some verses are less important? and whilst I agree that we need to maintain the whole of the ten commandments Jesus was seen as being a liberal by the religious with regard to the Sabbath.


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