ESV Only For SAS Readers?

I just saw the final outcome of the Bible translation poll. 54% of Said at Southern readers indicated the ESV was their #1 choice as a Bible translation. Good for Crossway. The Piper endorsement was big news around campus a few years back and it seems to have made ESV the trendy translation in these parts.

Bible Translations Poll Final Results


To be fair – please feel free to blast the ESV in the comments. We know it comes from the liberal RSV, we just don’t care. If it’s good enough for Piper, it’s good enough for us.

The “other” choice was higher than I imagined. As Rick Mansfield said:

Of course, with “other” in 3rd place, it makes me think not enough options were present. I would guess that some folks might be using the TNIV, NLT, NKJV at the very least. That’s what I’ve determined when I’ve given similar polls.

I was also surprised to see the King James ahead of the NIV. I am guessing that many of the ESV readers came from the NIV camp. In the past, young aspiring ministers would abandon their NIV for the NASB when they came to seminary. There is a sense that you’re not a serious Bible student if you still read the “Nearly Inspired Version.” The difference now is that ESV is an option for those of use who can’t handle the so called “wooden” sentence structure of the NASB.

The HCSB must be worse than I’ve heard. Out of 134 voters only one poor soul picked it as their #1. At least the guys at Lifeway are saving royalty money on their Sunday School curriculum. No one cares about reading the “Hard Core Southern Baptist” version, even when Rainer and Stetzer toe the corporate line.

And while we’re on the topic. The only people who think it’s cool to be a “Hard Core Southern Baptist” are . . . (insert self-control here). You might hear them saying things like, “Baptist born and Baptist bred and when I die, I’ll be . . .” If you are ever tempted to say this – please just stop talking.

What do you think? Were you surprised at the ESV dominance? What “other” translations do you think would have made a strong showing?

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36 Responses to ESV Only For SAS Readers?

  1. John Mark Inman says:

    I think the success of Crossway’s marketing of the ESV should be the envy of every bible publisher. The fact that it has become so popular so fast is what amazes me.

  2. Todd Benkert says:

    I will happily go on record to say that, while it is not my first choice, the HCSB is a fine translation and a welcome addition to the mix on the dynamic equivalence side of the translation spectrum.

    I think it is unfair to label the HCSB as you did — especially if you have not examined it for yourself.

    BTW, in the words of Indiana Evangelist Harold Hunter, “Jesus got me before the Baptists did.” 🙂

  3. Rick says:

    “To be fair – please feel free to blast the ESV in the comments. We know it comes from the liberal RSV, we just don’t care. If it’s good enough for Piper, it’s good enough for us.”

    Indeed, it is good to know that Bibles are evaluated on their merit rather than their endorsements. It is good to see that people are using their heads instead of being marionettes. [/sarcasm]

    It is not that I have a problem with Piper, I have even started my pastor’s cluster reading “The Supremacy of God in Preaching.” I even use the ESV as my service and study Bible. I even started reading it because of Piper. However, I did not use it in the service until I had read it. And if that was sarcasm on your part you should mark it somehow for the random visitor.

  4. Matt Svoboda says:

    I am not surprised at the ESV dominance. It is my favorite translation and it is the favorite translation of most people who go to Southern.. That and the NASB of course… If you were to post this question at lets say, Family Christian Stores website the results would be quite different!

    I also have a very good race going on my blog about who peoples favorite preachers are.. You’d never gues who is winning…

    Live the Word

  5. Tony Kummer says:

    Todd – No need to be offended, the label “worse than I’ve heard” is very mild Kummerspeak.

    I could have mentioned the time I read Psalms from the HCSB and mentally labeled it a “creepy” translation. Or the time they offered me a free copy and I labeled it “useless even for reference.” Or there was the time I berated a fellow student for buying the Apologetics Study Bible.

    Joking aside (I hope everyone caught the off key humor in that last paragraph), I think the timing of its release was what killed it. If ESV did not exist, it may be the cool Bible on campus.

