Thursday, February 02, 2017

The ESV and Genesis 3:16

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16 ESV 2016)

The ESV committee has recently, last year, proposed an amendment to Genesis 3:16 that caused quite a bit of an uproar among those who see the changes as being not driven by the text but for ideological reasons. The insinuation, being that the change came temporally after the bulk of the EFS (Eternal Functional Submission) controversy, was that it was to prop up some version of EFS. How should we deal with this text and, more broadly, what should we make of the ESV?

Concerning the text itself, the changed text is one possible translation of the original Hebrew, that interprets the preposition ל as "contrary to," which is A possible interpretation. For me, personally, I prefer the more ambiguous translation "to." That said, since the amended text is A possible translation, based upon Susan Foh's interpretation in her WTJ (Westminster Theological Journal) article, that translation is plausible and thus there is no reason at all to kick up a big fuss over the issue.

The only reason why certain segments of the Reformed world kicked up such a big fuss over the issue is because it came upon the heels of the EFS controversy. The hysteria in certain segments the Reformed blogosphere over the changes in the ESV (here's one example) is really a sad thing. For those of us who are interested in the truth, there is no reason to subscribe to such hysteria, especially since those who attack EFS continually misrepresent their opponents. Since that is the case, the question concerning the ESV is this: Does the change in Genesis 3:16 compromise the translation of the original Hebrew? I would say not. At the same time, by making it less ambiguous, the change makes the ESV less literal. For those who want to study the Bible deeply, this change is one strike against the amended ESV. But for pastors and preachers, such changes are less important to us since, after all, we are supposed to be focused on the text in the original languages, and amend the English versions in our preaching as and when the occasion arise. Pastorally, such amendments should not be done too often lest we undermine the congregation's trust that they have the Word of God in English, which is why a more literal translation is preferred. But one amendment in Genesis 3:16 is not going to be a lot. As long as we are not correcting every other word in the Bible translation, which is why we need to use a good faithful English translation in the church's corporate worship, the people's trust in their Bibles will be preserved. The interpretation of one preposition in Genesis 3:16 does not take away from the fact that the ESV is still a good faithful translation of the text, and thus there is no reason why it should not continue to be used by English-speaking Christians.

As for me, I will continue to use and to support the use of the ESV as an excellent bible translation in English. I also hope that the Reformed world will not succumb to hysteria and continue using this translation. For me also, my ESV Bible app on my smartphone continues to give the original translation of "to" while my printed ESV bible is of the older version, so I do not have to deal with this issue for the foreseeable future, and hopefully never will.


cfleig said...

Thanks for your discussion. I really benefited from it!

Daniel C said...


you're welcome