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Friday, December 30, 2005

Is this an anti-ESV blog?

It is not too difficult for visitors to this blog to notice that we often point out problems with the ESV translation. Why do we do so? I hope that my reply to Rich Mansfield, a frequent visitor and good commenter on this blog, will help answer that question, as well as the broader question some might ask: "Is this an anti-ESV blog?"

Rich just commented, in part:

All that to say that I'm surprised that you give so much negative attention to the ESV, especially when the KJV, NKJV, and he NASB (all within the Tyndale/KJV tradition that you mentioned) far outsell the ESV.

And I replied:
Thank you for your comment, Rich. I hear you. We have addressed this issue in the past on this blog and I have tried to be even more balanced after receiving feedback like yours. I do not enjoy criticizing any Bible version. I would rather overlook weaknesses of any Bible version and focus on the good that has come through every Bible version. But the unique purpose of this blog is to come up with ideas for improving English Bibles. In the last few years the ESV has been held up by some prominent pastors and by its proponents as the "answer" in the Bible translation debates over translation philosophy and inclusive language. Much misinformation about Bible translation has been propagated by well-intentioned, devout godly men such as Dr. Grudem and others. When there is misinformation, it is necessary for someone to try to correct it.

This is not an anti-ESV blog. But this is a blog where wrong claims about the ESV and wrong claims made by its translators about the ESV and against other Bible versions must be seriously examined for their truthfulness.

We do the same for any other Bible version. But other Bible versions are not in the spotlight right now, other than the TNIV and we address TNIV issues fairly frequently on this blog, as well.

Our desire on this blog, as I have stated before, is that we speak the truth lovingly (or, "in love" if you prefer the Greek-oriented way of saying it). I am serious when I include love here as well as truth. I try very hard not to say anything unloving about the ESV team or about claims made by its members attacking other English versions. If you find me saying anything in an unloving way, I request that you point it out, please.

So, the ESV is in focus much of the time on this blog because the ESV is in focus on other blogs and on the conservative church scene due to the focus placed on the issues by Dr. Grudem and those who make similar claims that he does. Dr. Grudem gets widespread national attention through his frequent radio interviews, published books, and support from some prominent Christian pastors. This little blog cannot compete with all that publicity. But we can do our part to try to help people examine the issues and correct misinformation where possible.

None of the other versions you mentioned, which are in the Tyndale-KJV tradition, currently have as high a publicity profile as the ESV. So it makes sense that this blog would give more time to addressing issues about a version which is currently prominent than for versions which are not as much in the spotlight.

If you will do searches on this blog, using the search tool in the upper left of the blog page, and if you will examine critiques of each English Bible version featured on this blog (the links to each of them are in the right margin), you will find that we do address translation issues in each English version.

There is no English version which is perfect. Each English version, however, has and will continue to be used of God to help people. And each version can be made better. Ideas for making them better is what this blog is about.

I would encourage you to chart the topics which have been on this blog to note that we often do not post about the ESV. But when there is misinformation about the ESV or any other version, it is, we believe, important to point it out, truthfully and lovingly.

Please do feel free to follow up if you can help us find better ways of carrying out the mission of this blog.

I think your comment and my response are important enough that they deserve to have a higher profile on this blog, so I will turn them into a post, as well as leaving my comments here in the comment section.

Happy New Year, Rich, and, again, thank you for sharing from your heart about this issue of concern to you.

And for all visitors to this blog, we invite you to share your concerns about blog posts as Rich has done. If you sense that we contributors have posted in ways that distort the truth, or are unloving, or unspiritual, or out of balance, please point them out. The purpose of this blog is not to "win" some Bible translation "war". This blog exists so that we might have better Bibles, not so that we might destructively criticize any Bibles. We blog contributors are part of the Christian community, the body of Christ, so we ask you to help us stay on track, each of us doing our part to help people hear the message of the Bible as accurately and clearly as possible.

Is this an anti-ESV blog? We hope not. We don't want it to be. We try not to have an undue focus on any one Bible version. But we are not the best judge of how our own intentions impact others. So you all help us, OK? Keep track of what we post about on this blog. Examine the topics. Examine the comments for each Bible version. And then you can answer for yourself if we are an anti-ESV blog or not.

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At Fri Dec 30, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Bravo, Wayne. This is a good response to Rich's concern and also a nice balance to your previous post which was the most overt criticism of ESV that I had seen to this point.

Debate is energizing and fun but over time it can distance us from one another instead of bringing us together. That is the unfortunate result of the ESV/TNIV threads to this point.

Thank you for putting emphasis on "lovingly" speaking the truth.

May we be one, as he is one.

At Mon Jan 02, 12:04:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Wayne, I very much appreciate your thoughtful, well-stated response to my comment. Sorry to take so long acknowledging it, but I've been preoccupied the last few days.

I, too, want the scriptures to be communicated in a manner in which they can be understood--by all people. To me, it's no coincidence that they were written (the NT anyway) in koine Greek, so as to reach the widest audience in that day.

And as you know--far better than me--it's the translation of the scriptures into a culture that's rapidly changing that makes things so difficult. As refreshing as the NASB was to me in 1980, I realize that it is not the translation that is going to speak to the largest number of people today. But back in 1980, all I had before it was the KJV, so at THAT time, I felt like I finally had a translation that spoke my language. But boy, how times have changed!

I was an English major in my undergraduate degree in which I studied not just literature, but also writing and grammar. No one prizes good communication better than I do.

But, I'll admit to you, brother, that I still wrestle with this issue of the Bible and how it should be translated. On one hand, my experience teaching Bible to high school students at a private school for five years resolved the issue of inclusive language for me. This current generation of teenagers does not understand that masculine universals such as "mankind" are supposed to be representative of all "humankind." I had a number of students, usually girls, tell me they always thought the generic use of men meant only males. To me that's dangerous.

But at the same time, I don't want it either/or. Even beyond the gender issue, I still think there's room for very literal translations like the NASB and the ESV--especially for study--that use a more formal equivalent method of translation. Yes, Hebrew idioms are different from the ones in our culture, but when I'm studying myself, especially if I'm preparing to teach, I want to have something very literal next to me. I say that even after studying Greek and Hebrew for a number of years. I've never become competent enough to put the translations away. And it's not uncommon for me to have the Greek NT, the NASB, the NIV, and the NLT spread out on my desk while I am studying.

I feel similarly when I am reading an ancient text in something like the Loeb Classical Library. I want the translation I am studying to be as literal as possible, in spite of having the original language text on the facing page. If I don't understand a phrase or idiom, usually I can look it up. However, if I am reading that passage to a class, I may opt to use a much less wooden translation.

All that to say, yes, I want there to be Bibles that communicate as clearly as possible to our culture. And this will usually mean a less-literal translation. But I still think there's a place for the very literal translations, too.

Give a newcomer a TNIV or NLT Bible, but at some point, give him or her a NASB or ESV, too. Am I being unreasonable to see the need and value of both methods of translation?

At Mon Jan 02, 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich said:

Give a newcomer a TNIV or NLT Bible, but at some point, give him or her a NASB or ESV, too. Am I being unreasonable to see the need and value of both methods of translation?

Not at all, Rich. We have been trying to say the same thing on this blog. Perhaps you haven't seen some of those posts, and that's OK. We don't mind repeating things.

I remember finding the NASB so refreshing when it first came out. I was in Bible school (1967-1970) and our professors wanted us to use literal translations. The English of the NASB spoke to me better than the KJV and the ASV (of which the NASB is a revision), which we have previously been using in some of our Bible school classes.


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