Crossway's ESV now written in stone...

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Shows are meant to be consumed in front of the curtain—not behind it. Behind are the things you don't want the audience to see or know because it would ruin the performance.

Bible translations are hammered out behind the curtain, and for good reason. It wouldn't give people confidence in the trustworthiness of the English Bible they read to watch the arguments and votes over how to translate this or that Hebrew or Greek word or phrase. Other parts of the Bible publishing business may be even more disconcerting, but let's focus here on the academics' work.

Although the scholars who produce Bible text for their Bible publisher are paid for that work, most of their income is from tuition paid by seminaries whose curricula require those students to spend years studying Hebrew and Greek. So these scholars have two priorities at odds with each other.

First, in order for their publishers' investment in their translating work to realize a profit, scholars must not stop assuring church people that every last word of the text of their version is precisely what God Himself inspired. Nothing has been changed...

Nothing has been added. Nothing has been left out. Absolutely nothing. And if you read the marketing documents and web sites of Bible publishers, this is all they say forever and again: “Trust us. Our Bible is a perfect translation into English of the original Hebrew and Greek inspired by God. We love the Bible. The Bible is the very Word of God. We would never try to correct God's Word. Trust us."

But second, if seminaries are to stay profitable, tuition must flow in from Hebrew and Greek, and also Old and New Testament exegesis classes. And in those classes, the budding pastor is told that, unlike church people, he himself cannot and must not trust any Bible translation. That without years studying Hebrew and Greek, and Old and New Testament exegesis, he won’t know what God really said. At this point the scholar teaching him will point to this or that phrase in this or that Bible version and say, "See here: the NIV2011 translates this Hebrew construction ‘koogeedelbbog’ as ‘Run Jane, run,’ but that’s completely wrong! It should have been translated ‘sit Spot, stay.’"

So on the one hand, scholars sell their Bible version by telling church people that they are superb scholars with degrees from the most prestigious universities, and so church people should have confidence in their Bible version as being the very Word of God.

But on the other hand, those very same scholars tell seminary students that they are superb scholars with degrees from the most prestigious universities, and so they are able to initiate their students into the secret things of Bible translation and exegesis where their students will learn that the only man who really knows what the Holy Spirit inspired in the original Hebrew and Greek is the man who studies the original Hebrew and Greek under them. This leaves tuition-paying students spending years in classes listening to their professors correct the English text of whatever Bible version he is reading at the time—even (and maybe especially) if the English version he's reading is the one he himself worked on. Their prof recounts how he lost this and that battle on this and that word and phrase during the meeting of the Translation Committee. Their prof will even criticize things like the formatting of the page of English text in this or that version because it doesn’t carry into English the versification of what, in the original Hebrew, is actually poetry.

The point?

Every Bible translation is a compilation of battles between men who spent years getting some degree at some famous university and who very much want the respect of their peers and do their translating toward that end. Yet, perhaps with the exception of Bible translators, good translators will readily admit how difficult it is for their work not to be corrupted by their aspirations. Secular translators have no hesitation admitting they don’t find it easy to translate words and phrases accurately from the original text when an accurate translation will be perceived by readers as ill-bred, obscene, or politically incorrect. In such cases, discretion (emendation) is the better part of valor (accuracy).

Now you’ve seen just a little bit of the action behind the curtain of Bible versions, and you’re wondering what this means for you?

It means you should be on guard against the scholarly aspirations of the translators who did your English translation. You should expect that they regularly felt, and sometimes yielded to, pressures to change the text of Scripture in order to further their aspirations for scholarly respectability. Where are those pressures most common?

Every place where the original Hebrew and Greek words and phrases appear to our decadent age as ill-bred, obscene, or politically incorrect. At each of those places, the pressure is on to correct God's Word so it appears well-bred, refined, and politically correct. Look for such unfaithfulness to God’s words wherever you yourself feel cultural pressures to distance yourself from what God has said in His Word.

Scrutinize the many, many places where God’s Word is attacked for being sexist, racist, patriarchal, hierarchical, anti-Semitic, or homophobic. These are the battle lines between the commands of God and the gods of our culture, so these are the places where we will want to modify God’s words in order to put people at ease.

