Why I Changed From NKJV to ESV

Written By: Daniel Gregory - Aug• 15•11

Upon coming to Mars Hill Baptist Church I did something that I had not done in about ten years. I changed my Bible translation. I went from the New King James version to the English Standard Version. Now, I had been an almost exclusive user of the New King James translation for basically a decade and I very much enjoyed its accuracy and readability as well as the familiarity it brought with it to the King James version I grew up with. In looking back now, the decision to switch was probably a bigger choice than I initially thought because all my past sermon notes, Bible studies, Sunday school lessons, and Wednesday night notes all had references to the New King James. That means if I would ever want to use those notes again I have some serious work to do before they would be sermon ready.

With all that work and high praise for the NKJV one might ask why exactly I chose to switch to the ESV after such a long partnership together. Surely there must be some monumental reason to abandon such a beloved translation after such a long journey with it. Well, yes and no. Let me first say  I did not come to this decision lightly. I’m not one who will change my Bible translation every other week. I think a pastor can best serve his congregation through knowing which translation of the Bible he will be in each week. I also did not come to this decision because I thought the NKJV was outdated, inaccurate or saw a problem within the translation of the NKJV.

The fact of the matter is there are many good and very accurate translations of the Bible that are available to the public today, the NKJV included. If you go to your local LifeWay Christian book store and look, the shelves have many translations that accurately translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. The New American Standard Bible, the King James Version, the New King James Version, and the English Standard Version are wonderful literal or word for word (formal equivalence) translation of the Bible. The New International Version and the SBC’s Holman Christian Standard Bible are wonderful dynamic equivalence translations. There are also many paraphrases that have their place in the study of God’s Word and many of them have been diligently and thoughtfully translated into their respected versions.

For me accuracy was very important, I wanted a translation that did its best to be an accurate word for word translation of the Bible reflecting the text of the original documents. I knew I was not going to choose a dynamic equivalence translation or a paraphrase because of personal preference and commitment to a word for word translation of the Scriptures. That left me fewer choices but still a pretty large playing field and included in that was my old friend the New King James Version.

So why change and basically start over from scratch when it came to sermon prep and other studies where I relied heavily on the New King James Version. Well there are a couple of reasons, none really of which are the usual reasons for choosing a translation of the Bible.

First, I chose the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its newness. Now don’t get me wrong, the ESV did came out in 2000 and is a relatively new translation but I didn’t choose it because it was new on the scene of Bible translations, I chose it because it was new to me. Other than having a copy of the ESV on my shelf and using it as a standby translation on E-Sword (one of my Bible software programs) I had not worked with the ESV very much since it come out eleven years ago. This translation offered me something that I believe I need as a pastor and Christian that the NKJV could not and that was newness.

I had a desire to look again into the Word of God and not have my mind automatically know exactly what was coming next. I wanted to challenge my eyes and my mind to refocus and reread the Word of God almost like I was reading it for the first time. I wanted to challenge my mind to reexamine passages that I have diligently studied before through the lens of a different translation that I might learn even more from it. For me I wanted to be out of my comfort zone of Bible translation. I wanted to challenge myself to know the passages that I read and not have the safety net of ten years of studying under me saying that “you know what it says.” For me the newness of the English Standard Version demanded from me a more diligent study in the Word and required me to work harder at my sermon preparation.

Another reason why I chose this particular translation was its accessibility. The world in which we now live is changing and moving at an astounding rate of speed. Technology is the train on which my generation and those that follow it are riding on and as a pastor I must prepare myself to minister to those people and deliver to them the message of the Word of God. I have found those in charge of the  English Standard Version to have done the best job at developing and providing others with Word of God in the electronic media that is so present and expected in today’s society. The ESV has a readily available channel on Google Chrome, it was made available free for E-Sword users, and it has integrated into all the major websites for Bible searches. Along with all these notable achievements it has a WordPress plugin which allows me to integrate the ESV text automatically into my website. For example if I write John 3:16 the plugin automatically links it to the ESV text and makes a pop up window appear with the ESV text in it. I searched for others and only came up with one that was not as efficient nor user friendly. The ESV is available on the IPad, IPhone and other smart devices. Along with these accomplishments I must also note that the ESV did do something that no other major translation in the past 20 years has done and that is make itself available for free on the E-sword application. For those unfamiliar to this wonderful Bible program I would suggest visiting their website. In a world where making money off of the Bible is big business ESV did not look to profit off the sale of the Word of God, but rather gave it away freely to anyone who wanted it. I must commend them for this and hope their commitment to freely making the Word of God available to other would continue.

