On dissing (or not) the ESV

(My reply to a friend’s comment pointing out that the English Standard Version of the Bible was conceived as a complementarian blast in our culture wars, as can be seen by its manipulation of several gender-related passages.)

The ESV “translators” fiddle with more than a few gender-related passages. They know more than the Bible and fix its mistakes to save you from heresy. For one example, see https://verbasparsa.org/2020/07/08/315/.

I put “translators” in irony quotes because it seems to me that essentially they just took the RSV and changed both some places where more recent textual and exegetical scholarship indicated a different rendering and places where they wanted to fix the doctrine (gender-related or otherwise). They aren’t translators so much as ideologically motivated redactors. And I’m sure some of them are good people.

But two moderating observations: (1) I have in many places been startled to find that the language in the ESV is more inclusive than in earlier members of the KJV family tree (other than the NRSV, of course). (2) I have not seen a statistical analysis of verbal agreement of ESV with RSV, but I bet it would be high. The ESV seems to me to be essentially RSV with both improvements and corruptions sprinkled around here and there.

So mostly when you are reading the ESV you are reading the Bible. You should never lean heavily on any one translation. For any passage you are focusing on, read multiple versions, and look carefully into the differences between them. (I’m assuming that most people can’t read the original Hebrew and Greek, even if they had some classes in those languages, which most people never do.)

In short, the history is despicable, as _______ points out, and there are tendentious corruptions here and there, as others have pointed out. But it’s mostly RSV, and I’m not throwing mine out (a lovely Morocco leather CUP Pitt-Minion is my most-used English Bible because I love the design, the reference system, and especially the physical “package” so well) and you don’t need to throw yours out either.

Finally, regardless of all fiddling with the translation (by “them” to push the meaning deeper into patriarchy, or by “us” to push it toward egalitarianism and inclusiveness) the Bible is saturated in patriarchy and hierarchy, though it also contains prompts for the dismantling of those cultural institutions. The solution lies not in pretending that the Bible says in every place what we want it to say, and therefore does not lie in fiddling with the translation. The path to resolution runs through intelligent, Spirit-led hermeneutics and theology, including theology of scripture.

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