The Permanent Text of the ESV

Recently, Crossway, the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV), announced that beginning with a small revision of the present translation, the text of the ESV will remain unchanged in all future printing of this popular Bible. The following is an excerpt from the announcement:

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). This decision was made unanimously by the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee. All future Crossway editions of the ESV, therefore, will contain the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible—unchanged throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity.

According to Crossway, the changes are minimal since only 52 words are affected. This is how Crossway explains the changes:

The number of changes in the new ESV Permanent Text is limited to 52 words (out of more than 775,000 total words in ESV Bible) found in 29 verses (out of more than 31,000 verses in the ESV). The guiding principle for creating the ESV Permanent Text was 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.

Micah 4:3

There are 29 verses that were changed; 18 in the Old Testament and 11 in the New Testament. I checked all Old Testament verses changed in the ESV with the Hebrew text. I concluded that most of the changes are valid. These changes were made in order to bring these 18 verses to reflect what the original text actually says.

I have, however, one minor and two major problems with three changes in the ESV. I will explain the three problems beginning with what I consider to be a minor problem. The first problem is found in Micah 4:3.

The original text read as follows: “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away.”

The permanent text will read as follows: “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away.” In the permanent text, the translators added the word disputes which is not in the Hebrew text. This is how two translations deal with Micah 4:3:

NRSV: “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away.”

NIV: “He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.” The Permanent ESV text is following the approach of the NIV by explaining the meaning of “decide.”

Genesis 3:16

My biggest problem is with the proposed ESV Permanent Text translation of Genesis 3:16. The original text read as follows: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

The Permanent Text will read as follows: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

Here the Permanent Text changed the word “for” and replaced it with the expression “contrary to,” thus creating a conflict between the husband and the wife. The dictionary defines “contrary” as “opposing in essence, purpose, or aim.” The word carries the idea of being opposite to one’s position or direction.

There are several problems with this revision in the ESV. First, is the inconsistency of the translators in translating the Hebrew preposition ’el. According to BDB, אֶל (’el) is a “preposition denoting motion to or direction towards.” The preposition is used to denote “motion to or unto a person or place.” According to HALOT, the preposition ’el is “used with actions and events directed towards” something or someone as in “to speak,” “to look,” “to hear.” The preposition ’el is used 3867 times in the Hebrew Bible and, to my knowledge, never with the meaning “contrary to.”

Here is how the original text of the ESV translated the preposition ’el in the first few verses of Genesis:

Genesis 1:9: “into (’el) one place.”
Genesis 2:19: “to (’el) the man.”
Genesis 2:22: “ to (’el) the man.”
Genesis 3:1: “ to (’el) the woman.”
Genesis 3:2: “to (’el) the serpent.”
Genesis 3:4: “to (’el) the woman.”
Genesis 3:9: “to (’el) the man.”
Genesis 3:14: “ to (’el) the serpent.”
Genesis 3:16: “to (’el) the woman.”
Genesis 3:16: “for (’el) your husband.” (Original ESV translation)
Genesis 3:16: “contrary to (’el) your husband.” (Permanent Text)

The expression “contrary to” appears in seven verses in the ESV. All the seven verses where the expression “contrary to” appears, the Hebrew word used to translate “contrary to” is קֶרִי (qerî) but never the preposition ’el.

Second, the preposition ’el is used in Genesis 3:16 with the word תּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ), a word used three times in the Old Testament (Gen 3:16; 4:7; Song 7:10). There is much controversy about the meaning of the word teshûqâ in Genesis 3:16. Most translations translate the word as “desire,” a word that indicates sexual desire. Others believe that the word means “turning,” with the idea that the woman is turning from God and turning to her husband. Others translate the word as “urge,” that is, the woman’s urge for independence.

The problem in translating the word teshûqâ into English reflects the difficulty translators have in understanding the intent of the author in his use of the word. I will not deal with this problem at this time because of the complexity of the issue. A proper discussion of this word would require a long study on the different ways the word has been translated in the past.

It is evident that the translators of the ESV believe that the word teshûqâ involves sexual desire. Twice in the Hebrew Bible the word תּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ) implies sexual desire. In Genesis 3:16 the word teshûqâ refers to the sexual desire of the woman for the man. In Song of Songs 7:10 the word refers to the sexual desire of the man for the woman. Some evangelicals see the sexual desire of the woman in Genesis 3:16 in the context of sin and judgment. Victor Hamilton wrote:

There are two differences between the Gen passage (Gen 3:16) and that in the Song of Solomon. In the former the reference is to the wife’s desire for her husband. In the latter it is the bridegroom’s desire for the bride. Second, in the Gen passage the reference to ‘desire’ is in a context of sin and judgment. In the latter, the reference is in a context of joy and love (Hamilton: 1980: 2:913).

By translating the preposition ’el  in Genesis 3:16 as “contrary to,” the ESV interjects a radical tension in the relationship between man and woman. The expression “contrary to” communicates the idea that everything the woman desires is contrary to what the man desires. If the word “desire” in the ESV is to be understood as sexual desire, then the Permanent Text of the ESV “communicates the thought that only the woman desires to be with man—sexually or otherwise—and that man has no real need or desire to be with woman” (Schmidt 2000:87).

