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Saturday, February 17, 2007

unveiling the ESV

A couple of days ago I quoted from the RSV in a comment on another BBB post. I quoted 1 Cor. 11:10 which reads:
That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
Then I noticed that the ESV had revised that wording to:
That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Notice that RSV "veil" has been revised to ESV "symbol of authority." The ESV wording is more accurate than that of the RSV. There is no veil in the underlying Greek. Instead, there is the Greek word exousia which means 'authority.' Louw and Nida state in their lexicon that exousia can also refer to 'a symbol of authority,' besides simply 'authority.' I don't know what the consensus of Greek lexicographers on this point would be.

For the record, the revision from "woman" to "wife" is legitimate, in terms of the Greek lexicon, but it is an interpretational choice which the ESV translators have made for us. The Greek word gune can refer either to a woman or a wife. In this context, I would tilt toward the ESV translation, but it is still a choice. It is important to note this since it is often claimed that dynamic equivalent translations make translation choices for their readers. Well, the truth is that essentially literal translations do, as well. They may not make as many, but they still do make many translation choices. So the difference between essentially literal translations and dynamic equivalent ones is not a qualitative one, between whether or not they make translation choices for readers. At most, on this particular issue there is a quantitative difference between essentially literal and dynamic equivalent translations. For anyone who might be concerned at this point, and if it helps any (it might not!), I happen to believe what many others have pointed out, that every translation involves making translation choices. There is no such thing as automatic translation, where translation can be done without making choices at all. The bigger question is whether or not the choices that are made are legitimate ones. And that becomes a matter of careful exegesis, including study of biblical scholarship on any biblical passage.

There are a number of other passages where the ESV has increased accuracy over the RSV. What are some of those passages that you are aware?

If you are aware of any passages where you feel the ESV revision is less accurate than the RSV, feel free to mention them also. Just please be clear whether the passage you mention is one you feel is more or less accurate than it is in the RSV.

17 Comments:

At Sat Feb 17, 04:17:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Ahem.

All the ESV did was choose the wording from the RSV footnote: one that is fully available to readers of the RSV. Note that this passage is footnoted in the KJV, RSV, and NRSV (from which the ESV's wording may have be taken, if it did not take from the RSV) as well as in modern Evangelical translations such as the NET and TNIV, the ESV chose not to footnote it (although it does include an unhelpful comment on "angels").

Indeed, in the closest thing we have to an "official" annotated version of the RSV, the Metzger-May New Oxford Annotated Bible, in addition to the above mentioned textual note (which forms an integral part of the RSV) the commentators discuss it further in an explanatory note.

I would be interested to see if the ESV made any translation choices superior to the RSV that were not copied from the footnotes in the RSV or from the text or footnotes of the NRSV.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 06:54:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Could anyone explain to this non-Greek reader why Louw and Nida say that "exousia" can mean "symbol of authority" in addition to "authority"? Where else is this additional definition attested? Is "exousia" really a valid word for the writer to use if the intended meaning is "symbol of authority"? Or is this perhaps one of those circular adapted definitions, included in the lexicon because "symbol of authority" has been widely assumed to be a valid definition in this particular verse?

 
At Sat Feb 17, 06:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hullo - you two need a reality check here. "Veil" is no kind of translation and "symbol of authority" is not a translation either. Let's look at the Bibles which do attempt to translate this verse,

It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own [b] head, because of the angels. (Note: Or have a sign of authority on her) TNIV

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels KJV

This is why a woman should have authority over her own head: because of the angels. ISV

Check the meaning of exousia in Perseus, which is in abridged form available in Zhubert.

These three translations are spread out across the spectrum. In my view the TNIV is more literal both here and in 1 Cor. 10:23 than the ESV - by a long shot! Let's have a wake up call.

It is not that I am out to defend the TNIV so much as the fact that I can't stand the reductioanist attitude that seems to be used in assessing literalness.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 07:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Slight clarification needed here. When I posted my comment, I had not yet seen Psalmist's comment - so "you two" was intended for Wayne and Anonymous.

Psalmist,

I agree with you completely about the circular definition. And you beat me to it.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 08:06:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Ms. McCarthey --

In fact, the Greek Manuscript comes with a "textual apparatus" which explains difficult words and textual variants. There is an entry here: καλυμμα vg-mss bo-pt; Ptol-Ir. You may be unfamilar with this notation -- it refers to the Vulgate manuscripts, five or more Boharic witnesses (as judged by Horner) or according to Ptolemy as reported by Irenaeus. In addition to these witnesses, although not cited in the NA27, it is edifying to read the Roman Ethiopic edition of 1548-1549, Valentinians (according to Irenaeus), Iranaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine.

