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ESV vs. NKJV

November 6, 2010

I wrote this some time ago when I was asked to give a brief evaluation of the ESV over and against the NKJV. Since both of these are fine translations of the Bible I hope this is helpful to some people. In the future I plan to provide more articles like this since evaluating English Bible translations, and the subject of Bibliology, is something of a hobby of mine. The following is a summary of my comparison between these two translations. I will admit that this is subjective and I stress that this is strictly my opinion based on what I have learned so far.

Pros for the NKJV and ESV:

  1. Both are accurate and reliable translations.
  2. Both are essentially literal.
  3. Both are readable and elegant English.
  4. Both stand in the tradition of Tyndale, Geneva, and King James.

Pros for the NKJV:

  1. It is very similar in form to the KJV so it will be familiar to those who may be accustomed to the KJV.
  2. Classic Christian terms are used in some areas. (Example: “Calvary” is used in Luke’s Gospel rather than “The Skull” in many other versions.)
  3. There is much reference material available. (Concordances, Commentaries, Study Bibles, etc…)
  4. Though the translation is based upon the Textus Receptus (TR), its footnotes include information from the Majority Text (MT) and Critical Text (CT). This can be quite useful.

Cons for the NKJV:

  1. The NKJV is based upon the TR. This may be a pro for some but not for me. I favor the CT.
  2. While elegant, the NKJV English can still be somewhat confusing to those not familiar with it.
  3. Some word choices from the KJV are retained. This is not bad all the time but there are some areas that can be confusing. (Ref: Phil. 2:6)

Pros for the ESV:

  1. It is a new and fresh translation based off the most current Greek and Hebrew texts.
  2. It has been embraced and endorsed by many Christian leaders. (RC Sproul and John Piper to name two.) Also, JI Packer is the General Editor.
  3. The cross-references in the Reference editions are about the best I’ve seen.
  4. The footnotes are very helpful. They not only explain translational issues but the offer some explanatory notes as well. (Ref: Matt. 27:26 which footnotes the word “scourged” to offer an explanation as to what this means.) This is well done and not over done.

Cons for the ESV:

  1. There is not yet much in the form of reference/support material. A concordance is available as well as a reverse interlinear but no commentaries that I have found.
  2. There are a few areas where the use of English is not quite as elegant as the NKJV. Though this could be because I am somewhat familiar with the KJV.

All in all I would say that either translation is good. Both effectively communicate the word of God in our language. We should be grateful that we have either one of these much less both. My personal preference is for the ESV. It achieves a good balance of accuracy and readability that I find quite appealing. It has also seen remarkable growth in the last few years which is interesting since the translation is less than ten years old. Personally I find the NKJV to be very unusual English and not something that I enjoy reading for long periods of time.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Moses permalink
    April 23, 2011 11:31 pm

    I read form “Orthodox Study Bible” and RSV.
    The MacArthur Topical Bible “nkjv” and the RSV read all most the same.
    For a new bible reader The Good News Bible is a good one too.
    God Bless.

  2. Phil Devaney permalink
    April 17, 2012 12:10 pm

    As a fairly new pastor I am trying to get our congregation to use the same translation. Our pew Bibles are NIV 1984 edition and there are at least three or four other translations that are carried to church by our small congregation.

    I would prefer a more literal translation than the NIV. I also get tired of explaning why each translation carried to church may be different than the others.

    So I am trying to determine which translation I should use and encourage the congregation to use the same. The NKJV and the ESV are the ones I have narrowed it down to.

  3. Knight permalink*
    April 17, 2012 5:21 pm

    Phil,
    I understand your dilemma. Hopefully my little article helps. I tend to lean toward the ESV simply because I find the argument for the Critical Text of the NT more compelling as opposed to the Textus Receptus. Though the NKJV footnotes everything and is a good resource for that.

    The ESV also has the benefit of having some very good resources for it these days. The ESV Study Bible is a very good commentary and a nice addition to the layman’s library.

  4. Rev. Ernest E. Gann Jr. permalink
    November 17, 2012 11:19 pm

    Pastor Ernie. I like the ESV it is a good teaching bible.

    • Rev. Ernest E. Gann Jr. permalink
      November 17, 2012 11:24 pm

      I use the esv translation to teach in treatment centers and special needs rcf facilities. It is easy for people of all mental disabilities to understand quickly. It is also a word for word translation.

  5. June 15, 2014 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the comparison. I grew up using a NKJV, but switched to ESV as my primary Bible about ten years ago. I do find the NKJV inelegant at times. Even the ESV has its inelegant moments, but fewer of them, and mostly in the Old Testament. While both, as you say, are good translations, the ESV is based upon the favored manuscripts. I like to use the ESV as my go-to version, but I often check the NET, NIV, HCSB, and sometimes the NASB when reading a passage.

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