Monday, April 04, 2011

Why not choose the ESV for your church

If someone were to ask me which translation to use in an evangelical church today, I would suggest either the NRSV or the NIV 2011. I am guessing that the latter version would have more appeal, as the NIV has been for some time a popular choice among evangelicals. However, recently there has been an upswing of interest in the ESV as the more accurate translation. In my view, this is not the case.

The way I see it is that the ESV, like the RSV and the NRSV, has maintained the general style of the King James Bible which is still familiar to and respected by many. Although the ESV has the style of the KJB, it does not communicate gender in an accurate manner. If someone truly wants a Bible in that tradition, I would heartily recommend the NRSV.

However, I am aware that many people would rather have a Bible that is more closely associated with the evangelical community than the NRSV, and the NIV certainly is. So the NIV 2011 is really a perfect choice at this time.

Here are some passages where there is a significant difference in the way gender is treated in the ESV and the NIV2011.

1 Tim. 2:12
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. ESV

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. NIV 2011
There are three different ways that this verse has been translated. First, it occurs as the Latin equivalent of "to be the lord of" in the Vulgate, then "usurp authority" in the KJV and now "exercise authority" in the ESV. There is no reason to think that the word had the positive connotation of "to exercise authority" and so the NIV 2011 is closer to the KJV and to the original meaning than the ESV. Women need to have whatever authority is commensurate with their responsibilities in exactly the same way that men do. Neither men nor women should use authority in a negative way, or domineer over the other.

2 Tim. 2:2
and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ESV

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. NIV 2011
The Greek word in this verse translated as "men" is actually anthropos, which means, quite simply, "people" or "human beings." There is no justification at all for the ESV to use the word "men" in English here. This kind of pattern is repeated throughout the ESV, where a word that means "people" is translated as "men." The ESV hides from the reader that the word in Greek means "people."

1 Tim. 5:8
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ESV

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. NIV 2011
The Greek word which is translated as "anyone" means what it says - anyone. It does not refer to a male only and in the Greek of this passage, there are no masculine pronouns or masculine indicators of any kind. This verse does not refer to men as the providers in the home, but assigns equal responsibility to both men and women. The NIV2011 avoids the misunderstanding often caused by the masculine pronouns of the ESV.

In addition to this, the Greek word adelphoi was translated in the King James Bible as "brethren." However, in Greek this word applied to the brothers and sisters in one family. In reality the word always has meant "brothers and sisters." This is a more accurate translation of the Greek.

Romans 16:7
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. ESV

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. NIV 2011
There is no evidence to suggest that Junia was not an apostle. It is better to stick with the historic understanding in both the Latin Vulgate and in the King James Bible, that Junia was an apostle.

May I commend to you the NIV 2011 or the NRSV, and gender inclusive Bibles in general, which do, in fact, reflect the Greek of the original in a better fashion than our traditional Bibles do.

11 comments:

Don said...

I like and use the ESV, along with other translations. EXCEPT in the gender area, I find I can often, but not always, figure out the likely Hebrew or Greek word behind the English.

In the gender area, I agree with you, I find it untrustworthy, but I redeem it as an egal and use it as a reverse oracle. I look to see what translation choices the ESV made in order to present their masculinist version. This can be very insightful, but is NOT the way they intended. They want to close down discussion in the gender area, but I use it to open it up.

Don said...

For a church, choosing the ESV says a LOT about a church, it says almost surely that the church believes God is a masculinist. So I would much prefer a more middle of the road attempt like the NIV 2011.

J. K. Gayle said...

Don,

What do you think about this post? Is the writer ignoring issues, getting to them all, or doing something else?

http://cyberbrethren.com/2009/05/14/why-the-english-standard-version-in-the-lutheran-church%E2%80%94missouri-synod/

J. K. Gayle said...

Ok, here's the link:

Why has the English Standard Version become the Bible translation of choice in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod?

Don said...

I think Lutherans believe (in regards to communion) in something called consubstantiation, which is similar to transubstantiation that Catholics believe. So they both think that Christ's literal body and blood is there in the elements in some sense.

As I see it, this is another example of Greek thinkers reading a Bible written by Hebrew thinkers and missing the idioms. But since this is important to them, they gave this as one reason to dink the NIV.

I did not notice him discussing any of the gender verses.

chaidrinkingfool said...

Yep. As the leader of our former church became increasingly enamored with the idea of the husband "leading" the wife, the free Bibles available in the foyer changed from NIV to ESV. This change happened quietly, though there were probably conversations had at levels of leadership to which I was not privvy. It was a slick, underhanded move IMO.

Thank you for posting this specific information. I appreciate your sharing your knowledge of other languages in ways that we English-only folks are able to understand.

Deb said...

Thanks for this, Suzanne, it gave me the boost I needed to download the NRSV to my e-Sword.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with you here. As a Lutheran pastor, we are more than familiar with being inclusive. Recently, the older women in our church approached the senior pastor and me about a switch in the translation used in the traditional Divine Service. What did they want? To dump the NRSV for the ESV, specifically. Their reasons? The ESV sounds more like the KJV/RSV and the NRSV Psalter is, frankly ugly. The pastor and I had wanted to dump the NRSV for a while, so we were happy to oblige. The traditional language is more beautiful, and, after all, isn't Christian liturgy supposed to be more about beauty and experience than about an accurate, forcibly inclusive translation that suffers in the style department?

Zach said...

I take issue with you here. As a Lutheran pastor, we are more than familiar with being inclusive. Recently, the older women in our church approached the senior pastor and me about a switch in the translation used in the traditional Divine Service. What did they want? To dump the NRSV for the ESV, specifically. Their reasons? The ESV sounds more like the KJV/RSV and the NRSV Psalter is, frankly ugly. The pastor and I had wanted to dump the NRSV for a while, so we were happy to oblige. The traditional language is more beautiful, and, after all, isn't Christian liturgy supposed to be more about beauty and experience than about an accurate, forcibly inclusive translation that suffers in the style department?

Suzanne said...

Sure, Zach, that makes sense. As long as nobody is using the ESV to prove something about the subordination of women - go for it! Personally, I am not happy knowing that someone has diminished the status of Junia based on a mocked up study, but that really is a detail, and I appreciate that. I also don't find it to be gender accurate. However, I admit that overall it has the sound of traditional language.

Anonymous said...

chaidrinking fool here. I have since learned that indeed, the switch from the NIV to a "more accurate translation" (the ESV) was indeed a denominational move. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), to specify the denomination. Definitely the switch was made to support the denomination's masculinist views of God and scripture.