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Can we fix Bible translation?

The translation committee of the English Standard Version has announced that there will be no more revisions to the text, which now becomes the Permanent Text. The ESV is not one of the ‘big hitters’ in translation like the NIV (it is used by around 8% of American Bible readers) but it has been the preferred choice amongst conservative evangelicals since its publication in 2001. It was not, in fact, a fresh translation, but a relatively light revision of the 1971 version of the RSV (changing only 6% of the text), in some ways a reaction against the inclusive language NRSV.

In principle, this is a rather odd decision to make. Although ordinary Bible readers might feel frustrated both by the constant revision of translations and the plethora of new translations that appear to keep coming out, both are important indicators of what translation is about. Anyone who speaks more than one language is aware that, even thinking at the level of words, moving from one language to another is not entirely straightforward—consider, for a moment, the range of meanings of the English have compared with the meanings of the French avoir (this is usually called ‘the semantic range’). Because these ranges don’t match, translation involves an interpretative decision about which word is needed in a particular context. Now add to this not just a significant change of historical context, but (particularly in the case of Hebrew) a fundamentally different structure to language, then you can see some of the issues. I have been struck that, if you do an internet search for a biblical phrase, there is rarely any difficulty in finding it in online Bibles, because all such phrases are nothing like ordinary English!

Translations also have to wrestle with the different ways in which language has an impact on us. The ESV takes an ‘essentially literal’ approach, by which they mean, a ‘word for word’ approach, in order to assist close study of the text. But meaning at the level of individual words is only one of the ways that language has an impact—it also functions at the level of phrases and ideas (hence the value of ‘dynamic equivalent‘ translations such as the GNB, CEV and to a lesser extent NRSV), and at the level of rhetorical effect (hence the value of paraphrases like The Message). We need to ask not only ‘What did the text mean?’ but also ‘What was its significance?’ as well as ‘What was the impact on hearers?’

But there are at least three reasons why translations can never really be fixed. The first is that we might make discoveries in the ancient world which shed new light on the significance of ideas, terms or episodes. The second is that, there continue to be discoveries of new and earlier manuscripts of the NT which might affect translation. The primary reason why the KJV is not a good Bible to read and study (apart from its archaic language) is that, since it was fixed 150 years after the first version, we have discovered many more better, earlier manuscripts of both Old and New Testaments, the most significant being the Dead Sea Scrolls. But the third reason has to do with our world; contemporary language continues to change, and so translation to this changing ‘target language’ will need to be open to review.


This might be taken to imply that the ESV translators are happy for new translations to supersede this one in time. But the announcement itself suggests something else, and it has drawn sharp criticism. First, they draw a parallel with the permanence of the KJV:

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).

Stanley Porter (with his co-writers) is absolutely scathing on his blog at what he sees as the hubris of drawing such a parallel with the KJV, a hubris made worse by the ill-judged citation of Paul’s words to Timothy:

In making these final changes, the Crossway Board of Directors and the Translation Oversight Committee thus affirm that their highest responsibility is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20)—to guard and preserve the very words of God as translated in the ESV Bible.

The ‘deposit’ Paul is referring to is, of course, the good news about Jesus, and not the words of a particular translation, and this use collapses the distinction between the words of Scripture (either the early copies in the original language or the autograph which we probably do not have) and a particular translation—a dangerous move, echoing the ‘King James Only’ movement, suggesting that, in some sense, God originally spoke in English!

Even greater concern arises from the final changes made to the text before ‘fixing it.’ The ESV announcement lists the changes, claiming that they are of minimal significance, and indeed most are trivial. But why make such changes at the last minute, rather than, as previously, making the changes first, allow them to be reviewed and discussed, before making the text permanent? The reason is revealed by the first change in the list:

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-08-06-19

Scot McKnight offers a detailed analysis of what is going on here. Properly understood, this verse is descriptive of the result of the fall—but the changed ESV translation turns this instead into something prescriptive: women will be resistant to male power, but men are (in effect) commanded to subdue women.

Gen 3:16 describes how fallen humans may/will behave at times. This is not what God wants; but this is what will happen. It is not a necessity (and doesn’t history absolutely prove that not all men and women fight?). It is not God’s design. Already in the Old Testament there is evidence that there is a better way: truly loving relationships are reciprocal relations of desire for one another, not a war of wills. Not a desire-rule but desire-desire…

The ESV here is mistaken in over translating Genesis 3:16 and the mistake is the assumption emerges from the belief that this is prescription and not description. As description it needs some nuancing; as prescription it turns the male against the female, the wife against the husband, and it means the male partner will rule by God’s design…

This translation turns women and men into contrarians by divine design. The fall means women are to submit to men and men are to rule women, but women will resist the rule. This has moved from subordinationism to female resistance to subordinationism.


This all appears to be part of a wider theological argument, that women are eternally subordinated to men as the Son is believed to be eternally subordinate to the Father. There is a myriad of problems with this view, not least that it contradicts both Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 7.4 that men and women exercise mutual authority over each other’s bodies in marriage and sexual relations, and Jesus’ teaching that there will be no marriage in heaven (Matt 22.30, Mark 12.25, Luke 20.36). And, most seriously of all, this translation contradicts the actual meaning of the Hebrew. McKnight cites the analysis of Sam Powell, ‘the pastor of First Reformed Church in Yuba City’ who has ‘loved the Heidelberg Catechism from my youth’ (so hardly a radical feminist egalitarian!):

The question is whether the preposition ‘el ever has the meaning “contrary to”, as the ESV revision committee, following the lead of Susan Foh, claims.

The simple answer is no. If you wish to do a very technical study, you may look at Bruce Waltke and M. O’Conner, Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns) 1990. 11.2.2. A helpful summary of that massive work is the work by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi (A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003). Hebrew prepositions generally have a primary spatial meaning, with metaphorical secondary meaning. The primary spatial meaning is terminative (to, unto, towards).

I know, very technical. Let me break it down. The preposition ‘el means to, unto, or towards. It is a preposition indicating the termination of movement. That is its primary meaning. If I leave my office and walk to my house, I would use the preposition ‘el. Towards. Most commonly, it is used with the verb “to say” to indicate to whom the words are said. In the phrase, “And God said unto Moses”, the preposition ‘el would be used. God designed his words to terminate in the ears of Moses. I hope this makes sense…

logo-of-el-al-israel-airlinesAfter a detailed survey of both lexicons and parallel uses of the word (which, incidentally, is the first word of Israel’s national airline, El Al, meaning ‘To upon’ or we might paraphrase ‘Up and away!’) Powell concludes this:

To summarize this rather complicated  survey, the basic meaning of the word is to, or towards. Sometimes, if the context and the verb used are hostile, “against” would be a proper meaning. But this does not mean that we can pick and choose whatever meaning we want. “Contrary to”, in the context of Genesis 3:16 or 4:7, cannot be justified.

And Powell then goes on to put this verse in the context of the narrative of Genesis 2 and 3:

Before, Adam and Eve were one flesh. There is no hint of hierarchy in the garden. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the meaning of “help meet”, but suffice it to say that hierarchy, authority and submission are not inherent in the Hebrew word ‘ezer (help). It is the name most often given to God, Israel’s help.

Instead, the relationship of the man and the woman was a relationship of unity and love. They were one flesh, committed, loving, fleeing all others, cleaving to one another. I believe in that context, Gen 3:16 can only mean one thing. Eve will still long for that. Her longing will terminate on her husband. She will long for that which was lost in Eden. But instead, her husband will rule over her.


As I hope you can see by now, this very small, last-minute change to the translation of a single term has significant implications, and I can see generations of men (and it will be men) clutching their ESVs to make their case. But this also has implications for what it means to be evangelical. As a senior leader in the C of E said to me recently, ‘I believe that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is the final authority for faith and doctrine.’ That, I believe, is that heart of what it means to be evangelical (and probably what it means to be Anglican and Christian). But the ESV translators are undermining that in the most serious way. They appear to have decided, on other grounds, what the text of the Bible needs to say, and by golly they are going to help it say that. They truly are attempting to ‘fix’ the Bible. I am seriously tempted to prohibit its use in my classes, not because it is a poor word-for-word translation (which mostly it isn’t), but because its existence now represents a contradiction to the key principle that evangelicals, of all people, should be standing up for.

