You Know What? I Just Don’t Care

By | September 20, 2016

There are some things that get me really excited; seeing deer in the woods, England winning a rugby match or the postman dropping off a book that I’ve been waiting for. Other things leave me cold; I can’t get excited about whatever Chelsea are doing and I have very little interest in news about celebrities. Another thing that falls firmly in the meh category is the news that the text of the ESV will not be updated in the future.

Beginning in the summer of 2016, the text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway—in much the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769). This decision was made unanimously by the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee. All future Crossway editions of the ESV, therefore, will contain the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible—unchanged throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity.

Before I get onto the issue of the unchanging text, I’d like to make a few comments about the ESV.

  • Firstly, it is a good translation. Like all of the mainstream translations available in English it has been produced by a team of reputable scholars and is well worth using.
  • It markets itself as a word-for-word translation, but as David Brunn has comprehensively demonstrated, there are places where it is adopts a more ‘free’ approach than its major rivals.
  • The last version of the ESV, the one that will be fixed in perpetuity, has a revision to the text of Genesis which can best be described as controversial.

OK, so what do I make about the decision to fix the text of the ESV? With the little enthusiasm that I can whip up about this subjects, I reckon that there are two ways to look at this question.

The first take is that Crossway, the publishers of the ESV, know very little about languages and don’t understand that the rapid speed at which English is evolving means that the ESV will become archaic and unusable within a relatively short time. It will certainly not have the shelf-life of the Authorised Version.

The second way to look at it is that Crossway know exactly what they are doing. By fixing the words of the translation and drawing a (tenuous) comparison to the Authorised Version they are appealing to a conservative audience and creating an aura of solidity and stability about their product.

I’ve no idea which one of these is correct and, as I might have indicated, I don’t much care. This whole debate is about one translation in one language at a time when there are still around 1,800 languages which don’t have a single word of Scripture available to them.

Now that is something I do care about!

Bloggers, tweeters and commentators have expended a lot of digital ink on the text of one English translation, without any reference to the rest of the world. I’m sorry, but that’s wrong; we shouldn’t be doing it. The British church blog/Twit/Facebook-sphere needs to lift its eyes and look at the wider world; there are great things happening and there are great needs – if only we could be bothered to see them.

In the same way that we talk about Bible translation, but only refer to one northern-European language, we talk about mission, but fail to see beyond our neighbourhood.

Yes, talk about the text of the ESV, by all means, but don’t stop there. There are far more important issues in Bible translation today than this.

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2 thoughts on “You Know What? I Just Don’t Care

  1. Peter Brassington

    just to be pedantic again there aren’t any languages that don’t have “a single word of scripture” but there are plenty that don’t have those words put together to form verses, passages and books. New data will be available by November about work in progress and work that needs to begin. Hoping to also talk more about why scripture might not need translating into every language (there have always been a lot more than 1,800 languages with no published scripture)

  2. Pingback: Translation wars: Why critics are turning on the English Standard version | TLG Christian News

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