Thursday, January 08, 2009

ESV Gains International Traction

The ESV Bible Blog has a post about the president of Ghana being sworn in on an ESV Bible.

There are things that irk me about the ESV, but it is a vast improvement over the NIV. I suppose we should keep in mind that every English Bible is only a translation, and no translation is going to be perfect. One thing going for the ESV is that an ESV with the Apocrypha is being released February 1, 2009. This provides Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics with a conservative alternative to the hideously leftist NRSV.

It also bears saying that the ESV Study Bible is a tremendous scholarly work, arguably the best (and most economical) single-volume study Bible in the English language, even with its tilt toward Reformed and Neo-Evangelical theology in the study notes and many of the articles (some of its assertions about Lutheran theology are simply wrong). The maps and charts, as well as the included customizable online version, are head and shoulders above anything else on the market. It would have been better if the ESV Study Bible were more truly ecumenical - as its ancestral New Oxford Annotated (RSV) was. But for its aids and helps to understanding the literal reading of the text, the ESV Study Bible is a real treasure.

Hopefully, the upcoming Lutheran Study Bible from CPH (the LCMS's publishing house) will incorporate some of these outstanding features as well. Augsburg Fortress (the ELCA's publishing house) is also coming out with a Lutheran Study Bible this year. Hopefully, there won't be too much confusion!

We may indeed see the ESV overtake not only the NIV but also the NKJV as the preferred conservative modern English-language Bible translation.


solarblogger said...

Actually, the Zondervan NASB Study Bible is actually more economical (if you don't count shipping, anyway). It also has the great center column references that were found in the NIV Study Bible and the Concordia Self-Study Bible. When I have a Bible with different references, I feel unequipped. These references make connections in redemptive history at a depth missing in most.

I like the ESV, too. I headed up a Marathon reading of Genesis once (took about 3 1/2 hours) and we used that translation for it. Very good for public reading.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Solar:

Cool! Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

One thing going for the ESV is that an ESV with the Apocrypha is being released February 1, 2009. This provides Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics with a conservative alternative to the hideously leftist NRSV.



Anonymous said...

After about a year of using and teaching the historic lectionary from the ESV, I found it wanting at many points in translation. Off the top of my head, I can't remember anything particular, but I do remember that the NKJV stood out as the best of all the modern translations. So we use the NKJV. It's not perfect, but it is better than the ESV and certainly better than the NIV.

Anonymous said...

Meant to add that I appreciate your nod to the Oxford RSV Study Bible, Father Hollywood. It is still one of the best ecumenical resources around.


Phil said...

I am wondering what you think of the NASB version. I have always read this version myself. From what I understand it is a good version that is as literal a translation as you get. What do you think?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Phil:

I don't have extensive experience with the NASB, but from what I've seen, it is probably one of the most literal word-for-word translations out there - and is a good word-for-word translation - which makes it ideal for study.

But I find it too "wooden" to use liturgically. It's awkward (in English) construction is distracting when read aloud.

It's a Catch-22 - we need to have a good word-for-word translation that is still in smooth enough English to be read aloud.

Translation is way more art than science, to be sure!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christine:

I actually like the Oxford quite a bit - even though ecumenism means having to put up with higher critical commentary. I do find the RSV's convention of going back and forth between Elizabethan and modern English to be a distraction, though.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jared:

I think the NKJV is the most catholic of the conservative word-for-word translations. We've been using it liturgically as well.

However, since a lot of my parishioners are using the Treasury of Daily Prayer, I think switching to the ESV may be the way to go - though it certainly would not be my preference all other things being equal.

Phil said...

I agree with your comment about translation. I kind of like reading the NASB, but didnt think about reading aloud with it, if you know what I mean. That is, until my 15 year old son wanted to debate theology. But reading it aloud wasnt too bad, but it certainly was a bit... awkward I guess. Thank you for your answer. :)

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Frankly I can't get too excited about any translation that continues to repeat the biggest RSV error.