C H Spurgeon famously compare the Bible to a lion, who does not need defending, but needs simply to be let out of the cage (he actually said it three times in three slightly different ways). What the ESV appears to be doing is true to secure the bars to keep the Bible firmly in the ‘sound’ cage.


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71 Responses to Can we fix Bible translation?

  1. Mike Booker September 16, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Thanks Ian. Really insightful stuff, and a timely warning to those Christians who would want to squeeze the scriptures into their own mould

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 11:19 am #

      Indeed—in any way they attempt to do it.

      I didn’t say this in the article (perhaps I should revise) but this has been attempted before and in the same direction, with the change of Junia’s name to Junias, to prevent us thinking that Paul could have considered a woman to be an apostle.

  2. Phill September 16, 2016 at 9:49 am #

    I gave up on the ESV as my regular translation a few years ago – it’s just too clunky – i.e. sometimes you wonder where the translators actually understood English as a first language – and I don’t think it accomplishes what it aims (as you point out, a ‘word for word’ translation is impossible). I still think Doug Moo’s article We still don’t get it is very helpful on translations.

    I preached on Genesis 3 recently, Gordon Wenham had some interesting things to say about v16. I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as you say here, and I think context is more important than the interpretation of the individual words which are deployed in a somewhat unusual way. But in general I think it’s better to try and be relatively neutral on contentious issues when translating; I don’t really see the reason for the ESV change here.

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      Interestingly, Gordon has been an advocate of the ESV (I am not sure if he was on the translation committee when it started—I think probably so) and in an introductory piece in the church press he said that ‘It aimed to preserve the cadences of the KJV’. I don’t really see how that fits within a proper translation policy, unless you want to make the Bible sound more religious than it is.

      (There are places where the NT draws heavily on the LXX in order to sound ‘religious’, for example in Revelation, but that is a slightly different issue.)

      Where would you take issue with Powell’s grammatical analysis?

      • Phill September 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

        Hmm, I didn’t know that about Gordon, it’s a shame when the KJV is seen as the benchmark of every good translation.

        I think what I was trying to say was not that I disagreed with Powell’s grammatical analysis, but rather that Gen 3:16 is not a ‘complementarian’ or ‘egalitarian’ verse. The different camps will have different ways of interpreting it which take into account the grammar and so on – I think I agree with you that the new ESV seems to go too far in over-interpreting. But one doesn’t have to accept the new ESV translation to be a complementarian. That’s my take on it anyway.

        • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

          Ah, I agree: ‘You don’t have to accept the new ESV translation to be a complementation’, but the problem is if you do accept the ESV translation you cannot be other. I think that’s the intent!

  3. Thomas Renz September 16, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    I agree that the announcement does not strike the right tone and I am dismayed that “against” in Gen 3:16 and 4:7 has made it from the footnote to the main text. But I am less sure that it is wrong for a translation to be “fixed”. Is it not standard for texts of a given translation to stay the same until there is an actual revision?

    The ESV had been produced in a bit of a hurry and was notorious for being constantly changed so that, I am told, a Bible study group all using the ESV might have three different texts in front of them. I have barelu used the ESV but I did notice that among my BibleWorks updates the ESV featured prominently, i.e. kept being changed. To me it does make sense to stop tinkering and to say “this is the text of the ESV” – for better or worse (and in some places definitely for worse).

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 11:25 am #

      I don’t think I realised how close it was to the RSV until writing this. But isn’t the problem producing it in a hurry in the first place? Why was this, unless it was to try and push an agenda?

      It is interesting that the NIV translators have made exactly the opposite decision. Instead of doing periodic revisions with different names, they have now said that the NIV 2015 will be revised in future but not renamed. (I am not sure about the last set of revisions there, either.)

      They could have fixed it to allow it to be passed over by future translations—but the language used doesn’t suggest that!

      • seektruthfromfacts September 16, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

        The hurry was that the publishers withdrew the RSV in order to boost sales of the NRSV. I remember this well because my theology degree
        required the use of the RSV, and so for two years I had to use a bizarre children’s Bible that had the ‘boring’ bits in smaller print, as that was the only edition available in Blackwell’s!

        • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

          How interesting. That could have lead to hurry in the first instance…but why not revise at leisure…?

  4. Wolf Paul September 16, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    The “final ESV” has basically become a propaganda pamphlet in the disagreement between complementarians and egalitarians, and as such is unusable for anyone who does not want to get into that fight.

  5. Trevor Allen September 16, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    I am not a professional religious, or academic, and I follow these articles as a layman only. My lifelong concern has been to use a translation (or usually translations) which is as close to expressing the heart of the meaning of scripture as possible as an aid to knowing God and living a Christian life. I am also aware from my own professional field as a Mediator and Conciliator that conscious or unconscious assumptions will inevitably colour any piece of writing including translation. My question is, is it possible to find today a translation that reflects the meaning of the text with as little pollution as possible from those assumptions held by the translators and their paymasters? How much do the different translations effectively write a “propaganda pamphlet” as Mr Wolf Paul puts it, to suit their own leanings and then say, as appears to have happened to the ESV: “this is THE Word of the Lord”?

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 11:30 am #

      Thanks Trevor. I think there is a big difference between having an agenda, and writing ‘propaganda’. For me, there are three issues:

      1. Is the aim of this translation (or paraphrase) one that is legitimate to have within the task of translation? Engaging a particular audience or bringing our a particular dimension of the text (e.g. its rhetorical impact) is; pushing a theological line isn’t.

      2. Are the decisions in translation based on open discussion with a wide range of experts on the technical questions?

      3. Are the translators being transparent about their aims, so that readers know what they are getting and why certain decisions have been made?

      These are all questions which, if answered well, serve the reader and the church, but if answered badly (or not at all) suggest that the translation is seeking to function as a priestly power in mediating the meaning of Scripture.

  6. Ian Macnair September 16, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    “What the ESV appears to be doing is true to secure the bars to keep the Bible firmly in the ‘sound’ cage.”

    Should ‘true’ be ‘try’?

    A good article.

    My only positive response to the ESV decision is my frustration at not being able to access past revisions of newer versions such as the NIV. Retaining printed versions for comparison is now the only way to legitimately compare current with past versions. However we rely so much on accessing digital versions via the internet that keeping printed copies is no longer a habit.

    At least now we can access the ESV and evaluate it, whether we agree with the translation decisions or not.

  7. Philip Almond September 16, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    Ian

    ‘This all appears to be part of a wider theological argument, that women are eternally subordinated to men as the Son is believed to be eternally subordinate to the Father.’

    I just point out again (as in my many posts to fulcrum no longer in the public domain) that although Reform, Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and many others make the Father –Son relationship the starting point of their case contra the ordination of women, they are, in my humble opinion, mistaken to do so. The right starting point for the contra case is Ephesians 5:18-33, proceeding via 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Genesis 2 to 1 Timothy 2 and 3.

    Phil Almond

  8. Will September 16, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    Thanks Ian. I agree that there are issues with the particular verses you highlight, and with the idea of a “fixed” translation. However surely to single out the ESV is a little unfair? All translations have their particular bias, and could be perceived as having an “agenda”. Despite denials to the contrary, I still wonder how influenced the NIV ’11 has been by egalitarian evangelical politics. Likewise I was surprised to notice the other day that the footnote for Rom 3:25 in NIV ’11 has removed all references to God’s wrath regarding the translation of hilasterion, whereas the NIV ’84 made that very clear, following Morris etc. I am not qualified enough to comment on the rights and wrongs, but I can see how an accusation of translator bias could be made. I guess it is a reminder of the need to use a variety of translations in study and reading, rather than relying on one.

    Although I’m not sure I agree with the decision to “fix” the ESV, I do see some benefits as Thomas has implied. One area is scripture memorisation for example. Having memorised quite a lot from the NIV ’84, it is now frustrating to find that quite a lot of verses I memorised have changed in the NIV’11, and the translation I grew up on is effectively obsolete. There is also the issue of the sheer variety of English translations on offer now, which can simply lead to confusion. In our house group we regularly have about five different translations represented…

    I’m sorry to be a cynic, but shouldn’t we also be alive to the commercial implications of a programme of regular revisions…?

