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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

ESV review: comparison with the KJV

The ESV blog is linking to reviews of the ESV. I would like to add my thoughts on the ESV since I have been reviewing and interviewing and researching and reading original articles on some of the following translation decisions.

But first, let me give my testimony and personal experience regarding Bible translations. I believe, along with the general editor of the ESV, with whom I have chatted on these topics, that each of us needs more than one translation. I understand his position to be that the ESV and the NLT2 are the two best and most suitable choices.

I like this. One translation in the Tyndale tradition and one in contemporary language. Now if I were asked which two translations I would choose, they would be the King James Version and the Good News Bible. I have held this opinion since I was 17 and nothing yet has changed my mind on this.

I don't want to feature the merits of the NLT2 vs the GNB today. But I would like to explain my continued loyalty to the King James Version. So I will compare the ESV with the KJV and I hope that you will see some of the reasons why I like the KJV - why it still has my vote.

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rom. 12:19 ESV

    Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Rom. 12:19 KJV
The KJV does not add the name of God into the English text to disambiguate, whereas he ESV does.

    Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 ESV

    Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 KJV
The KJV uses the more familiar English word 'reconciliation'. In fact, this is one of the things that puzzles me the most. Why is 'propitiation' such an issue? I asked a member of the ESV translation team about it and he said that they used the word because Tyndale used it. This seems to be one of the most pervasive constructed memories in Bible translation history. By which I mean Tyndale did not use the word at all, and the KJV did not use it in all the contexts that the ESV does.

    This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people (anthropoi) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men (anthropoi) , the man (anthropos) Christ Jesus, 1 Tim. 2:3-5 ESV

    For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men (anthropoi) to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men (anthropoi), the man (anthropos) Christ Jesus; 1 Tim. 2:3-5 KJV
The KJV is consistent, very consistent. If it was 'people' in Greek, it was 'men' in English; there was one way to say 'people' and that was 'men'. As to the ESV, I have not, in spite of many discussions, discovered its philosophy on translating the Greek word 'anthropos'.

    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ESV Matt. 5:9

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. KJV Matt. 5:9
Some supporters of the ESV seem to think that this verse is identical in the ESV and the KJV. So here the problem for me is that once again the ESV creates a false memory of the KJV. People now read the ESV and they actually think that they are benefitting from the Tyndale - KJV tradition. They are not.

    I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Tim. 2:12 ESV

    But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 1 Tim. 2:12 KJV
A member of the ESV translation team commented once that to use 'assume' in this verse is a 'novel and suspect' translation. Personally, I understand it to be the other way around. 'Exercise' is the 'novel and suspect' translation for this verse. 'Assume' is identified with 'usurp' in the OED. Once again, there seem to be fictitious memories of the KJV.

    That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 1 Cor. 11:10 ESV

    For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 1 Cor. 11:10 KJV
The KJV matches Luther's Bible here. Why improve on the Luther - Tyndale tradition, I have to ask?
    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. ESV Romans 16:7

    Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. KJV Romans 16:7
I went to the Greek databases and chased down every detail of this translation issue. There is little support for departing from the literal and transparent rendering of the KJV.

I especially like the word 'note' in the KJV, since it is a direct translation of 'sema' in the Greek, and both these words 'notae' in Latin and 'semata' in Greek are also used to describe things like shorthand and seals. They are significant words to an abecedarian like me. I love the old KJV when it is so transparent and meaningful. Andronicus and Junia were episemoi, of note, marked on, they were 'sealed' in their apostleship. Such language is a delight.

    So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. Matt. 4:24 ESV

    And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. Matt. 4:24 KJV
Starting a sentence with 'so' is not too bad, but give me back 'and' any day. To start a sentence with 'and' is the chocolate of the stylist's repertoire. Why tidy it up and sweep away the 'ands'?

And what about the anachronism? When did the 'moonstruck', the seleniazomenoi, of ancient Palestine, represented transparently by 'lunatick' in the KJV, become epileptic? Who diagnosed them? For me the 'lune' in lunatick directly represents the meaning 'moon' selene in the Greek.

On the side of the ESV - it has an excellent blog, really outstanding and a great publicity team. They have created the impression that the ESV Bible is transparent to the Greek. As for me, give me that old time religion and the KJV.


At Thu Mar 08, 08:06:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Ms. McCarthy points out some superior features of the KJV.

I could point to many more -- here is just one:

Just read the excerpts given above aloud.


The pattern of stress and rhythm in the KJV shows a sense of elegance and beauty that has never been equaled in English bible translation. And this comes closest to the dominant feature of Hebrew Scripture (and an important one in many parts of the Greek) -- its rhythm.

Someone posted here about a person who could make the KJV sing when she read it aloud. But the truth is that the KJV always sings -- the translators were acutely sensitive to the needs of the public reader and the listener.

At Thu Mar 08, 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

the translators were acutely sensitive to the needs of the public reader and the listener.

I was also thinking of this when I saw the visual arrangement of the lines in the Lindisfarne manuscript. It seemed to me that it might come from a sensitivity to how the passage would sound when read aloud. As far as I know this contrasts to Greek manuscripts that only have larger paragraph breaks.

