One of the banes of being a Bible seller is the challenge of having to contend with the implications of Bible translations like the KJV that claim to have “arrived.” And to that end, I’m afraid our job as Bible sellers is about to get more difficult going forward because Crossway publishing has announced that the ESV will from this day forward, forever be unchanged.
Here’s how they put it:
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).
There are a whole slew of problems with this, and frankly I’m a little baffled that reasonable people in authority at Crossway would support such a ridiculous idea.
I’m particularly concerned about two problems this is going to cause:
1. The Finality and Authority of the ESV
The finality of KJV resulted in the rise of a cult of KJV-Only activists who insist that the KJV is the best available translation due, in large part at least, to the fact that it has gone unchanged for hundreds of years.
The implications of such a finality is that the translators and overseeing committee believe that the translation (in this case, the ESV) is as perfect as it possibly could be, and that no future revisions will ever be necessary.
It has “arrived” and is as close to the original text as we’ll ever see. Why bother – and this goes into the area of the politics of Bible translating – but why bother with the NIV or the NLT or the NRSV, when you could use a translation that is final and has already arrived?
We don’t have the original manuscripts anymore, but we have the next best thing… the ESV. (Or so the new cult will claim.)
2. The Future Accessibility of the ESV
Let’s be clear, the purpose of a Bible translation is to make the scriptures accessible to every person as much as possible. When a translation sets itself on a path in the opposite direction by claiming it will not see any more updates, it is no longer functioning as a valid translation because it has put itself in conflict with it’s mission.
When someone asks me why there are so many translations today, one of my answers is that language evolves. Slowly, to be sure. But enough that over period of 50 or 100 years we would want an updated version of our favourite books.
In my bookstore we sell two versions of Oswald Chambers classic My Utmost For His Highest. The original version that’s less than 100 years old (1927) and the updated edition. Which version do you think speaks to and impacts today’s generation more?
Or here’s another example that hits closer to the point of this article.
Can you read this?
And Y woot, that this thing schal come to me in to heelthe bi youre preyer, and the vndurmynystring of the spirit of `Jhesu Crist, bi myn abidyng and hope.
That was Philippians 1:19 in the Wycliff Translation (which is English). Here’s a modern rendering of that same verse, also in English:
For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
Both are in English. One is old, the other, new. Which Bible would you put in the hand of someone? Which one speaks to you? Which one of the two do you understand?
If a Bible translation wants to fulfill its purpose for existing, it cannot under any circumstances become a static “unchanged” translation. Language evolves naturally, and so the job of a translator is never done.
Note to the ESV committee at Crossway,
Dear ESV committee at Crossway:
You have made my job as a Bible seller more difficult, you have done yourself, Bible readers, and your own constituents a disservice. And you have assumed too much of yourselves.
So on that note I leave you with this verse in English:
“To alle that ben among you, that ye sauere no more than it bihoueth to sauere, but for to sauere to sobrenesse; and to ech man, as God hath departid the mesure of faith.” – Romaynes 12:3 (Wycliff)
But in case you don’t understand what the verse says in English, let me offer you an updated version so that God’s word can speak to you today in an English you understand:
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” – Romans 12:3
The ESV has not arrived, and it never will. May you offer the same courtesy to future generations that I just offered to you.