Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The ESV: A woman's Bible, not

Update: Dr. Packer told me a few years ago that there was a special effort being made to market the ESV in China, and now we know its true.

There have been several posts on the ESV again. I would like to explain why I cannot endorse this translation myself. I understand that many people will not share my view, but nonetheless, there are few enough women who review Bibles, so bear with me.

First, the ESV is a revision of the RSV and the KJV before that. Therefore, it inherits some of the very positive aspects of those translations. These would include the literal and literary qualities of the KJV. The KJV was known for not inserting implied wording into the translation any more than absolutely necessary to make the English grammatical. It was also tested for readability, a sense of rhythm and flow, and use of poetic and emotive language. It was both literal and literary.

The ESV inherits some of these qualities. It retains some of the original KJV style but not always successfully. Literalness also is retained in a very uneven way, so one is never really assured of whether a phrase is literal or not. For example,
    No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. ESV

    No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. TNIV

    No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. NRSV

    No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. KJV
In moving away from the KJV, the ESV has not settled on a successful update for the archaic "in the bosom." The NRSV and the TNIV have been more successful theologically.

The overall treatment of gender in the ESV is not "transparent to the Greek." Here is what the preface of the ESV says,
    [T]he words “man” and “men” are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew. Likewise, the word “man” has been retained where the original text intends to convey a clear contrast between “God” on the one hand and “man” on the other hand, with “man” being used in the collective sense of the whole human race (see Luke 2:52).
If, for simplicity's sake, we assume for the purposes of this exercise that the Greek word anthropos means a "human being" and aner means a "male adult human being," we can see how the ESV is not transparent to the Greek. Let's look at 1 Tim. 2.
    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (anthropos) 1 Tim. 2:1

    I desire then that in every place the men (aner) should pray, lifting holy hands 1 Tim. 2:8

    there is one mediator between God and men (anthropos), the man (anthropos) Christ Jesus. 1 Tim. 2:5.

This chapter is not transparent to the Greek in respect to words for human beings. How does this work in other passages?
    For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s (anthropos) gospel, For I did not receive it from any man (anthropos), nor was I taught it, Gal. 1:11-12

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

    When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men (anthropos)." ... he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers Eph. 4:8
In each of these passages, the Greek word is anthropos and could very well apply equally to women as well as men, just as 1 Tim. 2:1 also applies to women. There is no 'clear contrast between “God” on the one hand and “man” on the other hand' and one is at loss as to whether to interpret these verses as applying to "men" or to the human race.

There are ministries and websites that use these verses and limit teaching ministry to men. It is hard to say what role these verses play. However, New Frontiers is known for saying "We are working with teams of gifted men."

This further example shows once again how little one can say that the ESV is "transparent to the Greek."
    For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man (anthropos), but men (anthropos) spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21

    he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man (aner), but of God. John 1:12-13.
And so, over and over again, in verses where teaching or prophecy or gifts of the Spirit are mentioned, the word which normally means "human being" is translated as "man." This will make little difference to a man, since he is both "man" and "human" but how about women, are they only human when the text is translated "people" or do all occurrences of "man" refer to women also? Either, one must use an interlinear or one must guess, or just take someone else's word for it.

I cannot recommend the ESV to a woman.

Note: I acknowledge that I have not included a discussion of the footnotes in this post. In some cases, the footnotes ameliorate the situation, but not consistently.


Iyov said...

I would have trouble seeing how a non-fluent speaker of English could successfully use the ESV.

tcrob said...

Sue, as you know, I've taken issue with all the renderings you cited above.

As for the archaic "in his bosom," what is it about this that you take issue with?

Matthew Celestine said...

The ESV seems to be the preferred translation of some of those dogmatic Calvinist people.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I don't take issue with "in his bosom" - I take issue with "at his side." Thanks for your support.


Even this non fluent reader of Chinese can make out the words for man and woman in Chinese. Still, I hope no one will really use the ESV for learning English.


Good to see you. How is your job situation working out?

tcrob said...

Sue, I missed what you were saying, but I looked at it again. I got you. Is the issue then with the personal pronoun "his"?

If it is, then it's legit.

Sue said...

No, the issue is that "side" is less intimate and demonstrates the unity of the son with the father in a less concrete way than the Greek kolpos. It takes Christ down a peg.

The other three translations are all better. Don't you think?

Matthew Celestine said...

Thanks for asking, Suzanne.

I had an interview today that was not brilliant. The one yesterday was a little better. I am still waiting to hear back about the one last week which went very well.

God Bless


Suzanne McCarthy said...

You seem to me to be a very empathetic person. I wish you well.

tcrob said...

No, the issue is that "side" is less intimate and demonstrates the unity of the son with the father in a less concrete way than the Greek kolpos. It takes Christ down a peg.

Forgive me for being so slow (smile). Yes, I quite agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I looked up many translations from 2 Tim 2:2, and most have the men, not man translation. A few exceptions, but not many.

Anonymous said...

and I get more and more frustrated!!!

Anonymous said...

Sue, I noticed that to about John 1:18. It seems weaker in the ESV and in my opinion, the Holman too. In the end, I doubt this really matters to the translation teams since they accomplished what they really wanted to with both of these translations.

Don said...

Both the ESV and HCSB are admitted masculinist translations, altho they do not use that word in their translation statement. It is important to know the translation bias and they freely admit theirs. Whenever there is a translation choice, one can mostly assume they will choose the one that most conforms to their masculinist understanding.

P.S. The KJC added "office of" to bishop/overseer when it is not warranted, as the Church of England paid for it, which had offices of bishops. The Puritans did not accept the KJV.

Anonymous said...

Such an awesome discussion!


If you had to be stuck in solitary confinement for one month and they allowed you to have only one form of luxury: you get to have 1 copy of the Bible in English with you, which would you choose?

(Include translation and edition - e.g. Life Application, Scofield, Zondervan Study Bible, Thompson Chain, Plain Text, etc.)