Not only does the Lindisfarne manuscript seem sensitive to reader and listener but the visual art is also unusual and varied. Some of it, the carpet pages, for example, which I have not discussed, seem intended to lead the reader into quiet contemplation. I am glad to have this opportunity to learn what I can from this stage of English bible translation.

I am guessing that the English church of the 7th to 10th centuries shared with the Hebrew culture an affinity for rhythmic narrative presentation.

I have attended some storytelling events in French Canada and have also particpated in this rich storytelling culture. I think it is something which we have less of now in our contemporary Anglophone culture. There is a way that stories are structured and retold to maintain movement and tension.

At Thu Mar 08, 10:22:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

There is a way that stories are structured and retold to maintain movement and tension.

And so that they can be more easily remembered to be passed on in oral traditions. Structure and rhythm, help with that.

I don't know if I remember the large number of verses I memorized from the KJV as a child so well, even today, because they were from the KJV. I *think* I would have more difficulty remembering verses from Bible versions with less rhythm, but I don't know if that's because I'm older and just can't remember anything so well, or because there is less literary structure to act as memory aids.

At Fri Mar 09, 01:45:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

You say, "'Assume' is identified with 'usurp' in the OED".
Not according to the Oxford Dictionary.
More wishful thinking.

At Fri Mar 09, 03:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I'm glad that you like KJV, but you have the advantage over most of the rest of us, including me, that you actually understand it quite well. For example, I suppose that you understand the totally archaic use of "suffer" in 1 Timothy 2:12 KJV, but most people don't. As for "divers diseases" in Matthew 4:24 KJV, that can only mean "the bends". For the rest of us, if we want an "essentially literal" type of translation, we have a rather limited choice.

The KJV does not add the name of God into the English text to disambiguate, whereas he ESV does.

And ESV is supposed to be "essentially literal" and "transparent"? Just see what the ESV translators have to say about other translations which make "changes" or introduce "inaccuracies" just like this. Let those who are without "sin" cast the first stone.

(In a comment) I am guessing that the English church of the 7th to 10th centuries shared with the Hebrew culture an affinity for rhythmic narrative presentation.

There was a Rochelle Altman who was active last year on the b-hebrew list and claimed similarities between biblical Hebrew and mediaeval English. Here she states: "There exists an early bilingual for Hebrew-English Psalms.
We know the melodies and, the instructions on *how* to sing the Psalm are
written into the MS. All one needs do is to follow the instructions in the
MS, use the bilingual to cross-check, and there you are: the Psalms as sung
-- not chanted, SUNG --in the second temple period.
" She has obviously done some serious research in this area. I don't know much about this, but it might be of interest to you.

At Fri Mar 09, 05:47:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

glennsp wrote: You say, "'Assume' is identified with 'usurp' in the OED".
Not according to the Oxford Dictionary.
More wishful thinking.

Hmmm... Now I'm puzzled, Glenn. Here's the relevant bit of the OED (i.e., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989) entry for "assume":

III. To take as being one's own, to arrogate, pretend to, claim, take for granted.

7. trans. To take to oneself as a right or possession; to lay claim to, appropriate, arrogate, usurp.

1548 HALL Chron. Hen. VII, an. 1 (R.) This Lambert might assume..the person and name of one of kyng Edward the fourthes chyldren. 1627 FELTHAM Resolves I. vi. Wks. 1677, 7 Such..think there is no way to get Honour, but by a bold assuming it. 1715 BURNET Own Time (1766) I. 345 Murray assumed to himself the praise of all that was done. 1833 I. TAYLOR Fanat. x. 461 That assume..intolerant jurisdiction over other men's conduct. 1849 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. II. 126 The king assumed to himself the right of filling up the chief municipal offices.

Looks to me like Suzanne's on the money, here.

(Too bad the BBB rss feed seems to be broken. It hasn't been updating in my Bloglines reader for a few days now!)

David Reimer

At Fri Mar 09, 07:38:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Looks to me like Suzanne's on the money, here.

Thank you, David, Anonymous supplied this information last time we had this discussion with Glenn.

I used the Concise OED and it contains an abridged form of this information.


I heard the KJV read from the time I was born I assume. No, I did not have trouble eith the words you mention. The only misunderstanding I can remember is wondering at 3 years old why it was acceptable for Joseph to pee his pants in moments of intense emotion and it wasn't alright if us kids did that.

So I was 3 when I asked what bowels meant in the KJV. No, it doesn't mean he pooed his pants either. But, you know 3 year olds -not much else in life to talk about. Other than that I was good. And my Dad did not skip even one chapter of the OT at the dining room table.

My difficulty is that I actually thought that other people were also familiar with the KJV, so it has been with growing consternation that I have noticed that many have congtructed memories of the KJV.

Unlike Anonymous, I don't think that everyone should be literate in the KJV. Like Anonymous, I think that at least some people should be literate in the KJV.

And, yes, Peter, I have heard of Rochelle Altman. Interesting ideas but I don't really have the background to evaluate her theories so I try not to go there.

At Fri Mar 09, 07:43:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Too bad the BBB rss feed seems to be broken. It hasn't been updating in my Bloglines reader for a few days now!

