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Friday, August 04, 2006

Packer: ESV may be my most important work

The ESV Bible blog quotes J.I. Packer, General Editor of the ESV Bible, as saying to a recent meeting of representatives of the United Bible Societies and Crossway Books, the publisher of the ESV:
I find myself suspecting very strongly that this was the most important thing that I have done for the Kingdom and that the product of our labors is perhaps the biggest milestone in Bible translation in the past fifty years or more.


At Fri Aug 04, 02:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MILESTONE seems like such a loaded word.

I'm not an ESV user, and while I wouldn't think of it as a bad translation, I've never thought of it as an overly necessary translation. I never have been able to understand what niche it really fills unless it's a less-literal-than-the-NASB niche or perhaps a more-conservative-than-the-NRSV-update-to-the-RSV niche.

Exactly what milestones did the ESV reach? I'd be interested in hearing other's opinions.

At Fri Aug 04, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Frank Bellizzi said...

Don't know much about the ESV, but that's quite a statement from quite a guy. Got to check out a copy of that one.

At Fri Aug 04, 03:53:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Sat Aug 05, 03:30:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

A milestone maybe, but on what road? Matthew 7:13-14.

At Sat Aug 05, 07:02:00 AM, Blogger wezlo said...

Well, the prologue for the ESV makes a big deal about being designed to sound good when read out-loud. That's a plus, I guess - especially coming from that part of the methodological range. I gotta admit, when folks read the RSV or NRSV out loud it's almost painful to my ears, and the TNIV's main problem is that it's still the NIV (everything just get's "bland"). I usually have the God's Word Translation read out-loud when I'm putting Scripture up on a projection screen - that sounds OK, but I'd hardly call it "pretty" (it's more "acceptably utilitarian," which fills the role it was written for). I've heard the ESV read out-loud a couple of times and it is put together well for public reading - so that's a plus.

I still don't think it's "all that and a bag of Chips," but there's something nice about it. Has anyone read the released version of the NET Bible out-loud? We tried going through a public reading with "Beta 1" a few years ago and it was a bit cumbersome, I'm wondering what people's later experience has been.

That might be a good discussion, "which translations do you use for public reading, and why?"

At Sat Aug 05, 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wezlo, can you point us to any passage which sounds good read aloud from ESV but not from RSV? It seems surprising that the small amount of difference between these two versions is enough to change it from "almost painful to my ears" to "put together well for public reading".

At Sat Aug 05, 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

From my own viewpoint I don't understand how Dr. Packer can consider the ESV "perhaps the biggest milestone in Bible translation in the past fifty years or more" when it is not worded in English as it has been written in the past fifty years. The English in the ESV is strange, with many non-English wordings, and many wordings which are now obsolete. I would think that the ESV would be more of a milestone if it were written in English that is recognized by English language professionals as high quality natural literary English. It could have been if its translation team paid as much attention to the quality of its English as they did to its exegetical accuracy.

At Sat Aug 05, 06:42:00 PM, Blogger SingingOwl said...

Perplexing statement from Packer, IMO. Really perplexing.

I would like to have a sample passage to look at. Isn't the ESV qute similar to the RSV?

At Sat Aug 05, 06:43:00 PM, Blogger SingingOwl said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to just "look at." I mean, as PK asked wezlo, a sample of one that reads differently. I'm always aware that the Bible I use for Sunday's sermon might not be the best for a dramatic reaading or a litany, etc.

At Sat Aug 05, 11:22:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I also think someone would be hard pressed to demonstrate conclusively that the ESV reads better aloud than the NRSV, which is also what Wezlo claimed.

At Sat Aug 05, 11:41:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Wezlo said,'s more "acceptably utilitarian," which fills the role it was written for...

In relation to the GW Translation? You may want to qualify your statement.

On the whole ESV "thang" I am overly opinionated. Personally, I feel that the ESV is either a) a failure, or b) inconsequential.

Michael Marlowe called the NET translation fairly inconsequential... well, the ESV is almost the definition of inconsequential. If I remember correctly what Packer said, the ESV only constitutes as a sub 10 percent revision of the RSV (around 4 to 6 percent total revision if I remember correctly). Natural english was obviously not a HUGE goal of the ESV team, but I have heard rumours that there was a mandate on the completion time frame of the revision set by the publisher. Something like 2-3 years? That isn't very long to revise much of anything the size and complexity of the Bible in my opinion.

