ESV #2, by Mark Strauss

“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.

“Grinding Together”?!

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.)

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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.
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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.

Nice legs!
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!
Amos 4:6
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.”

Trembling loins?
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.

“Double-tongued” deacons?
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.”
——–

Planting ears?
Psalm 94:9
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.”

Oh man!
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.”

(cont’d)

27 thoughts on “ESV #2, by Mark Strauss

  1. Stan McCullars says:

    Great post! Good collection of verses.

    I live in Sanford, FL which is less than an hour from Daytona Beach.

    The ESV’s a good showing in the flesh does sound like something one would see at Spring Break.

  2. Bob MacDonald says:

    I liked the badgers as a people – here is what mechon-mamre gives – very creative: The rock-badgers are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the crags;

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    Bob commented:

    it raises the question of just why is it that circumcision is so important.

    Good point, Bob. But it should still be possible to express that meaning using standard English that does not mislead from the true meaning.

    Dr. Strauss is not questioning the teachings/doctrines conveyed by the ESV (or any other translation), only the English used to express those doctrines.

  4. Mike Sangrey says:

    Hi Bob and Wayne,

    I’m not sure whether or not Bob was being ironic. In fact, when I read his comment I laughed out loud since it sounded so funny. My initial reaction, right or wrong, was he was making a joke. Well, my natural reaction helps prove the point that Mark makes in his paper: the phrase, “showing in the flesh” isn’t very clear (ie it’s not good English).

    The problem Mark is addressing is that when a person reads “showing in the flesh” he or she has to work through what it might mean. Frankly, I’m rather familiar with the Greek words, but I have to think hard about what that idiomatic phrase might mean. Is it close to “being impressive” or to “accurately following the outward rules but missing the spirit behind the law”? The former is how the TNIV translated the expression; however, the later fits the context better though it takes ἐν (EN) in a more instrumental sense.

    In any case, whatever it means, I’d like to see the best scholarship expressed in idiomatic English so that I don’t have to pretend to be a scholar myself. 🙂

  5. Tim says:

    Then I guess the same criticisms must be levelled at the NRSV, as I just went through the verses in my copy and many of the NRSV translations are identical to those of the ESV.

  6. Wayne Leman says:

    Mike said:

    Tim, they likely came from the RSV – what is strange is that neither translation caught them.

    Unfortunately, I think that many English translators, esp. if they are trying to stay within the Tyndale-KJV tradition, do not spend much time thinking about what their translation wordings sound like to contemporary English speakers. And there has been no field testing for any versions within the Tyndale-KJV traditions. Few translations outside that tradition have done any testing either. It is time for English Bible translators to use sounder translation procedures before their translations are published.

  7. Mike says:

    It is time for English Bible translators to use sounder translation procedures before their translations are published.

    Wayne, that’s something I hadn’t thought about before, but you’re completely right. We put so much effort into making sure that minority language translations are accurate and natural, but none for English beyond asking English professors about what they think.

    I think it might be helpful for you or someone else whose been apart of a minority translation to blog about the process involved compared to what is done for English translations (though you might have already done so, BBB has been around for a few years…).

  8. John says:

    “It is time for English Bible translators to use sounder translation procedures before their translations are published.”

    If you’re going to complain about awkward English, at least don’t be hypocritical, it’s “…to use translation procedures that are more sound…”.

    Oh wait…that’s just a preference for a more latinate, (or should I say latinater) form of grammar, rather than the Germanic forms in English. In other words, many of these complaints are quite pedantic; both forms are grammatically correct, but one is more “unusualer” than the other. Neither really matters too greatly.

  9. John says:

    P.S., many people might not understand that use of “sound”, so I propose you use “better”, or “more intelligent”, or something else…wait, people can understand it from context…now to be fair, that’s not for you Mr. Wayne, but rather for Strauss, who makes arguments like that throughout his paper (does he really have a problem with “stopping” a mouth? Sheesh; and besides, “put a sock in it” is close enough that people are very unlikely to misunderstand that old, venerable, well-understood, collocation).

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    John, it’s difficult to know how to respond to your comments, but I can smile at your humor and hope that I’m not a hypocritalist of the hypocritalists!

    🙂

  11. John says:

    Hi Wayne! : )

    I was just playing the ____’s advocate (never the devil’s, sorry). I wanted to offer ridicule for what was ridiculous, but not “ridicule” as in mocking, but stuff to say “wait a minute…think!”. I planned to come back and give responses and clarify that point just in case as well.

