Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ESV vs NRSV Redux (2009)

1) Overseers vs. Bishops (I Tim/Titus)

2) Propitiation vs. sacrifice of atonement (Rm 3:25)

3) Hell vs. Hades (Matt 16:18)

4) Born again vs. Born from Above (Jn 3:3)

5) Brothers vs. Brothers and Sisters

6) Son of Man vs. O Mortal/Human Beings (OT/Heb 2)

7) "a" vs. "the" (1 Tm 3:15)

8) grasped vs. exploited (Phi. 2:6)

9) made himself nothing yvs. emptied himself (Phi. 2:7)

10) Virgin vs. young woman (Is. 7:14)

11) Behold vs. Look or See

12) husband of one wife vs. married once (Titus 1:6)

13) the Helper vs. the Advocate (Jn 14-16)
(New One)


Timothy said...

Has it been almost three years?

CJA Mayo said...

ESV is correct in all but 7 and 8, and, from a Catholic perspective, 1. The word episkopos, however, means overseer as much as bishop, so one can't really call it a translational error - and it may be more correct historically, as I doubt they had "bishops" in the modern sense in AD 60.

"A" instead of "the" pillar is an egregious example of bias in translation, or being new for the sake of being new (the Greek doesn't have the explicit article, but the passage doesn't make sense saying it is "a pillar" - which ones are the others?).

"Exploited" (as per the KJV, "counted it not robbery") is better than "grasped", which is too easily interpreted as "grasped at" or in a subordinationist sense, that Jesus could not grasp at equality with God. Indeed, he was God by nature.

The others, I'm solidly in the ESV camp, especially on "hell", "son of man", "virgin", and "husband of one wife" (the other is an accommodation to the egalitarian error, or, worse, to the homosexual error, or, worse still, to the priestess error). "Made himself nothing" is much superior to "emptied himself".

"Brothers" is correct and literal, and, as an opponent of regendering, I very much dislike adding "sisters" (he didn't say adelphoi kai adelphe), but it's hard to place it at the level of error engendered by the NRSV's "married once", the ESV's "grasped", or the NRSV's "young woman", or, worst of all, "mortal one" or "human being", possibly the worst rendering in the entire Bible (the CEB uses it exclusively). It's mildly incorrect and moderately offensive to 1) cater to modern liberal or egalitarian sensibilities, and 2) patronize the reader to such a degree that he can't figure out the use of the "generic man" for himself.

I have a personal preference for "behold", it's more traditional and mildly more literal, but translating in several ways isn't an egregious error.

CJA Mayo said...


"Propitiation" is more correct than "expiation", which is far more correct than the nebulous "sacrifice of atonement".

I am pretty neutral on "born again" against "born from above". I have a slight preference to "born again" (as referring specifically to water baptism) but both are correct and bring out separate nuances. Some may dislike "born again" out of spite due to its use by Holiness and Pentecostals, "wresting Scripture...to destruction".

In the end, with these choices and passages alone, one could come away from the NRSV with an aberrant soteriology, view of gender, view of prophecy and integration of OT with NT, and ethical issues (mortal sin is implicitly permitted), and come away from the ESV with an aberrant ecclesiology and Christology.

Neither one paints a rosy picture, based on these verses alone. One isn't going to be saved with an aberrant Christology, nor is one going to be saved by committing mortal sin and believing it has the Bible's sanction.

It is known that the ESV, as a whole, is a good deal better than the NRSV, as a whole, just as the RSV to the NRSV. But there are here good reasons for reading multiple translations if one uses modern versions, for knowing the Greek, and, above all, for reading Scripture in a canonical way, and not searching for proof-texts.

As the critical text advocates point out, every doctrine in Scripture is taught in several places, and if the MT teaches it twice and the CT once, it's still taught somewhere: and we better be thankful for it, as, if each doctrine was taught only in these verses, users of each translation would have different religions, and users of either translation would have at least one mortal error in their theology, if they used the one translation alone, and the doctrine being taught was taught in one place alone. (The NRSV also tortures the other places of "husband" and the vice list at 1 Cor 6:9-11, so it may be that ethics are taught nowhere in it: there is no equivalent statement to Philippians 2:6-11, "where Christology began".)

Timothy said...

Any thought on #13, which I just added?

CJA Mayo said...

I like "helper" better, not much for any technical reason (from what I understand the Greek, per BDAG, allows both), but "advocate" sounds too much like a barrister-cum-Social-Gospel.

The "helper" will lead ye in to all truth. The "advocate"? Well, he'll fight fracking and offshore drilling.

Biblical Catholic said...

The 'married once' thing is an excellent example of how inclusive language impacts theology.

The reason why the NRSV says 'married once' rather than the more literal 'husband of one wife' is because they want to allow for female clergy, even female bishops. 'Husband of one wife' makes it clear that the bishop must be male, and since all or at last most of the denominations that belong to the NCC which sponsored the NRSV have women's ordination, they can't have that.