  9. Alastair Roberts September 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    There are a couple of points here that seem to me to be quite inaccurate.

    1. The new translation is not ‘prescriptive’ at all, as McKnight suggests. I’m just not sure where he is getting this from the actual words. Besides, while the new translation is open to such a reading, the old translation is open to such a reading too. The controversial character of the new translation is due to its representation of the desire of the woman as a desire for control. That is the real issue. There are interpretations of the text that are prescriptive floating around in some complementarian circles, but these are not demanded by any translation that I know of. Beyond these points, I don’t think that the logic of McKnight’s argument holds more generally. There are occasions when God brings a judgment upon people that establishes a state of affairs that is not good. For instance, when God judges people by giving them over to the tyranny of their desires in Romans 1, it would be quite misleading to suggest that their subsequent behaviour is God’s good purpose for his creation.

    2. ‘This all appears to be part of a wider theological argument, that women are eternally subordinated to men as the Son is believed to be eternally subordinate to the Father.’ Complementarian circles simply aren’t that monolithic yet, sadly, McKnight frequently catastrophizes intramural complementarian debates to suggest that there is some sort of patriarchal conspiracy, with only a brave few speaking out against them. I know the circles in question very well, because I often move in them. I have written at considerable length against the eternal subordination of the Son and have written against this new translation of Genesis 3:16, yet I am published on many of the sites that are being criticized. I also have a publishing contract with Crossway, who publish the ESV, for a book that will directly speak to many of these issues along the way. There is considerable diversity of opinion on these issues and many complementarians are having friendly and receptive, yet challenging, debates about these matters among themselves. The homogeneous complementarian industrial complex that McKnight seems to think exists really doesn’t. Unfortunately, all such representations do is excite the sort of party spirit, polarizations, and mutual distrust that prevents the sorts of sharpening conversations that complementarians are having from taking place.

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

      Alastair, thanks for the comment.

      I am not sure why you assume McKnight sees the ‘other side’ as monolithic; how could he when he cites someone firmly within the Reformed tradition in his discussion? But his comment on ‘prescriptive’ is based on his discussion with those who support this reading. He says earlier:

      A brief discussion. First, for everyone I’ve discussed this with in the ESV complementarian camp, these verses are prescriptive. Which means this is God’s curse on all women for all time (until heaven and maybe then too). Women will need to be ruled over by their men (and many think this is true both about home and society, though not all) because women, evidently, acted out of order when Eve did what she did.

      The “desire” of the woman in Genesis 3:16 is understood, as the result of the fall and God’s curse on them, to be a desire to rule or dominate. They want to usurp the man’s authority. The man’s task — as part of God’s prescriptive design — is to rule, guide, and lead the woman. I do hear at times softer versions: women desire to be with men and it is the man’s job to mentor and rule women. Either in the harder or softer form, this is God’s design for women and for men during at least the Fall period of human history. Hierarchy of some sort and patriarchy of some sort are designed by God for fallen human beings.

      I have to say, this has been my (limited) experience too. The aim appears to be to provide a link with 1 Tim 2.12 in an overall canonical reading. The real question here is:

      a. why would you adopt a reading which is clearly not supported by the exegetical evidence?
      b. why would you change it at the last minute?
      c. why would you then go to ‘translation lock-down’ when it is much wiser to wait a while for debate to happen?

      I agree with you that the hierarchalist/’compelementarian’ view is not monolithic—but some well-known figures appear to make it more so, arguing that (for example) eternal subordination is the only credible way to read Scripture and history. (Of course, these attempts happen on all sides).

      I am not sure about ‘the sites that are criticised’; I don’t think many were mentioned in these posts were they?

      • Alastair Roberts September 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

        Thanks for the response, Ian.

        I am referring to the way that McKnight has represented complementarian-leaning entities such as Crossway or TGC and the circles of people associated with those groups in the past. I’ve been a (generally appreciative) follower of McKnight’s blog for several years and comment very frequently there (more frequently than anywhere else, I think), so I don’t just have this particular post in mind (I am primarily thinking of the way he handled the eternal subordination debate earlier this year). He often suggests that there is some monolithic central complementarian camp that is enforcing speculative readings of Scripture and dangerous theology in order to further its social agenda, with some brave dissident complementarians speaking out against it. He not infrequently politicizes these debates, suggesting bad faith and dissembled motives. Although I would be the first to say that the crosswinds of the gender debates have blown people dangerously off course (on all sides) and that this is very much in evidence in some complementarian circles, having interacted with so many of the people involved, I simply don’t believe that what McKnight representation of the state of affairs is accurate. Besides, while recognizing the contextual blindspots that afflict certain groups, I think that we can make so much more progress when we don’t presume that people are so powerfully driven by politics.

        The claim that the supposed underlying reading is prescriptive is a rather different thing from the claim that the translation itself is prescriptive. Both you (‘the changed ESV translation turns this instead into something prescriptive’) and McKnight (‘If I read the ESV aright, there is prescription here’) seem to make that second claim, and it is that claim that I am primarily taking issue with.

        However, further to that, I disagree with the other claim. If McKnight thinks that there is unanimity on this question in the complementarian circles of which he is speaking, I don’t think that he has spoken to enough people about it. I have certainly encountered quite a lot of diversity in the reading of the text in question.

        I find a number of his arguments and claims perplexing and wonder whether McKnight believes that Genesis 3:16 is the primary proof-text and rationale for complementarian understandings of male headship, something that causes problems as a judgment giving humanity over to a dysfunctional situation is treated as healthy and normative. If this were indeed the general understanding, I would understand and share his concern. However, I don’t believe that it is.

        For many and perhaps even most of us, the argument for male headship (which should be related to concepts of patriarchy with care) goes back to Genesis 1 and 2. Also, as I have stressed recently, male headship isn’t primarily prescriptive—God’s declared purpose that we should follow—but descriptive of the natural order of creation that God established at the beginning. God made the man first, in relation to the earth, to tame it. He gave the man priestly charge over the serving and guarding of the Garden sanctuary and entrusted the man with the leading role of upholding and teaching the law concerning the tree (note that the command is spoken of as specifically given to and relating to Adam—3:11, 17—and that the woman can be deceived precisely because she received the command second hand). The man is also given the task of naming the animals.

        Humanity continues the creative rule of God that God exercised in Genesis 1 in forming and filling the earth. God’s creative works split into two halves: Days 1-3 are works of dividing, structuring, establishing the boundaries, taming, naming, and forming and Days 4-6 are works of filling, perfecting, life-giving, establishing of communion, and bringing forth. Humanity’s task corresponds to this. However, as men and women work together, the burden of the day 1-3 style tasks overwhelmingly fall on men’s shoulders, while those of the day 4-6 style tasks overwhelmingly fall on women’s shoulders.

        This corresponds to natural differences between men and women, differences that lead to the practical universality of male dominance in the creation of power and the taming and structuring of the world. These differences go far beyond huge differences in strength and physical resilience to include differences in preferred social organization, men’s greater thing and task orientation, higher confidence, lower level of fear and greater risk-taking, men’s preference and aptitude for more agonistic interactions, men’s preference for larger and more impersonal forms of socialization, etc., etc.

        What I find confusing, and perhaps a little frustrating, about the position of people such as McKnight is their attribution of patriarchy to the Fall and sin, while failing to reflect upon the very natural differences between the sexes that, though shaped by sin, are also at work here. As I pointed out earlier, the biblical teaching is not that man should be the head, but that man simply is the head. The man is naturally the more socially prominent and powerful sex, the sex that has a peculiar responsibility to use its power to serve and empower those who do not enjoy such natural power. Sadly, egalitarian theories just don’t seem to pay enough attention to nature. Prescription is not needed here: some form of male predominance in power is practically inevitable, even when that power is used to give a derivative empowerment to women.

