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Monday, June 06, 2005

ESV not ready (yet) for children

On June 3 the ESV Bible blog announced that their ESV Children's Bible edition will be released in August of this year.

From my viewpoint, I'm hoping that revisions from the recently concluded ESV TOC meetings can still make it into the children's Bible, since there are many, many wordings in the ESV which are not adequate for children. There is a lot more revision and copyediting needed in the ESV before it will have, throughout, vocabulary and syntax suitable for adults, let alone children. I am not suggesting there be a special children's edition of the ESV, such as the NIrV is for the NIV. I am only speaking about the regular text of the ESV, which has many wording problems. Following are some of the kinds of problems that make the ESV, in its current state, a difficult version for children.

In 2003 Michael A. Lyons and William A. Tooman noted in their review of the ESV in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), page 504:
The RSV's penchant for placing the negative after the verb (“Prophesy not to us,” Isa30:10; “Fear not,” Gen 35:17) was changed in some places [in the ESV] (“Do not prophesyto us”; “Do not fear”), but not in others (“Be not wise in your own eyes,” Prov3:7; “deny them not to me,” Prov 30:7).
When I first started studying the ESV I was struck by the use of the obsolescent word order for negative sentences. Later I found the JETS review and felt affirmed in my observations. I have been collecting many other instances of the obsolescent negative word order retained in the ESV. I find this usage in the ESV puzzling because this old word order was already changing by the time the KJV was published in 1611, and the change to the current word order with do-support (use of the word "do") followed by "not" before a negated verb was essentially complete by 1750 A.D. with occasional exceptions found in literature since then.

The NASB, which many have stated is too wooden in its wordings does not use these obsolete wordings for negative sentences. Neither does the NRSV, a revision of the RSV, as is the ESV. It seems strange to me that an English Bible published in the 21st century would use syntax which was already being lost when the KJV itself was published in 1611 A.D. and which was, essentially, replaced by the "do not" negative word order pattern more than 300 years ago. I suspect that the ESV team, for reasons of its own, simply did not take the necessary time to update all the obsolete word orders to the syntax which has been in use by all good English speakers and writers for the last 300+ years.

Lyons and Tooman also noted in their review:
Another way in which the ESV attempted to revise the RSV was by replacing archaisms. Like other modern versions, ESV replaced the archaic endings(-eth, -est) and second-person pronouns (thy, thee, thine) that were used when addressing or speaking about God. The RSV’s “firmament” (Gen 1:6, etc.) became “expanse.” The ESV’s “villagers” in Judg 5:7 is an improvement on the RSV’s (and NRSV’s) “peasantry.” The RSV’s “handmaid” (e.g. 1 Sam 25:24) is rendered by the ESV as “servant,” and the RSV’s “seed” (Gen 3:15) is rendered as “offspring.” “Vainglory” became “pride” (Ezek 7:20); “smote” became “struck”(Exod 12:29); and “ass” became “donkey” (Gen 16:12; 1 Sam 9:3). Some badly needed updates are not made (“Vanity of vanities” in Ecclesiastes is retained), and others are made inconsistently. The word “bosom” is usually replaced with other constructions (e.g. Exod 4:6; Deut 13:6; Ruth 4:16;1 Kgs 1:2), but is retained in Num 11:12. The archaic “begot” and “begotten” is usually changed to “fathered” (e.g. 1 Chr 14:3), but not always, as in Ps 2:7.The RSV’s “countenance” is changed to “face” in Ps 44:3, but is retained in Num 6:26. “Washer” is used in Isa 7:3, but the archaic “fuller” in Mal 3:2. “Whip” is used in Isa 28:15, but “scourge” in 28:18. We find “piece of bread” in Prov 28:21, but “morsel of bread” in Gen 18:5, 1 Kgs 17:11, and elsewhere. The anachronistic “brass” in the RSV (e.g. Lev 26:19) has been replaced with the historically correct “bronze” in most places, but not in Isa 48:4. Deut 23:13uses the translation “excrement,” but Judg 3:22, Isa 36:12, and Ezek 4:12 use the term “dung,” which is more suitable for animals than for humans. The ESV still uses “ears of grain” in Gen 41:5ff. This is a partial correction from the RSV’s “ears of corn” (an acceptable British phrase for grain) that should be rendered as “heads of grain” in American English. The ESV NT translators recognized this (cf. Matt 12:1), but the change was not made in the OT. These inconsistencies might constitute an understandable failing in an older committee translation, but in an age when texts can be electronically searched and edited, they are hard to fathom.
I have noted a number of other obsolete words in the ESV which need further updating. I have been filing them in a collection of work-in-progress which those interested can download and read.

