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I have read both the New King James version and the English Standard version. I have noticed very trivial differences between the two. What, if any, are the major differences between the NKJV and the ESV?

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The New King James version is meant to be an update (circa 1975) of the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Version, while preserving the classic style and literary beauty of the original 1611 KJV version. 130 translators used the original King James version as well as Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew texts including the Dead Sea Scrolls. The translators have sought to follow the principles of translation used in the original King James Version, which the NKJV revisers call "complete equivalence" in contrast to "dynamic equivalence" used by many other modern translations. The task of updating the English of the KJV involved significant changes in word order, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. One of the most significant features of the NKJV was its abandonment of the historic second person pronouns “thou”, "thee", “ye”, “thy”, and “thine”. Verb forms were also modernized in the NKJV (for example, "speaks" rather than "speaketh").

The English Standard Version (ESV) of 2001 is a revision of the of the 1971 Revised Standard Version, which traces it's origins to William Tyndale's New Testament translation of 1525 (the first English translation of a Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, which was also a significant influence on the original KJV). Work on the ESV began over the perceived looseness of style and content of recently published English Bible translations. Many alterations designed to correct or improve the text were made to satisfy the objections of conservative Protestants who had considered the RSV to be theologically liberal, for example, changing the translation of the Hebrew almah from "young woman" (used in the RSV) to "virgin" (in the ESV) in Isaiah 7:14. The language was modernized to remove "thou" and "thee" and replace obsolete words (e.g., "jug" for "cruse").

Relative Differences: the biggest practical difference that I can see is that the ESV is newer. The RSV, upon which the ESV is based, was primarily a project to update the Bible to the English language of the current time (mid-20th century) as an improvement over the old KJV. By the time the ESV was published the New King James Version -- which also had as its goal to modernize the language -- had been published twenty years earlier. It seems to me (a Catholic who primarily uses the Challoner revision to the Douay-Rheims and the Latin Vulgate) that the both the ESV and NKJV are projects which in their history are based on the same work (Tyndale's Bible) with the same general goals (modernized language) and which have both achieved this goal with negligible qualitative differences.

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One of the main differences between the ESV and NKJV is the underlying Greek texts. The ESV uses whas has been called the Critical Text whereas the NKJV uses what has been called the Received Text. The differences between these underlying greek texts is not insignificant. A discussion of the differences between them is likely not appropriate for this venue. My personal preference is for the Majority Text which is very similar to the Received Text in almost every way as the vast majority of greek manuscripts fall into this family.

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Note that the TR or "Received Text" is also a critical text. Erasmus selected the most reliable reading from the MSS he had at his disposal. The ESV simply uses a critical text that has more MSS to consult. – parap Mar 5 '13 at 14:52
I suppose that when you say this you mean that any text can be a "critical text" but that is not what I mean. In scholarly circles the Critical Text has specific meaning, a text based primarially on the Alexandrian family of documents with some influence from the Western family, completely ignoring the Byzantine family of texts which comprise 90%+ of the available biblical texts. The fact that they ignore the largest and most consistent family of texts, and instead chose to take texts that are much less consistent and then decide for themselves what is God's word worries me. – Nathan Bunney Mar 5 '13 at 15:27
I run in scholarly circles. Every critical text of which I am aware takes into account the majority text. The will generally weight results from Alexandrian sources more heavily due to the age, but they certainly don't ignore the Byzantine readings. – parap Mar 5 '13 at 15:32
Can you give me a specific example where a Byzantine MT reading overshadows a Alexandrian or Western reading in the CT? I agree that, if they agree it is considered to add weight, but they never follow the Byzantine away from the other families that I know of. – Nathan Bunney Mar 5 '13 at 16:25
All the major variations within Alexandrian and Byzantine readings are included in the footnotes. The changes I mentioned were where footnoted (mostly Byzantine) readings were moved up to the main text and the other reading were demoted down to the footnotes. – parap Mar 5 '13 at 18:51

There are several verses left out of the ESV that are important memory verses in the KJV and NKJV, which is why I no longer use the ESV. I first discovered this while following along in church with the pastor's reading of a selection in his NKJV, then expounding on a verse that just wasn't there in my Bible. Pretty disconcerting while in the middle of a lesson. I would encourage everyone to research all of the verses that are missing from the ESV before deciding which version to use. In this research, do not leave out the advice of the Holy Spirit. My own conclusion is that those omitted verses were divinely inspired. You may or may not be a professional Bible researcher or a student of Biblical languages, but remember, there have been not a few major mistakes made by such people in all phases of history.

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Welcome to Stack Exchange. Could you give an (more than one?) example of such a verse? That would greatly improve this uncorroborated answer, and turn into demonstrable fact rather than just assertion. Thanks! – Andrew Leach Sep 30 at 15:28
Welcome to Christianity.SE! For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. The question asks for major differences. For this answer to address that question, it would need to discuss how these "missing verses" are a major difference between the two translations. Presumably the two are using different scholarly texts of the original language versions. That might be the basis for an answer addressing one major difference between the two translations. – Lee Woofenden Sep 30 at 15:34
The verse aren't "missing" from the ESV, but rather were likely added to the Greek text on which the KJV is based. That is, most likely they were not present in the original manuscripts. The ESV (and all other modern translations other than the NKJV) use a different (and higher quality according to experts) Greek text as their basis than the KJV did (which did a fine job with what was available in 1611, but we've discovered much about the Bible since then). See the other answers for a more thorough explanation. – ThaddeusB Sep 30 at 16:33
I would just add that these decisions are always up for debate. I am certain that everyone who thinks the missing verses are inauthentic would be willing to consider additional evidence which may change their minds. For several of the verses the evidence is far from clear. The only people I've seen who aren't willing to reconsider are those who insist that the KJV cannot be wrong. – curiousdannii Oct 1 at 3:31

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