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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ben Witherington apologizes for ESV comments

Justin Taylor, who works for Crossway, which publishes the ESV, has just posted a statement of apology from Ben Witherington on his (Justin's) blog Between Two Worlds. Ben's apology, which first appears in the comments to his own blog post The Problem With the ESV, reads in part:
I would therefore like to apologize for airing what was not the whole story or full truth about the ESV. Different persons had different reasons for wanting this translation to happen. This is clear to me now. There are still problems with this translation, as with all such translations, but they should be assessed on their own merits on a case by case basis.


The lesson I have learned from this is that assessing the motives of a team translation is not only difficult, it is often not really possible when there are many motives and reasons for such a thing.
I admire Ben for this apology. He has, in my opinion, now placed the focus where it should be for any Bible version, on its own merits, not on what one perceives to be the motives of its translators. Far too much harm has been done among Bible users from imprudent comments made about the perceived motives of translators of a number of Bible versions. Such comments cannot be verified and that is why we ask that they not appear on this blog. We who blog here make our own mistakes and we have invited you, our readers, to hold us accountable for them. Some of you have done that and even though it is never easy to hear such comments, we thank you for them. Iron does sharpen iron, as we noted in our preceding post.

I personally don't know if we will ever fully know exactly how the ESV originated, the timeline of who did what when, and the precise relationship of the ESV to the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG) which were created in 1997 (the ESV was published in 2001) by several on the ESV team, including Vern Poythress, Wayne Grudem, and R. C. Sproul. Besides the statements linked to in the preceding sentence, we also have a public record of statements from some of the ESV team's most public figures, and there are public statements that two recent versions follow the CSG, the HCSB and the ESV. I have found it difficult to reconcile some statements about the ESV with the recent official statement on the ESV blog, such as this:
The ESV developed from this perceived need, not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines.
I don't know what the difference, if any, there is between translating according to the CSG and that the ESV was not developed "to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines." But it is not my responsibility to try to reconcile all the statements about the ESV or the CSG made by those associated with them. If there are discrepancies, it is an issue for the ESV team to address--and I hope they do--not us on this blog. If there is more to the facts than what has been presented on the ESV Bible blog, they may come out someday. If there is no more than what is in the official statement, then that must be the end of this chapter of the story. We have enough to do on this blog to post on the thousands of more objective Bible translation details which can appropriately and constructively be addressed as best as we can.

Let us all try to move forward from here, evaluating Bible versions on their own merits, not resorting to broad subjective evaluations which cannot be substantiated empirically. Let us not demonize any Bible versions or their translators. There is good in each translation and there are weak points in each. Let us work to become better critics, in the positive sense of thinking critically, and let us use these critical thinking skills to help each other understand better the myriad of facets which make up adequate Bible translation. Critique can be destructive or constructive. Let us each resolve to contribute constructively toward better understanding of Bible translation principles and, where possible, revision of Bible versions so that we can have even better Bibles than we already do.

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At Thu Feb 23, 11:34:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne, Thanks.

Even if the ESV was started with a significant anti-TNIV thrust in that start, I think it was/is done with the belief that it is a good way, the best way to translate. As an alternative to the NIV and to become the evangelical Bible.

We do need to think the best of our brothers and sisters in Jesus.

I'm also glad to hear of the apologies from some of those translators of the ESV who did not really understand the TNIV.

At Fri Feb 24, 12:14:00 AM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

The text of Ben's apology is in the comments section of his original post (at the moment there is a corpus of 72 comments to this post...)

At Fri Feb 24, 12:55:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

I'd like to state here that I really hold little opposition to the ESV itself. In essence, it isn't even a translation. It's just a revision of the RSV (a translation that I've always appreciated) -- and a minor revision at that.

And even though the RSV contains masculine oriented language, I can still appreciate it. Those faults are a result of the fact that it was a product of it's time. It's innocent of promoting any conscious agenda about that subject.

The ESV, however, can not hide behind such an excuse. The motives behind it's publication are quite different. Despite the fact that it is roughly the same text as the RSV, it is in some sense a different translation simply because of it's goals. It's all very funny really (how something that amounts to an identical translation as the RSV can in some way be a distinctly different translation, simply because of the way it is promoted and advertised).

That being said, I wouldn't call into question the motives of any specific translator -- I just question it's publishers and promotors (all of whom are very public and vocal -- this is not a matter of my own guesswork or suspicion).


As for the HCSB, I think it could be one the best English translations around right now.....

IF it weren't for it's adherence to the Colorado Guidelines (An adherence that is expressly stated in it's own Preface -- Something the ESV publishers didn't even do). This support for the CSG really pains me in the HCSB's case -- Simply because I love so many other aspects about it.

