When I decided I was only going to read Scripture for Lent, one of the first questions I considered was: What Bible translation am I going to use?
Bible translation is a troubling topic, at least for me. Of course, I want to make sure that I am actually reading what God wants me to read. And I’m not fluent in ancient Greek and Hebrew, so I must rely on what someone else tells me is God’s Word. This fact alone is unsettling to me.
One of the biggest debates in Biblical translation right now is the topic of gender neutral language. Essentially, the question is: how should gendered words be translated? In most Bible translations, they are translated keeping the male nouns and pronouns (he, him, men, brothers, mankind, etc.) Lately, there has been a backlash against this practice. Obviously, “mankind” doesn’t just mean men, so shouldn’t women also be included in the translation?
The English Standard Version is one of the most popular translations for personal devotions, academic study, pastoral reference, and memorization. It’s the version my parents gave me when I graduated from high school. It’s the version my pastor used. Everyone I knew had the ESV.
But about a year ago, as my exploration into the Bible’s passages about women really deepened, I was reading more of Piper, Carson, Grudem, and Packer, and found that on the topic of women in the church, I couldn’t help but disagree. Yet their names are tied with the ESV, the Bible translation I spent time in almost every day. I started exploring the background of the ESV and found some troubling articles. Most troubling to me: the ESV translation committee included absolutely no women. Seriously. You can check out the complete lists of contributors here, here, and here.
Now, I know that all of those men are complimentarians, but I didn’t realize that complimentarianism not only excludes women from the pulpit, but also from scholarly interpretation of the Bible. And I’m sorry, but I am just not going to believe that there were no women whom they could have asked to be part of the team.
What scares me the most is that the message these men are sending is: women can read the Bible, but only the one that we provide for them. The ESV study Bible is called the Reformation Study Bible, but this seems very anti-Reformation to me. Wasn’t Martin Luther fighting against only one group interpreting the Bible for everyone else?
Not only this, but in trying to research books about the gender-language debate and practices in Biblical translation, most of the books I’ve come across are written by many of these same men!
- Translating the Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation by C. John Collins*, Wayne Grudem*, Vern Sheridan Poythress*, Leland Ryken*, and J. I. Packer*
- The Challenge of Bible Translation Contributors: Kenneth L. Barker*, D. A. Carson*, Charles H. Cosgrove, Kent A. Eaton, Dick France, David Noel Freedman, Andreas J. K. Stenberger, David Miano, Douglas J. Moo, Glen G. Scorgie, Moises Silva*, James D. Smith III, John H. Stek, Mark L. Strauss, Ronald A. Veenker, Steven M. Voth, Larry Lee Walker, Bruce K. Waltke, Walter W. Wessel, Herbert M. Wolf
- The Inclusive-Language Debate by D. A. Carson*
- The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God’s Words by Wayne Grudem* and Vern Sheridan Poythress*
*Contributor to the ESV
These men certainly have a monopoly on this topic.
So why do I still read the ESV? Why haven’t I ditched it and gone with the reader-friendly TNIV, or something more academically acclaimed like the NRSV, both of which include women on their translation committees?
I’ll admit right now that I have a somewhat sentimental attachment to my ESV. It’s the Bible I’ve poured into and the one that has poured into me. It’s been my companion through many hard times. The notes in the margins and the ridiculous number of sticky notes are snapshots of my development as a follower of Christ. I don’t want to lose those.
Yes, I am disturbed by what seems like a patriarchal agenda on the part of the contributors. But I don’t believe these men are evil, as many make them out to be. I agree with them on many other, more important topics, like salvation and justification. Though I do believe that gender equality is tied to the Gospel, I do not wish that it be a source of division in the Church.
Mostly, the reason I still keep reading the ESV is that the ESV is not a threat to the Gospel. I believe that the entire Bible teaches freedom for those in Christ, and this is not something that the contributors can cover up by using “he” instead of “he and she.” Obviously, pronouns are not the only issues with gendered language. There’s also the case of Junia/Junias, “well known amongst/to the apostles,” and others. Again, though, these isolated instances do not stop the message of God’s equal love, equal gifting, and equal commissioning of men and women from being told.
I read the ESV knowing its faults. I’m especially careful when I read passages about women. I am quick to compare with other translations, including the NRSV. But for now, the ESV is still my Bible of choice.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you think it’s a mistake for me to keep reading the ESV? What Bible translation do you use?