In a recent post, The Permanent Text of the ESV, I discussed the decision of the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee to make the present revision of the ESV a permanent text. This decision meant that the text of the ESV would “remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway.”
This decision of the Crossway Board of Directors was met with an unexpected amount of criticism. One reason for the extensive criticism about their decision was the fact that language changes with time and many words that are relevant today will become obsolete a few years from now.
The Crossway Board of Directors’ decision was intended to make the ESV a translation like the King James Version, a translation that “has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago.” In my post I listed several words whose meaning is unknown to many people. For instance, the word “sackbut” appears in Daniel 3:15 of the King James Version. A quick survey of people I know revealed that not one person knew the meaning of this word.
However, the major criticism of the decision to make the revised text of the ESV permanent was because of their revision of Genesis 3:16. In the revised text of Genesis 3:16, the ESV translated the verse as follows: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” In my post mentioned above, I said that the translation “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” does not reflect what the original Hebrew text says. I said that the preposition אֶל (’el), a word that means “to, unto, towards,” appears hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, but never with the meaning “contrary to.”
In response to the many criticisms of their decision, the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee, correctly, acknowledged that their decision was a mistake and they decided to reverse it.
In their statement, the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee said in part, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV.”
In a subsequent post, The Permanent Text of the ESV—No More!, I commended the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee for the decision to reverse their earlier decision and appealed to them to change their translation of Genesis 3:16.
Genesis 3:16 has been a difficult text to translate because the meaning of the word תְּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ) is very controversial.
In a recent article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387, Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה and came to an interesting conclusion.
In his article, Macintosh studied how the word תְּשׁוּקָה is used in the Hebrew Bible, how the word is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), in the Peshitta, and how it was understood in Rabbinic writings, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Arabic, and in the Quran. Macintosh said that modern translations of the Bible are almost unanimous in translating the word תְּשׁוּקָה as “desire.”
However, Macintosh wrote: “Where the ancient versions are concerned, the same unanimity of interpretation is not apparent, and now, in recent times, different understandings of the word have begun to appear” (2016:365).
In his study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, Macintosh does not mention any translation, ancient or modern, that translates Genesis 3:16 as “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,” as the ESV has done.
After a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה, Macintosh offers his view on how the verse should be translated. He wrote: “In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely” (2016:385).
In light of Macintosh’s study, the ESV should revise Genesis 3:16 and adopt one of Macintosh’s proposals, or even remain with the word “desire,” but the expression “contrary to” should be definitely changed.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Andrew A. Macintosh, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387.