Readability is another reason why I leaned toward the ESV though this is a rather minor reason as I still hold that all major translations that have followed a literal or word for word translation philosophy have done a good job making a readable and well flowing translation. However, I must say the ESV did do a very good job making a translation that reads quite well which makes public readings of it understandable and well accepted.

Finally, the testimony of the English Standard Version is superb. Many of the preachers that I have grown up hearing and who I admire for their commitment to the uncompromising preaching of the Word of God have switched over to this translation. The scholars which worked on its translation have also been highly regarded for their work and scholarship within the halls of Christian academia.

For these reasons I find myself with a new translation of the Bible to preach from, teach from, and study. I look forward to using it for many years to come and gladly welcome the challenges, and new insights I hope it will bring in the days ahead.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God2 may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Please feel free to post comments ask questions, or to simply tell me what you think.

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  1. I just found out the ESV is available for FREE at Google books

  2. Hi there may I quote some of the insight from this site if I reference you with a link back to your site?

  3. LPJ says:

    What about the fact that the ESV omits many words and entire scriptures? That’s the only reason I haven’t used it as a backup to my NKJV.

    • LPJ that is a great inquiry. I think the issue lies in carefully considering the reasons why verses are omitted, or in the case of ESV and other translations, moved to the footnote area of the Scriptures. This is something I struggled with for a long while as I was raise learning from a KJV and hearing a lot of anti-modern translation rhetoric. My initial response was “how could anyone remove a verse of the Bible?” However, after a good amount of research, talking with people, and getting a fair amount of unbiased information I came to the conclusion that the omission of verses is not a bad practice but one that is helpful to the reader and any teacher of the Scriptures. I understand that verses are not omitted haphazardly but after great scrutiny and after being compared to thousands of manuscripts that are available today. Also, I find it useful to have a translation that is much similar to those in the hands of other church goers that I might anticipate their questions about why a verse is missing or moved to footnote area. I believe the ESV does a very good job at this the majority of the time but at the very least the ESV gives me a good starting point to research my Greek NT and Hebrew OT. Wonderful question.

  4. pJ says:

    I still prefer the NKJV because it does contain all the verses. The footnotes are much more complete than the ESV which doesn’t always show where verses have been removed. The NKJV gives you the best of both worlds.

    • I think footnotes are a matter of the Bible that you purchase. It is at the publisher’s discretion to include more information or just the bare minimum. In looking through my large print ESV and large print NKJV they were basically the same in information being given in the footnotes. However in looking at two different copies of the ESV that I had, one copy (a paperback copy interestingly) had much more information contained in the footnotes. It seems my large print preaching Bible just has the bare minimum of footnote information while other copies have a much more comprehensive listing. I believe you’ll find that true across the board with every almost every translation.

  5. Jordan says:

    I also made a change to the ESV. I originally taught and preached out of the NIV, and when I took a position at a church in Kentucky, I started using the NKJV, because that’s what I was raised reading. Once I had worn that Bible out, I went to Lifeway and the guy working told me about the ESV. I bought one, and now I can’t imagine using anything else.

    I love the readability of the text, and the literalness. I never thought that I would be able to experience them both at the same time. I think that this is very important when teaching students, and leading a small group. Also, I love all the resources and study helps that are available for it. I would love to find one that has Strong’s numbers, or an exhaustive concordance made specifically for it.

