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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Should we abandon our Bible?

The food4thought blogger catches our attention with the provocative question "Should we abandon our Bible?" But the post really is about whether or not his church should replace the NIV with the ESV. The blogger finds many things he likes about the ESV and believes that it should replace the NIV.

The blogger does note some problems with the ESV. Here is one of the most serious:
The ESV has not lived up to its promise in the area of clarity of expression and the quality of English usage. AT CCB we have had occasion to reach for the dictionary when words like, ‘sojourn’, ‘portent’, ‘confute’ and ‘adjure’ came up. It is supposed to be pitched at Year 8 but there must be some very clever 12 year olds in America! And this is its most frustrating feature. At times the English is almost inaccessible. We need a revision and someone without a degree needs to check it out!
My own study of the ESV causes me to agree. The poor quality of English in the ESV is surprising given the claims that the ESV's producers have made that its English is so good. I find the awkward, strange English in the ESV to be its most serious deficit. I hope that there will be sufficient revisions made to the ESV so that in the future it will truly read as good quality English, not English which, as the blogger notes, is sometimes "almost inaccessible."


At Sat Oct 21, 01:13:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

...someone without a degree needs to check it out!

Good suggestion. It is hard to believe that the ESV was "field tested" (as Wayne would call it) by anything but... well, nobody.

I never got into the ESV just due to the mere fact that it is such a minor revision of the RSV. I still consider the NRSV to be quite a bit better.

At Sun Oct 22, 06:51:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I just made the following comment on the food4thought posting, which I am repeating here because food4thought does not seem to be accepting comments:

I don't know precisely who has claimed that ESV is "likely to become the Bible of choice amongst evangelical congregations in the English speaking world", except for its translation team and its publishers, and some people closely connected with them. I beg to say that this is complete nonsense! There has been quite a lot of marketing hype, but when all is said and done the quality of the product leaves so much to be desired (including the points which you have mentioned) that within five years it will be an also-ran in the Bible translation world. By that time I expect TNIV to be taking over from NIV, the current campaign against it having been forgotten, and very likely its main competition from the more "formal equivalence" side being from HCSB, which is a much better product that ESV.

Meanwhile the difference in translation philosophy between ESV and NIV is probably much less than you suggest. But I think it would help you to read more about Bible translation principles. A good place to start is the Better Bibles Blog.

At Mon Oct 23, 08:16:00 AM, Blogger Gary said...

I have been dealing with the possibility of changing the version I use in my Bible study class, which has been the NIV for several years now. I don't agree with the blog writer that the ESV is the answer, and I also don't necessarily agree with my friends here at BBB.

It's easy for us to talk about replacing the NIV, that this version or that version is a better translation, and in some cases that may be true. However, I think we need to look at the fact that the NIV is the biggest selling English Bible for quite a number of years now. That means there are a lot of them out there. People are using them. Even in my United Methodist church, which switched whole hog to the NRSV years ago, I find most of my students still carrying the NIV. It's the one they like to use. And so I have to take that into consideration.

Face the facts. The NIV is an excellent translation. There are far worse ones out there. And while the TNIV may be on the horizon, Zondervan is still sinking a lot of money into marketing the NIV, and people are buying it.

Personally, I think what Zondervan should do, is get together a translation team and use the TNIV to revise the NIV once again, taking a middle road between the two by including the greater accuracy of the TNIV, while maybe not so much of the gender inclusivity. It would give us an even better NIV, while not being so controversial as the TNIV was.

Just my thoughts.


At Mon Oct 23, 08:37:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Gary concluded:

Personally, I think what Zondervan should do, is get together a translation team and use the TNIV to revise the NIV once again, taking a middle road between the two by including the greater accuracy of the TNIV, while maybe not so much of the gender inclusivity. It would give us an even better NIV, while not being so controversial as the TNIV was.

Gary, I have had the same idea and have communicated it to the TNIV team.