Certainly, the task of translation should take into account the full range of ancient manuscripts. Your forceful denial of this as a valid translation runs in the face of a long tradition of patristic witnesses.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon. pointed out:

All the ESV did was choose the wording from the RSV footnote: one that is fully available to readers of the RSV. Note that this passage is footnoted in the KJV, RSV, and NRSV (from which the ESV's wording may have be taken, if it did not take from the RSV) as well as in modern Evangelical translations such as the NET and TNIV, the ESV chose not to footnote it (although it does include an unhelpful comment on "angels").

Thank you, Anon., for that helpful info. The RSV I had access to lacked that footnote and I didn't think to look in any other versions since the ESV is a revision of the RSV. My copy of the NRSV does contain the footnote you refer to, but simply says that the Greek lacks "symbol of." The NET Bible footnote lacks the textual variant also, which is surprising given that some of the NET translators, such as Dan Wallace, are decent textual critics. Unfortunately, the electronic version of the Greek N.T. which I referred to lacks the textual apparatus. I'm traveling right now and do not have access to my hard copies of the Greek N.T.

So, thank you, also for the info. on the textual variant in this verse.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 12:22:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Anon,

Like Wayne, I am in transition and do not have access to my Greek NT and its textual apparatus, but there is no excuse for my forgetting that kalumma was one of the variants. I do acknowledge that I once knew this but forgot about it.

Thank you for the reminder.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

Ms. McCarthey --

Some time ago, you inveighed against the use of software in Bible study and foreign language acquisition. Indeed the tone of your comments verged on contempt. While I cannot offer unqualified agreement with you on these issues (I am particularly interested in the possibility of pedagogical support for learning foreign languages, although I think we can all agree the automated and audio-visual aids that currently exist are inadequate) I do think you made some valuable points.

In particular, references that exist in electronic forms are frequently inadequate. Two examples have been illustrated in this thread: Major software programs (I have checked Bibleworks and Logos) lack the integral footnotes of the RSV, as do web sites such as Crosswalk. Similarly, most online and electronic versions of NA27 (and BHS) lack the textual apparatus (the only exception I have found being Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible prepared by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.) I will further note that in a previous discussion, Mr. Kirk relied on an electronic version of HALOT and found that it contained errors and omissions not found in the paper edition.

So, while electronic versions may be helpful for rapidly searching for information, they are currently so full of errors (this is particularly true of Logos products -- Bibleworks seems to be more careful) that one should always verify with a written copy.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Here are some examples taken from the chapter I happen to be studying right now, which should count as a random enough method of sampling. Several of the changes are just improvements in language from archaisms to contemporary English, e.g. "the people is grass" to "the people are grass" in v.7, "tidings" to "news" in v.9, and "naught" to "nothing" in v.23.

There are several changes from the RSV to the ESV in this chapter that I'm not really in a position to evaluate, but here are several that I can:

Isaiah 40:14 has a textual issue. Something has probably dropped out. The ESV accounts for this. The RSV doesn't. The ESV is an improvement, in my judgment.

Isaiah 40:15 translates a term usually translated "coastlands" as "isles". It's probably a more literal translation according to one sense of what it means to be literal, but this term regularly means coastlands. See Isaiah 41:1 in the RSV. So why not take it as coastlands here? The ESV is more consistent on this.

I don't understand the change in Isaiah 40:20. It changes "He who is impoverished chooses for an offering wood that will not rot" to "He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot". Most scholars agree that the word in question isn't about being impoverished at all but has to do with setting it up or refers to a particular kind of wood. So this change isn't any better, but it isn't really worse. On this one they tie.

In v.23, "nothing" becomes "emptiness". The Hebrew word actually has to do with chaos. The RSV has the two nouns here as "naught" and "nothing". When the ESV replaced "naught" with "nothing", they had to replace "nothing" with some other synonym to indicate that these are different words in the Hebrew. I'm not sure it's any less literal, since the word is really about chaos and not nothingness or emptiness. It also seems to capture the sense a little better, since it's about people's aims coming to nothing, i.e. resulting in emptiness. So I have to say that this is an improvement both in being contemporary in language and in capturing the meaning (i.e. the sense) but without being less literal.

Now maybe the ESV went in the wrong direction from a correct RSV in all the places I can't evaluate, but I think even that would mean this chapter is at least as good as the RSV on the whole. I suspect that at least in some of the ones I can't evaluate the ESV has actually improved the translation. I'd be very surprised if that's not the case. This means that in this chapter, randomly selected because it's the chapter I happen to be studying at the moment, the ESV's changes seem in general to be either improvements or no worse than the RSV.

