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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

ESV translators are not misogynists

Bible rage--a term used by D.A. Carson to characterize the virilent attacks upon the TNIV and its translators, questioning of their motives, calls to boycott TNIV sales, etc.--occurs when people who care about the Bible do not adequately talk to each other, or even listen to each other. One of the unbiblical, carnal aspects of Bible rage is attempting to divine the motives of those with whom we disagree. Those, including me, who have been grieved and angered by the tactics of TNIV opponents can easily give in to the temptation to fight back in kind. That, also, would be Bible rage.

It is likely that most, if not all, of the married ESV translators are loving husbands who do not lord it over their wives in an unbiblical way. Wayne Grudem, a highly visible member of the ESV translation team, and one of the most vocal critics of the TNIV, has lovingly sacrificed for his wife. And that, according to Eph. 5:23-25, is a defining characteristic of what it means for a man to be head of his wife:
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (ESV)
Dr. Grudem taught at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, for many years. He had an important tenured position on the faculty. His wife increasingly struggled with a respiratory ailment which was exacerbated by the Illinois climate. Not too long ago Dr. Grudem sacrificed his well-established position at Trinity and moved to Arizona, so that his wife could be in a better climate for her illness. He now is on the faculty of a much smaller seminary in Arizona. Dr. Grudem sacrificed an important part of his own career for the sake of his wife. That is loving, sacrificial biblical headship.

I have also listened to sermons preached by Dr. Grudem. There is no hint of misogyny in what he teaches. I get no idea that he thinks of women as second-class citizens. Egalitarians can differ with Dr. Grudem on what roles are appropriate for a woman to have in the home and church, but it would be inappropriate for anyone to accuse, a priori, Dr. Grudem or any who believe strongly in divinely ordained complementary roles for women and men, of being misogynists, wife-beaters, etc.

I have wanted to post on this for some time. It is my desire that debates of any kind be conducted in a biblical way, graciously, lovingly listening well to each other, with sincere respect for each other, even while differing on some matters. One of my passions is that biblical teachings about interpersonal relationships and speech be especially followed when it involves the Bible that is at the heart of our faith, the faith shared by people who may have some differences in theology or ideology, but are all still orthodox in their beliefs.

Let us not accuse the TNIV translators of heresy, as some have done. They are not heretics, nor is their translation heretical. The TNIV translators seek to honor God through translating as accurately as possible. And let us not accuse TNIV opponents, several of whom produced the ESV, of being heretics, or women-haters, or anything else which might easily slip off our tongues but for which we have no proof.

Above all, in any discussions, but especially when debating how best to translate God's Holy Word, let us follow the instruction of Paul:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. (TNIV)
or more idiomatically:
Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head. (GW)

UPDATE: Henry Neufeld has posted helpful comments which add nicely to mine. Henry has correctly read the spirit of my post. He goes on to point out what I perhaps should have in my post above, also, namely, that some of the translation wordings in the ESV are unfortunate and contribute to some unhealthy traditional views toward women. For instance, translation of adelphoi in Rom. 12:1 as "brothers" when almost all exegetes recognize that the word referred to both males and females, is an example where masculine words were retained which reinforce the idea of excluding women from the Bible (the ESV does footnote the meaning "brothers and sisters" but that accurate meaning should be in the text, not in a footnote). There are other examples like this in the ESV where masculine words were retained when probably most on the ESV team recognize that both women and men were referred to in the biblical text. This practice in the ESV isn't misogny, per se, but it definitely causes many females to feel excluded from versions such as the ESV where the Bible itself does not exclude them.

I stayed away from the translation deficiencies of the ESV in my post above, choosing only to address the issue of the spirit of our debates over Bible versions. I have addressed deficiencies of the ESV a number of other times in BBB posts, as well as in the ESV section of this blog and the ESV links webpage, but I can see that my post might allow readers to infer that the ESV is an acceptable translation. It is, IMO, not an acceptable translation, but I do not believe that I should question the motives of those who produced the ESV. I do believe that it is proper to question the ESV translation itself.

