Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reminders about the ESV

Since a discussion about gender language in Bible translations has cropped up here and here, let me provide a reminder of why the ESV is not a good Bible translation with regard to gender.

Here is a passage from the preface to the ESV,
    In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, “anyone” replaces “any man” where there is no word corresponding to “man” in the original languages, and “people” rather than “men” is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the 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).
In Greek there is one word for man, as a male, aner; and another word, anthropos, for a "human." Since in English we don't use the word "human" in normal discourse, when this word occurs for a single male, we translate it as "man." However, when this word occurs in the plural, we translate it as "people." So, in translating Greek, the plural of aner is translated as "men" and the plural of anthropos is translated as "people."

Let's look at these verses in the ESV,
    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. 2 Tim. 2:2

    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.” Eph. 4:8

    And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men. Mark 1:17

    And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God Luke 12:8

    In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

    Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:18

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

    For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebreww 5:1

    For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21
According to the preface of the ESV, these verses should have been translated using the word "people" in order to be literal, gender accurate and transparent to the Greek.

If the ESV used "men" instead of "people" in order to be traditional and to preserve euphony, then the translators had better say so. They would need to admit that the translation is not all that literal, not literal at all when it comes to gender, but traditional, conservative, and preserving the rhythm of the KJV.

What is so wrong with admitting this? Why do the translators claim for their translation something that is simply not true? It's a tissue of nonsense, a tangled web of half truths.


Qohelet said...

Maybe because they ar etrying to claim that the traditional rendering is the "literal" reading in the original. Their misogynistic worldview forces them to read back into the text their own theology. It is the context in which the text can speak to them. Maybe they really can't help it.

Or maybe they really are really aware of what they're doing and are perpetuating lies protect the status quo in conservative christianity.

Bill Heroman said...

The wheels of history grind very slowly, and out own blind spots fade very slowly as well.

Those are excellent examples, Sue. I'd love to see what the ESV committee does in their first revision (or has that happened already?). Will they change the preface, or will they change the renderings? (In case I have to say it, I hope for the later.)

Fantastic catches. Good work. Thanks.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

My interaction with ESV personnel, limited as it is, suggests that they fully stand by these translations, and will not change most of them. Let's see.

Donald Johnson said...

I think they have already tweaked some verses in a revision.

The ESV translators have 2 stated goals, translate in a masculinist way and translate word for word. And they show by your exameple which is the priority, namely being masculinist.

It is a useful translation EXCEPT when it comes to gender, then it is suspect.

Also, as an egal, I can use it as a type of negative oracle. I can see their translation choices in the gender area and wonder if I would do it differently and also get to see how they handle "weak areas" (from their non-egal point of view) of some verses and what choices they make.

Kevin Sam said...

In the same section of preface you quoted from, they continue saying in the next paragraph that leaves the translators room to continue with the use of "he":

"The inclusive use of the generic “he” has also regularly been retained, because this is consistent with similar usage in the original languages and because an essentially literal translation would be impossible without it. Similarly, where God and man are compared or contrasted in the original, the ESV retains the generic use of “man” as the clearest way to express the contrast within the framework of essentially literal translation."

There is an element of some honesty here, but was perhaps stated to allow for some intentionally inconsistencies.

J. K. Gayle said...

In Greek there is one word for man, as a male, aner; and another word, anthropos, for a "human." Since in English we don't use the word "human" in normal discourse, when this word occurs for a single male, we translate it as "man." However, when this word occurs in the plural, we translate it as "people." So, in translating Greek, the plural of aner is translated as "men" and the plural of anthropos is translated as "people."

If the ESV male-only translation team were to try to tackle the 1st century novel, Callirhoe, by Chariton, I wonder their public statement and their translation practice would hold. In that work, as in much earlier Greek literature, anthropos is different from theos (that is, humankind is different from god) and aner / andros is different from gune / gunaikos (that is, husband / man is different from woman / wife). Women and wives are included in the class of anthropos. The novelist has one male character exclaiming to other male characters about the female protagonist, who they have captured and are holding to sell:

"ὁ μὲν γὰρ χρυσὸς οὐκ ἔχει φωνήν, οὐδὲ ὁ ἄργυρος ἐρεῖ πόθεν αὐτὸν εἰλήφαμεν. ἔξεστιν ἐπὶ τούτοις πλάσασθαί τι διήγημα. φορτίον δὲ ἔχον ὀφθαλμούς τε καὶ ὦτα καὶ γλῶσσαν τίς ἂν ἀποκρύψαι δύναιτο; καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲ ἀνθρώπινον τὸ κάλλος, ἵνα λάθωμεν. ὅτι ‘δούλην’ ἐροῦμεν; τίς αὐτὴν ἰδὼν τούτῳ πιστεύσει; φονεύσωμεν οὖν αὐτὴν ἐνθάδε, καὶ μὴ περιάγωμεν καθ’ αὑτῶν τὸν κατήγορον"

An English translation from 1764 puts that this way:

"for gold is dumb, and silver could not blab the place from whence we had it. Farther: in the latter cafe, we might invent many fictions; but how would it be possible for us to conceal a cargo, furnished with eyes, ears, and a tongue? Moreover, as Callirrhoe's charms are more than human; did we say that she is a slave, we should certainly be treated as impostors; for what person who beheld her, could believe that she had ever been in such an abject state? — Let us then kill her upon the spot; and not carry our accuser up and down with us."

The most recently published translation goes like this:

"Gold has no voice and silver will not tell where we got it. We can make up some yarn about them. But who can conceal property which has eyes, ears, and a tongue? And besides, hers is no mere human beauty for us to get away with it. Shall we say that she is a slave? Who will believe that, one he sees her? So let us kill her here and not be encumbered with our own prosecutor."

Notice how the male author, the male translators, and the male character speaking are all willing to include this "woman" in the class of "human," although they don't even value her as much as they might a slave. There's no theological necessity created by the translators to keep a woman excluded from ἀνθρώπινον τὸ κάλλος.

J. K. Gayle said...

Here's a bit more from the same novel, in close context with the bit in the comment above. It's again to illustrate that "In Greek [even as late as the first century] there is one word for man, as a male, aner; and another word, anthropos, for a 'human'":

"and restore Callinhoe to her husband ["aner"], and to her father. -- Consider that, in doing this, we shall act justly with regard to men ["anthropos"], and piously with respect to the gods ["theos"]." translated in 1764AD

"and give Callinhoe back to her husband ["aner"] and father. – At the same time we shall be acting justly in men’s ["anthropos"] eyes and piously in the gods’ ["theos"]." translated in 1995AD

ἀποδοῦναι δὲ τὴν Καλλιρόην ἀνδρὶ ["man who's husband"] καὶ πατρί, -- ἅμα δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπους ["people who are humans"] δίκαια καὶ πρὸς θεοὺς ["gods who are not mortals, as humans are"] ὅσια ταῦτα ποιήσομεν written around 50AD