The NIV does/did need some revision. It has some wordings which are inaccurate for today's speakers. Even the ESV and HCSB, both of which were translated according to the Colorado Springs Agreement does not have those inaccuracies, such as using the word "man" to translate Greek tis which means 'anyone.'

If *I* were calling the shots on the NIV/TNIV revision committee, I would make such necessary minor revisions to the NIV. Similar revisions have been made to the NIV and other English versions in the past. The same title is used. It's the same translation.

Then, for those who prefer a more gender-inclusive translation there would still be the TNIV available.

I just checked and the NIV continues as the best-selling English version. It would not take too much work to revise it to remove the worst inaccuracies for today's English speakers. Almost no one would even notice the changes. The quality of English would surpass that of the ESV which is really clunky.

Would it be enough revision to satisfy my personal preferences? No. But it would be enough to satisfy the desires of many who continue to use the NIV as their preferred translation today.

At Mon Oct 23, 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Gary said...

Sounds good to me, Wayne! I agree!

You know, they say great minds think along the same track! ;-)

(Now, how do we convince Zondervan?)


At Mon Oct 23, 01:04:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Wayne, you and I have corresponded before in the past about this very issue--updating the actual NIV.

The more I think about it, I just don't think it's a good idea.

My feeling is that if that were to happen, the TNIV would be dead in the water. I still say that the biggest mistake that IBS & Zondervan have made is to introduce a new translation and not kill off the old one.

They should have taken a cue from Tyndale--the only way they were able to transition to the NLT was to stop publication of all Living Bible editions except for the green hardback.

IBS and Zondervan could do the same thing--leave only the standard brown NIV in print in hardback and transition everything else over to the TNIV. That would fulfill their promise to keep the NIV in print, but at the same time, it would settle this issue once and for all.

However, I know they won't do that. There's too much money wrapped up in the NIV. I don't mean this as a criticism of IBS or Zondervan because their company depends on those sales and that's understandable. But they should have made the hard move a while back.

My concern is that they may actually be on retreat. Wording I've heard lately from folks at Zondervan is "Well, the TNIV isn't for everyone, so that's why we still have the NIV." I don't take that as a good sign.

What I wish IBS & Zondervan would do instead is to really put some resources into an education/advertising campaign about the TNIV and the issues its detractors bring up. They need to take some of the great articles that are on the site and articles that are linked on your site, Wayne, and these should be in print as counters to all the nonsense anti-TNIV propaganda out there. For every person I run into who criticicizes the TNIV out of hearsay, I ought to be able to say, "Here, read this book." As it is the two main books that I do recommend, the ones by Strauss and Carson, don't even directly address the TNIV, just the inclusive issue.

Further, I would recommend taking some very conservative high profile TNIV endorsers like John Stott, D. A. Carson, Timothy George and more and really blitz the Christian media with advertisements containing detailed testimonials from these guys. Plus, it would great if they could be enlisted to really be vocal about the translation.

In my opinion, the time for a defensive position is over. A counter-offensive is necessary--all done with patience and charity, of course :-)

At Wed Oct 25, 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne agreed "The NIV does/did need some revision." I agree with "did". But no longer, for it has already had this revision: the TNIV. Any suggestion of producing a NIV/TNIV hybrid with some of the changes but not the others would be a step backwards. All of the changes made in TNIV were for increased accuracy. To go back on them would be to reduce accuracy. And apparently the only motivation for this would be to pander to the prejudices of people ignorant of proper linguistic principles, like most of those who signed the Colorado Springs Guidelines. Except that it would not in fact meet these people's approval, as these are the same people who extracted from IBS and Zondervan the promise not to revise NIV at all! These kinds of people are anyway going to prefer ESV or HCSB. TNIV should be fine for anyone who is not ideologically committed to gender inaccuracy.

I agree with Rick that "the biggest mistake that IBS & Zondervan have made is to introduce a new translation and not kill off the old one." They probably promised not to kill NIV completely, but they could stop promoting it.

