English Standard Version

the Bible as some people wished God had written it

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Psalm 24

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.
Prov 27:19

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Psalm 34:8

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,
Rom 15:13

General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has had a standing resolution on inclusive language since 1984. “All language used should be deliberately inclusive, and that this principle be observed in all matters arising for revision, renewal or reconsideration by Synod and by all commissions, committees and other bodies established under its authority.” Of particular interest – this is the second of the liturgical standing resolutions (SRL2/SR26). We are in our third decade now of a commitment to inclusive language in our services as much as possible.

And yet, extremely surprisingly, General Synod 2006 asks the dioceses and Hui Amorangi to ratify adding the English Standard Version (ESV) as a translation worthy of being read liturgically in our services. What people do in the privacy of their own closets (Mt 6:6) does not concern us, but the public, liturgical reading of God’s Word is of such significance to us as a community, that we follow this lengthy procedure required by the Church of England Empowering Act 1928.

It is not as if there are not yet enough translations authorised for this use. At last count I noted sixteen translations authorised for reading at public worship. As well as those versions authorised for public reading at Anglican services there are many more, of course, in the ever-growing industry where each particular theological position seeks yet another version which will justify even the most minute doctrinal difference. And fill the coffers of this growth industry – to the confusion of ordinary Christians in the pew and any hope that familiar repetition might lead to at least some memorisation and internalisation “by heart”.

So what does the English Standard Version offer?

Essentially the English Standard Version is the Revised Standard Version with less than 5-10% changed. The “translators” received permission from the National Council of Churches to use the 1971 edition of the RSV as the basis for the ESV. “Thee” and “thou” has become “you”. But the New Revised Standard Version’s principle that what was intended to be gender-inclusive in the original be rendered gender-inclusive in the translation was a bridge too far for those who produced the ESV.

Just one example: ESV “translates” Romans 1:13 as “I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you”. In the footnote to this it notes, however,”Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family.” Clearly the revisors realise and acknowledge that adelphoi means “brothers and sisters”, yet they insist on “brothers” in the actual text. Do not expect any consistency in footnoting, however. Sometimes adelphoi is footnoted as indicated here. At other times there is no footnote to clarify that the gender-specific ESV text is inaccurate (Rom 7:4; 8:29; 15:30; 16:17; etc.).

The “translators” claim “the ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.” (Translation Philosophy – ESV Preface)

The “Translation Oversight Committee” contrasts this with a “thought-for-thought” or “dynamic equivalence” version. Here is the danger in their contention. If the limitations of a translation are acknowledged, one can be wary of relying too heavily on it. In a Christian environment, however, in which Bible verses are currently often used as blunt instruments, as weapons against the sincerely-held beliefs of other Christians, where even many clergy have little agility in the original biblical languages, and where meetings on hermeneutics is the hoped for solution to increasing polarisation about a half a dozen biblical verses – then we need to be sure that a translation which claims so strongly to be “word-for-word” actually stands up to this claim. And it does not.

The ESV claims to be based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. Another example: where the Hebrew has almah (“young woman”) in Isaiah 7:14, that clearly did not fit with Matthew’s quoting of it later. Hence, in order to nicely harmonise with the New Testament, ESV has this translated as “virgin” without so much as a footnote to indicate that this is a Septuagint Greek interpretation, not a translation from the original Hebrew.

When it comes to the theory of salvation presented by the ESV, there is no room for a variety of models in the great multi-faceted jewel of our redemption – it is “propitiation” all the way home (Rom 3:25, Heb 2:27, 1 Jn 2:2; 1 Jn 4:10). No footnotes. No alternative rendering or interpretation.

Those who want their gender-bias unchallenged, those who want particular theological positions reinforced, those who want the Bible to give a greater sense of consistency might like the ESV and vote to have it authorised to be read publicly in our churches. But those who prefer a more rigorously honest translation will not. And will vote “No”.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
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