Friday, October 7, 2016

The Word of the ESV endureth forever. . .

Beginning in the summer of 2016, the text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway—in much the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769). So the word has come down from Crossway and with it a list of those 29 verses and 52 words being changed.  The text of the ESV will no longer be updated but will remain as is following this update.  Read it all here. . .

I must admit to being rather surprisingly relieved by this.  No, I do not consider the ESV the perfect translation (not even the KJV merits this judgment) but as a pastor I have tired of the constant meddling with the text to the point where it is not enough to know the version but the edition of that version.  It is a pesky problem when Bible studies bog down on minor translation differences (although the major ones can be useful studies in and of themselves).  I am happy that we will eventually have an ESV without the changes that have turned the NIV into something different than it was first envisioned.

Updates are helpful sometimes but continuity is also very helpful.  It is, after all, not the Word of the Lord that has changed but how convention has decided to render that word into a language other than the original that has changed.  Of course language changes, evolves, and transitions and we will have to deal with some of that with an ESV that ignores those changes.  But the truth is that we have not suffered so greatly and the KJV has remained essentially unchanged and ever popular despite the fact that editorial committees have not updated its text.

In the beginning I was enamored of all the changes.  I have a dozen or more versions on my bookshelves (everything from The Cotton Patch Version to the New Jerusalem) and I thought it was the cat's meow.  But at that stage of my life I saw the Bible as a fluid word subject to change -- if not in text then in meaning.  Instruction and maturity have taught the error of my youthful ways.  Fascination with change is its own weakness, especially when it comes to Scripture.

I recall most passages in some form of the KJV/RSV that were the two most predominant versions of my youth and I learned the Catechism in the same way (1943 copyright).  The constant juggling of words is important more for the restraint of past exuberance over change than the deficiencies of the older texts.  In most cases, we are restoring rather than revising, going back rather than breaking new ground (both with catechism and with Bible translation and updates).  The years have taught me that what I thought was cool as a youth are at odds with the way we learn and our ability to meet together at the same texts even though we are separated by generations of time.

Having only recently upgraded to an IPhone SE, it is disconcerting to think that the 7 is already out.  I am more than happy to have some problems fixed but after a while the constant need to upgrade to new technology makes the devices only more expensive and more trouble.  These are, after all, only means and not ends.  So it is good that we distance Scripture, catechism, and even liturgical change from the way commerce views the introduction of a product new and different but predictably more pricey than what it replaces.  Incremental changes in the church are best and I for one laud the folks at Crossway for saying this is the text for today and for all the foreseeable future.

UPDATE:  The Text will be open to update after all, though seldom and minimally, it is hoped.  It turned out the world was not as ready to accept a constant text for Biblical and liturgical usage and Crossway changed its mind.  That said, I kept what I initially wrote.

Here is what Crossway has to say:  “The means to that goal, we now see, is not to establish a permanent text but rather to allow for ongoing periodic updating of the text to reflect the realities of biblical scholarship such as textual discoveries or changes in English over time,” stated Dennis. “These kinds of updates will be minimal and infrequent, but fidelity to Scripture requires that we remain open in principle to such changes.”


John Flanagan said...

I am staying with the NKJV and KJV. I am not scholarly enough to comprehend all of the other versions with respect to linguistic accuracy, however, one must make a choice, and I trust the NKJV and KJV. I think the continuing trend is to enact more versions well into the future. Some theologians just can't seem to leave well enough alone, so they play with the Bible and God's word as if it is a manual on how to write and edit a script for a movie or play.

jwskud said...

Hi John,
I will often reference the KJV myself, but not exclusively, as I do not fully trust it (or any other translation!). One can find criticism of any Bible translation, but here's a good article discussing just some of the issues with the KJV;

So I say use whatever translation you prefer, but keep in mind that it shouldn't be read in a vacuum. Luckily, electronic versions of the text now allow for rapid comparisons between versions.

John Flanagan said...

jwskud.....I have read several sources on the criticisms of each version.. But let me ask you....why do you say "I do not fully trust it(or any other translation)?" Remember we had only the Geneva and KJV for almost 400 years in the English speaking world. Other nations had vernacular versions in their own languages. If you could not read Greek, Aramaic, would you be able to understand and trust the original words by yourself...and how could one ever be sure it is an accurate interpretation? I do not know why you have such a lack of confidence in the KJV?

Kirk Skeptic said...

If by not fully trusting a translation because it is the work of fallen men, then fine; if you say so because you are a master of the original languages and have some healthy skepticism, that's also fine. Otherwise, do check your motives: semiliterate Welsh colliers and African American freed slaves seem to have had much less difficulty with the KJV than the average (semi-) educated pew-pilot of today.

jwskud said...

Not sure if my last comment will be posted - this computer was logged into my wife's account.

Basically, all I'm saying is that because I do NOT read Greek and Hebrew, I have to rely on translation. But no translation is 100% accurate. Luther struggled with this...should he stick closest to literal translation, knowing his readers might struggle to understand, or should he best translate the meaning the original author (with the help of the Holy Spirit) was trying to convey? Either way will give you very different translations.

As such, I utilize two major translations, but I also consult other translations. Because all translations are tainted by sin. The only inerrant texts are the original Hebrew and Greek. At least that's how I see it. But again, I don't read those languages, so I'm stuck with tainted translations.

I have two copies of the King James (old) that I use. I use the 1984 NIV. I use the newer ESV. And occasionally I check others. Again, the use of online comparison tools makes it pretty easy. And sometimes, the translations offered are much different! Gen 6:8 is an example. I treasure the KJV here. The other translations seem to imply that Noah was some upstanding single human, whereas the KJV conveys that God graced Noah and thereby made him upstanding.

Hope that better explains my point of view...

jwskud said...

Kirk - I'm not saying I don't understand the KJV. I read it and I use it. As mentioned above, sometimes it is my favored translation.

However - the point you make about colliers and slaves makes a valid, albeit completely separate, point: the English language has changed/shifted/modernized. Is it all for the best? No, not at all! It is dismaying indeed. But why wouldn't someone from 100 years ago, closer to the times of the original English translation, understand it more easily than someone from today? And why force modern English speakers to adapt to older English in order to understand the wonderful blessings the Bible has to offer?

Here's an example. I recently, after years of prodding by others, ready Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. I had two options: read the original text he wrote, or read it in "modern English." I chose the modern English version. Not because I'm a moron (although I'm not the brightest reader, I'll grant that), but because I simply didn't want to struggle to understand a text that I wasn't all that thrilled to read in the first place. I chose the easy route. I'd rather struggle with Luther, Pieper, Schlink, Gerhard, Chemnitz, etc. I needed something more accessible for a quicker, easier read.

I guess I'm saying you could make the same argument for scripture. For the casual reader, why not provide them the simplest possible (and yet accurate) translation, in modern English? They may be more likely to become interested and read more, rather than casting it aside and saying they don't follow the text...that's how I was with my original KJV as a kid. I didn't understand it, so I didn't read it. Which is a shame.