I have found many problem wordings in the ESV and likely will continue to do so. As an editor myself, the ESV strikes me as a translation that was rushed to publication without adequate care taken to be consistent to its own translation patterns. For instance, the ESV team only revised a few of the obsolescent inverted negatives of the RSV. From private communication I know that the ESV team was made aware before publication that the obsolete negatives should be more consistently revised, but for whatever reason they were left in the translation. With today's computerized search routines it would have taken only a few more minutes or at most, perhaps two or three hours, to have completed that revision job. Had the ESV team completed revising the negative word orders to standard English usage since 1750 A.D., the ESV would have less of a strange, out-dated sound to it.

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At Tue Feb 21, 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Amen brother.

At Tue Feb 21, 12:34:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I'm sorry, but a problem doesn't just go away with a little hand waving. What exactly is not misygonistic about the things they say again?

Besides that, whatever the motives of scholars and translators are, it's the effect that their rhetoric and ideals have on the public and on the laity that truly concerns me.

I'm not just shooting at the wind here either. I have personally witnessed firsthand some terrible things done under the guise of "biblical manhood". My anger is not directed towards strawmen and paranoid theories. I'm talking about reality. I hate what I've seen. And I feel little need in conceding to "friendly" dialogue with such people, nor do I give even a thought to the worth of their ideals.

As for Love....

My love is a love that prays that God will hold them to a scorching fire, in this lifetime -- all in the hope that may be saved in the next.

I pray that they will repent. That's the extent of my love for them. I'll reserve the rest of my love and "friendly" dialogue for other people -- like their victims.

Just because some call themselves "Christian" isn't going to make me think twice here. Some might consider that some kind of "Get Out of Jail for Free" card, but it does nothing for me. Millions of scoundrels have hidden behind that banner before. Billions even. Some of the most destructive human beings in history were "Christians". Just because someone's a "Christian" doesn't mean that they're going to get my "sincere respect" by default. I'm not going to let appeals to "friendliness" and "respect" scare me into silence and second guessing.

All that being said, I understand that, when it comes to this subject, you're only concerned with appealing to everyone's best nature. I can admire your post for that, Wayne.

What I'm trying to say, however, is: This is my best nature. I couldn't feel any better about myself right now.

Generally speaking, I'm a very doubtful and unsure young person. I'm prone to mumbling, timidity, and God knows how much I struggle with self doubt. But when I am sure of something, when my conscience is clear, then I know it is not me, but the Spirit within me quickening me and helping me transcend above any flaws. When the self-doubt is gone, then I know there's something good happening.

So essentially, what I'm trying to claim is (like it or not): My anger is God's.

You don't have to believe that, of course....But try keeping an open mind.

There's a time for "sincere respect" and "friendliness", and a time for simply laying the axe at the root of a tree. And this would be a time for the latter. I wish there weren't things in the world that didn't call for that, but unfortunately, sometimes there is.


OK, I'm out. I'm pretty sure that I've overextended my stay after this post, so don't worry about any more comments from me.


At Tue Feb 21, 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...


You have strong feelings about patriachism and I think you have seen (or experienced) some bad things with it. Maybe a blog about Bible translations is not the best place to debate about this. May I invite you to the
Egalitarian Christian Alliance Discussion Forum
, a place for discussion from egalitarian viewpoint.

At Tue Feb 21, 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Straylight, be assured that I was not saying that we should not feel angry about wrongs done to women in the name of religion (and this happens all over the world). I have felt great anger over the anti-TNIV crusade. I am only suggesting that we need to respond as Jesus did when he was accused of wrongdoing. And I think we need to try to open up channels of communication. There truly are some openminded people who signed statements against the TNIV. Some of them have even regretted that they signed. I know at least one asked for his name to be erased from the list.

But I don't think that the ESV translation itself is to blame for wrongs done to women. My post was a caution to all of us not to fall into the trap of using the wrong tools to address what we might consider to be deficiencies in a translation.

