My British blogging alter-ego has noticed that everyone's going to the English Standard Version of the Bible in the blogosphere. Well, not everyone, but lots of people are. Check out this post for a list of people who are endorsing it and/or talking about it. I think the reason that so many are liking the ESV is captured in this comment from Adrian Warnock, speaking of John Piper:
Acording to Piper the ESV strikes the best balance between being excessively literal and being too much of a paraphrase.
You can add me to the list of the proponents of the ESV, with a few qualifiers. I have been using it for a few months now and am enjoying it. The qualifiers are these:
1. People like me who aren't experts in the original languages need to be careful about making strong statements about translations of the Bible. Without a good deal of expertise in the original languages most folks aren't going to know why this translation is better than that translation on this particular verse.
2. When non-experts endorse a particular version of the Bible its probably not the Bible they are endorsing so much as the theory of translation they are endorsing. There is a great debate about the value of more literal translations vs. more dynamic translations. Those who buy into the arguments of one or the other will gravitate to Bibles which use their particular theory.
But the waters are muddy here - there is no such thing as a literal, word for word translation, contrary to those who advocate them. As Jeremy Pierce shows, there are places where the NAS (which claims to be the most literal English translation) and the ESV (which claims to be a mostly literal translation) are more dynamic and the NIV (a more dynamic translation) is more literal.
3. Because of that, we really need to avoid these "my bible is better than yours" statements. True, there are some which are inferior translations, but most of the more well known translations like the NAS, ESV, RSV, and NIV are good translations. Different translation theories give a little different wording here and there, but they all faithfully render the text.
4. Having said all of that, I like the ESV translation theory and that is why I am on board with it. By claiming to be "mostly literal" they are on the right track. Such a statement acknowledges that they are doing their best to get it as close to word for word as you can, while realizing you just can't be completely literal.
5. I still think the best approach to Bible study is not to pick one translation and stick with it. You probably ought to pick one translation for memorization and stick with it, but for study its best to use a few different bibles. Get one or two of the more literal translations and one or two of the more dynamic translations. Where they diverge on a particular verse you can then pick up a few commentaries to try to figure out why they diverged and gain greater insight into the text.