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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Anthropos and the ESV

We are close to a resolution on the lexical meaning of 'anthropos' in the comment section of this post on Gerald's blog Iustificare . Essentially we all agree but have been ironing out some details.

As the next step, I decided to look at how the English Standard Version translates 'anthropos' and few more of those words which Gerald has been calling 'masculine leaning'.

The words I have chosen are 'anthropos' 'uios' 'adelphos' and 'aner'. I have taken three texts 1 Timothy 2 and Acts 7 and 9. After looking at how the words were translated in these chapters I referred to the translation philosphy of the ESV to see if their translation practice was consistent with their stated philosophy.

My assessment of this translation would not be based on which English word or words the ESV used to translate 'anthropos' and the other Greek words, or even whether the ESV was a literal translation based on the formal equivalence model. Rather I wanted to see if the ESV, as a translation, was consistent with its own guidelines. That seemed fair.

In 1 Timothy 2, the words 'anthropos' and 'aner' are translated as follows.

verse 1 - anthropos (plural) - all people
verse 4 - anthropos (plural) - all people
verse 5 - anthropos (singular) - man
verse 5 - anthropos (plural) - men
verse 8 - aner (plural) - men

In Acts 7 the words 'uios' and 'adelphos' are translated as follows.

verse 23 uios (plural) - children
verse 23 adelphos (plural) brothers (note that the referent here is the same as for the previous word)
verse 29 uios (plural) - sons
verse 56 uios (singular) - son

In Acts 9

verse 15 uios (plural) children
verse 20 uios (singular) son

In each of these cases the translators of the ESV made a decision about how to interpret and represent a Greek word in English. Many of these translations I agree with, a few I don't, but that is not relevant.

I understood that the ESV was supposed to be a 'literal' or word for word translation, on the formal equivalence principle. Unfortunately the very phrase 'formal equivalence' calls to my mind this verse.

1 Tim. 3:5 (KJV) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

However, I am not so much interested, at the moment, in whether formal equivalence is a valid translation principle, as in whether the ESV follows its own expressed philosphy. This is a quote from the translation philosphy found on the ESV website.

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original...

One can only conclude that the ESV, in translating the words selected above within the chapters cited here, have not followed their own guidelines. Further research indicates that they have not necessarily remained consistent with the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version in translating these words.

In examining the ESV article on the so-called 'inaccuracies' of the TNIV I find this definition of an inaccuracy. man (anthropos, singular) changed to human being/human/mere mortal when referring to a specific historical man (6) Should the translator also change the word 'carpenter' or 'lawyer' to 'man' when referring to a specific historical man?

The very real problem here is that if people believe that the ESV site is truthful, they will, in fact, asume that the TNIV is removing the word 'man' and 'son' from the translation, when this is not the case. The ESV itself translates 'anthropoi' as 'people' rather than 'men', and 'huioi' as 'children' rather than 'sons', when it deems appropriate. And that is exactly what the TNIV does.

If congregations are looking for a translation for a pulpit reading over this Christmas which maintains the use of traditional language, they are, in my view, better off reading from the KJV or NKJV. Thanks to Ben Witherington for saying this here.

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At Wed Dec 14, 07:55:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I was pretty shocked at Witherington's post. I wonder how you can link to it favorably given Wayne's recent post against the kind of behavior that Witherington engages in on that post. It's basically Grudem-style politicizing of a legitimate debate in translation philosophy. It strikes me as just as bad as what Grudem does against the TNIV but against the ESV instead. Witherington is usually responsible.

At Wed Dec 14, 08:59:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy, it is, as you say, just as important for each side in this debate to refrain from demonizing the other side.

Here is my entire post about Ben's:

Today New Testament scholar Ben Witherington blogs his recommendations for English Bible versions to consider as Christmas gifts. Ben includes important information about kinds of Bible translation. Ben's comments are wise and well stated.

Ben's post was much larger than just his section about the ESV. He gave important advice, overall, to help people pick Bible versions as Christmas presents.