At Tue Feb 21, 03:22:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Misogyny is hatred of women (see Merriam-Webster, for example). Being convinced that God has declared for the roles of men and women to complement each other does not amount to hatred of women any more than acknowledging Christ's submission to the Father amounts to hating Christ. (The analogy between husband-wife and Father-Son is in scripture, by the way, in the very context of gender differences related to authority. See I Corinthians 11.) So if you're saying that a complementarian view of gender roles amounts to hatred of women, then you need to rethink your position in light of some incredibly important moral distinctions. Even if you think complementarianism is wrong, it's not the same thing as hatred.

If you're simply referring to the statements of Grudem, Poythress, and others who have the weird view of language that English and Greek have built-in features reflecting complementarianism, I think the same issue arises. It's not hatred of women. Their view is simply standard complementarianism + a false lingustic theory, nothing more. How it becomes hatred of women simply by adding a false theory of how language works is hard for me to grasp. Theories about language don't involve any negative attitude toward anyone. They're about factual, empirical matters regarding how people talk.

You claim not to be using straw men, but you are. You say you've seen terrible things. I don't question that. But claiming that it's complementarianism in principle rather than a misapplication of complementarianism (or some other view altogether, as is far more likely) is exactly a straw man. Claiming that Grudem or other people involved with the ESV have done those things is exactly a straw man. Misrepresenting fellow believers simply because someone else has done the things you're falsely claiming these people did is just as immoral as accusing someone of something that no one has done. The fact that someone has done it somewhere doesn't make it any more right to say it about someone who (as far as we know) hasn't.

At Tue Feb 21, 03:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy said:

So if you're saying that a complementarian view of gender roles amounts to hatred of women, then you need to rethink your position in light of some incredibly important moral distinctions. Even if you think complementarianism is wrong, it's not the same thing as hatred.

I totally agree, Jeremy, and I tried to avoid saying anything that would invite this inference. Obviously, I failed. I'm going to have to go back now and revise my post yet again so that complementarianism is not an issue in it. I did not intend for it to be an issue at all. I only was address the sinful ways that any of us can address the wrongs we perceive in others.

Thanks for your comments which force me to reword things further.

At Tue Feb 21, 04:15:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, I was also a bit confused by Jeremy's comments, but I think he is actually replying to Straylight more than to you. I am not sure that Straylight either is really saying what Jeremy is suggesting. But he was the one who questioned Wayne's clear statement, in his title, that "ESV translators are not misogynists", and came close to implying that "a complementarian view of gender roles amounts to hatred of women", although he didn't actually say that. And he was the one who said he had seen terrible things.

Well, I have some sympathy with Straylight because I am also emotionally involved in this issue. But I must accept and agree with Wayne's and Jeremy's more sober words on this. We have recently seen what can happen when people get worked up into a rage over a supposed religious insult. (I just heard that a priest and 50 other Christians were killed in riots in Nigeria over certain cartoons.) But the Christian way is not to work oneself into a frenzy of retaliation, but to bear with one another in love. This is a lesson not just for others but for myself.

At Tue Feb 21, 05:32:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Several amens to that, Peter. I have good friends who use the ESV, and for the most part their relationships seem to be full of love and equality to me. I don't think it's a good translation, but I don't think it leads to abuse, either.

At Tue Feb 21, 08:52:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Ruud Vermeij said...


You have strong feelings about patriachism and I think you have seen (or experienced) some bad things with it. Maybe a blog about Bible translations is not the best place to debate about this. May I invite you to the
Egalitarian Christian Alliance Discussion Forum, a place for discussion from egalitarian viewpoint.

I said that I wasn't going to post again, but I believe everyone deserves an apology here. Perhaps this isn't the right place or subject to make the comments that I did (and thanks for the link by the way. I'll be sure to look it over). Not that I'm making any apologies for what I said (and who I say them to), but I do apologize for making them here.