I don't know... the ESV is okay as a slight revision to an already decent translation. Would have been nice if they could have tried to innovate somehow... create a new translation?!?! At least the NET scholars made a new translation. Sure, Marlowe may call the NET inconsequential, but at least it is inconsequentially original (I personally feel the NET translation is fairly solid, and the TN/TC/SN notes provide a level of transparency that has never been in a Bible; Marlowe recommends you just get something by Metzger or even possibly Robertson... but I find the NET notes to be far more useful partially due to their brevity).

Hey Wayne, Dan, etc., now that I think about it, which translations do you feel have achieved the most natural english "thus" far?

At Sun Aug 06, 12:48:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Hey Wayne, Dan, etc., now that I think about it, which translations do you feel have achieved the most natural english "thus" far?

Oh, I do like that question, one of my favorites.

Here are translations which I consider to have a good degree of natural English:

Dan Sindlinger's Better Life Bible has perhaps the most natural English of any translation I have read. You can read about it via a link in the margin of this blog.

Of the whole Bibles, I consider the CEV to have the most natural English. Its predecessor, the TEV, had a fairly high degree of natural English also, but not as high as the CEV.

GW (God's Word) is fairly good in the area of naturalnesss, as is the NCV.

Of the versions popular today, the NLT is most natural. But it bears the marks of having been worked on by careful exegetes, who have difficulty writing in natural English because they are concentrating so hard on trying to be accurate.

I have done a quantified study of naturalness in English versions comparing 23 verses in major English versions. That study needs to be enlarged to include the ESV and HCSB as well as more verses, but I think the results are still fairly accurate as indicators of relative naturalness among the Bible versions.

Let's see, the results give the following ranking with most natural first, then others less natural in descending order:

CEV: 91% natural
TEV: 87%
NLT: 83%
NCV & GW tied: 78%

Then there is a huge gap to the next group of moderately idiomatic versions, such as the NIV, NET, and ISV.

Then there is another huge gap to the essentially literal and literal translations.

At Sun Aug 06, 08:59:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne wrote that ESV "could have been [more of a milestone] if its translation team paid as much attention to the quality of its English as they did to its exegetical accuracy."

I disagree. The team would have had to pay much more attention than they did to exegetical accuracy. The exegetical accuracy of the ESV leaves a lot to be desired, especially in places where the translators allowed their renderings to be controlled by fundamentalist and/or complementarian dogma rather than by the actual intention of the biblical authors. For an example of control by fundamentalist dogma, see Isaiah 7:14. For proof of control by complementarian dogma, I refer to Michael Marlowe's statement that "the ESV was projected as a version that would deliberately adhere to these guidelines", referring to the Colorado Springs guidelines which were drafted by a group who were mostly not scholars and had a clear dogmatic aim. Vern Poythress confirms that "The ESV is not “gender-neutral,” but conforms to the Colorado Springs Guidelines on the issue of gender in English." By committing themselves to follow any such set of guidelines, the translators were abandoning exegetical accuracy.

Meanwhile, in my scepticism that this is really Packer's greatest achievement, I am surprised to find myself in agreement with Tim Bayly, who (as well as confirming the link to the Colorado Springs guidelines) writes:

Do you suppose Dr. Bruce Metzger realizes how much he did fifty years ago to afford J. I. Packer his life's signal accomplishment? ...

what Packer is so proud of, the "English Standard Version," is simply the text of the "Revised Standard Version" that he received from Metzger and other scholars. ...

["Knowing God"]'s his magnum opus. The impact "Knowing God" had on me cannot be overstated.

I would agree that "Knowing God" is much more significant than the ESV.

At Sun Aug 06, 02:27:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Wayne, an interesting thing that I would like to know is what types of studying do each of those different ranges of English bibles lend themselves well too?

For example, what things could you do better with an Literal (think NASB), a middle ground (think NIV/NET) and a more natural (think GW)?

Would be interesting what someone like yourself, who is concerned with naturalness, would feel different translations are useful for? Do any hit a nice middle in which they can be used for most anything?

At Sun Aug 06, 05:43:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon Aug 07, 03:54:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, thanks for the correction. I was quoting Tim Bayly, who seems to have got his facts mixed up. Nevertheless his point holds, that RSV was a much more significant accomplishment than ESV.


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