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Monday, September 25, 2006

singular "they" in the ESV

Blogger David McKay has found singular "they" in the ESV, in spite of pronouncements against it by ESV translators Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem. To be fair accurate, now, the singular "they" is not found in the text of the ESV translation itself, but, rather, in one of the comments (page 1421) in the ESV Reformation Bible, a favorite edition of the ESV:
A person who wants to repent, that is, to reverse the sins they may be guilty of, has not suffered this hardening and has not committed this profound act of hatred that God has determined he will not forgive.
If singular "they" is as misleading and inappropriate to use in English Bible translation as Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem claim, would it not also be inappropriate to use in comments in a reference edition of a Bible? Of course, that sentence was not written by Dr. Poythress or Dr. Grudem themselves (nor by anyone else from the ESV team, as far as we know), but one would think that if singular "they" is as bad as P&G have so often insisted it is and as often as they include it in lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV, then would not those who create reference editions of the ESV have taken their grammatical advice more seriously. Perhaps singular "they" is used more widely, even among those who publish the ESV, than P&G realize.

:-)

7 Comments:

At Tue Sep 26, 05:28:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

Errrm... Hate to be a pedant, but the Reformation Study Bible is not a product of the translation team of the ESV, nor is it related to the ESV publisher. So finding a "singular 'they'" in its commentary is simply not a "eureka!" moment in spotting an ESV-singular-they.

Oh well. :)

David McKay's turn of phrase ("used by the article writers in the ESV itself") presents a misunderstanding and is misleading if it makes people think the ESV committee let this bloooper [sic] slip through.

Wayne's "To be fair..." qualifier would be better put: "To be accurate...".

Accuracy makes for Better Bible Blogs. :)

David Reimer

 
At Tue Sep 26, 08:28:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

David, your point is well made. And that is exactly why my post included this sentence:

"Of course, that sentence was not written by Dr. Poythress or Dr. Grudem themselves, but one would think that if singular "they" is as bad as they have so often insisted it is and as often as they include it in lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV, one would think that those who comment upon the ESV which these men helped translate would have taken their grammatical advice more seriously."

I really was trying to be accurate.

And, of course, my smiley face at the end--and I see yours now, also-is intended to show something about the (non-?)seriousness of the post. There's teasing going on here, with a purpose.

 
At Tue Sep 26, 11:54:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

You're bang on there, Wayne! Yes, to be fair :) I should have noted your second paragraph and not simply your first. I could have been a better reader, and writer. Apologies! At least the lightness of heart was shared!

Personally, I'm a staunch believer in and defender of the antiquity and propriety of the "singular they" in idiomatic (sometimes even formal!) English. But I doubt that the long arm of Messrs Poythress & Grudem extends so far (I don't think) as to constrain writers on a project they do not direct. (I notice, however, while researching this comment :) that both of them appear as "other contributors".)

Interesting, too: the RefSB is also available with the NKJV as the base text, though that clearly isn't the flagship version.

In my limited scanning of the RefSB notes, it strikes me as a pretty helpful study bible, actually. There are some very fine scholars among the contributors.

SHALOM,
David.

 
At Tue Sep 26, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

No worries, David. I don't think I could count as high as the number of times I have reacted to only part of what someone else has said. And FWIW, thanks to your comments I've revised the post to be even more fair, uh, accurate.

:-)

 
At Wed Sep 27, 01:49:00 PM, Blogger larrybkj said...

It seems kind of silly to use study notes from R.C. Sproul to try and show a contradiction in what Grudem and Poythress have said.

 
At Wed Sep 27, 01:58:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

It seems kind of silly to use study notes from R.C. Sproul to try and show a contradiction in what Grudem and Poythress have said.

The contradition is between what P&G say people should not say or write and what they actually do. In addition, according to the ESV website, R.C. Sproul was on the ESV advisory council. One would think that if avoiding singular "they" was as important as P&G have said it is, Sproul would have ensured that it not appear in the notes to the ESV Reformation edition.

 
At Thu Sep 28, 04:31:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Poythress and Grudem in fact allow singular "they" in their own works, as I have found in their book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words, Broadman and Holman 2000, a version I downloaded from CBMW and I think is still available there.

This is from the Foreword by Valerie Becker Makkai:

No one, apparently, paid any attention to the instructions of the grammar teachers and scholars. They just went on saying "what came naturally", which was what they heard other people saying. (p.13)

Then this is from the main text, by P&G themselves; in this paragraph there are no less than nine singular "they"s, all referring back to "each author":

In cases where the human personality and writing style of the author were prominently involved, as seems the case with the major part of Scripture, all that we are able to say is that God's providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities and skills were just what God wanted them to be for the task of writing Scripture. Their backgrounds and training (such as Paul’s rabbinic training, or Moses’ training in Pharaoh’s household, or David’s work as a shepherd), their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words which God would also claim as his own. (pp.61-62)

I'm sure there are more examples in the remaining nearly 300 pages of the book, but this is enough to prove my point. So, again, these people should practice what they preach!

 

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