As for the ESV, it's not that I even have that many problems with it specifically. I pretty much cut my teeth on the RSV, and so in turn, it'd be pretty silly to completely toss away the ESV as a translation. In fact, in more than a few instances, I welcome it's renderings over the RSV's (or even the NRSV's, for that matter).

Anyways, I'll leave it at that.

At Tue Feb 21, 11:02:00 PM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

Jeremy wrote:
The analogy between husband-wife and Father-Son is in scripture, by the way, in the very context of gender differences related to authority. See I Corinthians 11.

I strongly disagree with this Jeremy. It not in scripture, it is an interpretation of scripture (and a rather obscure passage of scripture if you ask me...). Others come to different conclusions!

At Wed Feb 22, 04:46:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Peter: I was responding to one thing and one thing only, which was Straylights' claim that Wayne was wrong about "them" not being misogynists and then denying that this was about straw man arguments, which was just clearly false.

Ruud: The analogy is in scripture. That's clear. "But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." [I Cor 11:3, TNIV] How you take it is something people might disagree about, but what's clear is that there's an analogy and that it's in the context of authority (v.10). Some people don't think the context of authority is relevant here, but they admit that it's there. Some people don't take 'head' to be about authority, but they admit that there's an analogy here. In any case, it clearly shows that gender distinction is important for something.

Gordon Fee, as full an egalitarian as you get without abandoning evangelicalism, argues as much. That means absolute egalitarianism is untenable. There must be some sort of role distinction. The question then becomes what distinction. Complementarians think it has to do with authority, and others disagree, but my point was that neither view involves denying the basic equality of men and women in terms of ultimate value and worth and in terms of general capability to serve God through giftedness in the church (which is compatible with restricting contexts for where and when such gifts might be manifested, as is evident from some people being elders and some not, completely apart from gender issues; there are also restrictions on use of vtongues, and that doesn't minimize God's gifting of those prevented from using tongues because three have already occurred in a particular meeting). As I said, this isn't the place for the debate over complementarianism and egalitarianism. I just wanted to make it clear that complementarianism is being grossly misrepresented if it's taken to deny the equality of women in the sense that, say, the U.S. Declaration of Independence declares everyone to be equal despite the role they play in society. Equality in nature and sameness of role are not the same thing, as the role differences in the Trinity reveal. So it's just unfair to say of complementarians that they're not talking about equality in the sense relevant for the kind of moral criticism that's been leveled agaisnt complementarianism.

At Wed Feb 22, 07:42:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, do you see any incompatibility between the U.S. Declaration of Independence and slavery? I suppose that those of its signatories who objected to an excised passage on slavery did not themselves see an incompatibility, but I guess that is because they tacitly excluded certain races from their definition of "all men" who are created equal. Very likely they also tacitly excluded women. But do you consider that a slave would have been right to complain that their slavery implied inequality "in terms of ultimate value and worth", and seek to obtain in practice the equality they were theoretically promised?

As for eldership, although not all have every spiritual gift and not all are elders, Scripture encourages all to "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts" (1 Corinthians 14:1, RSV) and to "aspire[] to the office of bishop" (1 Timothy 3:1, RSV), with nothing gender specific in the immediate context in either case. I assume here that we make no firm distinction between eldership and "the office of bishop" (ἐπισκοπή episkopē). To deny to anyone, male or female, the right to aspire to what Scripture encourages them to aspire to is not only unbiblical but also morally wrong, for it denies "the basic equality of men and women in terms of ultimate value and worth and in terms of general capability to serve God through giftedness in the church".

At Wed Feb 22, 08:06:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I need to repeat what I have written before. The metaphor, the man is the head of woman is a mistranslation. It says the husband is the head of the wife. Given this, my husband is unwilling to have me converse with any man who extends this relationship to any woman he is not married to. Dr. Packer may be complementarian but he actually snorted when I brought up the 'role of woman'. He said he simply was not into this 'American role-playing stuff!"