    The thing about verses and certain words missing, is that they were never in the original manuscripts. The ESV translators put them in the footnotes, because it would cause nothing but controversy if they ultimately removed them from the text. I also struggled with that for a very long time. But, if something isn’t in the oldest original manuscripts, should it really be in the Bible in the first place?

    This is a great post! I have a couple of questions, though:

    Which ESV did you buy? (I have the ESV Thinline in Black Genuine Leather)

    Have you found out how to highlight or mark in it without it bleeding through? If so, what kind of highlighters and pens?

    And finally..

    What study resources have you found works best with the ESV?

    • Hey Jordan,
      Thank you for your comment. I purchased a Crossways large print edition as I don’t have the greatest of eyesight and having the large print helps a lot, it has a fake leather that seems to be holding up quite well. I purchased it from CBD.

      I have only marked in mine with pen so I’m not sure about the highlighting bleed through. Pen seems to do fine on my copy.

      As for study resources I am using a list provided by Daniel Akin the president of South Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s called Building a Theological Library. It pretty up to date on the best scholarship in field of biblical studies and is divided up into all the major categories of theological studies. I use it whenever I am starting a new sermon series on a book of the Bible to gather the best commentaries so I have the most useful and insightful information available to me. The commentaries vary in what version of the Scriptures they use, in fact I don’t think I have found one that uses the ESV exclusively but that hasn’t really been an issue in sermon preparation. Here’s the link to Dr. Akin’s booklet – the books that are listed with an asterisk beside them are the best resources in his opinion and should be purchased first.

      Thank you again for your comments and may richly bless your ministry.

      Building a Theological Library (website link) (direct link to the PDF of the booklet)

  6. valerie says:

    Thanks for you article. It helped clear up the differences between the two.
    I am looking to purchase one for my child.

    I hate how highlighters bleed through and have taken to using Prismacolor Premier. You can lay on as much color as you want or do it lightly. I’ve tried other colored pencils, but I love the soft lead best.

  7. I am extremely impressed along with your writing abilities and also with the layout to
    your blog. Is that this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one today..

  8. Venesh Vijayan K says:

    Nice article… conveyed the truth in a good way.. I read a lot of articles about many versions but this is one of the best I have come across. I am using ESV now. I was using NKJV. Changed for the same reasons mentioned here.

  9. Inspirational Bible Verses says:

    Your style is very unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will
    just bookmark this web site.

  10. Lewis Doyle says:

    Hello, this was interesting. It’s somethign I’ve also been contemplating. This post was published (from the date of the other comments) more than a year ago. I wondered what your thoughts were a year down the line. One thing I’ve been guilty of is always ‘looking over my shoulder’ at my NKJV. So when I see a different rendering I ‘check it’ against the NKJV. I like the NKJV for it’s footnoting of UBS/MT textual variants and also the italicising of added words. I find this helpful, but there simply aren’t as many options around compared with the ESV. So, in the past year, what have your thoughts been? Any regrets? I suppose once you give in and accept the ESV it becomes quite plesant? Lewis

    • Hey Lewis, thanks so much for your comment and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I have been very blessed in my choice to switch to the ESV. For me, beginning a new ministry at a new church made the switch a little easier. It helped me avoid the “looking back” tendency because my coming to Mars Hill was the start of a new chapter in my life and switching to the ESV was part of that. It has helped me avoid going back and reusing sermons and it has pushed me to study diligently for the lessons and sermons that I am writing. Overall I don’t have any regrets in switching, I believe it was the right things to do for me and the ministry set before me at Mars Hill. Now, truth be told I look at multiple versions of the Scriptures in almost every sermon I prepare and I have used different versions in my PowerPoints presentations when another translation more accurately conveys the message of the verse or is needed to help clarify what is being said. I do not think that there will ever be a time when I find myself not needing and using multiple translations as I believe it is essential for in depth study of the Word of God. I enjoy my ESV, and I think you are right in the idea of just giving in or maybe giving yourself over to make one translation your primary Bible that you use it becomes pleasant because in your mind that choice has already been made. Overall I have been pleased with my choice and it has helped me in my ministry. Thank you again for you comment and question.