I don't have an RSV with footnotes (I can't find mine at the moment, so I'm using an online source without footnotes), so I can't answer the challenge of Anonymous as to whether these improvements are just footnoted translations in the RSV, but I very much doubt it. Some have to do with advances in textual criticism in the intervening decades. Some have to do with updating language due to the English language changing. I doubt either of those types would have appeared in the RSV footnotes.

I should also say, although I can't substantiate this with examples offhand, that I was using the ESV at Bible studies led by someone using the RSV for several years. Whenever he said that his translation was inaccurate on something, I was especially interested to see if the ESV had improved on it. I would estimate that about half the time it did, and about half the time it said the same thing as the RSV. A few instances were cases when the ESV was the only translation in the room to get it right (where the NIV, NKJV, and sometimes the NASB were all there).

 
At Sun Feb 18, 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Here's another example from the sermon passage in my congregation this morning. John 19:12:

Upon this Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar." (RSV)

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." (ESV)

First is "upon this" vs. "from then on". The first is simply not English. The ESV has improved the English without, I don't think, adding any meaning not in the original Greek.

Then "every one" becomes "everyone" to line up with standard usage. I don't know if "every one" was standard usage in the days of the RSV, but it isn't now.

Finally, "sets himself against" becomes "opposes". The RSV rendering isn't exactly ordinary English, and it's not as if the Greek has three separate words to be translating here. The Greek is one word meaning "opposes".

So on this verse (the only one in today's sermon passage that differs substantially in the ESV from the RSV) I conclude that the ESV is a significant improvement.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 12:24:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I can agree with the first two changes you made, indeed, they were apparently copied into the ESV from the NRSV. However, I cannot agree with final change. There is an issue of causality -- "sets himself against the emperor" shows that the action of claiming to be king is an act of rebellion against Caesar. However, "opposes Caesar" is ambiguous -- it suggests that perhaps, among the current pool of king-aspirants, all happen to be opponents of Caesar. The difference can be seen in this example:

"Everyone who runs for governor of Pennsylvania opposes abortion rights."

This sentence does not suggest that the mere act of running for governor is equivalent to opposing abortion rights, but rather that the pool of governor candidates happens to include only those who oppose abortion rights.

 
At Sun Feb 18, 01:22:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy noted:

First is "upon this" vs. "from then on". The first is simply not English. The ESV has improved the English without, I don't think, adding any meaning not in the original Greek.

Nice observation, Jeremy. I'm glad that you, also, can spot things which are "not English." That seems to be one of my gifts, or at least I consider it one (not everyone would agree, I suppose).

I have noticed a number of places where the ESV improves upon the RSV. I wish I had recorded them all.

 
At Mon Feb 19, 04:14:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon pointed out: "All the ESV did was choose the wording from the RSV footnote", and Wayne thanked for this, but unfortunately this is incorrect information. The footnote in my RSV is "Greek authority (the veil being a symbol of this)". The ESV reading "a symbol of authority" is not found in this footnote. This is in fact the same as the NRSV reading, and considering that there is no proper justification for this reading it can only mean that ESV copied from NRSV, a process which Jeremy noted also in other passages, in breach of copyright.

Wayne wrote: "The NET Bible footnote lacks the textual variant also, which is surprising given that some of the NET translators, such as Dan Wallace, are decent textual critics." Not at all, Wayne. Wallace, as a decent textual critic, no doubt noted that the textual evidence for the variant is extremely weak and so not worth mentioning. The NET Bible has enough textual footnotes as it is, but if it noted every textual variant as weak as this it would have to have ten times as many notes, mostly rejecting variants which all scholars agree to be secondary.

Anon wrote "Mr. Kirk relied on an electronic version of HALOT and found that it contained errors and omissions not found in the paper edition." I don't remember finding any errors, simply that the electronic edition did not seem to contain an appendix from which someone else quoted. Note that I am currently relying on printed editions of the Greek text and of RSV and NRSV, although not of ESV as I don't consider buying a printed edition to be a good use of my limited resources. The ESV text I sometimes use is direct from the publishers (as for that matter was the electronic edition of HALOT) and so should be textually reliable, although not necessarily complete in terms of footnotes and appendices. But then not all printed editions of Bibles etc include all footnotes and appendices. (The issue with some Logos editions of older works is that they are produced by scanning, a process which is always prone to errors.)

