I was reading this article on the ESV website lately and had planned to let it go without comment. However, it is also front page news in a freely and widely disseminated local newspaper so today in the doctor’s office I gave in to the temptation to read the article in full. Blame this post on the long wait I had at the doctor’s office this afternoon.
Naturally, there are many statements in this article which I am concerned about. Here are some which I offer without comment. I don’t want to comment. Duct tape, please!
- James I. Packer of Regent College in Vancouver … recently told CC.com the translation grew out of discontent with other modern translations—which, he asserted, tend to “deviate from what was said in several thousand places,” in the interests of lucidity or easy readability.
In particular, he said, there was discontent with translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and Today’s New International Version (TNIV) which make such deviations to achieve gender-neutral renderings.
In contrast, said Packer, the ESV tries to be a “transparent” translation—in that the reader can see through it to what was originally written.
He said: “We think we have produced a version more precise than any of the alternatives.”
A deliberate attempt was made to use simple words when possible, and to make the text “dance along,” or read easily.
Packer said the producers were very careful to not make extravagant claims or get into a competition with other translations.
This articles then closes with a few citations comparing translations. Here is the first. Gen. 5:2,
- ESV: Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.
- KJV: Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
- NIV: He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.”
- NLT: He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them “human.”
- NASB: He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.
- Message: He created both male and female and blessed them, the whole human race.
- TNIV: He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “human beings.”
The Hebrew was not posted along with this set of citations. It reads
- זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בְּרָאָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם,
וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָם אָדָם
The last word in the second line, on the far left, says adam – the KJV is transparent and the others tell us what adam means. אָדָם is the word which tells us that Adam was not a fish or fowl, nor was he a beast, or a creeping thing. It is the word which tells us that he was Adam, a human being.
Now this would not be such a problem if it were not that Gen. 5:2 has become one of the central verses in the “male representative” theology. Poythress and Grudem write,
- In any case, in Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:2 the word “man” occurred in all previous English Bibles (that is, all Bibles known to us prior to the inclusive language Bibles in the 1980’s). Translators apparently thought that, in translating ’adam in Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:2, one might best use an English word “man” that is both a name for the human race and that carries male overtones.
Moreover, these Genesis passages in their foundational character create the potential for subtle connotative resonances with the total thinking of Hebrew speakers about sexuality. For example, the fact that Adam has a name that is also the name for the whole race suggests that he is a representative for the race. And of course, later passages, Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, directly assert that he is a representative, whose pattern passes to all his descendants.
Gender-neutral translations, while preserving the main point of God’s creation of the human race, nevertheless leave out the connotation of a male representative by translating Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:1-2 with “humankind,” “human beings,” or “people” instead of “man.”
Let me quietly point out first that there are very few Bible translations predating the RSV, 1952, which translated אָדָם adam as “man” in Gen. 5:2. Most of them transliterated it as Adam, which we see in the KJV above. That, at least, has a certain transparency to it. I would hazard a guess that the RSV translators used “man” with the intention that it should mean “human”.
In translating Gen. 1:27, Jerome, writing in Latin, translates אָדָם as homo – “human” and not vir – “man”; and Luther translated it as Mensch – human and not Mann – “man”. The LXX has anthropos – human, and not aner – man.
I wonder what the expression “all Bibles known to us” is supposed to mean.
Post edited to remove final sentence. I had a relapse.