Many of the wordings in the RSV were non-standard English at the time it was published (1952)--and I suspect many were never standard English at any stage of the history of English. The ESV has retained most of the odd wordings, so, fifty years after the publication of the RSV, those phrasings are even more non-standard and difficult to process for well-read adults, let alone children.

Here are some wordings in the ESV which were retained from the RSV and which make little sense to me, a literate adult with more years of education under my belt than I would like to remember:
Is. 64:7 "you have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities" (What is a "hand of our iniquities"?)
Is. 64:12 "Will you restrain yourself at these things …" (Something is not right here for good quality English.)
Pro 25:26 "Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked." (Is the meaning "give in" intended? If so, those are the words which should be used, not "gives way".)
Luk 19:3 "And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature." (Children, as well as many adults, would understand "short" more easily than "small of stature." I know of no reason to retain the older circumlocation. Surely it does not increase accuracy, and to my mind, anyway, it does not increase literary excellence either.)
Eccl. 9:2 "As is the good, so is the sinner" (I get no meaning from this, nor will children.)
Ecc 10:14 "A fool multiplies words" (I think I know what meaning is intended, but wouldn't it be more accurate as well as clearer, to say this in standard English?)
If such wordings make little, if any sense, to adults, how much more difficult they will be for children. I hope that the ESV team can make many of the needed changes soon.

The ESV holds promise to become a version which is widely used by pastors and others who want to use a version which is accurate and which has a literary quality that they like because it sounds like the KJV, but it is, in my opinion, not yet ready for prime time. I have read comments from other reviewers that it appears the ESV was rushed to publication, with insufficient time taken for necessary meticulous revision to repair the many problem wordings. My own study of the ESV, and knowing how much tmie extensive revision and copyediting require (I have done both), leads me to the same conclusion.

I do wish the ESV team well. I have been praying for them this last week as their TOC held its revision meetings. The ESV team has a big job remaining if they want to make the ESV as effective as possible (and I assume they do). I am not suggesting any change from their translation philosophy or even the literary tone of the ESV. I am only saying that I see far too many English language wording problems in the current text which require a large amount of revision work so that the ESV can become a much more effective translation for its intended users.

So, is the ESV ready for children? I don't think so. Not even for my children who are all grown adults now and eager Bible users. Creating a children's edition of a Bible version doesn't mean that that version is ready to be used by children. Reading level tests, such as Flesch-Kincaid, indicate a reading level of something like grade 8 for the ESV, but such tests are limited in the literary parameters they test, and do not take into account obsolete words or syntax or meaningless wordings. The ESV actually has a much higher reading level that that which has been posted for it by the ESV team. I hope to blog more on the technical problems with readability tests. (In short, they are too simplistic; they are not smart enough yet to get as accurate results as we need.) As for the bigger question of how ready the ESV is for anyone, I'll leave that question for others to answer, along with data that is coming in from reviewers who notice so many strange wordings in this Bible version made by godly and sincere theologians.

Will the ESV be ready for children someday? I hope so. Until then I hope that not too many parents participate in giving their children the impression that the kind of English found in the ESV is the best form of English that God understands or helps translation teams express his Written Word in. I am thankful that God understands our prayers which are uttered in current grammatical English as well as any prayers that are said in other varieties of English. And, well, I'm also thankful that he even understands prayers that have English that comes from several hundred years ago. I'm thankful that God understands us even when we have difficulty using standard, contemporary, good quality language in Bible translations or prayer or sermons or ...



At Mon Jun 06, 04:05:00 PM, Anonymous Brian said...


Have you sent Crossway your work in progress? I wonder how receptive they would be to looking at what has been compiled already.

At Mon Jun 06, 06:19:00 PM, Blogger Wayne said...

Yes, Brian, I have sent the ESV team copies of my work in progress. I have had some email exchanges with them. I have found them to be friendly and open to input. They are willing to receive input from others and have posted their email address for that purpose.


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