        What Genesis 3:16 does is describe a twisting and distortion of the shape that male headship will take through the influence of sin, which makes it an oppressive lording over, rather than a serving, protecting, and empowering that is attentive to the wisdom and well-being of women and a commitment to self-sacrificially equipping, supporting, and honouring them in their own calling. What it doesn’t change is the fact that men naturally have a divinely created ‘priority’, albeit not of any kind that would make them women’s moral superiors. It is God’s will that this priority is recognized and honoured, that the power he has particularly given to men is exercised and developed, but that it be developed righteously for service of others, rather than dominance over them. Notions of natural egalitarianism seem to me to require a sort of naïve blank-slatism and wishful thinking, which simply fails to wrestle with the unavoidable consequences of our natural differences, even when they are worked out righteously.

        • Philip Almond September 17, 2016 at 11:01 am #

          My case for male headship and against the ordination of women (but much in favour of the ministry of women) can be found on fulcrum-anglican.org.uk, thread ‘Paul’s concern for the women in Timothy’s churches: Notes on 1 Timothy 2:8-15’ by David Atkinson on August 27 2014, in Articles.
          https://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/pauls-concern-for-the-women-in-timothys-churches-notes-on-1-tim-2-8-15/

          My case there is Phil Almond on August 28 2014 at 3.42 pm. Male headship before the Fall is a vital part of this case, and also a vital part of what I believe about same-sex attraction being an inclination to sin, like other inclinations to sin.

          Phil Almond

        • Jez Bayes September 21, 2016 at 9:49 am #

          A vast amount of highly dubious presumption and patriarchal sexism within this AR comment.

          The fact that he sees it as self evident makes it worse, and renders him unable to undertake sensible or helpful dialogue on the issue, resorting to exhausting filibustering in order to lose debating partners, giving the appearance of concluding and winning the argument.

          This type of communication is precisely why a combination of a slanted and biased translation, and a church leadership or academy blind to its own prejudices but still trying to lead the flock, is so dangerous.

          • Alastair Roberts September 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

            Jez,

            You may not like the direction that it goes, but there is a wealth of biblical, theological, traditional, empirical, and other support for the sort of differences between the sexes that I am highlighting here.

            I draw attention to some of the extensive recent empirical research on the differences between men and women here. Every one of the points that I made could be substantiated by extensive reference to more general research. Men and women are different and they are different in ways that make a big difference. Male dominance in social power and prominence has been as near to a cultural universal as any cultural trait or feature can be and this is not accidental.

            Rather than trafficking in conspiracy theories about the patriarchy and the motives and animus of opponents, it is important to wrestle with the facts. Men and women bear the burdens of the different aspects of the human vocation radically disproportionately. When it comes to being fruitful and multiplying, the overwhelming burden is borne by women. However, when it comes to subduing and exercising dominion over the earth, the burden of that task has been and still is overwhelmingly borne by men. Camille Paglia puts it forcefully:

            Let us stop being small-minded about men and freely acknowledge what treasures their obsessiveness has poured into culture.We could make an epic catalog of male achievements, from paved roads, indoor plumbing, and washing machines to eyeglasses, antibiotics and disposable diapers. We enjoy fresh, safe milk and meat, and vegetables and tropical fruits heaped in snowbound cities. When I cross George Washington bridge or any of America’s great bridges, I think: men have done this. Construction is a sublime male poetry. When I see a giant crane passing on a flatbed truck, I pause in awe and reverence, as one would for a church procession. What power of conception, what grandiosity: these cranes tie us to ancient Egypt, where monumental architecture was first imagined and achieved…. A contemporary woman clapping on a hard hat merely enters a conceptual system invented by men.

            Men are the physically stronger sex. On many measures it isn’t even close:

            Men have about 90% greater upper-body strength, a difference of approximately three standard deviations (Abe et al., 2003; Lassek & Gaulin, 2009). The average man is stronger than 99.9% of women (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009). Men also have about 65% greater lower body strength (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009; Mayhew & Salm, 1990), over 45% higher vertical leap, and over 22% faster sprint times (Mayhew & Salm, 1990)…

            The differences between men and women’s preferences can be seen from before children even have a concept of gender. These differences in preferences are, in many cases, even more pronounced in first world societies, where necessity or social control don’t constrain people from following their strongest inclinations.

            Many of the differences in question have direct correlations with social dominance. As this article observes, the differences between men and women lead men to be society’s chief power creators. Men and their groups are overwhelmingly the inventors, the innovators, the constructors, the leaders, the institution-founders, the pioneers, the explorers, the discoverers, the risk-takers, the warriors, etc., etc. of any society. The primary engine of social power is male.

            The differences between men and women that produce these different outcomes aren’t simply attributable to sin. That women are the ones to gestate and nurse infants and bear the primary burden of human fruitfulness isn’t a result of sin. That men are significantly physically stronger isn’t simply a result of sin. Is the fact that men prefer larger less personal groups, while women prefer more intimate and dyadic friendships attributable to sin? I doubt it. Is men’s greater love of agonism and risk-taking (physical and intellectual) purely a matter of sin? I doubt that too, even though it is much distorted by sin. Is men’s typically greater system, thing, and agency orientation just sin at work? I doubt that too. Is the fact that so many girls tend especially to love nurturing toys like dolls, while boys tend to love agency and construction toys just a result of the Fall? I’m unpersuaded that it is.

            Now, none of these differences are binary. They all occur on a spectrum. However, taken together, they do produce two quite distinct and differentiating profiles of tendencies for the sexes and clear sets of family resemblances.

            At some point, egalitarians have to deal with these empirical differences, because anyone who pays close attention to them will appreciate that they will naturally tend to produce very different social outcomes. These are the sorts of differences that really make a difference. Of course, these points are unpopular and you may want to shoot the messenger, but they can’t be avoided forever.

            Now, none of the points made above justify the oppressive shape that actually existing patriarchies have typically taken. That is a result of the Fall and is a manifestation of human sinfulness. God made men the stronger sex, not in order that they might dominate women, but in order to serve, protect, empower, and support women in their own callings. It is to be a power used for them, rather than a power to be used over them. However, this power was given in order to be exercised and not in order to be dissembled. Women and men are not equal in power or in the capacities of dominion and subduing. And this is as God intended.

            The problem that our society faces is not that we don’t have enough women in boardrooms, parliaments, pulpits, etc., but that male power has become increasingly autonomous, totalizing, and has set itself up as the measure of all things. In order to enjoy dignity and status within society, women now have to play a game that is rigged—by nature and society—in men’s favour. As we have absolutized the values of homo economicus, the values of possession and consumption, the values of progress, power, technology, expansion, control, and economy, women have either been reduced to marginal labour, left to operate within a stifling reservation of domesticity, or have been forced into an envy-ridden struggle with men for social honour in the workplace.

            The ecology of the sexes, within society is understood to be a commons within which both men and women must be allowed to thrive as men and women in their different ways, has increasingly been enclosed as a single economy operating according to more naturally male principles, with all parties contributing to a de-differentiated and homogeneous ‘workforce’. The problem is that, as long as we privilege power, dominion, and subduing of the world over those aspects of cultural and social activity in which women are most gifted, women will always lose out. Even taking into account overlaps, exceptions, and the degree of flexibility and adaptability that they have, they are doomed by nature itself to lose as a group and in the long run in such a society.

            Complaining about ‘patriarchal sexism’ when people point out these profound natural differences merely contributes to and perpetuates the underlying problem. It permits us to retain the socially fundamental illusion that men and women were created to be fitting competitors in a power-based system, and that, if we just push a little harder against social prejudices, we could make it work. It satisfies us with the cosmetic changes of diversity policies, all women shortlists for political office, a few women in pastoral office, etc., preventing us from addressing the systemic problems that lie beneath. It allows us to retain unchallenged what are perhaps the greatest social imperatives of our day: economic progress, growth, and accumulation over all else.

            The sticking plasters offered by those driven by ‘equality’ aren’t enough. As long as we don’t speak forthrightly about difference and the difference that it inescapably will make, we aren’t truly wrestling with the problem. In fact, we make it worse by covering up the untreated and festering wound.