Neither ESV nor NIV, nor, for that matter, NKJV nor NASB has corrected a critical and devastating error first (I think) put forward by RSV, viz., the diabolical removal of the comma of Ephesians 4:12: ". . . to equip the saints [comma removed] for the work of ministry, for(B) building up(C) the body of Christ."

Only KJV has it right, and leaves the work of the ministry out of the hands of laymen.

solarblogger said...

Dear Fr. Eckardt,

I just checked Lenski (1937 — pre-RSV), who argues against the comma, and then notes that the lack of an article means this is "not the Christian ministry as some have thought." Some versions do appear to put the Holy Ministry into the hands of laymen when they omit the comma. Others do not. And some render ergon diakonias as "works of service." If that is wrong, it still does not lead to the doctrinal conclusion you find egregious. Compared to other considerations, I don't see making a translation choice on the basis of disagreement with that judgment alone. (I'm guessing you see this as merely the tip of the iceberg?)

The commas we find were, from what I have read, added by St. Jerome, for the sake of aiding public reading. (Lynn Truss says so in her comma chapter from Eats Shoots & Leaves.) They are not in the original Greek text even if Nestle includes them. But if a missing comma is the key error to be found in a translation, it seems to me that a lector could add a pause in the appropriate place.

On the other hand, you've given me something new to do. I'll be checking the placement of commas in my Vulgate against my English translation to see what kinds of differences show up. Should be interesting. Lynn Truss listed a couple in her chapter.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Solarblogger:

Part of the problem is that the original Greek has *no* commas at all (and neither does Jerome's Vulgate, for that matter!). Punctuation is always a matter of interpretation. Considering the idea that "everyone a minister" didn't come along until very late in history, it makes sense that the received tradition of the English Bible would change from the days of the KJV of 1611 (which did not interpret "lay ministry") to the present (with all major translations removing the comma).

The Douay-Rheims, contemporary with the KJV, likewise has the comma. My version of Luther's Bible (an electronic copy on my palm) does not have the comma - but there have been later editions of Luther's translation, so I don't know if he did originally or not (I will check my old paper copy tomorrow).

Actually, I thought the RSV's translation of Isaiah 7:14 of *almah* as "young woman" was even worse than the "lay ministry" screw up (at least the ESV had the common decency to restore the confession of Mary's virginity - something most of our Lutherans are loathe to do these days...). ;-)

Bryce P Wandrey said...

I doubt those who want to put the priesthood into someone's hands other than the ordained aren't overly concerned about the presence or lack of commas. I am sure they have other motivations or

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bryce:

I don't know, but it does sound reasonable that doctrinal bias would translate into grammatical interpretation that would reflect that bias. It sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

The New World Translation, for example, reflects the Arian boas of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Douay-Rheims translates "presbyteros" as "priest" whereas the KJV renders it as "elder." Any English translation is going to reflect some degree of bias, I would think.

What do you think?

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Larry, Sure; a possibility.

Yet, for example, I have the Ignatius Press, 2nd Catholic Edition of the RSV. If anyone was going to fix this "error", which supposedly puts the ministry into the hands of the laypeople (which I am not convinced that it does), wouldn't it be Rome? Maybe not...

And I am sure there could be greater errors accomplished by Bible translators. I even assume the RSV has a couple more serious errors in it than the missing comma. :)

Peter said...

I have an idea. Just buy the Bibles, and add the comma back in.

solarblogger said...


Lynn Truss's description of Jerome's system of division per cola et commata was a bit too brief for me to grasp, and her rendering of it as "by phrases" suggested to me that the divisions, however they were conveyed, were where commas would be. I may have been hasty to assume my critical text was following Jerome as to where the divisions were.

This image of a later manuscript suggests how, while not using punctuation marks, indentation might have served the purpose that commas serve today:

I tend to agree that greater errors can be found in the RSV. Deciding on a translation involves weighing many factors.

Father Hollywood said...

I like Peter's idea.

Rev. Richard Nuffer read this passage at my ordination (I think in the NKJV version), and he verbally inserted the commas - the liturgical version of the internet acronym FTFY ("Fixed That For You").

