Thursday, October 22, 2015

The ESV versus the ESV

The ESV:  When will it be finished?
          The English Standard Version, released in 2001 by Crossway, has rapidly become one of the top five most popular English translations in the United States.  It has been marketed as an “essentially literal” translation – the translation that the New Revised Standard Version was supposed to be:  as literal as possible, as free as necessary (to use Bruce Metzger’s catch-phrase).  Among evangelical scholars, the ESV is generally regarded – as the late Rod Decker stated in a detailed review – as “a viable translation for both local church and personal use.”  Several prominent evangelicals have approved it, including John Piper and Al Mohler.
          Textually, the ESV is a direct descendant of the RSV, which was widely rejected by evangelicals.  (The ESV’s preface – or, in some editions, its appendix – describes the ESV as if it has descended from the KJV and has a claim to the “Tyndale-King James legacy,” but such a claim seems hard to maintain when one considers that the ESV’s New Testament base-text disagrees with the KJV’s base-text in thousands of places.)  However, the ESV itself is mainly a product of evangelical scholars whose work has yielded many improvements over the RSV.  The ESV is likely to become the #1 or #2 all-purpose English translation among American evangelicals.
          Hopefully it will be finished someday.  The ESV has repeatedly been altered, and there is no sign that alterations will not continue to be made.  The ESV released in 2007 was not the same as the ESV that was issued in 2001, and the ESV that was issued in 2011 was not the same as the ESV that was issued in 2007.  Oxford University Press has published an edition of the ESV with a very significant difference from previous editions:  it includes the Apocrypha.  What will the ESV look like in 2020 or 2030?  No one really knows but God. 
          The ESV has a Translation Oversight Committee (consisting of between 12 and 14 individuals) which seems to be responsible for considering changes to the ESV’s text.  With Wayne Grudem and R. Kent Hughes on the Translation Oversight Committee, will future editions of the ESV remove Mark 16:9-20 from the text?  Will passages currently within double-brackets (such as John 7:53-8:11) be absent in the ESV of the future?  Andreas Köstenberger, the person responsible for the ESV Study Bible’s notes for the Gospel of John, has stated that the story about the woman caught in adultery “should not be regarded as part of the Christian canon” and has clearly expressed the opinion that the passage should not appear “in the main body of translations, even within square brackets,” so such a scenario seems not only possible but probable.  An edition of the ESV based 100% on the Alexandrian Text may be just around the corner.

One of the covers used
for the Gideons ESV.
        On the other hand, the English Standard Version was recently issued in an edition which reflects a more genuinely eclectic approach:  the Gideons, a ministry focused on Bible-distribution, has begun distributing a special edition of the ESV which is different from the usual 2011 edition in many respects.  In the New Testament, the Gideons English Standard Version – which I call the GESV, for convenience – abandons the base-text of the 2011 ESV in favor of readings found in the Textus Receptus.  As a result, some verses which are absent in the ESV, and other verses which are drawn into question by the formatting in the ESV (usually via brackets and vaguely worded footnotes), are fully restored in the GESV.
          A researcher named Joshua Holman has gone through the ESV and identified the points where the ESV and GESV differ.  To see the entire list of differences between the text of the GESV and the text of the ESV, see Joshua Holman’s list.  Here is a representative sample of the differences, compiled from his data (accompanied by some of my own comments):    

Matthew 1:7-8 – GESV reads “Asa” instead of the ESV’s “Asaph,” thus removing a reading which Bruce Metzger described as an error.
Matthew 1:10 – GESV reads “Amon” instead of the ESV’s “Amos,” thus removing another reading which Bruce Metzger described as an error.
Matthew 1:25 – The GESV states that Mary gave birth “to her firstborn son,” unlike the ESV, which states that she gave birth “to a son.”
Matthew 5:44 – The GESV includes the phrases in which Jesus says to “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,” unlike the ESV which does not include these two phrases in this verse.
Matthew 6:13 – The GESV presents the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer as part of the text, whereas the ESV only provides it in a footnote.
Matthew 12:47 – The GESV includes this verse in the text, unlike the ESV which places it in a footnote with the introduction, “Some manuscripts insert verse 47.”  The vast majority of Greek manuscripts includes this verse.  It seems obvious that the verse was accidentally skipped when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted away from one set of letters to the same set of letters further along in the text (an occurrence called parablepsis). 
Matthew 17:21 – The GESV includes this verse, which is only in a footnote in the ESV.
Matthew 18:11 – The GESV includes this verse, which is only in a footnote in the ESV

