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The Blue Letter Bible

English Standard Version (ESV) Preface

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The Bible

The Bible is God's personal Word to us. In the Bible, God tells us how he made the world and why we are here. He tells us that his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and that, because of this, we can live forever in heaven with him. Because God is always good and truthful, his written Word, the Bible, is worthy of our complete confidence and trust.

English Translations of the Bible

God's message to us was recorded in the Bible between 2,000 and 3,500 years ago. The Bible was not originally written in English, but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Since more of us today do not know these languages, God has enabled people around the world to translate his written Word into thousands of different languages. In 1526, William Tyndale became the first person to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into English. The most famous English translation of the Bible, the King James Version, was published in England in 1611. For many years, it was the Bible that most English-speaking people read. Millions of people still read it today.

But as time has passed, the English language has changed. Various words and phrases in the King James Version have become harder to understand. So through the years several new translations have been made. These include the English Revised Version (1885), the American Standard Version (1901), and the Revised Standard Version (1952; 1971). The English Standard Version (ESV) Bible is a part

Translating from one language to another is never easy. Bible translators must know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They need good English writing skills. They must be able to choose words that people of all ages will understand. They must be humble enough to let other translators correct their work. No one is able to do this work perfectly. Translators can only try their best to be faithful to God's Word and helpful to readers. There are two main ways most of them do this.

Some Bible translators use a "thought-for-thought" method of translation. They read the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek and decide how to put the basic thoughts into English words. They are generally not concerned with keeping the original order of the sentence. They also may leave out words they don't think are needed for understanding a thought. Sometimes they try to make long sentences easier to understand by dividing them into several shorter sentences.

Other translators use a "word-for-word" translation method. They translate the Bible in a way that reflects every single word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts as transparently as possible. They also translate sentences in a way that pays greater attention to the order in which they were originally written. Until recent times, this was the way most English Bible translations were done. The ESV is this kind of translation—a "word-for-word" translation—which we believe is the best way to show what the Bible says and how it says it.

Sometimes this may mean you will read words that you'll see only in the Bible or hear in church—words like "justification" and "sanctification." Or you will read words that mean something different in the Bible than in current English. The word "unclean" is an example of this. Although such words may be familiar, they are important words that are worth learning.

Bible translators also want readers to come to know and love the Bible as much as they do, so while trying to be as accurate as possible in their work, they also try to use English words that are as interesting and beautiful as the Bible's original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words.

There ar a couple of words, in particular, that you should know about as a Bible reader. You will often find the Old and New Testament authors using the word "Behold!" This is a helpful word because it means something like "Pay careful attention to the words that come next!" It helps us read more carefully.

Another word you should know about is one of the Bible's names for God. The Old Testament authors used three different Hebrew words to describe God. These are translated as "God," "Lord" (spelled the way we usually spell it), or "LORD" (spelled with small capital letters). The last one translates God's personal name. He revealed this name to Moses in Exodus 3:14.

Special Notes in the ESV Bible

As you read the ESV Bible, you will often see a number following a word, which will call your attention to a note at the bottom of the page. For instance, at Genesis 1:26, when you read, "Let us make man1...", the number 1 invites you to read note 1 at the bottom of the page. These notes will help you in various ways.

For example, some things you read may make you think that the Bible doesn't say very much about women. You will read that God made "man" in his image (Gen. 1:26). In Psalm 1:1, you will read about God making promises to "the man" who serves him. In the New Testament you will often read about someone addressing a group of people as "brothers" without saying anything about "sisters." Or you will read about promises to "sons" (Rom. 8:14). The notes on these verses will help you see that the Bible is not ignoring girls or women. The note on Genesis 1:26 will tell you that the Hebrew word translated "man" includes both men and women. Notes in the New Testament will show you where the Greek word translated "brothers" includes both "brothers and sisters." The note on Romans 8:14 shows you that "sons" also includes "daughters."

Second, you may be troubled when you see words like "slave," "servant," and "bondservant." You will likely wonder if the Bible approves of the sort of slavery that existed in the United States and other nations in past times and that still exists in some nations today. The Bible condemns such slavery many times, and it often explains how people in these situations should be treated.

As the ESV notes will tell you, the Old Testament uses the Hebrew word ebed to describe all sorts of servants. A servant could be someone who agreed to work for someone else for pay, or to repay a debt. In some cases, he might have agreed to work for someone for the rest of his life. A servant could also be someone captured in war and made to serve someone else, or someone sold into slavery. Readers have to pay attention to each situation. In the Old Testament the ESV uses the word "slave" when people were owned by someone else and had little chance of freedom. Otherwise it normally uses the word "servant."

The New Testament uses the Greek word doulos (or sundoulos) to describe people in the same types of situations. The ESV translates the word as "slave" when someone had little hope of becoming free. It translates the word as "bondservant" when someone could gain freedom by paying a set price or by serving for a set length of time. It translates the word "servant" when a person simply worked for someone else. As with "man" and "brothers and sisters," the ESV includes notes to help you know which kind of situation you are reading about.

Third, the Bible often uses names that have a special meaning. The names may be those of people or places. The ESV provides notes when the text cannot really be understood unless you know what the name means.

Fourth, the Bible describes several kinds of skin diseases with a word that the ESV translates as "leprosy." The notes let you know that the word does not refer to Hansen's Disease, the type of leprosy most familiar to modern readers.

Fifth, sometimes the ESV translators had to choose between two English words that mean nearly the same thing. Knowing both words may help you understand the verse better. These notes begin with the word "Or" and then give the second possible meaning.

Finally, you will find brackets and special notes at Psalm 145:13, Mark 16:8, and John 7:52. Translators use the oldest and best Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek copies available. Some of these manuscripts include the words in brackets in Psalm 145:13. Most of them leave out Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 or place them somewhere else.

The ESV translators made other decisions about the best manuscripts to use, to translate the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into English. You can read about these translation choices in the ESV Study Bible or in the more detailed preface to the standard edition of the ESV. This standard edition of the ESV also includes a fuller set of textual notes. It is available for free online access at esv.org.

The Purpose of the ESV Bible

Many people made the ESV Bible translation possible. We hope this Bible will help you know God by trusting in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our prayer is, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14).

Soli Deo Gloria!—To God alone be the glory!

The Translation Oversight Committee

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.