All this on the occasion of Crossway announcing their scholars are making fifty more changes to the text of their English Standard Version, after which the text of the ESV will be inviolable forever. They say the board of their corporation has voted “unanimously” to keep the text of the ESV the same “in perpetuity.”

This is sad because the errors remaining in the ESV will never be corrected. On the other hand, those errors will stand as living testimony that scholars and their scholarship have been corrupted by the Fall and sin just like everyone and everything else—including, of course, you and me; and this blog post.

Where are the ESV’s errors that will live on forever?

I’ll only mention three.

First, the ESV is wrong every time it says the Greek word “adelphoi” means “brothers and sisters.” It doesn’t. “Adelphoi” means “brothers.” So why do the ESV’s scholars say it means “brothers and sisters?”

Because the male inclusive has become politically incorrect. This usage inspired by the Holy Spirit runs against the grain of our feminist culture and men who earned degrees at prestigious universities are ashamed of it. We can be relieved that most places where the ESV distances itself from this usage, it does so in its footnotes which read, “Or brothers and sisters.” It’s worth noting that the New Living Translation does what arguably is a better job. They use “brothers and sisters” in the text, but then add in the footnotes,“Greek brothers," so the reader is able to see what the Greek text actually says if he spends the time to read the footnote.

Second, in 1Timothy 4:7, the Apostle Paul writes, "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” The ESV deletes this from Scripture, translating it "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” Why do the ESV’s scholars delete “old women” here?

If you have to ask, you must not live in the same world I do. Here again, the New Living Translation is more accurate: "Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales.”

Third, in 1Corinthians 6:9 the Apostle Paul writes, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals…” (NASB95). The ESV deletes the Greek word “malakoi” (“soft men” or “effeminate”) from its text: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…”. Why do the ESV’s scholars delete “soft men?”

In this connection, notice how many Reformed celebrities have recently thrown their weight behind the “gay Christian” movement. Dissing gays is gauche, and saying the “effeminate” will not inherit the kingdom of God sounds dangerously close to saying gays will not inherit the kingdom of God. "If we were to allow this into the text of Scripture, what would we do about Christians who say they don't lie with other men, and yet their identity is 'gay'?"

In the ancient world, this Greek word “malakoi” has a long and well-documented history of usage. The “malakoi” were not simply those who were passive partners in sodomitic intercourse, although that meaning is clearly among those sins condemned by this usage of "malakoi" here in the text of 1Corinthians 6:9. This sin list is not just about sex, and "malakoi" is not simply one of the two partners in homosexual intercourse. Beyond homosexual intercourse, “soft men” are those men, both homosexual and heterosexual, who refuse to bear responsibility and whose moral firmness does not match the sex God made them. Just as the "covetous" will not inherit the kingdom of God, "soft men" or "effeminate" will not inherit the kingdom of God. The "malakoi" are men who turn and flee in battle, men who have been softened by the music they listen to, men who indulge in luxury of food, drink, and clothing and whose manly principle has been destroyed by these indulgences. The malakoi shave their beards and cut their hair from vanity and their desire to attract a partner for sexual sin.

Calvin had no trouble understanding that the word "malakoi" (effeminate) in 1Corinthians 6:9 was a different word from "arsenokoitai" (men lying with men). He kept both words and explained them both. Here's his explanation of "malakoi":

By effeminate I understand those who, while they may not openly become prostitutes, nevertheless show how unchaste they are by the use of pandering words, by effeminate bearing and dress, and other means of attracting attention.1

It's subterfuge to leave "soft men" or "effeminate" out of the text of 1Corinthians 6:9, justifying the deletion by claiming "malakoi" only refers to the man who plays the woman in homosexual intercourse (which is the defense the ESV scholars have made of their bad translation "men who practice homosexuality"). 

On the other hand, are not all of us Christian men today to a greater or lesser degree malakoi? Read the Apostolic Fathers’ condemnations of malakoi Christians of their time and not a man among us will be more at ease in Zion. We ought to be angry at the soft men who couldn't bring themselves to allow the Spirit of God to warn us through His Word that soft men will not inherit the kingdom of God.

  • 1. Calvin, John. The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Translated by John W. Fraser. Edited by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Calvin's New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960; p. 124.
Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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