  11. I am needing a new Study Bible and have used the NKJV Nelson Study Bible for several years but it is falling apart. I have just come across the ESV Bible recently and have seen advertised the ESV Study Bible which looks good . I found your article very helpful as I am fond of the NKJV but wondered how it compared with the ESV . I purchased a different Study Bible -the Life Application Bible but did not get on too well with it. Do you know anything about the ESV Study Bible . Thanks for taking the time to write the article . Change is always difficult !

    • Thank you Wendy for your comment. Unfortunately do not know about ESV study Bible. The ESV Bible I use is a pretty strait-forward Bible text only copy, with very little references. Of the study Bibles I have owned the MacArthur Study Bible has been most helpful and the Open Bible was also good though it lacked the commentary notes that others like the Life Application Bible and MacArthur have. My recommendation would be to go down to your local Christian bookstore (I’m Southern Baptist so I have to plug LifeWay here) and look at all they have to offer. They have seats in the store and just thumbs through all the study Bibles available. If you don’t have a Christian bookstore near you Barnes and Noble or Books A Million now carry a variety of Bibles and simply look through them. If they don’t have an ESV available check online for and order it. Another option is to check out other people’s study Bibles at church and see what they think about them, this gives you a chance to get more hands on feel for the Bible you will be buy, also ask your pastor and see what insights he can offer, he may know about a new study bible that has come out and can offer some great insights. Also, being a pastor myself, I know this type of question would thrill him. I know if I were looking for a study Bible I would do what you’re asking others, looking at all my options, praying about it, and getting my hands on as many different study Bibles as I could in order to make the best choice possible. I hope this helps. Thanks again for your comment. Daniel

  12. Tony Wise says:

    Thanks for this write up. I have struggled with which version NKJV or ESV. I like to stay close to a literal word for word version but still readable. I have mostly read and studied from the NKJV for about 10yrs also. I was familiar with the NKJV so it was difficult to read from another version. I guess we don’t like change to much. lol. I would read from other versions but being familiar with the NKJV I would always criticize other versions for incomplete verses. But what started turning me toward the ESV is first I had a study bible that was in that version that I liked the study notes. But also started studying the manuscript evidence. I had studied the manuscript evidence yrs back and was settled on the Received text or (TR). So I stayed with the NKJV. But after leaving it alone for a few yrs and was led back to it. I learned through my studies that it may not be so much as newer versions are omitting words or verses but that they were never in the older manuscripts but may have been accidently added in by a scribe later that was originally in the margin area but scribes put it in the text.

    Anyhow, it is very possible today with over 5700 manuscripts available we can get very close to creating an original out of all the manuscripts together known as the eclectic method. While translating the 1611 KJV they only had very few manuscripts to draw from. Erasmus was the main player in translating the 1611 KJV. The preface of the 1611 translators say that there objective is to make a good translation better. Its hard to change versions you are use to. But remember the KJV did not automatically catch on right when it came out. It took 50yrs after the KJV came out before it became the popular version. We just don’t like change and I understand myself just after only 10yrs with the NKJV so you can imagine after centuries and generations being brought up on the KJV how change would be incredibly hard that you criticize all other versions and the conspiracy theorist come out the wood works which I almost bought into.

    • Tony Wise says:

      It also is important to note that 90% of all manuscripts agree with one another that is amazing. No other historical document has that kind of accuracy and evidence out of all historical documents in the world. So we are only talking 10% variations and of that 10% we are only talking 1% of variants that really is so minuscule that is not worth mentioning nor causing division over translations. My primary use to be the NKJV that I preferred with the ESV second. Now it has swapped. ESV primary and NKJV as my second choice but still do use both from time to time.

  13. Elroy Swarts says:

    I also use the ESV for personal devotions, for study, memorization, and as an Evangelist, I build my ministry around this amazing version.The ESV is the Bible of the future, and I believe that it is simply a matter of time before it surpasses the NIV, and ultimately the KJV in popularity.

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