It is no secret that many Christians use Genesis 3:16 as a proof-text to defend and justify the subordination of women. The revision proposed by the ESV, in a sense, requires a woman to be submissive to an all-wise man, since her desire is contrary to man’s desire. This means that only the man’s desire is correct and the woman must follow his desire because all her desires are “contrary to” her husband’s desire.

Genesis 4:7

The third problem I have with the Permanent Text is found in the ESV’s revision of Genesis 4:7. The unrevised text says: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

The permanent text will read as follows: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” The reason for the change in the Permanent Text, I surmise, is for the sake of consistency. Since the words ’el and teshûqâ appear in Genesis 4:7, the translator had to be consistent and translate the two Hebrew words in the same way the two words were translated in Genesis 3:16.

But, what does the revised text say? “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” How is sin’s desire “contrary to you?” The Hebrew text of Genesis 4:7 is very difficult; the ESV’s revision complicates the interpretation of this obscure text. Most scholars believe that the word teshûqâ in Genesis 4:7 means “urge.” Sin has a strong desire to dominate Cain but he cannot allow sin to become his master. Westermann proposes the following translation: “Sin is there lying in wait at the door, it is greedy for you, but you must muster it” (Westermann 1984:281).

Conclusion

One problem with a permanent text like Crossway proposes for the ESV is that language changes with time and old words need to be explained to a new generation of readers. Very few people today would know the meaning of obsolete words in the KJV, words such as “ague” (Lev 26:16), “amerce” (Deut 22:19), “cockatrice” (Isa 11:8), “habergeon” (Exod 28:32), “latchet” (Isa 5:27), “mufflers” (not of cars, Isa 3:19), “nitre” (Pro 25:20), “sackbut” (Dan 3:15) and many others.

A few years from now, when a new generation of scholars write commentaries based on the Permanent Text of the ESV, they will have to explain to their readers words that have become obsolete and have changed their meaning. Even now I am asking myself: what is the meaning of Genesis 4:7 in the Permanent Text of the ESV?

Honestly, I cannot recommend the ESV to my students. These and many other texts are problematic and reveal an ideology that dictates how the text must be translated.

Claude Mariottini
Professors of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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Bibliography:

Victor P. Hamilton, “shwq,” Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr, and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980): 2:913.

Alvin J. Schmidt, Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000

Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984.

 

This entry was posted in Book of Genesis, Book of Micah, Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Translating, Translation Problems and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The Permanent Text of the ESV

  1. Fred Mastin says:

    “Honestly, I cannot recommend the ESV to my students. These and many other texts are problematic and reveal an ideology that dictates how the text must be translated.”

    Which text, then, is the least problematic?

    Like

    • Dear Fred,

      I use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) because this translation avoids ideological translation of the text. I use the NRSV in my study and in my preaching. I class I recommend the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), 4th edition. This is an excellent study Bible which provides a good introduction to each book of the Bible and also good study notes.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  2. Thank you for your continued thoughts. They are always very sharpening.
    Gen. 3:16 – It looks like the ESV is making an interpretative decision not a linguistic one. What does “your desire shall be for your husband…,” mean? A woman’s sexual desire will be for her husband? A woman will desire to submit to her husband? (that’s how one English translation of the LXX takes it). Or, A woman will “turn to her husband…” (whatever exactly that means and whether it is positive or negative is hard to tell).

    The immediate context however is negative in lieu of the curse. The idea that Adam would now “rule” over his wife implies that this was not the case prior to the fall. Conflict of some kind seems implied, but doesn’t it gain support from Gen. 4:7 which uses both teshuqah and is preceded by the preposition el? Something like “…[sin’s] desire is for you.” This is not a positive thing nor is it sexual, but sin desires to attack Cain. Read this way, the effects of the curse will cause Eve to have hostile desires towards her husband, and he will have hostile behavior towards her (trying to “rule” her). Hence, this verse introduces marital disharmony as a result of the curse of sin.
    On a pastoral level, then, it could be connected to Ephesians 5 and Paul’s admonishment for wives to respect their husbands (not quarrel against them) and husbands to love (not rule) their wives. i.e. Paul is reversing the curse and setting the clock back to marital harmony.

    You say, “It is evident that the translators of the ESV believe that the word teshûqâ involves sexual desire,” but I fail to see how this is evident. As support you say that twice the word involves sexual desire, and then you use Gen. 3:16 as one of the two verses, which assumes the very point you are trying to make. Sexual connotation is possible because of Songs 7:10, but it is not the only possibility given Gen. 4:7. Do you allow for any of this?

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    • Dear Pastor Corey,

      Thank you for your comment. When I suggested that the translators of the ESV believed that the word teshûqâ involved sexual desire, I was only suggesting that possibility in light of Songs 7:10. However, after further consideration, I think that conclusion was a mistake.

      In my response to a comment by Dallas McKinley, I made reference to another post, Genesis 3:16 and the ESV, in which I cite an article by Andrew A. Macintosh who has done a very good study of the word teshûqâ as it was understood by the early translators of the biblical text, by the Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to his study, the word teshûqâ was understood by the early translators of the text not as “desire” but as “concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus.”