          • Ian Paul September 21, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

            Alastair, thanks as ever for this useful catalogue. Two observations:

            1. I don’t see any reason why such complementarity need lead to hierarchy. As I think you hint at, this only happens in cultures which value the male qualities of construction more than the female qualities of nurture. That is why I think it is quite misleading to use ‘complementation’ to describe those who believe men should have authority over women—and in fact adds to the problem that you highlight.

            2. As again you highlight, these qualities are on a spectrum, even if the sexes’ spectra don’t overlap very well. Scripture appears to say that such spectral difference is no necessary bar to women’s leadership. So ‘egalitarian’ is not a good description of those who see ministry open to both men and women, if by that it is inferred that people like me either see no difference between men and women, or are campaigning for an end to difference. I am not.

          • Alastair Roberts September 21, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

            Thanks for the response, Ian.

            ‘Hierarchy’ is a slippery term. This complementarity definitely need not (nor should not, if it is truly complementarity) lead to the general dominance of men over women in society. However, it will almost invariably lead to the predominance of men in most areas of public life, rule, community oversight, production, and the dominion and subduing of creation. It necessitates an asymmetry between men and women in their presence and prominence in different areas of life.

            Most people today can’t conceive how this couldn’t be a matter of male dominance over women in society, because they cannot envisage a society that isn’t ultimately reducible to these power structures, that isn’t driven by a hegemonic and male-skewed understanding of social significance and importance. Thinking in terms of a monolithic and gender neutral property such as ‘power’ doesn’t help us here, as men and women exert different sorts of influence and power within communities and societies. Just as there are different forces in the physical world (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak), so men and women represent different sorts of forces in society, forces that cannot be rendered straightforwardly commensurable. As forces they are at their strongest and most impactful on different levels, exerting their influence primarily on different objects, and producing different sorts of effects.

            For instance, in societies where life is focused on the household, women may actually enjoy greater social influence and impact than men, even if they have much less direct public power, presence, and status (a dynamic that can frequently yet surprisingly be seen in certain male-led evangelical churches!). The lesson here is that we need to be attentive to women’s influence and power on its own terms, not merely as it registers within a framework of male power. We must also create and maintain a society where women can exert their influence and power, even though such a society may well take a shape that looks male-dominated to the careless external viewer who heeds only male-weighted modes of power.

            ‘Scripture appears to say that such spectral difference is no necessary bar to women’s leadership.’ I’m curious as to where it does this. First of all, ‘women’s leadership’ is a deeply unhelpful expression, as it tends to be a vehicle to smuggle in lots of assumptions. Trying to describe the great biblical heroines of the faith in terms of ‘leadership’, for instance, is typically like seeking to force a square peg into a round hole. In keeping with our cultural overvaluation of the male-weighted things we deem ‘leadership’, we struggle to find a way to assert women’s equality in these areas. However, the more that we do so, the weaker and more marginalized women will appear, as even when they seem to enjoy such ‘leadership’, their power is typically derivative or dependent in a way that men’s power is not. Was Esther a ‘leader’? The difference that she made was at the behest of a man, Mordecai, and involved getting another powerful man, King Ahasuerus, to act on her behalf. Was Deborah a ‘leader’? In some respects, yes. However, unlike the other judges, she didn’t exercise power more directly, but Barak did so instead. Was Junia a ‘leader’? Probably not straightforwardly as we understand it.

            By such a ‘what this net doesn’t catch isn’t fish’ approach to determining the significance of female characters (also illustrated in the cultural trope of the ass-kicking ‘strong female character’, who fights with the men) we miss the true strength of the women of Scripture and shamefully neglect many heroines who don’t conform to our cultural demand for women in dominant social roles.

            Second, women in what we would consider leadership are very much extreme exceptions in Scripture, if and when they occur at all. From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, Adam was given the primary responsibility and accountability. All of the judges save Deborah were men (and Deborah differed from the other judges in some key respects). All of the priests were men. All of the kings of Israel and Judah, save for the pretender Athaliah, were men. All of the apostles Christ appointed were men. Even were Scripture not to teach a ‘necessary bar’ to women’s leadership (although it does seem to rule out certain forms of women’s leadership), it makes clear that male leadership is the norm.

            Third, although properties and tendencies are on a spectrum, men are probably most represented at the extremes of the traits associated with many of the forms of leadership in Scripture. Male and female heights are also on a spectrum and there is also considerable overlap. However, while men and women may be equally represented at about 5’6”, when you get up to 6’6”, there are hundreds or thousands of men for every single woman. The more exceptional the traits we are selecting for, the more slight differences in the mean or variation will mean that one group predominates (see also the fact that, in the last nine Olympics, every single one of the sprinters in the men’s 100m finals have had black sub-Saharan African descent).

            Fourth, Scripture explicitly pushes against female ‘leadership’ in places such as 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 14.

            Fifth, Scripture presents male ‘leadership’ not just as something that men do, but as something bound up with who men are by virtue of creation, and what they represent relative to God. The man is the head. The woman is the weaker vessel. The man was created first and the woman came from the man. The human race derives its name and identity from men—Adam and Christ. Male and female are not empty symbols in Scripture. God in his sovereignty and relation to his creation and people is consistently grammatically masculine. He is peculiarly associated with masculine symbolism, while the Church or his people are associated with feminine symbols relative to him. The Torah stipulates that male animals are sacrificed for the priests and leaders of the people. Christ came as a bridegroom for his bride. Etc., etc. Men and women are not interchangeable within Scripture as they stand for realities greater than themselves. It isn’t that women aren’t ‘allowed’ to be priests, but that they can no more be priests than a man can be a child’s mother. C.S. Lewis’s instincts were in the right place here.

            God created men and women in a profound and beautiful asymmetry. This isn’t about the sort of hierarchy that subjects all parties to a hegemonic principle of power, but is about the play of contrasting yet mutually shaping forces in the God-imaging creation of a world for his glory. Gender difference is a beautiful and wonderful thing to be accentuated, not minimized. Human society is seen at its height, not in the gender neutralizing workforce, but in the liberating and creative playfulness of the communal dance. There men and women celebrate and explore the beauty and wonder of their differences and the mysterious and delightful depths of their inescapable and mutually defining relatedness. Difference isn’t difference as such, but a specific and beautiful—a ‘musical’—difference.

            The notion that ‘leadership’ is, in principle, open to women and yet men and women are still different seems to me to dodge a number of the difficult issues. In particular, it must wrestle with the fact that, even where leadership is open to women in society, men still typically overwhelmingly dominate. If this is what an ‘egalitarian’ position stands for, it sounds like fairly weak sauce to me. It sets women up for frustration, envy, and a constant sense of under-achievement. It may have a few token women at the top (whose status is often dubious, as people are unsure whether they are there primarily on merit, or primarily because the institution wanted to display its inclusive virtue), but the vast majority of women can be even further marginalized as they are forced to play a game on men’s terms.

            This is why I believe that egalitarians need to wrestle with the actual scale and shape of the differences that exist between the sexes. Far better, I believe, to work towards a society that gives status to women as women and to men as men. A society that celebrates, empowers, and orders itself around the act of child-bearing, for instance (as Scripture consistently does in some remarkable ways—note that the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the kingdom, and the gospel all typically begin with women of faith struggling to give birth). A society that systemically attends to and values the wisdom of women. A society that prioritizes strong and stable communities over economic efficiency and mobility. A society that binds men to women and children. A society that expands the significance and weight of the familial, the local, the communal, and the civil realms. Etc. etc.

            All that most egalitarian systems do is marginally mitigate a male dominance that they unwittingly and counter-intentionally uphold and reinforce on a systemic level. Taking the realities of difference and asymmetry more seriously, we can work towards, not ‘equality’, but ‘balance’ and ‘mutuality’, where competition between the sexes is reduced and men and women are both enabled to play to their strengths in a way that is celebrated by and beneficial to society.