Therefore, I have to ask you that if you wish to comment on this blog you are welcome, but this is not the place to discuss the role of a wife as complement to her husband. That would be better addressed on a complementarian marriage blog.

This discussion dishonours not only me but my husband.

You are wlecome to speak to me as sister.

I believe that some men are not aware that talking about women in this way is not universally culturally acceptable and can be read as the sexualization of all encounters between men and women. It is in poor taste. I have addressed this before as part of 'good manners'.

At Wed Feb 22, 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Peter, I think a close reading of Thomas Jefferson's writings shows that he really did mean every single person. He had trouble motivating himself to apply it consistently given the economic conditions of the time (and of his own estate) and the difficulties that would result with total and absolute emancipation without helping slaves develop the skills necessary for an independent life. I do think he sincerely meant it to apply to everyone. I think the argument to the contrary relies on a linguistic fallacy, which I've explained in detail here. Perhaps I should have linked to that discussion when I said that, because the last paragraph provides the background for my point here.

At Wed Feb 22, 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Suzanne, I haven't been debating complementarianism here, and I'm not going to start doing so. I've explicitly refrained from arguments for or against the views on gender roles, except insofar as I've been motivating Wayne's original point that there's nothing misogynistic going on. The views themselves and what motivates them are a separate matter that I won't take up here, and Wayne's and Peter's comments suggest to me that they think my comments have been right on topic.

Now about I Cor 11:3, I wouldn't disagree with you. Many complementarians insist on translating the terms as you do. The only one I remember offhand is Craig Blomberg, and my books are in the room the baby is currently sleeping in, so I can't check to see what others say. I quoted the TNIV because it was the closest translation at hand. Nothing I was saying stands or falls on that aspect of the TNIV rendering, so I didn't bother to say anything about the issue. I'm not sure why you're taking me to endorse every aspect of a translation that I happen to quote in a quick blog comment.

I don't know what Packer is referring to about American role-playing stuff, but his view involves role differences if he's a complementarian. It is indeed a gender role distinction if men aren't to submit to women in the same way women are to submit to men, which is what complementarians about gender roles in marriage believe. I'm fairly sure Packer is in that camp. I'm not sure why you and Packer think talking about the role of man and woman in marriage or in the church entails the much stronger view that all woman are subordinate to all men. It simply doesn't, and that stronger view has been far from my thoughts as I've been commenting here. I'm a bit taken aback that you're somehow trying to read it into anything I said, because I don't see it there at all.

At Wed Feb 22, 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Your assessment, elsewhere, that I am like you in not studying Hellenistic Greek is simply false. I studied Hellenistic Greek in conjunction with Hebrew and then NT Greek. This was after I had studied classical Greek for several years.

Dr. Packer is in the complementarian camp. However, there are vast cultural differences in how these views are expressed.

At Wed Feb 22, 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Feb 22, 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, thank you for the link to the Lincoln posting. I make no claim to be an expert on the US Constitution, and you obviously know these issues far better than I do. My point is effectively the same as Lincoln's. He wrote that although slaves did not in practice enjoy their theoretical equality, they had a this right and "the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit". Similarly, I hold that women have a right to equality in the church, even though they have never actually enjoyed it, but they should be offered it "as fast as circumstances should permit". And just as restricting the freedoms of slaves was eventually judged incompatible with their equality, so should restricting the opportunities of women, just because they are women, be judged incompatible with their fundamental equality with men, as declared in the Bible as well as the US Constitution.

At Wed Feb 22, 06:58:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Suzanne, sorry about that. I didn't read your whole post about Packer, just the quotes from him (I'm way behind on a few blogs I really enjoy, and this is one of them). It seemed to me as if you were contrasting yourself as a classicist with those who merely learn Hellenistic Greek to study the Bible. I didn't get the sense that you had also learned Hellenistic Greek merely to study the Bible (in addition to your classical background), even though you do say this later. So I sort of read my own situation into yours.


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