“Oops” Translations in the ESV
We can start on a more lighthearted note. Occasionally translators will render a text “literally” without realizing the potential for misunderstanding or double meaning. All versions must watch out for this, but literal ones are particularly susceptible. For example, the ESV (following the RSV) originally rendered Gen. 30:35, “But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped …and put them in charge of his sons.”5 It is remarkable that Laban had so much confidence in his goats! This gaffe was pointed out and a second
printing of the ESV corrected it, taking authority away from Laban’s goats: “… and put them in the charge of his sons.” Here are a few more “oops” translations that I have found in the ESV.
Luke 17:35 ESV “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”
Comment: In contemporary English, “grinding together” suggests seductive dancing or something worse. (Perhaps both should have been taken for judgment!) Most versions clarify that this means grinding “grain,” “meal” or “flour” (cf. TNIV, NIV, NLT, HCSB, NET, NRSV, REB, etc.)
4 I have also gleaned examples from lists produced by others, especially [missionary] translator and linguist Wayne Leman, who blogs about improving Bible versions at http://betterbibles.com. For additional examples see his lists at http://bibletranslation.110mb.com/esvlinks.htm#problems.
5 I believe it was David Dewey who caught this one and informed the ESV committee.
Rock badgers are people too!
Prov. 30:26 ESV “the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;”
Comment: In addition to the tortured word order, the ESV’s use of “people” is very strange. We sometimes joke that animals are people too, but surely ants and rock badgers are “creatures” or “species,” not people.
Ps. 147:10 ESV “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,”
Comment: Taking pleasure in a man’s legs will surely leave readers chuckling. TNIV reads “in the power of human legs”; NET has “by the warrior’s strong legs.”
Such clean teeth!
ESV “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities”
Comment: It sounds like God is distributing toothbrushes to the Israelites. The Hebrew idiom means they had nothing to eat. The TNIV reads “I gave you empty stomachs,”; HCSB: “I gave you absolutely nothing to eat.” NET: “I gave you no food to eat.”
Psalm 69:23 ESV Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.
Comment: This translation will surely send twitters through the junior high group. Trembling loins sounds like someone has to go to the bathroom.
1 Tim. 3:8 ESV Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain
Comment: Sounds like a mock “Indian-speak” (with forked-tongue) or some strange alien creature. The Greek is dilogoi (etymologically, “two words/messages”), which means “insincere,” “lacking integrity,” “hypocritical,” or even “two-faced” (NET; GW).
Keep that faith to yourself!
Rom. 14:22 ESV The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.
Comment: The ESV seems to be discouraging believers from sharing their faith. But the word pistis here refers to personal convictions about food and drink, not about saving faith.6
TNIV So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
REB If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.
Showing off the flesh
Gal. 6:12 ESV It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised….
Comment: “A good showing in the flesh” sounds like a bikini contest.
Ruth the mother of Boaz?
Ruth 4:14-15 ESV Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, Who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be Renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Comment: The only antecedent to “him” is Boaz. It sounds like Ruth gave birth to her husband Boaz.7
6 D. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NIC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 861 notes that here, “‘faith’ does not refer to general Christian faith but to convictions about the issues in dispute in Rome that arise out of one’s faith in Christ.”
ESV He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
Comment: “Planting an ear” sounds like an agricultural metaphor. The Hebrew nata in this context means “formed,” or “fashioned.”
TNIV Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?…
NET Does the one who makes the human ear not hear?
Watch out for falling lots!
Acts 1:26 ESV And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias…
Comment: One hopes Matthias was not hurt when the lot fell on him. The TNIV has “the lot fell to Matthias.” The NET has “the one chosen was Matthias.”
Israel’s gender confusion
Hosea 8:14 ESV For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.
Comment: Readers will probably wonder why he gets the cities and she gets the strongholds.
Comforted or not?
Acts 20:12 ESV And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
Comment: “Not a little comforted” sounds like they were not comforted in the least by Eutychus’ recovery. The meaning of course is the opposite, that they were greatly comforted.
TNIV: …and were greatly comforted.
REB: …greatly relieved that he was alive.
A man without a city
Acts 21:39 ESV Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city.”
Comment: Paul sounds like a man without a city. TNIV is only slightly better (“a citizen of no ordinary city”). NLT captures the sense: “Tarsus in Cilicia, which is an important city.”
Rom. 2:1 ESV Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.
Comment: In contemporary English, “Oh man!” is an exclamation, not a vocative. It sounds like Paul is saying, “Oh man, are you in trouble!” which of course is something like what he means (!), but not what the ESV intended. Even a literal version like the NASB recognizes the potential misunderstanding of the vocative, translating, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment.”