I did a couple similar editorial adjustments recently with the ESV, in our school opening devotion changing "offspring" to "Seed", and during a Divine Service inserting the missing word "begotten" in the ESV's John 3:16.

It's not all that different than when I fix the mistranslation of the creeds in LSB (the word "Christian" does not appear in the Greek or even Latin versions). When you live in the LCMS, you learn to vet everything and fix it as you go along. It just becomes a habit.

Considering all the specialty-versions of Bibles they're making these days, maybe we could even have a Lutheran-Use ESV, adding "only" to Romans 3:28 and going with the Ein' Feste Burg paraphrase for Psalm 46...

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Dear Solarblogger,

Without looking it up, I recall that the Greek of "for the equipping of the saints" prevents the omission of the comma, since the word for "equipping" is a word which generally has to do with some kind of preparation for a destination. Hence "for ministry" would not fit, since "ministry" is not a destination.

Moreover the cadences provide a strong implication for the need of a comma.

In short, no argument for the omission of the comma carries much weight.

Some years ago there was also a fine little book written on this very subject, but I can't remember by whom. Maybe someone else does.

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Once again, if the office of the holy ministry hinges upon a comma in the NT then I think we have more problems then...well, more problems then we think we do.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bryce:

Not to speak for anyone else, but I think the "comma problem" is a symptom of, more than a cause of, confusion over the doctrine of the holy ministry.

Having said that, I think accuracy in Bible translation is not an insignificant issue.

The mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 which refuses to acknowledge the virginity of the BVM can indeed be a tool for the devil in his bid to create confusion and doubt about our Lord's divinity. Not that a proper christology "hinges upon" the word virgin in a Bible translation - and yet, at the same time, I don't think we should be flippant about the desire for verbal precision and fidelity to the catholic faith.

Bryce P Wandrey said...


I would imagine that those who translate "young maiden" (or however you properly translate the Hebrew word) in Isaiah, and Matthew who intended virgin (however that is to be defined), is a bit different from a comma in Ephesians. Or does the virginity of Mary depend upon a right translation or understanding of Isaiah 7:14?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bryce:

Your point about the RC edition of the RSV only makes my point: older generations of Catholics, like their Lutheran counterparts, would not see laypeople serving the church as being in a capacity of "ministry" - whereas, post Vatican II Catholics have drunk from the "everyone a minister" Kool-Aid.

For example, high school girls are sometimes used to distribute the body and blood of Christ, and are deemed to be "eucharistic ministers." Such flippant terminology and its corresponding functionalism and anticlericalism were unheard of in the days of the Douay.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

One slight distinction is worth poining out. The 2nd ed. of the Ignatius RSV is not a product of "Rome." It is a product of Ignatius Press, which is very catholic minded, to be sure. Fr. Fessio, its founder & editor (also founder of Campion College & sometime chancellor of Ave Maria University) is in the American forefront of the reform of the reform movement, who has been known to celebrate the novus ordo facing east, & in Latin, a most unusual thing. And it (the Ignatius 2nd ed.) is a great improvement over, say the NAB. Nevertheless, it is not as though this translation, and all its component decisions, can be credited to Rome. If you were to ask Fr. Fessio what English translation if any ought to be read at Mass, he would probably say the Douay-Reims.

wmc said...

Hamann, Henry P. 1988. The Translation of Ephesians 4:12--A Necessary Revision. CONCORDIA JOURNAL 14: 42-49.

solarblogger said...

"Moreover the cadences provide a strong implication for the need of a comma." — Fr. Eckardt

"Once again, if the office of the holy ministry hinges upon a comma in the NT then I think we have more problems then...well, more problems then we think we do." — Bryce P. Wandrey

This is interesting. I think the challenge here is that historically, there were no commas. But what I am sure of is that in the early generations, they would likely have publicly read the text in some ways rather than others. Pausing or not pausing in the wrong places can lead to doctrinal error.

The creation of ways of visually separating phrases came some time after the original text came to us. But I think those who did that felt that there was something to preserve.