            We need to jettison the notion of homogeneous power as a metric altogether. This applies to churches as much as anything else. We have so fetishized clerical power that we have lost sight of the fact that the Church is a complex space, formed by and dependent upon the collective operation of many co-existing and interrelated ministries, and not merely on that of the pastor/priest. Rather than egalitarianism’s attempt to allow some women in pastoral ministry (a role scripturally and traditionally restricted to men), we need a commitment to rethinking the framework that creates such an imperative. We need a commitment to producing a Church where differences between the members are celebrated and fundamental, yet where mutual dependency, reciprocal concern and service, and a refusal to seek one’s own glory is the norm.

            Egalitarianism as currently conceived, for all of its good intentions, seems to be predicated upon resistance to the sort of pronounced differences that make a difference. However, it also often presupposes systems of radical imbalance as the context within which it is to be worked out (a society dominated by economics and public power structures or a Church dominated by the pastoral ministry). It cannot cope with significant differences in balance with each other, as it tends to swing from imbalance to homogenization. So, for instance, either the genuine clergy-laity difference and asymmetry must be flattened out, or we must get an equal number of women onto the clergy side of it. Perhaps the asymmetry needs to be maintained, but a new balance achieved between the various ministries within the Church, the ordained pastor being just one of them.

            Anyway, thanks for the exchange. I should leave it at this point, but I hope that it is clear that my position here is more of a strong rejection of the frameworks and conceptual structures of egalitarians than a rejection of their deepest intent. Women have and are indeed treated unjustly in society, but ‘equality’ simply does not work as the solution. We need something more fundamental than that.

    • Jez Bayes September 21, 2016 at 7:58 am #

      Hi Alastair,

      While you are obviously correct about whether or not the new translation is prescriptive, in stating that “while the new translation is open to such a reading, the old translation is open to such a reading too”, must it not be be totally clear to you that the new translation leads the reader to a particular predetermined chosen preferred interpretation?

      As such it seems completely clear that the (not really) ‘new’ reading should be a footnote to the more straightforward translation, rather than the text and meaning given to all readers without the benefit of education in translation, hermeneutics, theology or Biblical Studies.

      You suggest that the stated reactions and views of McKnight etc all are misleading, because ” … all such representations do is excite the sort of party spirit, polarizations, and mutual distrust that prevents the sorts of sharpening conversations that complementarians are having from taking place.”

      It looks to me though as though their responses are reasonable, whereas the updated ESB text of Genesis 3:16 is in fact designed to steer the interpreter, and thus prevent a fair and open dialogue on how that verse relates to those ossues – in other words the translation is deliberately manufactured to achieve what you are wrongly accusing McKnight of doing.

      Cheers,
      Jez Bayes

      • Alastair Roberts September 21, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

        Jez,

        My response to your other comment is in moderation, but will hopefully be posted soon.

        No, the new translation does not settle the interpretation on the key point that McKnight is concerned about. It settles the interpretation on the ancillary issue of the nature of the woman’s desire, but not on the question of whether the man’s rule over her is a good and divinely intended thing. It is that second point that is at issue here.

        While it may give more of the weight of the translation to the case presented for the disputed prescriptive reading, it definitely doesn’t straightforwardly throw its weight behind that reading. If they had wanted to do that, they could easily have done so, by translating ‘shall rule over’ as ‘must rule over’, as it does in Genesis 4:7. By preferring the former reading, they leave room for the reader to read the two texts in a similar way, or in a contrasting one.

        Also, while I disagree with their translation here, whatever translation one chooses, it seems inescapably to weight the reading one way or another. The difference between ‘for’ or ‘against’ is such that one must choose which to favour and can’t easily provide a neutral and open translation. In all probability the old reading will be retained in the marginal notes, just as the new reading was previously in the marginal notes of older editions. The change is that, on balance, the translation committee thinks that the evidence sufficiently tips in the new reading’s favour to make it the version in the text itself. On the basis of their scholarship, rightly or wrongly, they simply disagree with you that the old reading is ‘the more straightforward reading.’ Suggesting that the translation is ‘deliberately manufactured’ to ‘excite … polarizations and mutual distrust’ is a pretty serious (and, frankly, ridiculously uncharitable) charge. Could it just be possible that a majority of the translation committee (though probably not all) just think that the new reading has more evidence in its favour? Is it possible that the translators aren’t so driven by political motives that they would ‘deliberately manufacture’ a reading?

        The debate surrounding these changes have been full of hyperbolic judgments, inaccurate accusations, unsupported assumptions, uncharitable imputations of motives, politicization of the issues, etc. (Alan Jacobs, who is not in favour of the new reading, has made these points well). Like Jacobs, I believe that McKnight’s post presents a number of examples of these. It is quite possible to disagree with the ESV’s new reading with such exaggerations and uncharitable charges.

        • Jez Bayes September 22, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

          1: You’ve referenced your own writing in support of your opinion! I know you’ve saved re-linking to other research quoted therein, but that’s quite funny.

          2: This opinion may well be observationally accurate:
          “Male dominance in social power and prominence has been as near to a cultural universal as any cultural trait or feature can be and this is not accidental” …
          … but it doesn’t prove that it’s automatically a good or necessary thing.

          Sin is also universal, which doesn’t mean that it’s therefore a description of how things must or should ideally be.

          3: I agree with Ian Paul’s comments about hierarchy, leadership, complementarianism and egalitarianism in his reply to your response to me.

          4: Your accusations about the uncharitableness in questioning the motives of translators are problematic, as you then uncharitably question the motives of McKnight, thus putting the whole dialogue in a loop.

          5: As ever, the length of your comments seem deliberately designed to kill dialogue, and therefore ‘feel’ presumptuous, self referential and arrogant, as if your word (and the sheer length of your word) justifies and proves your correctness.

          I’m not buying it!

  10. Tim Goodbody September 16, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    Ian, thank you for this insightful piece. As you may recall before theology I studied Translation, and in doing so learnt to appreciate the evolving nature of language, and also how sacred texts, by virtue of the reverence accorded them, crystallise it to the extent that the spoken word separates off into a language of its own.

    This happened to Latin, with the birth of French arising from a crackdown on the language of the Latin liturgy, and also to Arabic, when the Koran essentially froze classical Arabic, leading to the birth of the modern spoken language. Translation of the Koran into any other language is still frowned upon (to say the least).
    In English we have never quite got that far, although Prayer Book Society members and Shakespeare fans perhaps wish we had (and some live as if we had).
    With regard to the ESV, it cannot be trying to do what (the editorial team surely know) Cranmer and Shakespeare have already done with the English language; it is instead, as you say, trying to conserve a doctrinal position.

    However, to be fair, because we all hold doctrinal positions of one sort or another, there is no such thing as a perfectly neutral translation – I was surprised to find the hideously anachronistic/offensive use of ‘sodomites’ for ‘arsenokoitai’ in the NRSV (eg in 1Tim1:10), for example, and a version (like the NIVI) that sells itself as inclusive language makes a doctrinal statement in its name.
    Arguably, if new translations/editions of the Koran had been allowed historically, Islam would not be what it is today (and would be something better). To state that there will be no further revisions makes me think that some elements of the church are bound to become more like Islam, which would be a bad thing.

    There is perhaps also an echo of the old chestnut of inerrancy vs infallibility, which was at the heart of the parting of the ways between CE and OE back in the day. We are all older now, and a response to fear of change is often to hold on tighter to what we know and love. So the ESV is like a comfort blanket for the conservative believer, in the same way that the Book of Mormon or the Koran are. Time will tell …

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

      Thanks, Tim, that’s interesting.

      Two quick observations. First, there are some gay readers who would prefer ‘Sodomites’ because that tells you the cultural and linguistic context of the verse, where ‘homosexuality’ imposes a modern construction.

      Secondly, to make a translation ‘inclusive” is less a conviction about theology than about language. I think it is fairly indefensible to translate ‘anthropos’ as ‘man’.

      But what you are hinting at is something that many ‘ordinary’ readers don’t offer think about: the very possibility of translation is rooted in a central conviction in Christian theology—that God made himself manifest in a particular context, and continues to manifest himself in other particular contexts—where Islam takes the opposite theological view, which therefore prohibits translation.