Although I do find it curious that even in churches which have female priests, they rarely have female bishops. The C of E allowed women's ordination in 1992, and you would have thought that women bishops would have been the next logical step, but they rejected female bishops for the unmpteenth time again this year. The ECUSA, United Methodists and ELCA all allow female bishops, but the C of E just won't have it. Very strange. Once you've given ground on the issue of women's ordination, what exactly is the point of trying to reserve the bishopric to men?

Biblical Catholic said...

There is also a commonly heard complaint that the ESV's use of 'propitiation' is somehow biased in favor of Calvinism, I've even heard some claim that the word is somehow anti-Catholic or non-Catholic and that the usage of the word is a reason why Catholics shouldn't use it. I don't have the foggiest idea why someone would think that, it's a word that is used in Catholic theology frequently and is a good Catholic word.

Timothy said...

'Married only once' doesn't necessarily lead to a push for female clergy. The NAB uses that phrase as well, but as you continue reading it remains clear that men are only intended:

a2Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach,3not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.b4He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity;5for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?

Timothy said...

Isn't propitiation used in the Douay-Rheims?

Timothy said...

Two additional thoughts on the NRSV at 1 Tim 3:

1) There is the textual note with the literal rendering

2) Notice the use of the pronoun 'he' a little later in the passage. When a translation like the NRSV does this, it is somewhat interesting considering their commitment to inclusive language throughout.

Biblical Catholic said...

The NAB does say 'married only once' but I think it is wrong to say that women's ordination had nothing to do with that translation....the bishops who approved the 1986 Revised NT were a lot more liberal than the bishops we have today, and many of them were quite open and vocal about their support for women's ordination. I don't think that the ambiguous wording was unintentional.

Biblical Catholic said...

The word 'behold'.....this is a difficult one.....it is quite true that the word 'behold' is not very common today, and is not commonly understood. Indeed, probably the only people who know and understand the word are people who got it from the Bible. Some may know the word from the Mass 'behold the Lamb of God', but it's not a common word.

I'm actually a college professor, and I've actually used the word 'behold' in my lectures, I don't remember what I said exactly, the word just popped out because I know it from the Bible, the class never said anything, but I could tell that they didn't recognize or understand the word, they all gave me a confused look like I was suddenly speaking in a strange tongue.

However, the problem with using substitutes such as 'look' is that these words simply are not equivalent. 'Behold' means more than simply 'look at', it implies a sense of reverence or awe.

'Behold' is not a commonly understood word, but there doesn't appear to be an obvious substitute.

Theophrastus said...

"Behold" does not imply reverence or awe, even in Bible translations. Consider, for example, Jeremiah 6:10, or Midsummer Night's Dream 1:147.

Similarly, being "beholden" to pay my taxes does not mean that I consider filing a 1040 to be reverent act.

Simply because language is archaic does not mean it is steeped in mystery and awe. One big advantage of the NRSV in this context is removing a completely false patina that exists in the Hebrew that does NOT exist in the Greek (again, see Jeremiah 6:10).

Theophrastus said...

Err, that last sentence came out wrong -- should have been: "One big advantage of the NRSV in this context is removing a false patina that does not exist in the Greek or Hebrew."

Jonny said...


In the 2011 ESV, Phi 2:7 has reverted back to the "emptied himself" of the RSV.

CJA Mayo said...

Now the ESV and N/RSV both have a deficient rendering. I have 2007 ESVs.

"Emptied himself" is too easily - and I believe intentionally - read in the same "kenotic" sense, not as the Greek word, but as in "kenotic theology", where Christ is attributed ignorance on earth, etc. Looking at the rest of the RSV - inconsistent use of "thou" which implicitly denies Christ's divinity, mistranslating of the OT to remove any and all prophecy, rendering whenever possible the two testaments in a non-conformable manner, even by means of conjectural emendation, etc. I would wager that "emptied himself" was adopted for doctrinal, not strictly philological, reasons, although I may be severely mistaken.

"Made himself of no reputation" (KJV) is a superior rendering, much less amenable to heretical manipulation. "Made himself nothing" of the non-2011 ESV is also meet and acceptable.

If a passage can be rendered in two ways without damage to the underlying text, and one way admits of a more orthodox interpretation, that is the way it must be rendered.

The KJV does an excellent job at this, even above the DRC, in places such as Proverbs 8:22ff, Philm 2:7, the various OT passages quoted in the NT (which I think, at times, should be back-translated from the NT if no OT is conformable), etc., although it can some times cross over in to "gloss" territory (as in the account of Cain and Abel, the KJV says, "And Cain talked to his brother"... the NASB, rendering literally, says, "And Cain said to his brother [sic], and when they were abroad slew him", as the Masoretic text likely has a lacuna here that is present in the LXX: "And Cain said to his brother, Let us go abroad in to the field; and when they were abroad in the field, he slew him").

