ESV Bible Translation Revisions Won't Be Permanent Says Crossway: 'The Decision Was a Mistake'

A woman reads from the Book of Joshua during the 27th Annual U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon in Washington, May 2, 2016.
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)

Just a little over a month after its announcement that the text of the English Standard Version Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions, Crossway is now "convinced that this decision was a mistake" and would "allow for ongoing periodic updating of the text."

The goal behind the earlier decision was "to stabilize the English Standard Version, serving its readership by establishing the ESV as a translation that could be used 'for generations to come,'" the Christian publisher says in a statement. "We desired for there to be a stable and standard text that would serve the reading, memorizing, preaching and liturgical needs of Christians worldwide from one generation to another."

But "this decision was a mistake," says Lane T. Dennis, Crossway president and CEO. "We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord."

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The Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee had unanimously decided that the ESV Bible would remain unchanged "throughout the life of the copyright" beginning the summer of 2016, calling it "the culmination of more than 17 years of comprehensive work by the Translation Oversight Committee, as authorized and initiated by the Crossway Board in 1998."

That decision was made after making 52 word changes "to make only a very limited number of final changes to the ESV text, where such changes represented a substantial improvement in the precision, accuracy, and understanding of the ESV."

Crossway now believes that "the means to that goal … 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."

The updates are likely to be "minimal and infrequent," the publisher says, and adds, "but fidelity to Scripture requires that we remain open in principle to such changes, as the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee see fit in years ahead."

In its statement, Crossway also quotes the Preface to the ESV Bible, which reads: "We know that no Bible translation is perfect; but we also know that God uses imperfect and inadequate things to His honor and praise. So to our triune God and to His people we offer what we have done, with our prayers that it may prove useful, with gratitude for much help given, and with ongoing wonder that our God should ever have entrusted to us so momentous a task. To God alone be the glory!"

Some biblical scholars had expressed concerns over the word changes Crossway made prior to its earlier announcement.

"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," Northern Seminary New Testament professor Scot McKnight earlier told The Christian Post. "By so rendering this verse, the ESV creates the impression that females and males are contrarians with one another."

McKnight added that 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."

Carolyn Custis James, a professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, also 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."

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