At Wed Oct 25, 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Pickle Boy said...

Breaking news translation fans! If you go to the ESV blog page...

you'll notice another anouncement regarding the release of the reverse interlinear. Crossway has again provided us a subtle hint regarding its revisionary work to the ESV, showing a sample from 1 John 3:21 - 4:2. And you guessed it, the wording at 3:24 is different, now reading, "Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him." There are new footnotes as well, indicating what the Greek text states.

It used to read, "Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them."

At Wed Oct 25, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Gary said...

I'm no Greek scholar, as you know, but I had to check this out in Strongs:

#846 autos

Means him, his, himself, etc.

Does not mean God, God's, etc.

So how can the new revision of that verse in the ESV be more accurate?


At Wed Oct 25, 11:06:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Oct 25, 11:08:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

To the defense of the revised ESV rendering of 1 John 3:24, I would say that it is now more accurate because it has better communicated the meaning of the original text.

And I believe we call that dynamic equivalence.

At Wed Oct 25, 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Pickle Boy said...

Obviously they thought it important for the reader to be able to understand who "him" "his" and "them" were referring to. I've encountered many instances in the ESV where personal pronouns in the Greek text were replaced with proper names for clarity.

Here's just one example of numerous:

John 6:59 "Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum." - "Jesus" is actually "he" in the Greek.

At Wed Oct 25, 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Pickle Boy said...

"Dynamic equivalence?" "ESV?" NO, that CAN'T be!! ; ) I guess where the "essentially" literal part comes in.

At Wed Oct 25, 12:11:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Pickle Boy, thank you for mentioning this change in 1 John 3:24 ESV. In fact this had already been pointed out by David Dewey on the b-trans list. I have added a suitable comment to my post about the ESV rendering of this verse.

Gary, I think you will find that almost every Bible version, even the most literal, sometimes replaces a pronoun in the original with the appropriate noun or proper name. In some places the Bible text would be incomprehensible without this. Greek and Hebrew can make more distinctions in pronouns (including grammatical gender distinctions) and have different rules for their use, and this means passages which are unambiguous in the original would be completely ambiguous in a literal translation. The lesson here, which I keep putting forward in various ways, is that there is no such thing as a literal or "formal equivalence" translation, but rather there is a continuum of non-literal translation from ESV even as far as The Message. If anyone wants to argue that dynamic equivalence translation is a "slippery slope" towards paraphrases like The Message, I would have to point that even the most literal translations have started down that slope.

At Wed Oct 25, 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Oh, I understand it better now. Thank you!

I had originally thought that pickle boy's post was pointing out the change from "him" to "God", in the same way that the more liberal scholars change "Father" to "God" in our liturgies, in order to avoid any male image for God which may offend certain people. Sorry for thinking that of you, pickle boy.

Peter, thanks for your kind and gracious explanation.


At Wed Oct 25, 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Pickle Boy said...

You're right- the idea of substituting "God" for "Father" and other such liberal atrocities imposed on scripture was not at all what I had in mind. Clarity of meaning was my primary concern.

Kind regards,
Pickle Boy (aka Steve)

At Thu Oct 26, 02:22:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Gary, the problem with this verse indeed relates to the translation of autos, but not when it refers to God, rather when it refers to humans. For of course women as well as men can keep God's commandments, and John's teaching is clearly that God abides in the women as well as the men - for in this context autos is clearly gender generic. Probably the ESV translators don't actually intend to teach that this promise is restricted to males, although it is hard to be sure from what they have done to 2 Timothy 2:2.

It would actually be interesting to know what they do think this verse means in terms of gender issues. Have they actually changed their understanding of this verse, or only how they have chosen to render it into English? Their normal way of explaining their use of "he" in this kind of context is by invoking their novel theology of "male representation". But their original rendering rules out "malre represantation". So how would they translate this without using singular "they" (which they reject) but also without importing "male representation" which apparently they don't think is happening here? Or are they actually rather confused about what is going on here?


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