On this blog I try to be as fair as possible, including links to sites where Grudem speaks against the TNIV and links to sites where other Bible versions are featured. I, personally, despise demonizing and divining the motives of Bible translators with whom we disagree. I appreciate Ben Witherington. I appreciate Grudem. Grudem has important things to say to us. I cannot, however, be responsible for everything which others say when I link to their comments. I want this blog to be a place where all sides can be heard and carefully considered. I want this blog to be newsworthy, notifying blog visitors when statements relevant to Bible translation issues are made.

I, personally, do not use the TNIV. But I also find much to disagree with in the campaign against it. I do not believe that anyone should take vengeance into their own hands and beat up on the ESV in retaliation for how some of its translators have been beating up on the TNIV. Instead, I believe that we should evaluate each Bible version as professionally as possible, laying out information as objectively as possible, allowing people to make their own decisions, a much as possible without emotional influence from one-sided rhetoric from any quarter.

Does this help?

Maybe I should post some disclaimer on this blog that links to other sites do not necessarily imply approval of everything which is on those sites. Would that help you?

At Wed Dec 14, 03:21:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


My teenagers came home one Sunday and told me that the TNIV was just plain wrong and had been mistranslated. They thought that the ESV was 'correct' and other translations, if they differed from the ESV, were wrong. I had to go through with them word for word some of the evidence. That is how I got interested in this current discussion. It hit me close to home.

I think there is a real lack of understanding about the translation process for our youth leaders to be so emphatic about something like that.

At Fri Dec 16, 08:16:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Suzanne, how do two wrongs make a right?

Wayne, to be fair to you, Witherington's worst comments were comments he wrote after his initial statement. In the original link from your post you may not even have seen those comments. That's not true of this post, though. Suzanne seems to be referring to the comments section, because his post itself doesn't really give his reasons, and she's pointing to his reasons with no qualification whatsoever that anything he says is wrong or over the top. As far as I can tell, Witherington's comments about the ESV on that post are equivalent to Grudem's on the TNIV. I really appreciate much of what both scholars have done, but this kind of thing is exactly what Carson calls Bible Rage in his quite balanced book on inclusive language translations.

At Fri Dec 16, 05:59:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for explaining. I was unaware of the comment section when I linked to it. I just happened to have the same reasons as Ben W. that is all. For myself, the alternating translation of 'anthropos' as sometimes 'people' and sometimes 'man' or 'men' is much more confusing in the ESV than the KJV. It is a word that recurrs frequently and this confusion grates on me as a classicist and translator even more than as a woman, when I see 'anthropos' switch back and forth.

Next, and I have said this, 'brethren' was a term I was used to and understood to be a term which stresssed social egalitarian values in a class society, with no particular male emphasis. I could probably accept 'brothers' if it was then interpreted as saying something about us as a family in Christ, rather than as a way to deliberately separate out the women. I could, in an old fashioned way, accept it as as gender inclusive, if there wasn't this new and recent theology of male representation that is attached to it. It is not so much the word but the 'male representative' theology derived from it. The CBMW people don't want it to be gender inclusive - or do they. Do they mean men represent women? Women must count themselves in, or count themselves out. It is again confusing.

If the ESV website people sat back without comment on gender inclusive Bibles, then we could chose either way and both would be understood as different styles of translation.

BTW I find the TNIV consistent with trying to be more gender inclusive. I do not find that the ESV is always consistent with being literal and word for word. That worries me because people think it is. I have been forced to defend the use of 'human' for Jesus, as if it were outright heresy.

In any case, my next post, whenever, is going to show something that I like about the ESV and compare a few more translations.

At Mon Dec 19, 05:02:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy has made a posting on this subject on his Parableman blog. There is interesting discussion there, including a couple of my own comments which explain why I consider his objections excessive.

At Mon Dec 26, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Ali said...

Hi Suzanne,

Just a comment regarding websites. I expected the link to "the ESV article" in your post to take me to but instead took me to the TNIV section of the CBMW website. Not the same. This makes me wonder if the "ESV website people" you refer to in your comment above are actually the CBMW people instead.


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