  11. Tim September 16, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    This is a helpful analysis, Ian. I read Scot McKnight’s take on it earlier and have been following Aimee Byrd, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt as they’ve pointed out for months the insistence of the ESV crowd concerning ESS, etc. Thanks for adding to the discussion. My prayer is that the ESV will fade, and that the ESS heresy will be abandoned.

  12. simon ponsonby September 16, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

    Thank you Ian
    insightful and provocative as always – so, if you wouldn’t let your students use the ESV in classroom, what do you recommend for the serious student who is not proficient in the ancient languages? And for the non specialist, the church pew/screen, which version do you recommend? simon

    • Ian Paul September 16, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

      Well, ‘not allowing’ is quite draconian. I just have a real problem with its approach.

      I use the TNIV, which I have electronically, but has been replaced in print by NIV2015.

      The NRSV is mostly good, though some of the inclusive language is rather clunky (‘One does not live by bread alone…’!)

      Good old C of E has a list: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/the-calendar/lect/scriptver.aspx though it is looking out of date now.

      A lot of younger (!) people will be using electronic, and the NET (New English Translation; get the pun?) is free, and offer commentary on all of its translation decisions. So if you don’t agree, you can see why.

      (Waves in direction of Oxford…)

  13. Christopher Heard September 17, 2016 at 1:11 am #

    By “fix” do you mean “repair” or “fasten securely in place”? I won’t offer an answer to either question here, but I would urge you to fix (repair) the inverted commas so that ’el is spelled properly. See http://theheards.us/chris/?p=1628 for more, if it’s not evident why this matters.

  14. Robert Holmstedt September 17, 2016 at 3:25 am #

    Frankly I don’t follow the prescriptive versus descriptive issue. But on the translation of Gen 3:16 –and I wouldn’t necessarily accept the ESV translation as the best one — it is grammatically acceptable. The “contrary” and “but” are not based on the preposition, which is simply the “to” in contrary “to”. Rather, the conjunctions reflect the translator’s (who was it?) analysis if the juxtaposition of the two clauses, especially in light of the “redundant” pronoun “he” in the second clause. When the subject pronoun is present with a finite verb, it signals what is in non-technical terms a contrast. Moreover, this is supported by the fact that the two clauses should probably be taken as a poetic bicolon, which both is the defining feature of Hebrew poetry and is often used for contrasting statements.

  15. Thomas Renz September 17, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    I still think that “fixing” a translation is a necessary thing for proper referencing and indeed discussion. When discussing the best translation of Gen 3:16 it is useful to, say, contrast NRSV and ESV and JB. If none of these texts were stable, you could not easily do that. When you quote a Bible verse on a blog or in a booklet or a book according to a specific translation you want to be able to add a few letters rather than a descriptor such as “ESV, as it was in Jan 2016” or “NIV 2015, as it was in Aug 2016”, don’t you?

  16. Wyn Beynon September 17, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    Thanks, Ian, good, for once, to say I agree with you! Just that. 🙂

  17. Father Ron Smith September 17, 2016 at 10:50 am #

    Can we fix Bible translation? Well, Sola Scriptura Advocates would certainly like toi do that – but they would have to choose one that fits with their old-fashioned ideas.

    hermeneutical differentiation in seen by them as the enemy of ‘true religion’.

    • D.N. Stoddart September 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

      “…they would have to choose one that fits with their old-fashioned ideas.”

      Written by someone whose avatar includes a Canterbury cap. Fascinatingly ironic.

    • Glen Young September 21, 2016 at 6:35 am #

      Ron,
      We are talking of the standard versions not the Queen James Version.

      • Ian Paul September 21, 2016 at 11:25 am #

        Is that a helpful comment…?

  18. Alastair Roberts September 18, 2016 at 1:16 am #

    Alan Jacobs is worth reading on the ESV decisions too.

  19. Mat Sheffield September 18, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    The line between “I am certain that this is correct”, and “I am confident this is correct” is both significant and broad; it does appear that the ESV committee has chosen to ignore said line. That is a far greater problem than the individual differences in the text.

  20. Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 18, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Though I have not engaged in this debate, I have been following it with interest. I will just comment briefly here about the KJV. In addition to its poetry, I love its (archaic) use of ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ and I think that the absence of this 2nd person singular pronoun (the ‘familiar’ form) in modern English means that some things are lost in translation in modern versions of the Bible in English. Of course, the Germans and French still have ‘Du’ and ‘tu’, and I think it is wonderful that Christian children In Germany and France can address their heavenly Father in the ‘familiar’ form.

  21. Christopher Shell September 19, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    New archaeological discoveries and scholarly insights mean that we improve our understanding of the text’s meaning periodically. In a large corpus like the library that we call the Bible this probably dictates several updatings a year.

  22. Eddie Arthur September 20, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    And meanwhile there are around 2,000 languages without a single word of Scripture available to them. I have to wonder about our priorities when we can get so excited about one translation into one language (albeit our own), when there is so much need out there.

  23. Michael Roberts September 20, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    How can you do word for word, when eg the word say in Greek can have several meanings. A case in point is ktisis which can mean either creation or humanity in both the NT and Apostolic fathers. In Mark 16 it is clearly humanity. in Ro 8 it makes better sense if ktisis means humanity too. We thus misread the chapter whether to support a CURSE in Gen 3 or make it a green manifesto.

    • Philip Almond September 20, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

      Michael
      As you already know, but I point it out for the sake of others who may not, on ktisis in Romans 8, Schreiner, Moo, Lloyd-Jones, Hodge, Murray all disagree with you. They take the view that the word, in this context, means the sub-human creation. And (surprise, surprise) on this point at least, their reasoning convinces me.

      Phil Almond

      • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 20, 2016 at 11:25 pm #

        Hi Phil, That just does not add up for me. For instance, in Romans 8:20 how do you link what Paul says about ‘ktisis’ with what he says about ‘teknon tou Theou’ in the following (dependent) clause? According to Strong’s Concordance, ‘teknon’ is ‘ a child (male or female)’ – I see no sugg3estion that ‘teknon’ might be part of a ‘subhuman creation’. Christine

        • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 20, 2016 at 11:56 pm #

          Correction: ‘dependent clause’ should read ‘dependent phrase’.

        • Philip Almond September 21, 2016 at 11:13 am #

          Hi Christine

          Below is Nestle/Marshall literal translation of Romans 8:18-25 (I have put ‘ktisis’ instead of ‘creation’ so as not to beg the question and I have reordered the superscripted words in the literal translation)

          ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of the now time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the anxious watching of the ktisis is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God. For to vanity the ktisis was subjected, not willingly, but because of the [one] subjecting, in hope because even itself the ktisis will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that all the ktisis groans together and travails together until now; and not only [so], but also [our]selves having the firstfruit of the Spirit we also [our]selves in ourselves groan adoption eagerly expecting, the redemption of the body of us. For by hope we were saved; but hope being seen is not hope; for what sees anyone, why also he hopes? But if what we do not see we hope [for], through patience we eagerly expect’.

          In verse 19 the ktisis is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God. In verse 21 the ktisis will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the glory of the children of God. In verses 22 and 23 both the children of God and the ktisis groan. Paul’s line of thought is that the resurrection and glorification of the children (sons) of God at the last day will also be the time when the ktisis is freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children (sons) of God. That is why the (personified) ktisis eagerly expects the revelation of the sons (children) of God at the last day.

          Schreiner comments on ktisis, ‘It is quite unlikely that the reference is to believers, for the creation (i.e. ‘ktisis’) is distinguished from them in verses 19, 21, 23. Nor is a reference to unbelievers plausible since it is hard to see why they would long for the future age…………….thus I conclude with most commentators that ktisis refers to non-human creation and that creation is personified in these verses…….’.

