Does the ESV Translation Promote “Faith Alone” Salvation?

By Wayne Jackson

“Does the English Standard Version of the New Testament promote the doctrine of ‘salvation by faith alone’ in Romans 10:9-10?”

This text, in the ESV (2001) reads as follows:

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

No, this rendition does not teach the erroneous doctrine of “salvation by faith alone,” though it is not rendered as precisely as it ought to have been. Consider the following.

Verse 9 certainly cannot be construed to advocate the “faith alone” dogma, for it makes both confessing and believing requirements preliminary to salvation. Believing, plus confessing, cannot be construed as “faith alone.”

In order to avoid this obstacle, occasionally an advocate of “faith alone” salvation will allege that believing and confessing are “inseparable graces.” That is an assertion without substance.

Jesus once spoke of certain Jewish rulers who “believed on him,” but, due to their fear of the Pharisees, “did not confess” him, lest they be expelled from the synagogue (John 12:42). The Lord emphatically distinguished “belief” from “confession.”

It also is a fact that there are many New Testament texts that mention only certain components of the plan of salvation. But those that are mentioned, by way of a common figure of speech known as the “synecdoche,” by which one condition is made to stand for the full complement of items required.

Some mention only faith (Romans 5:1). Others include only an allusion to repenting (Acts 17:30). In one case, Jesus mentioned only confession (Matthew 10:32). In other passages only baptism is listed (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).

None of these texts may be isolated from the others, with the conclusion being drawn that a solitary passage represents the whole plan of redemption. Rarely, if ever, is the entire body of truth on a particular subject presented in a single text.

Inasmuch as the Scriptures are verbally inspired of God (i.e., the words themselves are divinely-directed; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), even their grammatical forms (e.g., nouns, verbs, prepositions, tense, voice, mood, singular, plural, etc.) are important. It is, therefore, a perilous venture for a translator to substitute his own wording for sacred forms, by radical changes in the text.

For example, in verse 10, the ESV translators alter the text by changing two “nouns” (righteousness and salvation) into “verbs” (justified and saved), and by transforming the twice-used preposition “unto” (Greek, eis) into conjunctions, “and.” Whereas in reality, the prepositions point to a goal towards which both the believing and the confessing are progressing — a goal not reached by either of these actions alone.

It is not without great significance that faith, repentance, confession, and baptism, in their relation to salvation, all are governed by the directional preposition eis, thus revealing that forgiveness of sins is not accessed until each of these conditions is met (cf. Acts 2:38; Romans 10:10).

No one has the right to dismiss any one of these requirements, and it is irresponsible to do so. And yet, as everyone knows, it is commonly done by the “faith only” denominations.

The Bible translator should be as careful as possible to convey the actual meaning of the original text while, at the same time, providing a rendition that is as clear for the English reader as it can be.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.