    BYW, in the words of the President of Indiana Baptists, “If that don’t bless your heart, then your blesser must be broken.”

  6. Todd Benkert says:


    I was hoping the smiley face icon would indicate that I am not offended. I just don’t think it is helpful to describe the HCSB as a Bible useful only for your caricature of some Baptists. Hope that clarifies things.

    — Todd

  7. Scott says:

    Apparently 10 people either did not take hermeneutics, failed hermeneutics, or just flat out ignored the propaganda from hermeneutics about the supposed KJV-only controversy.


  8. Doug Smith says:


    It sounds like you might be speaking partly tongue in cheek (I just took Plummer’s hermeneutics myself), but it could be that some people prefer the KJV b/c that’s what they are familiar with or enjoy reading the most. I’m still not 100% convinced on the reliability of certain mss vs. others, and so if I could choose one translation and no others I’d pick NKJV since they have frequent textual footnotes that take into account the more Alexandrian readings and the Byzantine ones. Even the prof. admitted that this was a feature that the other modern versions would have done well to have had! But the language has changed so much, it would be hard to defend that version from 400 yrs ago as the absolute best possible translation today, unless you’re already committed to that idea and won’t listen to reason. (Btw, I voted for NASB, but ESV would have been a close runner-up.)

    One thing that amazes me about this whole thing is the politicization of it. And I’m referring more to the TNIV/ESV thing than to the HCSB.

  9. Scott says:

    You have correctly discerned my sarcasm! LOL

  10. Tony Kummer says:

    Rick – I was practicing group self-mockery. I really tried not to convert to the ESV. The week it appeared at the Campus bookstore it started showing up in class with all the guys. Like any non-conformist (aka Baptist) I resisted. Eventually I bought a copy for comparison, but still read NASB and NIV. Only in 2006 did I formally convert to ESV. But even with all that, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read the cool Bible like all my friends and favorite preachers.

    Matt – I think you’re right. A poll in any other place would be much different. Then again, that’s what makes it fun.

    Todd – I need to master the smiley arts, sarcasm is clearly my favorite fig leaf.

    Scott – You are a true minister of mischief.

    Doug – Good point about the KJV, no matter the merits of the text, it really is not the same exact language as most of us speak. People definitely get excited about their Bible translations.

  11. Todd Benkert says:

    Ok everyone, group hug for Tony 🙂

  12. R. Mansfield says:

    The fact that the ESV outranks the HCSB not only in national sales, but also at a website associated (even if not officially) with a Southern Baptist seminary, proves my feeling that Lifeway simply does not know how to market the HCSB successfully.

    In my opinion, the HCSB as a new translation and without the baggage of previous versions as a foundation, is a far superior translation to the ESV.

  13. B.A.McDaniel says:

    I hope we all do not forget that Southern’s own el presidente does not bash the HCSB, but somewhat endorses it. But let’s be serious, as long as Word on the Street is not our study Bible we should be doing okay. Remember though, If it ain’t the King James it ain’t the Bible… `er something like that.

  14. G F McDowell says:

    When I first came to Christ, I was an NIV guy because of readability. A year later, I switched to NASB because it was the translation from which my pastor preached. After attending the Preview Conference for Southern, I picked up several ESVs at Lifeway; I’ve been faithful to the esv for the past few years, but I’ve found myself missing the crispness of the NASB, as well as the asterisk that follows the historical use of the present in NT mss. My dream version would probably be NIV or ESV for the OT and NASB for the NT.

  15. Todd Benkert says:

    One other comment on the poll. There is no true #1 for me because I have separate Bible translation preferences depending on the situation. For Bible study, I will want to use a translation on the formal equivalence side of the spectrum– my favorite here remains the NASB. For new believers, I prefer a translation on the dynamic equivalence side — currently I am giving away both the HCSB and NLT for those with little or no Bible background. For personal devotion and preaching, I still use the NIV but am shopping for a replacement as the NIV is no longer being updated and is reaching its 30 year anniversary.