Matthew 19:9 – The GESV has, as the verse’s final phrase, “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  The ESV does not include this phrase in the text. 
Matthew 23:14 – The GESV has this verse in the text, unlike the ESV which only presents it in a footnote.  It seems obvious that it was accidentally skipped when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted away from one set of letters to the same set of letters further along in the text. 
Matthew 26:45 – The GESV frames Jesus’ first sentence as a question, whereas the ESV presents it as if Jesus said, “Sleep and take your rest later on.” 
Mark 7:16 – The GESV includes this verse in the text; the ESV only presents it in a footnote.
Mark 9:29 – The words “and fasting” are included at the end of the verse in the GESV.  In the ESV they are only presented in a footnote.  Over 99% of the manuscripts of Mark include the words, including Papyrus 45 (barely, due to damage).
Mark 9:44 and 9:46 – The GESV includes these two verses, which are not in the text of the ESV
Mark 9:49 – The GESV includes the phrase, “and every sacrifice will be salted with salt,” which is not in the text of the ESV.
Mark 10:24 – The GESV states that Jesus said, “Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God,” where the ESV presents Jesus saying, instead, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” 
Mark 11:26 – The GESV includes this verse, which is not included in the ESV’s text.  It seems obvious that it was accidentally skipped when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted away from one set of letters to the same set of letters further along in the text.           
Mark 15:28 – The GESV includes this verse, which is not in the text of the ESV.  The shorter reading can be accounted for as the result of a scribal accident, or as an intentional excision intended to alleviate the perception of a discrepancy caused by having one prophecy fulfilled in two different ways (cf. Luke 22:37).   

Mark 16:9-20 – The GESV includes the entire passage without brackets, without a heading-note, and without a footnote.  The ESV encloses the passage within double-brackets, accompanied by a heading (“Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20”) and an imprecisely worded footnote.  It is not easy for readers to perceive from such footnotes that the inclusion of this passage is supported by over 99% of the Greek manuscripts of Mark 16 and by some patristic writers (such as Irenaeus) who wrote before the production of the earliest existing manuscripts of Mark 16.  
Luke 2:43 – The GESV refers to “Joseph and his mother” where the ESV refers to “His parents.”
Luke 4:44 – The GESV refers to Galilee, rather than Judea

Luke 17:36 – The GESV includes this verse, which is not in the text of the ESV.  It seems obvious that it was accidentally skipped when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted away from one set of letters to the same set of letters further along in the text.
Luke 23:17 – The GESV includes this verse, which is not in the text of the ESV

John 5:3-4 – The GESV includes the entire passage about the angel stirring the water.      
John 7:8 – Whereas in the ESV, Jesus says, “I am not going up to this feast,” in the GESV Jesus says, “I am not yet going up to this feast.”  (In this case, by the way, the ESV disagrees with the oldest manuscripts.)  
John 7:53-8:11 – The GESV prints the text in its entirety without notes.  In the ESV, the entire passage is placed within double-brackets, with a cautionary heading (“The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11”) and a footnote. 


          The GESV includes (without any footnotes) Acts 8:37 (a verse utilized by Irenaeus in the 100’s and Cyprian in the 200’s), Acts 28:29, and Romans 16:24.  The word “broken” is included in First Corinthians 11:24, and so is the phrase “through his blood” in Colossians 1:14.  In First Timothy 3:16, the text in the GESV reads, “God was manifested in the flesh” instead of the ESV’s “He was manifested in the flesh.”  Somewhat surprisingly, John 1:18 and the fifth verse of Jude in the GESV are the same as in the ESV.  
          The GESV does not represent a thorough departure from the Alexandrian Text in favor of the Textus Receptus or the Byzantine Text.  In First John 5:7, the Comma Johanneum, a reading with hardly any Greek manuscript support, is nowhere to be seen.  But neither are many Byzantine readings, even some for which the support is widespread, ancient, and exceeds 95% of the Greek manuscripts.  Most of the differences occur at point in the text where an ordinary reader might easily sense that something is amiss (due to the lack of a verse-number), and in well-known passages where the Alexandrian reading might appear puzzling. 
          Besides the textual differences, the GESV excludes the ESV’s many footnotes that draw attention to textual variants (particularly when the major Alexandrian manuscripts disagree with each other), such as at Mark 1:1 (where a footnote in the ESV informs the reader that some manuscripts omit the words “Son of God”) and Luke 22:43-44, Luke 23:34a, etc. 
          Although I do not agree with every adjustment that has been made in the GESV, and wish that the Gideons’ edition of the ESV had embraced many more Byzantine readings, overall it is a step in the right direction – away from the almost exclusively Alexandrian Nestle-Aland base-text, toward a more truly eclectic one.  If it were up to me, all ESV’s would be more like the GESV.  I’m glad the GESV has been made.

          The arrival of the Gideons ESV does, however, raise a question:  if the ESV is going to continue to be tweaked indefinitely, and if it is going to circulate in editions with the Apocrypha, and in editions which vary significantly in their treatments of over three dozen verses, and which might vary even more in the future, then in what sense is the English Standard Version a standard?  Granting that  post-publication refinements have been needed (and some still are needed), at some point the plumb line has to stop swinging.
     

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