The KJV and DRC reign supreme here. I'm not sure how the NASB renders it.

CJA Mayo said...

I wonder if "counted it not...to be grasped" is rendered that way in the ESV specifically to make the passage amenable to a complementarian reason. I know some complementarians do attempt to read the Christological Hymn in such a manner, I believe Denny Burk being one of them.

The already-extant most strong and unanimous testimony of the entire Bible to patriarchy or strong complementarianism doesn't need to be artificially bolstered (at the possible cost of a correct Trinitarian theology, no less) in such a manner.

Even if that was not the sole reason for rendering the passage in such a manner, it seems likely that it was at least a reason for doing so, given that the entire translation committee was full of prominent complementarians. If so, it is a sort of application of my previous principle in action: "if a phrase admits two renderings without damage to the text, so render it in the way that most emphasizes correct doctrine".

Timothy said...

It will be interesting to see what edition of the ESV the bishops are adapting.

CJA Mayo said...

Probably whichever one is dominant on the market when they start adapting it. If they've already started, probably 2001 or 2007. If they're starting soon, probably 2011. If they're starting "sometime", probably none of the above.

My $0.02

CJA Mayo said...


Have you ever read, I believe it is the seventh or eleventh chapter of the Fourth (Second) Book of Ezra (Esdras)? The chapter with the vision of the eagle in it.

Every translation I've seen, from that in Charlesworth to the NRSV, has the word "behold" in place at least one per sentence.

"And, behold, a new eagle rose up, lo, he had seven wings with nine feathers, four facing east, and, behold, five facing west. Lo and behold, it came to me, Sutuel, that, behold, the eagle fell to fighting, lo and behold, for it was besieged - behold! - on all sides."

That kind of translation.

Theophrastus said...

An excellent comment, CJA.

Of course, 2 Esdras is almost always translated from Latin, since that is the fullest extant version. Latin has a wide variety of words for "see": ecco, video, repicio, specto, adspicio, aspicio, circumspicio, intelligo, sentio, amimadverto, spicio. Do you think it is worth attempting to preserve the different senses of these words?

However, ecce/ecco has no notion of reverence; only notions of stress and of presence ("here!"). That's clear even in the English translation you give.

Jacob M. Meyers has considerable translation of just this point in his translation; although overall, I think that Michael E. Stone's translation is stronger.

Finally, your example illustrates something I have said repeatedly -- all committee translations of the Bible tend to be very uneven, and thus it is somewhat facile to say "translation X is better than translation Y" -- that is just as unhelpful as saying "Chinese restaurants are better than Italian restaurants" -- there is simply too much variety in the groups.

CJA Mayo said...

Hmm. Is it worth preserving the varying sense of Latin words meaning primarily "to see" or "comprehend"? I've never seen an original-language version of 2/4 Esdras, so I don't know which words are used in this place, but I would say, from the list of words above, yes, some differentiation could be made, and whatever brings the translation closer to the source text is good.

Beheld, saw/see, see, look, watch, looked at, see, comprehend/acknowledge, understand, feel, look at, etc.

Now, not all of the different nuances can be brought in to English (or so it appears: my Latin may not be good enough to understand more subtle shades of meaning than the translations given), but some can: and those that can, should.

I have been, at times, and I can not say completely unfairly criticized, for my translational philosophy would turn an erstwhile translation in to a crib sheet for learning a dead language.

CJA Mayo said...

Oh, and I have no idea what "animadverto" means... I can guess based on etymology, but my answer hast nothing to do with seeing nor understanding. I knew all of the other words.

It's not in my Latin-English dictionary either, nor is it in the index of the A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin.

CJA Mayo said...

One does need some "verity of language", to coin an inapt phrase. "Lo and behold" can never be reduced to "Look at see", which is of the same definition in the dictionary.

That has less to do with translation than aesthetics, and aesthetics is a very important part of religion. The entire enterprise of "worship" is founded upon giving an aesthetically-pleasing cult to something found worthy of it.

Theophrastus said...

Re animadverto: See this, for example.

Your remark about "lo and behold" is quite humorous -- and you can guess what word "lo" came from (hint -- its ending is OK.)

Servus Dei said...

Maybe Timothy, for the next Reduxes, it would be interesting to compare NABRE and NRSV-CE, particularly in the area of gender inclusive language, this Redux will probably help people who are comfortable enough with inclusive language but want to keep a accurate enough version of the Bible,

CJA Mayo said...

JC, man, Wikipedia has a graph with declensions and tenses I didn't even know existed? For an obscure Latin word?

Why do I have a Latin-English dictionary, again? Where I have to decline the nouns myself?