You might not have seen, but the English Standard Version (ESV) was updated back in 2011. The last revision came in 2006 (and the ESV was published first in 2001). Crossway seems to have settled on a five-year refresh cycle for the text, which is probably good practice to ensure the text stays within its objectives as the English language slowly ebbs and flows.
On the FAQ page for the ESV Bible, you can read a short letter from Crossway’s president, Lane T. Dennis, about the changes. Dennis notes that only about 500 words (out of 750,000) were changed (coming in about 275 verses). Dennis continues,
Most changes to the ESV text were made to correct grammar, improve consistency, or increase precision in meaning. In making these changes, the Committee was deeply conscious of the enormous responsibility entrusted to it—to translate the very words of God, with the greatest possible accuracy and precision, depth of meaning, and literary excellence.
For those interested in studying the changes in-depth, Crossway has provided an interactive webpage with a full list of the changes, in context, between the 2006 and 2011 text editions. I have not studying the list thoroughly, but I wanted to comment on a few of the changes that were of special interest to me. I noticed these examples primarily because of previous study I have done in the passages in question.
(2006) But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish… So he paid the fair and went on board.
(2011) But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish… So he paid the fair and went down into it.
The 2011 change moves back to a more literal reading and emphasizes the repetition of Jonah’s movement “down to Joppa” (1:3), “down into [the boat]” (1:3), and “down into the inner part of the ship” (1:5). Contrasted with God’s call to “arise,” (1:1), it heightens Jonah’s ironic attempt to “flee… from the presence of the LORD,” (1:3).
(2006) “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
(2011) “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The 2011 text dropped the “and” before “on a colt.” This passage (a quotation of Zechariah 9:9) can be difficult because Matthew (in the 2006 text) seems to indicate Jesus rode into Jerusalem on two animals (that would have been something to see). Mark and Luke only mention one animal. So was there a second animal, perhaps that came with the animal upon which Jesus rode? Maybe, but not necessarily. The word “and” (kai) is present in Matthew 21:5. However, the ESV 2011 text has left the “and” out to make the parallelism in the quotation a bit easier to understand. We could say “mounted on a donkey, even a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” This interpretation is grammatically sound, and when compared to Mark and Luke, make it a likely option for understanding Matthew 21:5. The parallelism in Zechariah 9:9 is a bit clearer. The 2011 text helps the reader in this regard. (See also the NIV 1984 and the NKJV; the NIV 2011 included the “and.”)
(2006) And [the blind man] looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”
(2011) And [the blind man] looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.
This type of change tends to be presented as evidence by those who like to condemn modern translations as “gender-neutral.” To be clear, I am not advocating a widespread gender-neutral translation philosophy. However, this change is not an example of the ESV moving in this direction (although it might get “flagged” in a “statistical” analysis used by those wanted to condemn the ESV). Clearly, the blind man doesn’t mean that he sees “males, walking.” He simply sees “people” who look like trees. The generic word anthropos is used here, and it often refers to “a person of either sex, with focus on participation in the human race, a human being” or “a member of the human race” as defined by BDAG (the standard Greek dictionary). As just one example, see Mark 1:17, where Jesus says “I will make you fishers of anthropos.” Surely Jesus has in mind men and women.
(2006) I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended…
(2011) I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended…
The 2011 text is more difficult to read because of the double negative “not want… unaware.” However, this move (along with Romans 11:25) picks up on the theme of “ignorant” or “unaware” passages throughout Romans (see also 2:4; 6:3; 7:1; 10:3). The double negative is present in the original as well.
First Corinthians 7:21–23
The 2011 text changes four instances of “slave” to “bondservant” in this passage, and several more times throughout the New Testament. You can see the Committee in action on this issue in an earlier post. The new preface to the ESV actually mentions the discussion surrounding this move. (You can read this portion of the preface on Justin Taylor’s blog as well.) I agree with their conclusions and reasoning behind the move to “bondservant,” although I doubt many listeners/readers intuitively can define a “bondservant.” However, having to study a little harder, or a preacher having to be a bit clearer in his sermon, is rarely a bad thing.
(2006) If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
(2011) If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
The 2006 text interpreted the metaphor for the reader, whereas in the 2011 edition the translators decided to leave the text a bit more literal. Deciding when to do this is tough, but here I like the move. Having taught this passage before, I feel listeners can “picture” the image of “keeping in step” with the Spirit. In fact, I taught this passage once to a group of junior high students and brought one young lady up on stage with me to “keep in step” with me as I walked around. It provided a good visual object lesson.
(2006) …the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
(2011) …the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
I’ve written about this particular issue before. You can see my introduction to the issue and my conclusions. Even after reading my own comments again, I’m still cannot say with great certainty which decision I prefer. One thing the ESV 2011 has going for it now in v. 17 is the repeated Trinitarian emphasis (which is displayed prominently in Ephesians 1:3–14).
So should you go out and purchase a new 2011 ESV Bible, if that’s your translation of choice? Perhaps, especially if you use study software such as Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos, as these programs have likely upgraded their texts to reflect the latest edition. (As an Accordance user, I currently have the 2011 text on my machine, although I cannot check BibleWorks or Logos.) If you want to avoid confusing yourself in study (moving between the hard copy and electronic editions), then maybe you need to pick one up. Be sure to look at the copyright page before you buy to ensure it says “ESV Text Edition: 2011.” Alternatively, if your pew Bibles are the 2006 edition, then maybe you just make the very occasional note of it in your personal Bible when a change occurs.
And oh yeah, the New International Version (NIV) got an update in 2011 as well.