      Macintosh’s article is an excellent study of Genesis 3:16. If you want to read the article by Macintosh, send me an email and I will be glad to send you a copy of the article.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  3. “The expression “contrary to” communicates the idea that everything the woman desires is contrary to what the man desires.” Having seen several articles expressing this sentiment, I must ask the question why? The updated translation does not indicate this. Where are you getting this? If the passage is translated traditionally it leaves an open question to the reader as to what exactly the woman is desiring. Several modern translations have clarified to show that as part of the curse and conflict is in mind here. NET: You will want to control your husband. NLT: You will desire to control your husband. While a case can be made for or against this rendering, it has nothing to do with prescriptive vs descriptive understanding of the text. The newer ESV rendering simply seeks to clarify the meaning. To then say that this is so egregious an error that you can not recommend the translation seems nonsensical. Perhaps other factors are influencing a bias against the ESV?

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    • Dear Brother Dallas,

      The problem with the ESV translation of Genesis 3:16 is that is does not reflect the true meaning of the Hebrew text. The translation of the text using “control” is also not good. Please read my post, Genesis 3:16 and the ESV. In that post I provide more information why the ESV translation is not good.

      In the post mentioned above, I cite an article by Andrew A. Macintosh who has done a very good study of the word teshûqâ as it was understood by the early translators of the biblical text, by the Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. None of these sources understand the word teshûqâ to mean “contrary” or “control.” The fact is, that the word teshûqâ does not mean “control” or “contrary.” I have no bias against the ESV. What I have is a concern that this translation of Genesis 3:16 by the ESV will give believers a false impression of what the Bible teaches.

      If you want to read the article by Macintosh, send me an email and I will be glad to send you a copy of the article and let you come to your own conclusion on the proper translation of Genesis 3:16.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  4. SLIMJIM says:

    This is unfortunate from them to freeze it…

    Like

  5. Jeff Martin says:

    Dr Mariottini,

    Numbers 32:14 and Gen 4:8 seem to reflect the idea of “against”.

    Like

    • Jeff,

      Thank you for the references. According to BDB, “Where the motion or direction implied appears from the context to be of a hostile character” then the preposition carries the idea of “against.” But this does not support the translation “contrary to.”

      Claude Mariottini

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  6. Nick Shipman says:

    One thought on the Gen. 3:16 passage in the Permanent Text. If the context is understood to be sexual desire, then (other textual consistencies aside in rendering ‘el’ as ‘for’) I don’t see a large difficulty in the ‘contrary’ rendering.

    Could not an understanding of the text then be that the woman’s sexual desire will be contrary to her husband’s sexual desire? So that if her desire is contrary (the opposite of) to the husband, then that implies the husband’s desire is toward his wife and therefore her desire is towards the husband, or, the opposite of his desire.

    Understood in that light, the trappings of “only the man’s desire is correct” or “ll her desires are contrary to his” disappear.Of course this rendering would be immensely more complicated then just rendering ‘el’ as ‘for’ as it has been traditionally understood. Ultimately, I agree, that I am opposed to a permanent text such as this.

    Like

    • Nick,

      The problem with the revised translation of Genesis 3:16 proposed by the ESV is that it places the husband and the wife in a conflict that is not supported by the text. If her desire is contrary to her husband, then anything she wants will be contrary to what her husband wants. This is not the intent of the text. I am glad that you oppose this permanent text.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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  8. bobmacdonald says:

    Thank you for this post. It distresses me but does not surprise me that some translatoring committees would want to close off the meaning of the text and as you say explain it rather than allow the reader to do his or her own reading and interpreting in the light of the Spirit.

    Commenting briefly on my holiday, when I read of the relationship between two who are given one for the other I am reminded of the passage from Ecclesiastes that two is better than one when one falls the other can help it get up. Ecclesiastes 5:9ff.

    Prepositions are notoriously difficult even by themselves to translate with any degree of consistency. Sometimes also they are required by the English verb in English but not in Hebrew and vice versa. Sometimes they are used in Hebrew not required in English and vice versa.

    You are right to point this out as a severe error of judgement for the English standard version translation. It shows this translation to be the work of a committee that has determined to control its readers according to a particular theological and interpretive set of assumptions.

    Like

    • bobmacdonald says:

      I dictated that last comment into my phone. It is mildly amusing that they phone created a word I had never seen before and left out a conjunction where one might expect it.

      Like

    • Bob,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with what you wrote. My philosophy is that we should allow the text say what it says and then allow the reader to study and look at the issues in the text. Since most Christians do not study the Bible, translations sometimes try to help them by interpreting, rather than translating, the text.

      Claude Mariottini

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  14. Angel Mendez says:

    Dr. Mariottini I found your post on the ESV’s new reading of Gen. 3:16 very helpful. Thank you. What version can you recommend?

    Like

    • Angel,

      I use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) because this translation avoids ideological interpretations of the biblical text. In my classes I use the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), 4th edition. This is an excellent study Bible which provides a good introduction to each book of the Bible and also good study notes.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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