The ESV is a wonderful translation and the dozens of Bible options (study, devotional, etc.) have been a blessing to the English-speaking world for years. I’ve personally used it as my go-to study translation for over a decade. However, it was time for me to get a new Bible last year and I did something crazy. I left the ESV behind for the CSB (Christian Standard Version). After several months, I haven’t looked back.
My problem with the ESV
We have so many great English translations that I usually roll my eyes anytime a new one comes out. Is another one really necessary? What’s the point? What does it provide that the others don’t? If it does offer something unique, is it important enough for me to switch? In this case, the answer was yes.
Studying the Bible and trying to figure out the meaning, context, and application of a 2,000-year-old text is hard enough. Why use a translation that makes it even harder? If the Bible was written to be understood, then why do so many translations use English in a way that an average person has to think twice about? If there’s a way to say something accurately and simply, why use formal language?
This has always been my biggest frustration with the more literal translations. These are the ones I want to use for studying, but the language is either awkward, outdated, or overly academic. I think the ESV is the most normal sounding of this genre, but I still find it very tough.
This has become more obvious to me in the last 3 years since I married my wife. She is from Peru, where we live, and spoke no English. She now speaks pretty well and can understand most things when we read the NLT. However, whenever we would read the ESV together, I constantly found myself rephrasing it in plain language. I commonly told her, “This word is only used in the Bible. It means…” There were always simpler ways to accurately say it.
Examples of the ESV being unnatural:
For example, Proverbs 27:6 is poetic but awkward in the ESV, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Maybe you speak like that and use the word “profuse” in casual conversation, but I sure don’t. The CSB puts it, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” This sounds normal. “Excessive” is so much easier to understand and has the same meaning. Why choose a word that nobody knows? I don’t want to spend my Bible study time looking up words that have simple synonyms. I found myself doing that a lot with the ESV.
Another example is Romans 6:1-2. The ESV says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” This is pretty easy to understand, but would anyone today use the word, “shall”? By no means! (see what I did there…).
The CSB says, “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” This is much more natural while maintaining the literal nature of the verse.
Where the CSB beats the ESV
For me, this is where the CSB shines. It takes those awkward and formal verses and translates them plainly without paraphrasing. It has the advantages of both the literal translations and the dynamic translations without the cons. I can read it with my wife and she understands it. I can spend more time thinking about the meaning of the text instead of learning English vocabulary.
This may sound nitpicky, but it has been very beneficial for my devotional routine this year. I typically study from the ESV and read from the NLT. The NLT helps me understand the ESV and the normal language allows me to read faster. With the CSB, I understand more clearly the first time I read the text. I have even stopped reading the NLT as much, which gives me more time to focus on the passage with my study Bible.
Problems with the CSB
The only criticisms I have of the CSB aren’t of the translation itself but the printed Bibles. It seems that most of them have pages so thin that there is a lot of ghosting, meaning that you see the words on the other side of the page.
Also, after almost reading through the entire Bible, chunks of pages still stick together. I struggle to flip through and find other passages quickly because of this. Both of these appear to be common problems.
After a year, I’m glad I switched to the CSB. Though a top-notch translation, my frustrations with the ESV are all fixed in the CSB. This is my personal preference and you may disagree. That’s okay! The fact that we have multiple Bible translations to discuss is truly amazing and most languages in the world don’t have this option. Let’s thank the Lord for the grace He has shown us in providing so many faithful translations to choose from.
What are your thoughts on the CSB or another translation?