  16. I may be somewhat unlike most of the folks in the Southern family. I bought my first ESV just before class one day. Why? Because I forgot to bring my regular “unmarked” Bible and didn’t want to take the time to run back to the dorm. The ESV was the first Bible I saw and it was El Cheapo at the time, so I grabbed it and went to class.

    A bit of history: I was raised on the KJV (it was my primary Bible after I was saved, a “Rainbow Study Bible”) and switched to the NKJV (the “Experiencing God Study Bible”) about junior year of HS because I wanted to get away from all the “thees and thous.” The NKJV became my primary Bible through college (even though we used an NRSV then, as it was considered “scholarly”) and the first 4 or 5 years of seminary, around which time I simply forgot to pack my NKJV that day.

    I never really liked the NIV (and still don’t) nor many of the other translations, though the NASB is quite sweet. But once I started using the ESV (it never left my “class bag” after I got it) I simply fell in love with it. It was easy to read while retaining many of the linguistic features I’d gotten used to with the NKJV.

    I’ve said quite often that I am convinced the ESV will become the KJV of our generation.

    As a funny aside, one of my church members who is a staunch anti-Calvinist actually believes the ESV is “the Calvinist Bible.” Strangely, this non-Calvinist doesn’t know what to think about that 😉

  17. I pray that you don’t mind a comment from some one who has not attended Bible college or seminary, but I have spent several years looking at the translations and e-mailing men such as Bill Mounce and Dan Wallace regarding various translation issues.

    First, I want to say that I preach and teach from the good ole KJV. I do this for many good and valid reasons which are to lengthy to discuss here. However, you should know that I am a pastor in Nauvoo, IL which has a long and distinguished history for the Mormons. So changing to anything besides the KJV is not even an opinion in the ministry here. But when it comes to the congregation here you will find the NASB, NKJV, and the KJV are used.

    I have noticed that there is no mention of the NET Bible here. You can view it online at It has an absolute gold mine of footnotes in it that is of great interest to anyone looking for scholarly content.

    I also greatly enjoy the ESV and NKJV as reading Bibles, but find that getting reference material for these particular versions is still scarce. I have taken a look at the HCSB, but have not made any firm conclusions regarding it since I have not made inquiries into the translation as of yet.

    I have also found a new resource in a study Bible that I am beginning to appreciate and that is the Apostolic Bible. You can find this online at It uses the LXX for the OT which makes this a complete Greek text Bible.

    So if I was to attend Southern I guess I would be someone who would have to say that I preach and teach from the KJV, but use many versions for study (KJV, NASB, NKJV, ESV, etc) and a couple just for reading.

    Thanks for listening.

  18. Tony Kummer says:

    Martin – Thanks for your comments. It is always good to remember the preaching context as a major factor in deciding which translation to use.

  19. Doug Smith says:

    I would like to see a poll where people pick their two or three favorite translations. That would be quite interesting.

    On another translatory (I know that’s not a word) note, I do wish that Bibles would somehow notate when “you” indicates singular or plural. This is clear in the original languages and in some modern languages, like Spanish, but has disappeared from English when the thee’s and thou’s became archaic. I’m not saying we need the thee’s and thou’s but something like “you” with a small subscript or superscript of “s” or “p” would be helpful for Bible study for those of us not versed in the languages yet and those who never will be, and it would be a relatively easy way to address the problem.

  20. Karin says:

    Perhaps the impression of the ESV being a “Calvinist Bible” is because that the newer version of the Reformation Study Bible uses the ESV version – R.C. Sproul is the general editor. It originally came out in NKJV. About the HCSB. . .if I recall correctly (it has been several years now), Lifeway changed their VBS materials to be only NIV and HCSB – they no longer offered the KJV version (or maybe it was their Sunday School Material). Anyway, I thought it was an interesting way to “market” their Bible.

