Is The ESV Readable?

There has been a lot of writing over recent months about the readability of the ESV. A recent exchange began when Mark L. Strauss wrote about the English language flaws in the ESV and noted the superiority of the TNIV. I suppose now I can settle this once and for all (not really, but it sure would be nice).

I believe readability depends upon where the individual is coming from. For example, I grew up on the NKJV and a little bit on the NASB. Coming from these two translations, I find the ESV to be very readable. I enjoy reading the ESV. I find it easier to read than the NASB and NKJV and I prefer the ESV over these translations. However, I can understand how someone who has never picked up a Bible before can find the ESV not very readable. For me, I do not find the NIV to be significantly more readable than ESV. This is probably because I am used to certain phrases and renderings. Others may find the readability difference between the ESV and NIV to be more substantial.

I think this is important to point out when some of the ESV backers like John Piper speak about the ESV being easy to read. Piper used the NASB before (from the lesson I have listened to), so the ESV would be more readable. I don’t think these notable people are lying in an effort to sell ESVs. I think it is more a matter of what translation they used to study from previously.

The HCSB seems to have an even higher degree of readability, depending upon who you ask. Some in the congregation where I preach have recently be trying the HCSB and have found it easier to understand. It is more readable because they were using NASBs previously. People who have always used the NLT would likely not find the ESV or HCSB to be easy to read.

By contrast, I am finding the NLT not to be very readable. It is not because the English is difficult, but because I am not used to the style. As I read a verse, I am subconsciously and sometimes consciously trying to figure out if the NLT reading matches the way I remember the verse. So rather than reading along, I am constantly slowing down attempting to determine if what I am reading is saying the same thing that I knew that verse to say in a different translation.

Anyway, I hope some others will consider and expand upon this thought. What you are used to in a translation really makes a difference in how readable a translation seems. Those who grew up on the NIV may find the ESV too wooden. Those who are used to the NASB may find the ESV easy to read. Those who have never picked up a Bible may find most, if not all, translations hard to read. What is your Bible translation background? It affects your verdict at to what translations are “easy to read.”