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The horse’s mouth and the ESV

February 15, 2013

If you hear something from the horse’s mouth, you hear it directly from the person concerned or responsible. That’s what they say.

I received an email today asking, “about the claims (at WORLD Mag and by Ben Witherington) that the ESV was essentially put together to oppose aspects of the translation of the then-upcoming TNIV.”

Apparently some are puzzled since the Crossway blog records the facts on their blog, saying,

The real origin of the ESV Bible goes back to the early 1990s, long before the gender-language controversy, when Crossway’s president, Dr. Lane T. Dennis, talked to a number of Christian scholars and pastors about the need for a new literal translation. He found a hunger for a Bible that conveyed the majesty and dignity of God’s Word, a Bible both accurate and beautiful.

The ESV developed from this perceived need, not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines.

However, Jim Packer, who was the general editor of the ESV at the time that it was first published, put it this way, 

James I. Packer of Regent College in Vancouver served as general editor and chair of the 12-member Translation Oversight Committee. He recently told the translation grew out of discontent with other modern translations — which, he asserted, tend to “deviate from what was said in several thousand places,” in the interests of lucidity or easy readability.

In particular, he said, there was discontent with translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and Today’s New International Version(TNIV) which make such deviations to achieve gender-neutral renderings.

There are also numerous posts on the Bayly blog describing the origins of the ESV. In this post, the Bayly brothers cite an email from Wayne Grudem, dated May 1997, the same month as the Colorado Springs Guidelines meeting.

Date:    May 1, 1997
To:    (members of the working group, including Joel Belz, Tim Bayly, etc.)
From:    Wayne Grudem

In a message dated 97-05-01 14:22:49 EDT, you write:

<<Do you really think another version is possible? It is an enormously expensive and consuming ambition.>>

… Another possibility is getting permission to redo either the old RSV (by changing Thee and Thou, and maybe 5 or 10 places where OT Messianic prophecies were blurred) or the NRSV (by undoing the gender-neutral language). Bruce Metzger himself might be interested in that… The RSV copyright is owned by the National Council of Churches.

A third possibility is a new translation. But a really good one will look a lot like a sanitized RSV or a slightly more readable NASB. And the NASB has to change its name to gain acceptance in the rest of the English speaking world…

How could Wayne Grudem, Jim Packer and the other members of the team have worked on publishing a new version of the English Bible because of “discontent with” the NRSV and TNIV, but “not in reaction” to these Bibles? The Bayly brothers have posted on this topic also here, here, here, and here.

I have no idea why Packer would say that “the producers were very careful to not make extravagant claims or get into a competition with other translations.” Of course they did! The producers, that is Grudem and crew claimed that the TNIV was wrong in 3,600 different places. I find that extravagant. [And in this interview Packer also has just said that the TNIV deviates “from what was said in several thousand places.” Isn’t that an extravagant claim? Okay, this reminds me of the time my 4 year-old stole some lipstick, smeared it all over her face, and then proceeded to tell me that she had not taken any lipstick. It’s rather cute when one is 4 years old.]

After this mess, after talking the whole thing over with Jim Packer, I left the evangelical community for good. The only thing that makes it possible for the Crossway blog to say what they said is that the ESV was produced as a response to an earlier version of the TNIV, called the NIVI , published in the UK, and not the TNIV. However, Packer did not differentiate between the TNIV and the NIVI.

It is as if Crossway had fingers crossed under the table. But Grudem also denied that the ESV was in response to the TNIV. He wrote on Justin Taylor’s blog the following,

Dear Ben,

Regarding your blog about the ESV Bible on Feb. 20th, 2006, I suspect I am the “one particular scholar” to whom you refer in your second paragraph. …

But contrary to what you reported from your friend on the TNIV committee (which I think was his speculation), the ESV grew out of the appreciation of many scholars for the merits of the old RSV and a desire to see it updated, and not out of opposition to the TNIV Bible. The reason for my own involvement with the ESV was a long-standing desire to see an updated RSV, and had little or nothing to do with the TNIV controversy.

Therefore, Grudem is claiming that on the one hand, in May of 1997, he was working on a new revision of the RSV, and in the same month he headed up a campaign against the TNIV, and the drafting of the Colorado Springs Guidelines; but in fact, these things had little or nothing to do with each other. It’s hardly bearable.

This is one of those request posts!

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