We have departed from the early sense that a text was a way of passing on a public reading. I remember one account of two early church fathers, where one of them apologized that it had taken him so long to get to reading the other's letter because he had had a sore throat. For those of us who were early taught to read silently, this sounds laughable. But now I suspect this silent reading is perhaps less intelligent reading and taught mostly so that an elementary school teacher is not driven crazy by the sound of so many voices reading aloud.

If Luther is right that the ear and not the eye is the organ of the Christian, we might want to take that into account in evaluating which text to read publicly. Our Bibles are currently printed mostly for the eye. In that sense, they are almost another medium altogether than the original texts.

The Rev. J. Rinas said...

>>>Some years ago there was also a fine little book written on this very subject, but I can't remember by whom.<<<

Fr. Eckardt is probably referring to "Are All Christians Ministers?" by John N. Collins. You may read his review of Collins' book, in Logia IV:2.

The 1946 RSV included the comma after "saints" but the 1971 RSV removed it. The RSV was not the first to omit the comma. Even some editions of the KJV omitted the comma.

Past Elder said...

Alma can refer to a married woman; it's simply a woman of marrying age, married or not. An unmarried woman, presumably a virgin then, is bethulah. Ask your rabbi. Mary knew the difference; that's why she asked Gabriel what she did, which is where we see that a virgin conceived and bore a child, just as the Virgin herself did. If it was good enough for her -- not to mention Joseph, who REALLY knew the difference and an angel had to sort it out for him too -- it's good enough for me.

As to the OHM depending on where to put commas when translating a text without them, I'm with Bryce on that one. Not a whole lot else, but on that one, yes.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Past Elder:

And, of course, we have the providential blessing of the Septuagint, which is unequivocal in its use of the word Παρθένος - demonstrating that even centuries before the birth of our Lord in the flesh, the sign of the virgin giving birth was fulfilled in Mary's miraculous bearing of God - not in some metaphorical or symbolic way, but in true virginity.

Past Elder said...

I don't deny that, the Virgin birth or anything of the sort!

Here's the deal. This controversy over alma is a skirmish in the larger engagement about what is Messiah anyway. The proverbial Jews don't reject Jesus as Messiah because they don's see the prophecies fulfilled in him, it's because they don't see the prophecies pointing to anything like him.

The Messiah is not God, he's a man, and any man claiming to be God could not possibly be the Messiah, on top of which, Messiah has nothing whatever to do with remission of sin, which is already there under the Law and available to Gentiles too who don't even have to come under the Law, on top of which, the Septuagint however venerable is not Scripture but a translation of Scripture.

The divide over who the Messiah is stems from the real issue, what is Messiah. Alma doesn't settle that.

Father Hollywood said...

Nothing is "settled" with any specific translation or arrangement of commas - to be sure. But yielding the point in a day and age when it has become increasingly in vogue among so-called Christians to dismiss our Lord's literal birth from a virgin as a "myth", or to allow an ambiguous reading of "the ministry" by being trendy and omitting commas in the democratic Vatican II age of "everyone a minister" is to hand over God's word to the enemy just as surely as Judas "handed over" our Lord.

What's the point? Is there a reason to shun the word "virgin" as the English translation of Isaiah 7:14?

If the world universally believed in Mary's virginity, and if we lived in a culture where young women could be assumed to be virgins, then maybe translating Isaiah 7:14 using the words "young woman" might not be so bad. But considering the historical circumstances we find ourselves in today, replacing the word "virgin" in modern translations is misleading and is nothing less than diabolical.

Cui bono? What Would Screwtape Do? ;-)

Past Elder said...

I certainly don't disagree with your assessment of the sorry state of the age.

I would just say that the sorry state is not addressed by bad translations that the age will recognise as such and, fulfilling the concern Aquinas expressed at the beginning of contra gentiles, dismiss what we have to say altogether if it is based on such poor arguments.

Father Hollywood said...

And yet, lex orandi, lex credendi.