  21. Dean Olive says:

    Surely you like the ESV for reasons other than that it the trendy translation and that it was endorsed by Piper? Non one should choose a translations for those reasons.

  22. R. Mansfield says:

    Doug said, “I would like to see a poll where people pick their two or three favorite translations. That would be quite interesting.”

    Maybe some folks might want to discuss their favorites here. Collecting and studying the differences between translations has been a hobby of mine for over 20 years. I currently have over 80 distinct English translations in my collection, but there are others still out there.

    I do not believe that there is a BEST translation out there, preferring to ask, “Best for what?”

    My tendency is to start with the original languages (especially with the NT as my Greek is much stronger than my Hebrew), and then reference translations as well. I find that the nuances between translations help me better understand the original languages themselves, especially if there’s great difference from my own translation.

    I have a “core” of first-level English translations I refer to which I believe span the range from formal to dynamic. On the formal side, I will read from the NASB, which is also the Bible in which I still make my “permanent” notations in its wide margin. In the median range, I consult both the HCSB and TNIV, two very good recent translations, but with different approaches to translating gender in some passages. On the dynamic range, I take a look at the second edition of the NLT. The scholarship is very solid in this translation, and sometimes its dynamic flavor actually brings out the meaning of the passage better than some more literal translations.

    If I have time, I have a secondary tier of translations that I will consult from including the NET, ESV, NRSV, JPS (if it’s an OT passage), REB and occasionally a few others.

    I don’t have dozens of Bibles in front of me as I tend to use parallel panes in Accordance for a lot of this work. I may have a Greek NT in front of me because I sometimes like to make notes about the grammar or a word or phrase in the margin. Interpretive and explanatory notes I’ll write down in the wide margin NASB that I’ve already mentioned. And I might also have a TNIV with me since in the last year and a half I primarily have begun to use this when teaching or preaching in public. The margins in my TNIV are much more narrow than those in my NASB, so I can add a few notations, but I have to be selective.

    When people ask me to recommend a translation, currently I am only recommending the HCSB, NLT and TNIV as a primary Bible, although I do suggest getting a good formal equivalent Bible such as the NASB to read in parallel.

    When speaking in front of groups that I believe may include those who are not Christians or those with less background in the Bible, I often opt for the NLT because it is clearly the closest translation to conversational English.

    I still believe the Good News Translation, especially one with the line drawing illustrations, is the best translation for a child who is just learning to read. Sadly, though, these are getting more difficult to find.

    Finally, my favorite Bible strictly for reading is the REB, which is undoubtedly the best literary translation of the Bible since the KJV, but without the archaic baggage.

    As for the poll, I chose “other.” You can probably see why.

  23. Tony Kummer says:

    Rick – Great comments, thanks for sharing.

    I just found another copy of the Good News Translation this week. They tend to hide in old church libraries and the Goodwill Stores.

  24. R. Mansfield says:

    Thanks. I just took that comment and expanded it to a new post on my blog that will be uploaded shortly.

    Yes, GNT Bibles abound in those two places that you mention; used bookstores, too.

    The reason I like the GNT for children is two-fold. First, it was originally translated as a mission aid to give to people who spoke English as a second language. So it is a translation geared toward those who are still learning how to read–an excellent choice, therefore, for an elementary aged child.

    The second reason it’s a good choice is because of the pictures that break up long blocks of text (not a bad idea for adults, too!). And the pictures themselves are so profound. They aren’t merely illustrative of the passage but invite interpretation and reflection. I’ve actually used the pictures with adults on a number of occasions as well.

  25. Mr. Mansfield,

    I enjoyed your comments regarding your tiers of translations used.

    As for myself I do the same thing just with different translations, but I limit the tiers to formal equivalence when studying. Old habits die hard you know. I am also excited to see that there are others out there who have a collection of different translations. I have 102 at present. The funny thing about it is that I obtained most of them at the Goodwill; and yes one of them is the GNT.

