ESV Bible Translation Revisions 'Potentially Dangerous,' Biblical Scholar Warns

A drug user undergoing rehabilitation reads the Bible as part of his regular activities at the Center for Christian Recovery in Antipolo, Philippines, September 12, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco)

A debate is stirring over revisions made to the final translation of the English Standard Version Bible regarding gender, with one biblical scholars saying the changes are "potentially dangerous."

The Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee said in a statement that the 52 words revised in 29 verses were "the culmination of more than 17 years of comprehensive work by the committee, as authorized and initiated by the Crossway Board in 1998."

Crossway added that the 2016 edition is a "Permanent text of the ESV Bible [and will remain] unchanged throughout the life of the copyright."

One of the controversial changes can be found in Genesis 3:16.

Editors changed the previous translation of Genesis 3:16 which said, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The verse has now been changed to read, "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you."

Northern Seminary New Testament professor Scot McKnight believes the word changes in the newly revised ESV Bible, such as those found in Genesis 3:16, have profoundly negative implications.

"This new translation of Genesis 3:16 suggests the curse against the woman is an act of God (a curse) that seals estrangement, alienation and tension between females and males," McKnight said in an interview with The Christian Post on Thursday. "By so rendering this verse, the ESV creates the impression that females and males are contrarians with one another."

"Some think they make women rebellious and men authoritarian in response. That is a sad and potentially dangerous interpretation for it gives the wrong kind of males a ready-made excuse for domination," he added.

A woman reads from the Book of Joshua during the 27th Annual U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon in Washington, May 2, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Other translations of the Bible, such as the The New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, change terms like "man" and "brethren" to "human beings" and "brothers and sisters" to show that the writer is referring to both sexes instead of only men.

On Tuesday, Carolyn Custis James, a professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, noted in a post on Missio Alliance that "because of the awkwardness of the ESV translation, I've heard pastors in churches with ESV Bibles in the pews abruptly interrupt their public Bible reading to explain that the actual meaning of the text is "brothers and sisters."

"That modern linguistic clarification doesn't make the text gender-neutral, but rather gender-accurate — reflecting the actual meaning of the biblical text," she said.

Renowned systematic theologian and Phoenix Seminary professor Wayne Grudem, a complementarian who was the general editor of the latest ESV translation, argues in his book, Systematic Theology, that "man" should be retained.

"The theological issue is whether there is a suggestion of male leadership or headship in the family from the beginning of Creation. The fact that God did not choose to call the human race "woman," but "man," probably has some significance for understanding God's original plan for men and women," Grudem writes in the book.

The Christian Post reached out to Grudem to further unpack this comment but he was not available for comment by press time.

Other changes made to the ESV Bible include verses 1 Kings 8:48, Ephesians 1:5, and James 2:10.

1 Kings 8:48 has been changed from "If they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies," to now, "If they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies."

Ephesians 1:5 earlier read, "He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." It now reads, "He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will."

James 2:10 has been changed from, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it," to "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."

CP asked McKnight why he thinks there was no public discussion about the ESV Bible translation before the changes were finalized.

Although he did not know why Crossway opted not to provide a public conversation about the word changes and hoped they'd reconsider, McKnight said, "one can be forgiven for wondering if they didn't just slip it in," adding that "this is a bad move when the new translation is now considered permanent."

McKnight added that another interesting twist exists in this debate.

"The irony is that many complementarians are now following a woman's (Susan Foh's) interpretation of Genesis 3:16," he said.

CP reported on Sept. 11 that Crossway added: "With the work of translating the ESV Bible now completed, we would give our work back into the hands of the Lord; for Him to use and to bless and to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:11); for the sake of His Church and the Gospel, to 'the ends of the Earth' (Acts 13:47) — knowing that 'the word of the Lord remains forever' (1 Peter 1:25)."

Crossway describes the ESV as an "essentially literal" translation that seeks "as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer."

All of the edits made to the 2016 English Standard Version Bible can be found here.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalter

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