At Fri Feb 24, 02:05:00 AM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

I don't know what the difference, if any, there is between translating according to the CSG and that the ESV was not developed "to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines."

Maybe I can help you on that one, Wayne. Consider the following 2 scenarios. A group wishes to produce a new translation of the Bible for reasons x,y and z. What guidelines will they follow? They know of some (say the CSG) which suit them so away they go. What drove the translation? Reasons x,y and z.

Second scenario: Guidelines have been drawn up which some people like and agree with (say the CSG) - what they want now is a Bible that reflects them. So they get translating. What drives that work? The desire to have a Bible based on certain guidelines.

Hope that helps.


At Fri Feb 24, 04:42:00 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

Witherington's apology can be found in the comments to his original blogpost.

At Fri Feb 24, 08:45:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Since I have been told personally that certain translation pracitces were used in order to demonstrate that God was speaking to men and not women at certain points in the Bible, I must continue to interact with that. I hope people will see the difference between what might be called an "unknown and surmised motive" and an "expresssed intent". I intend only to comment on "expressed intent".

At Fri Feb 24, 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Ruud and Stephen, thank you for telling where Ben's apology first appeared. I have tweaked my post to include that information.

At Fri Feb 24, 10:51:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dickie, yes, the scenarios you lay out do make logical sense.

At Fri Feb 24, 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Straylight, he ESV is not a minor revision of the RSV. It's a thorough revision based on contemporary text criticism, philological study, interpretive matters, and virtually anything else that's come up in the biblical studies realm since the RSV. They adopt readings that are becoming much more popular among scholars but that translations in the past did not tend to use. Only some of the theological issues involve what evangelicals at the time of the RSV thought wrong (i.e. the virgin birth and expiation). Many of them are just developments in the understanding of the biblical text and its meaning. I've heard that the RSV copyright holders feel as if their agreement with the ESV people was violated because the ESV is such a thorough revision, when they had only been given permission to do a minor revision.

I think what people criticizing the Wayne Grudem need to do is call it by name and speak only of the particular people they know of with that agenda rather than pretending the ESV itself has such an agenda. When translators had a particular justification for a particular translation, people can talk about that justification in the minds of those particular translators. But speaking of the ESV agenda as anything like Grudem's view seems to me to be as bad as speaking of the TNIV agenda as radical feminism.

At Fri Feb 24, 03:03:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri Feb 24, 03:13:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri Feb 24, 03:16:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Jeremy, I'm just saying that it is closer to the RSV than it is not. A preacher could read from the ESV, and someone sitting in the pews could be following the RSV with barely any problems. Generally speaking, they're going to resemble each other and seem like the same translation. The RSV was chosen as a base text precisely because the ESV translators liked it's overall approach. Else, they would never have bothered with it in the first place. Instead, they would have embarked on a bigger project like the HCSB or NIV translators did.

I think what people criticizing the Wayne Grudem need to do is call it by name and speak only of the particular people they know of with that agenda rather than pretending the ESV itself has such an agenda.

I can understand your concern here. Believe me. And while I don't think the entire project and of the ESV and those who worked on it have an agenda, it doesn't take much thought to realize that Grudem, or those as vocal as him, are alone in their opinions or goals. There's more to this than just a vocal few. If he was really acting on his own, then he would have been admonished by the majority of conservatives by now.

I admire those who have, in fact, emerged and distanced themselves from positions like his, but I don't see anything indicating that they are the majority. If they were, then why do people like Grudem, and not them, get the opportunities to promote their thoughts on just about every major Evangelical outlet (radio, television, print, etc.)? Why have the HCSB and ESV sales climbed in the Christian bookstore market, while the TNIV has barely made a dent? And most of all, why do I have to find out about the "good guys" only through some obscure blog on the Internet?

At Fri Feb 24, 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am not sure how to respond to this. I do know specifically what Dr. Packer teaches about women. He specifically attempted at one point in time to reverse the position of churches who did ordain women.

He wrote an article called "Let's stop making women presbyters." Quite frankly I find him honest but he waffled on the translation. He knew he couldn't defend any one interpretation to me. He said first one thing and then the other. That is because he is honest.

He was looking me in the face. However, he was the general editor and he has an explicit position on this matter. And he had a choice about how to translate anthropos I don't think I am being hard on him. I am trying to interact honestly.

The fact is that it is one thing to write a paper about how women should not do this and that. But it is another thing to look a woman in the face and say that she should not do something that she is capable of doing. Something that is in itself an honourable and desirable thing for a person to do.

At Sat Feb 25, 07:32:00 AM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

It seems that Ben has deleted this whole post and all it's comments...


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