  26. Martin and Tony, I strongly agree that the context pretty much determines the translation. I am in Deaf ministry and there is no way I could preach or teach successfully from an ESV (or KJV for that matter) — it’s simply too advanced for the average Deaf person!

    I have been using the NCV as a “preaching text” and oftentimes I will start with an ESV and compare it with the NCV and CEV and try to put together something from the three that retains the readability of the latter two while emphasizing the depth of the ESV. Thankfully, no one has complained yet! It seems to be working.

    Reid and Martin, thems a lotta Bibles. I know I don’t have close to half that many. I gotta go count now. 😉

  27. RonK says:

    I did not cast the one sad little vote for the HCSB, but I often commend it to people who want a new translation of the bible. I like much about it and think that it has been undervalued, mainly because of the explosive popularity of the ESV. If you haven’t spent much time with the HCSB, read the preface to the translation. Their aim to seek to be as literal as possible everywhere and only then, when necessary to give a dynamic reading of the text. It has been lumped with the NIV too much, in my opinion. I think it is a wonderful translation and makes much of the OT (especially poetry) come alive. It is much lest stiff than the ESV OT. I used the RSV as a required text in college and I think the ESV is too close to the way the RSV reads…just plain stiff!

    Also FYI concerning the HCSB, my former pastor said that he spoke with two of the translators (both SBC seminary profs) who worked on it and said that the main impetus was that the SBC’s agreement for rights to the NIV in sunday school (and VBS) materials came to an end a few years ago. Zondervan was to renegotiate rights to the NIV with a heavy price tag and Lifeway decided to have their own royalty free translation. Lifeway prints sunday school and VBS material in KJV and HCSB now. They no longer offer NIV.

    As for me, I use the ESV for my classes because it’s typically required and I’m doing my daily devotional reading in the new ESV literary Bible (early christmas present thanks to the sale at the campus bookstore!!!) mainly because it is single column, divided into paragraphs and very readable. When I have preached, I have also preached from the ESV and the HCSB. They are good complimenting translations.

  28. Massimo says:

    Here’s the top selling Bible translations for 2006:

    1 New International Version
    2 New King James Version
    3 King James Version
    4 New Living Translation
    5 Holman Christian Standard Bible
    6 New American Standard Bible update
    7 The Message
    8 New Century Version
    9 English Standard Version
    10 New International Readers Version

    Since the NKJV is #2 and didn’t get a separate voting category, my guess is most of the ‘other’ category was NKJV votes. BTW, Cambridge Bibles is finally coming out with the NKJV (Pitt Minion). Now we can all finally get the ‘perfect’ Bible.

  29. Pingback: New Poll: Name Your Top 3 Bible Translations | Said At Southern Seminary

  30. Tony Kummer says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I started a new poll based on your feedback. See comment #29 for the link.

  31. Ted says:

    –“There is a sense that you’re not a serious Bible student if you still read the “Nearly Inspired Version.””

    Oh My Gosh – has anyone told John Stott? Or David Dockery? Or Darrell Bock? Or D.A. Carson?

  32. R. Mansfield says:

    TNIV is still missing!

  33. Tony Kummer says:

    Another oversight. I just added it.

  34. crg says:

    “I do wish that Bibles would somehow notate when “you” indicates singular or plural.”

    Since HCSB is a Southern Baptist Bible, perhaps it should have used “y’all” — my Greek professor does.

  35. The HCSB is not a “Southern Baptist Bible.” Ed Blum is the General Editor of the HCSB and he is not SB as many of the other translators/editors. If you want to know more about actual history and facts of the HCSB you can read an interview with Ed Blum here:

    Massimo Lorenzinis last blog post..The Wrath of Ike Reaches Kentucky

  36. Tony Kummer says:

    @Massimo Lorenzini: Except that we (i.e. the collective membership of SBC affiliated churches) own the copyright to the HCSB via our 100% ownership of LifeWay.

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