There is something to be said for accuracy in translation, and confessional fidelity. Eventually, if people hear watered down doctrine coming from a Bible translation, well, as the old saying goes: "Faith comes by hearing." I think it matters what words we use. I think it is of crucial importance. I also think the enemies of the cross (human and supernatural) understand this quite well.

If we were to translate Genesis 1:1 as "A long time ago, aliens spawned the solar system and the earth," we would be hard pressed to shrug it off.

Sure, having a Bible say "In the beginning, God created..." will not prevent Richard Dawkins and his ilk from denying it, but nevertheless, the Word of God is the Word of God, and we are not free to tamper with it.

Generally, bad stuff happens when we do.

Past Elder said...

I agree, bad stuff happens when we do.

I submit that treating alma like bethulah is doing just that. The truth of the virginity of Mary doesn't need that, and in the end it will come back to haunt us, as when, as has happened, the world discovers that alma isn't bethulah, and then decides the virginity of Mary was bunk on that basis!

Speaking of Genesis, my rabbi says "In the beginning" is a bad translation too, not making clear in the beginning of what and that with God there is no beginning as there is no end nor time itself, that bereshith is more properly translated "When".

I'd say we have a lot more mischief afoot from adopting and adapting the watered downeries of the novus ordo re lex orandi lex credendi (look ma, no commas) and calling it confessional and liturgical along with the real deal than from words in Isaiah or Genesis.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

"Beroshith" is based on the word "rosh" (head) as in the Jewish New Year "Rosh Hashanah." It isn't just a temporal "when", but indeed means "in the beginning" (as New Year's Day is the beginning, or head, of the year) - in the same way that our Lord doesn't err when He describes Himself as the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (the End). This is not gainsaying His eternity, but to the contrary, confesses it.

This is further verified by the LXX rendering of "beroshith" as "en arche" (which has the same force of headship, as with the title "archbishop" or "archetype").

What does your rabbi make of the translation of "almah" into "parthenos" in the LXX? After all, Paul quotes the LXX extensively in the New Testament.

I don't think the LXX can simply be dismissed. I think God in His providence gave us the LXX to help us translate and interpret the OT's Hebrew - which can be really difficult at times. The LXX gives us "binocular vision" and thus perspective on the original text.

And the word "parthenos" is clear, crystal clear. Isaiah 7:14 is clearly a Messianic prophecy regarding Mary as the virgin mother of God.

It goes without saying that very few modern-day rabbis see it that way, but they will - hopefully not too late.

Past Elder said...

Well, you've studied Hebrew, rabbi's studied Hebrew (hell, he speaks it) and all I do is listen to guys like you, so I'm not about to settle any arguments on Hebrew.

Nor am I opposed to the Septuagint. In fact, when I was RC, the fact that the NT quotes the OT in the Greek was one of the reasons cited for using the LXX canon rather than the so-called Palestinian canon for the OT!

Ask me about parthenos and I'll tell you it's a species of butterfly.

As to Jewish English translations, the standard one for decades was the 1917 Jewish Publication Society one, which was a rabbinic revision of the KJV OT and gives the opening as "In the beginning God created" as is -- with a note in the Hertz Chumash that the verb for create is singular therefore the plural Elohim is a Hebraicism signifying power and might and not a plural implying a later claimed Trinity. The 1986 JPS translation that replaced it was an entirely new one, and gives the opening as "When God began to create", with a note that others render it "In the beginning God created". IS 7:14 is young woman.

No rabbi would give any translation, even a venerable Jewish one, the same authority as the original, ever.

Weighing the arguments, I find the 1986 JPS the most convincing.

Which leads to another question. Why is it that one is expected to learn Hebrew, though world wide it is not the first language of most Jews, as part of learning Judaism, and one is expected to learn Arabic, though world wide it is not the first language of most Muslims, as part of learning Islam, but for Christians learning NT Greek is for pastors!

And yet another -- who's the rocket scientist that started mixing up the order of the Prophets and Writings, despite Jesus' reference to the three clear sections of Scripture, Law, Prophets, and Writings?

Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Hollywood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Hollywood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul McCain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.