The ESV’s Great Reversal


We’ve heard of the outcomes of many sporting events being reversed (I’m thinking most recently of the LSU-Auburn football game). But a great reversal took place today in the Bible-theological world.

Crossway has admitted it was a mistake to announce that the ESV “will remain unchanged in all future editions printed,” and, therefore, become the ESV Permanent Text. See the article at Christianity Today.

I posted about this decision just a couple of weeks ago.

Crossway stated:

“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake,” stated Crossway president and CEO Lane Dennis in an announcement released today. “We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”

It might not seem like much, but in my article I noted a major problem with the original decision. Translation is an ever-unfolding reality. I believe this is all part of the larger picture of semper reformanda, or continually being reformed. This includes forming the best translation of a biblical text – in whatever language we translate into. This is the reality of language. Language becomes outdated, we learn more, uncover better understanding, etc, as we study more.

Another major problem, at least from my angle, is that the ESV is being very much driven by a reformed, complementarian agenda. This is very clear in the recent adjustments to verses like Genesis 3:16. Therefore, to “lock” this translation into place would be problematic. My hope is that people begin to see the problems with some of the recent updates.

Listen, I use the ESV as a version that looks for a word-for-word translation. I also use a thought-for-thought translation, such as the NIV (this is my usual translation that I teach from). I don’t see myself stopping any use of the ESV. But the original decision was problematic within the realm of biblical translation studies.

I think it was a good reversal by ESV. Perhaps Christians can learn that this is an ok practice, even in a business-like setting.

Still, as Scot McKnight says, Now change “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16 back to where you had it.


3 thoughts on “The ESV’s Great Reversal

  1. Hi Scott – interesting to read your perspective on the ESV translation publishers about-turn. My impression is that there is an increasing tendency for theological agendas to influence the choices of phrasing that the translators make when rendering key passages of scripture – particularly those concerned with gender / sexuality issues.

    Just as you point out a Complementarian agenda for the ESV translators – so too one could point out an Egalitarian agenda for the recent 2011 NIV revision.

    Whatever the truth of the matter, allegations of these trends are disturbing, because they attack ones sense of trust in the theological impartiality of “recognised” Bible translations – i.e. those carried out by multiple scholars and / or cross-denominational translation committee’s.

    The suspicion arises that the choice of renderings in modern translations are increasingly not driven solely by scholarship that seeks only to concern itself with its understanding of the ancient languages.

    Sadly, even if Scott McKnight is justified in his remark, his comment sounds like someone more concerned with his own agenda than with an honest, balanced scholarly opinion about how Gen 3:16 should be rendered.

    • Jonathan –

      Thanks for commenting. You are right to recognize probable egalitarian measures in the NIV2011 – though on the “main” passages they don’t seem to be pushing an agenda as far as I can tell. It’s more of neutralizing the generic words/phrases rather than their typical masculine orientation (“brothers” becoming “brothers and sisters” or “man” becoming “one” – i.e. Ps 1:1). But I’m aware complementarians have been arguing the unfair treatment the NIV2011 has done to the text.

      I think McKnight is fair in recognizing the immense problems of the original decision about the ESV and the adjustment of the text in Gen 3:16 well into a complementarian reading. I believe both were problematic.

  2. Pingback: Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #12 God Himself masters His Own Word | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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