Another improvement from RSV to ESV which no one has mentioned is that the exegetically and translationally indefensible use of a special pronoun for God has been abandoned. Don't accuse me of always being anti-ESV!

 
At Tue Feb 20, 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I consider translation of the first participle of John 11:44 to be another place where the ESV improves upon the RSV. Here is the RSV wording:

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Here is the ESV wording:

The man who had died came out, c his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and c his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

As we all know, dead men can't walk! Both the RSV and NRSV (as well as the REV, NIV, NLT, GW, and ISV) refer to the "dead man" coming out of the cave. But the Greek participle, thneskw can be translated either as "the dead one" or "the one who had been dead."

I prefer the translation wording of the ESV (and NASB, NET, and CEV) that makes it clear that Lazarus was no longer dead. Jesus had already called him out of the cave (v. 43) and Lazarus must have come back to life before he was able to walk.

 
At Wed Nov 07, 04:17:00 PM, Blogger --B said...

I just came across this, and though I know this is an old post...

Peter Kirk said:

"Anon pointed out: "All the ESV did was choose the wording from the RSV footnote", and Wayne thanked for this, but unfortunately this is incorrect information. The footnote in my RSV is "Greek authority (the veil being a symbol of this)". The ESV reading "a symbol of authority" is not found in this footnote. This is in fact the same as the NRSV reading, and considering that there is no proper justification for this reading it can only mean that ESV copied from NRSV, a process which Jeremy noted also in other passages, in breach of copyright."

Actually if you reference older bibles, commentaries, word studies, etc. they often mention either "symbol of authority" or "token of authority"; if I were translating the passage I'd choose "symbol" for most intelligibility or "token" for quaintness...either way, this isn't a breach of copyright, it's well-known among linguists and translators.

There's a lot which people say "this Bible copied from..." however they often are unaware of the myriad of available studies and sources. Interesting though. ; )

Then he wrote: "Another improvement from RSV to ESV which no one has mentioned is that the exegetically and translationally indefensible use of a special pronoun for God has been abandoned. Don't accuse me of always being anti-ESV!"

Now, I'd like to point-out that God is always referred to in the singular: in fact some Jews I've come-across take great offense when people address God with "you"; the "indefensible pronoun", far from being archaic and useless, is grammatically correct: if you (or maybe a lot of you here) spent some time in literary studies and creative writing you'd find that those "archaic" pronouns--which are nearly always necessary not to ambiguate a passage--are very much alive (at least in literataure). It's suprising that all the linguistics fails to teach people the differences between numbers, nominatives and objectives, and persons. : ( The also have the effect of reminding people that yes, what they're reading is old, foreign, not like they think, and frankly they're just required, really, if you wan't to properly represent the grammar: whenever languages lose different forms of address other means to signify them typically attempt to merge (like the southern U.S. "ya'll" for "you" when "thou" has dissapeared).

Is it possible to get "flamed" on a Bible blog? : ) Hope this is useful to ya'll. ; )

 
At Thu Nov 08, 04:40:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, B. The first part of your comment is helpful. Of course it is not breach of copyright to have the same wording as another Bible in one place, especially if that wording can be traced back to older versions or commentaries. If there is systematic copying, as Jeremy seems to have suggested, that could be breach of copyright.

You claim that the wording "symbol of authority" or "token of authority" is found in older Bibles. I would be interested to know which older Bibles. But I accept that there are older Bibles which read "sign of authority", which is almost but not quite the same thing. I continue to maintain that there is "no proper justification for this reading", indeed for any of these three.

B, since you address me as "you" and not "thou", and I am a singular person, I assume that you agree that "you" is in regular use in English as a singular pronoun, and that "thou" is in less regular use, even if not completely archaic as I stated. Indeed you agree that "thou" has "disappeared". I know very well that in early modern English (although already obsolescent at the time of KJV) "thou" was used for the singular and "you" for the plural, so you cannot accuse me of not knowing the rules. I also know that the English language has changed since 1611 such that "thou" is no longer in regular use (except in a few minor dialects). "It's suprising that all the linguistics fails to teach people" that rules of language are not set in stone immutably but change over time.

If in a new Bible translation the second person singular were consistently translated "thou" and the second person plural consistently "you", I would be surprised, and uncertain how helpful this would be, but I would not call this translation choice "indefensible". What I call "indefensible" is the choice in RSV of translating exactly the same source language constructions as "thou" when referring to God and "you" when not. This kind of inconsistency, except when absolutely required by the target language (e.g. if the word for "God" is in a different gender-type noun class from that for a human being), is a breach of the proper principles of translation.

 

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