          Phil Almond

          • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 21, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

            Hi Phil,
            Thank you for this. I think that translation work can be incredibly difficult, and I believe that most translators of the Bible do their very best with it and I doubt if many translators choose one translation over another just to push their own agendas. That said, I still have reservations about the suggestion that ‘ktisis’ in romans 8 refers to ‘non-human creation’. Re: this from your Schreiner quote above: ‘Nor is a reference to unbelievers plausible since it is hard to see why they would long for the future age…’ I think that unbelievers could long for the future age because the word of God is written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31-34) – unbelievers could have longings which they are as yet unable to articulate. Therefore I think that ‘ktisis’ could include unbelievers. I think that it could also include, for instance, rivers and mountains, as personified in Psalm 98:8. And I think it includes the children of God, and at present I can still think of no good reason for suggesting that it might not include them.
            Thank you again for your comment.
            Christine

          • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 21, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

            P.S. Me and my typos!
            Two corrections needed:

            Jeremiah 31-34 should read Jeremiah 31:33

            …’I still have reservations about the suggestion that ‘ktisis’ refers to non-human creation’ should read: ‘…might refer exclusively to non-human creation’

          • Philip Almond September 21, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

            Hi Christine

            Jeremiah 31:33 is about God’s new covenant with the house of Israel. Quoted in Hebrews 8 it clearly refers to Christian believers. Unbelievers are not going to be ‘freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ on the day of judgment – and the whole passage has the end-times in view. You don’t seem to be taking Schreiner’s point that ‘It is quite unlikely that the reference is to believers, for the creation (i.e. ‘ktisis’) is distinguished from them in verses 19, 21, 23.

            Phil Almond

          • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 21, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

            Hi Phil, I have replied below to your 1.37 p.m. post (21st Sept.) I could find a reply button with that post.
            Christine

  24. Jamie Wood September 20, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

    Leaving aside questions of accuracy, and of whether Genesis 3:16 is intended to be descriptive or prescriptive, I suggest that “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” is such bad English as to be meaningless.

  25. Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 21, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    HiHi Phil, Thank you.
    Just a quick response for now – how do think Romans 2:14,15 fits in with what you say about unbelievers?

    • Philip Almond September 21, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi Christine
      Before answering that question I just want to state briefly my convictions about salvation.

      I believe that Articles 9-18 and 31 of the Church of England 39 Articles, though the language could be improved and refined, are essentially true. This means that I believe that the doctrines of the Fall, Original Sin, the Wrath and Condemnation of God facing us all from birth onwards, Predestination, Justification by Faith, the vital importance of Good Works as the proof of genuine faith, everlasting felicity for those whom God has saved and will save, the Propitiation and Satisfaction of Christ, Christ the only way of Salvation are all true. And, of course, the vital importance of the Resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

      I draw particular attention to the phrase in Article 17: ‘Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture…’. Or, in my language, God and Christ sincerely and genuinely invite, command, beseech, exhort all to submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love, obedience and godly fear.

      To answer your question. In the thread ‘What does ‘full inclusion’ mean?’ under ‘Sexuality’ there is a brief exchange between me and David Shepherd on Romans 2. The first post is by David Shepherd on September 14 2016 at 7.19 pm. My reply has a link to another website where views on Romans 2 are given. I hold the ‘hypothetical’ view: that nobody does or can do Romans 2:7, nor Romans 2:10; and although the doers of the Law would be justified (2:13), nobody has done nor can do the Law. Any other view makes nonsense of Paul’s whole line of thought culminating in 3:9 and 3:20.

      Phil Almond

      • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 22, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

        Hi Phil,
        I have reflected and prayed on the texts but I am no further forward! If I were a juror on this ‘case’ and the judge asked for a unanimous verdict, the jury could be ‘out’ for a very long time 🙂
        Thank you again for your comments and for this link.
        Christine

        • Philip Almond September 22, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

          Hi Christine
          Prayers and best regards

          Phil Almond

  26. Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 21, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you for this, Phil. I have read the link you posted on this page on 14th September – much to think about! I will get back to you about it tomorrow and in the meantime I will reflect on it and pray..
    Christine

  27. Jez Bayes September 23, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    As a footnote to this blog dialogue, if anyone wants to see Alastair Roberts justify his Order of Creation anthropological basis for his opinions in gender, as well as outlining his deliberate policy of massive blog comments for competitive reasons and to shake of opposing debaters who won’t go into such detail, look at the comments feed on this post:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/05/05/are-women-meant-to-wield-society-power-by-katelyn-beaty/

    In my highly inexpert opinion, he fails to consider the impact of on gender issues of New Covenant redemptive principles and momentum, and locks himself into using descriptions of ancient society in an early Biblical context, and descriptions of cultural norms through different ages and cultures, as if they are self-esteem statements and justifications of how things should or must always be.

    In my reading of the direction of travel in the Bible and the church, I think that’s a huge mistake, and overlooks e.g. slavery, sacrifice, OT law as addressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and a number of other debatable and debated issues.

    This, I think, forms the backdrop to his reactions to Scot McKnight’s comments on the ESV, esp Gen 3:16, as well as the vast length of his contributions!

    • Philip Almond September 23, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

      Jez
      Male headship and male self-sacrifice under the New Covenant are established by Ephesians 5:18-33 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, which points to Genesis 2 and on to 1 Timothy 2 and 3.
      Phil Almond

    • Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 23, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

      Hi Jez,

      When I saw your link to the debate on patheos, I remembered following the debate last year, but I decided to re-visit it today to refresh my mind. I read the first comment – Alastair’s – and I thought it was fair comment. Apparently I had similar thoughts when I first read this comment last year – I was one of the people who upvoted it. I have now re-read all the comments on that blog, including comments I posted – I haven’t changed my mind. Nor have you changed your mind, apparently 🙂

      Christine

      • Jez Bayes September 23, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

        Hi Christine,
        No, you’re right!

        While I don’t like the steer the new ESV seems to give to a minority opinion on the correct translation on G3:16, I guess the important thing is for all sides to recognize that different perspectives and interpretations are possible and valid, and maintain humble unity while seeing things in different ways.

        When any of us (definitely including me) start communicating as if we are self evidently correct, we cause problems.

        Cheers!

  28. Jez Bayes September 23, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    predictive text correction:
    “self esteem” should read “self evident”!
    Spoils.

  29. Jez Bayes September 23, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    And “spoils” = “Apols”!
    Enough already!!!

  30. Christine (@Quinnjones2C) September 24, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    Hi Ian,
    In Genesis 3:16 I now think that ‘in contrast to’ would be a better translation than ‘contrary to’, and also a less provocative one, though I might think differently if I could read and understand the original Hebrew. I am late with this comment because I tend to ponder for a long time about such things!
    Thank you for your blog and for hosting this very interesting and challenging debate.
    Christine

  31. Ian Paul September 28, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    I am posting this for Barbara Rodgers, who for some reason is unable to post herself.

    I agree that ESV translators appear to have decided what Genesis 3:16 needs to say, and by golly they are going to help it say that.

    I’m very concerned about the change they have made to Genesis 3:16. As someone who supports hundreds of Christian women who have suffered domestic abuse, I know how this translation is likely to affect such women. It will give abusive husbands another way to revile their wives. An abusive husband will be able to quote this verse to his wife: “If you think this in an unhappy marriage, you only have yourself to blame! Your desire is always contrary to mine, like it says in Genesis 3:16. You need to submit to MY desires, My preferences. You need to stop being contrary! I have authority over you, and you must submit to me.”

    So this change to Gen 3:16 will give the ‘c’hristian abuser another string to his bow. It will empower the abusive husband, and further entrap the victim.

    The translation depicts the woman’s desire as decidedly negative. The previous rendering, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” left open the interpretation that her desire might be morally blameless or neutral. The new translation, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,” depicts her desire as a morally wrong or reprehensible.

    Abusive husbands use a pattern of coercive control to maintain power over their wives. One of their most frequent tactics of abuse is to unjustly criticise their wives. This new version of Gen 3:16 will give such men a phrase from ‘holy writ’ with which to criticise their wives.

    BTW, I’m not an egalitarian — I’m someone who resonates fairly well with Alastair Roberts’ views on gender.

    And if you’re interested I’ve written some articles on Genesis 3:16 —

    ‘The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life’
    ‘The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders’
    ‘What is the woman’s desire? How Susan Foh’s interpretation fed steroids to abusers’

    Also, readers here might like to know that Sam Powell has fixed the apostrophes in the Hebrew at his Genesis 3:16 post. And he has written a follow-up post titled Headship is not Hierarchy.

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