The ESV and the KJV

“The true heirs of the King James translators are those who continue their task today, not those who declare it to have been definitively concluded in 1611.” - Alister McGrath, In the Beginning

The Legacy of the King James Version

The King James Version (KJV) was the standard Bible used by the English-speaking world for almost four centuries. It was the one Bible that united the Church, strengthened believers, and brought untold millions of souls to Christ. Its literary beauty helped to shape the English language more than any other printed work before or since. Adults and children studied it and committed its verses to memory. It is still among the top-selling Bibles on current bestseller lists.

The translators of the KJV understood the value of the English translation work that had been done before their time, and they wisely referred to the earliest English Bible translations, dating back to William Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, in addition to the manuscripts in their original languages.

With the greatest respect for the KJV and deep gratitude to its translators for their work, the English Standard Version Translation Team endeavored to carry on the KJV’s historic translation legacy in a way that is fresh and compelling for today and that will endure for generations to come.

The ESV and the KJV: A Comparison

The English language has changed over the centuries, and modern readers find the KJV’s archaic words and sentence structures difficult to understand. Throughout the course of the twentieth century, it became clear that Bible readers needed a translation they could easily understand, resulting in a proliferation of Bible translations.

Given the wide variety of translations today, the ESV occupies a unique place in the classic stream of essentially literal translation and careful attention to literary beauty. The result is a highly accurate translation that retains the literary impact of the KJV but that still speaks powerfully for today.

To get a sense of the beauty of the ESV’s language, compare the way the beloved 23rd Psalm is expressed in the ESV and the KJV.

Psalm 23 (KJV) Psalm 23 (ESV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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