Does the ESV Have a Calvinist Bias?

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 (ESV))

Have you ever heard someone claim that such-n-such a Bible translation is biased towards a particular Christian denomination or theological system/tradition? Of course, there are a few Bibles that are specifically for a particular group and intentionally market themselves that way (e.g., “Catholic” bibles or the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation (NWT)). But, most accusations of denominational bias are largely false, unless… one is referring to a study Bible, in which case many of the notes and articles will reflect the denominational leanings of the editors/publishers. But, the text itself?

I have seen the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) accused of being Southern Baptist, because it was commissioned by Holman Bible Publishers, a division(?) of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is overseen by the Southern Baptist Convention. The New English Translation (NET) is said to reflect dispensational theology, since most of the editors and translators are Dallas Theological Seminary faculty. But, perhaps the one I hear most is the claim that the English Standard Version (ESV) is blatantly Calvinist.

A few weeks ago, someone in the “Bible Versions Discussion/Dialogue” group that I belong to on Facebook posted an article that bashed the ESV and made this exact claim of bias. In response, one of the very knowledgeable members/admins, B. Kirksey, posted the following, which I thought was very helpful (and concise). He gave me permission to share it here….


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“I have studied the ESV closely for several years and ran down every rabbit hole aiming to ‘prove’ the Calvinist bias. All the leads ended up being the same type of translation used in other non-Calvinist translations (some Catholic!). And they all had good scholarly support.

My conclusion so far is that there is no Calvinist bias in the *text* of the ESV. There may be some in the notes of the ESV Study Bible, but not the text. I am as far from Calvinist as you can get and it is my preferred translation. The day I find a truly Calvinist bias (not conservative–Calvinist), is the day I stop using it.

One thing I learned is that some people confuse the terms ‘Calvinist’ and ‘conservative’. Most Calvinists are conservative, but most conservatives are not Calvinist. Someone will tell me there’s a Calvinist verse. I look it up and it’s not. It may be a *conservative* verse, but it is not an explicitly *Calvinist* verse. Calvinists may not disagree with it, but it is also used in clearly non-Calvinist translations.

The whole ‘proper roles of men and women’ is a *conservative* issue. Calvinists are conservative, so it is an issue to them. But it is not a *Calvinist* issue, since it is important to many non-Calvinists.

I know (not just think but *know*) that the popularity of the ESV as well as the image of some people who support the ESV have turned some people against it. I had someone tell me, ‘I don’t care if you can prove beyond doubt it is the most accurate and beautiful translation in the world. I don’t like some of the people who promote it, so it is guilty by association. I will never accept it as a decent translation.’ At least they are honest.

I had another person tell me they will never use it *because* it is popular.

I see this a lot online. People decide what’s wrong with it, then look for the evidence to fit their agenda. Then they don’t bother verifying the evidence.

The ESV is not a perfect translation. It is almost certainly not the *best* translation. But I have not found evidence that it is ‘biased’ and ‘dishonest’ any more than any other translation. It has all of the faults any translation or translation process has. It is not exempt. However, there was not some special case of deliberate deception and doctrinal agenda in the planning and execution.”

Very well said. Thanks, B.


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