    Also, I read on another blog a comment you made about switching from prescriptivist to descriptive rules: I think it just depends where you’re at: we need prescription and models of good intelligent sense and consideration of the words people use, rather than just the words that come to form an impression on a speaker/writer who then reveals them without much thought; but having a little tension in between is okay, and as for grammar, it was probably dumb to try forcing English to conform to Latin; not dumb to study it in light of the Latin (or vice versa: comparing and improving where possible, between languages, is great), but trying not to “split” infinitives? Paraphrasing your words, with my sarcastic (but not ill-meaning) touch, “sheesh”. : )

  12. Chris says:

    I am an ESV user. I love the ESV. This translation is the best translation the body of Christ has to teach, preach, witness, read, and memorize. Yes, there might be some translation errors but the same thing goes for all the other translations. No translation is perfect especially the NASB and KJV. So, when is the body of Christ going to stop complaining like a teenager who cannot stand the heat of a hot summer day, and embrace God’s word. Do not we have more important things to worry about then being picky about what is right and wrong with translations. I can be picky about the TNIV and HSBC if I want to right now. Another question, if the ESV is not the best translation, then what is the best translation. Also, are any of you biased toward a certain translation of God’s word?

  13. Brandon says:

    Though I understand that these are pretty funny in contemporary English, one of the draws of the ESV is it’s word for word translation. It of course is not perfect, but in regard to studying, I would rather get the direct translation and rephrase it into modern English myself. If you read your Bible and don’t have to stop to figure out what some things mean, that means you’ve allowed someone else to clarify those things for you.

    Funny stuff, though.

  14. T. Hanna says:

    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.”

    I always thought Paul was a Jew from Tarsus, who was a citizen of Rome.

  15. James Snapp, Jr. says:

    Several of Dr. Strauss’ criticisms are themselves open to criticism. His observation about Genesis 30:35 is certainly well-taken; however regarding Ruth 4:14-15, verse 13 closes, plain as day, with a mention of Ruth’s son: . . . “and she bore a son.” Also, at some point one has to ask if a translation should be clearer than the underlying base-text. At Acts 20:12 and 21:39, the ESV is accurately emulating the Greek text. Likewise in Amos 4:6, the ESV preserves the original metaphor; readers who are allergic to approaching the text thoughtfully will need time to appreciate what Amos means. Is that a bad thing? Let me put it another way: is that worse than replacing an inspired metaphor with a non-inspired interpretation of a metaphor?

    And so forth.

  16. CD-Host says:

    Amos 4:6, the ESV preserves the original metaphor; readers who are allergic to approaching the text thoughtfully will need time to appreciate what Amos means. Is that a bad thing? Let me put it another way: is that worse than replacing an inspired metaphor with a non-inspired interpretation of a metaphor?

    Yes it is worse. When metaphors translate you can translate them. Otherwise you need to expand them. Moreover, I don’t think this is even a metaphor but rather an idiom. And idioms are very language (and often culture) specific. “Clean teeth” has no hint in modern English of “being hungry”. If you fundamentally don’t believe you can change anything in the bible then why is translation a legitimate activity? I can see the value in a footnote “being hungry (lit clean teeth)” but if you reject those sort of changes where is the legitimacy of any act of translation?

  17. lee says:

    true bible scholars defend the bible and are not always trying to disprove it
    also the esv is a basic revision of the rsv not the kjv or tv like they claim to be if the kjv is so bad why mention it unless its a sales pitch

  18. James says:

    In any case, whatever it means, I’d like to see the best scholarship expressed in idiomatic English so that I don’t have to pretend to be a scholar myself

    I am afraid I have to disagree with the whole premise of crticizing any legitimate effort at translating God’s Word.

    If one needs “Scholars” doing the thinking for him, wherein lies the function of the Holy Spirit?

    Persoonally, I believe idomatic English translations leave much to be desired. I personally prefer the preservation of metaphors, idioms, and ambiguities. This approach lends itself to prayerful consideration rather than ignorant bliss.

    If anyone believes otherwise, other translations are available.

    Besides, shouldn’t this sort of thing be between ourselves and God, Lest we corrupt the faith of one of lessor strength in the faith?

  19. CD-Host says:

    James —

    Besides, shouldn’t this sort of thing be between ourselves and God, Lest we corrupt the faith of one of lessor strength in the faith?

    What sort of thing?

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