Hmm. I've been getting all the feeds OK in my rss reader. Maybe the problem has been with Bloglines.

At Fri Mar 09, 08:33:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

(Thanks for the heads-up, Wayne. I unsubscribed and re-subscribed and now my feeder is being fed fine. :)

At Fri Mar 09, 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

A question as I try to decide between ESV and TNIV for my church:

I am really desiring to get my church onto on translation when it comes to our ministries. I know everyone will use their favorites, but when it comes to the translation used for Scripture reading, for my preaching, for memorization, I am desirous of one translation.

I have been a fan of NASB but the ESV is replacing that for me personally. I have not liked the NIV, but the TNIV is winning me over. It's readable and they worked to clean up some small things that irritated me before.

I can live with TNIV. However, is this translation going to make it? Zondervan and IBS are taking such a tremendous amount of heat, I don't see Zondervan pushing this like they did the NIV. I emailed asking about a wide margin TNIV (other than that squared one they have) and they said they have no plans for one, even though they have a NIV and NASB wide margin Bible.

If I switch us to TNIV and then Zondervan doesn't support it, am I getting into something that won't be here five years from now, or no the equivalancy of the NASB as far as level of acceptance?

Sorry for the long comment. I am really desiring some thoughts on this, though.

At Fri Mar 09, 06:08:00 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Apprentice, I doubt that you need to worry about Zondervan supporting the TNIV. Now that the brouhaha over its inclusive language has died down, they are marketing it nearly as aggressively as they ever did the NIV. It was the 6th best selling Bible in America in December, though it has currently dropped off the top ten list.

But my question to you is, have you spoken to your church about the "gender neutral" language of the TNIV? Many evangelicals find it unacceptable. You may be in for a fight if you choose to use it.


At Fri Mar 09, 06:45:00 PM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

Gary, it's an issue we regularly discuss. It is also a matter of saying it's more "gender accurate" than "gender neutral." Neutral has a rather negative connotation, turning everyone to IT, or something.

We feel this whole thing with gender has been a straw man argument, which kept me from examining the TNIV more closely for a time. Then, I heard a speech from Gordon Fee, one of the translators, and I realized the TNIV really had made some nice updates outside the gender issue. It was then I re-examined the TNIV and found I actually LIKE it! (A shock for me because I really didn't care for the NIV).


At Sat Mar 10, 10:03:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rick Mansfield disagrees with Gary that Zondervan "are marketing [TNIV] nearly as aggressively as they ever did the NIV".

At Sat Mar 10, 11:19:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

The term "propitiation" appears to have been introduced into English by Wycliffe's 1388 translation (e.g., Leviticus 25:9). The ESV translators simply mixed up Wycliffe and Tyndale.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Well, it is definitely from the Vulgate so I can see why it would appear in the Wycliff version. However, it does not occur in the NT passages of either the Wycliff or Tyndale verson - ASFIK. Of course, the word had currency very early on from the Vulgate.

However, my point is that it is not part of the Tyndale tradition, nor does it occur in the NT passages of the Wycliff version.

But what you are saying is that this word 'propitiation' is used in Wycliff for 'atonement' in Lev. 23:9. The ESV and KJV have 'atonement' in that verse.

Interesting. Thanks. I don't have any of the Hebrew scriptures for Wycliff. I am going to check this in the Septuagint. Now I am curious.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:10:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

See Hebrews 9:5.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks for drawing my attention to this.

In the Greek both Lev.25:9 and 1 John 2:2 have ἱλασμός. But in the ESV Lev. 25:9 has atonement and in 1 John 2:2 it has propitiation. However, in the TNIV Lev. 25:9 has atonement and in 1 John 2:2 it has atoning sacrifice.

So, if the authors of the Christian scriptures were using the Septuagint as their source text, then it would be more consistent to use the same English word in each context, I would think. It seems that the TNIV is more internally consistent in this case.

The ESV translators simply mixed up Wycliffe and Tyndale.

That is just plain odd - they are not even a translation of the same text.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The TNIV has the 'atonement cover' for this verse, Heb. 9:5. So once again the TNIV actually ties together several different references to ιλασμος and ιλαστηριον.

Really this whole connection seems to me to be completely lost in the ESV. One could use mercy seat, or at least put mercy seat in the notes when propitiation is used.

The TNIV seems to be making some attempt to make the issue transparent or concordant. It is always disturbing to me that people reading in English don't see the day of atonement and the mercy seat in these references. The Darby Bible used mercy seat and so did Tyndale for some of these references.

At Sat Mar 10, 12:45:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Leviticus 25:9 (not 23:9):

and thou schalt sowne with a clarioun in the seuenthe monethe, in the tenthe dai of the monethe, in the tyme of propiciacioun, `that is, merci, in al youre lond

Note that the school of Wycliffe felt it necessary to include a definition of the term with the first use.

Hebrews 9:5:

on whiche thingis weren cherubyns of glorie, ouerschadewinge the propiciatorie; of whiche thingis it is not now to seie bi alle.

At Sat Mar 10, 02:13:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Oh, thank you! This is very interesting. I have think about this.


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