The Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) has announced this year’s finalists for their Christian Book Awards. Normally, I do not pay attention to these types of awards, because I like to judge a book for myself rather than take somebody else’s word for it whether the book is good or not. However, a couple of entries under the category of “Best Bible” disturb me. They are The Holman CSB Minister’s Bible and The ESV Reformation Study Bible. Let me explain why it bothers me that either of these would be considered the best Bible that Christians can study.
To begin with, both the CSB and the ESV were created as a protest to the TNIV. How do we know this? Well, let’s take a look at the CSB first. It is published by Broadman & Holman, who are the publishers for the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist denomination. David R. Shepherd, Vice-President:
Some recent translations have reinterpreted the Bible to make it consistent with current trends and their own way of thinking…. Current trends in Bible translation have been a real wake-up call for everybody who’s concerned about preserving the integrity of Scripture. The CSB will be under the stewardship of Christians who believe we should conform our lives and culture to the Bible – not the other way around.
So what were the “recent translations” and “current trends” that the translators of the CSB were worried about? Well, according to Michael Marlowe:
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was conceived as a replacement for the NIV, which the SBC Sunday School Board had been using in its curriculum materials under a license agreement. The NIV became controversial after the International Bible Society acknowledged in 1997 that it was revising the NIV with “politically correct” gender neutral language, and so in 1998 the Sunday School Board entered into an agreement with Arthur Farstad… to oversee the production of a new version that would be under its own control [see article above].
Now let’s take a look at the ESV. Again, according to Michael Marlowe:
The English Standard Version (ESV)… had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.
The night prior to the meeting, critics of regendered language gathered in a Colorado Springs hotel room to discuss the next day’s strategy… The group discussed the merits of the Revised Standard Version… recently replaced by the New Revised Standard Version, a regendered update.
Some months later…Wayne Grudem and Crossway President Lane Dennis entered into negotiations…to use the 1971 revision of the Revised Standard Version as the basis for a new translation.
In addition to Grudem, big name scholar J. I. Packer was also present at that meeting, the author of a February 1991 article in Christianity Today entitled “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters,” an article which CBE has refuted. The resulting Colorado Springs Guidelines listed concerns over using gender-neutral language in biblical translation, which Craig L. Blomberg has also answered. Others have criticized the Guidelines as well.
Given all this, then, the question must be asked, when you have a preconceived bias on a particular issue, is it possible to set aside that bias when it comes to translating the Bible, or will that bias carry into the translation? One of the tenets of the Guidelines is “We agree that Bible translation should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.” So did the translators of the CSB and ESV set aside any ideological agendas they might have had?
Let’s look at an example: 2 Timothy 2:2. Both the CSB and the ESV render this verse as: And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. In the Greek, anthropos means “mankind, all people.” So why, then, is it rendered only as “men” in these two translations?
I cannot speak for the translators of the CSB. However, here is what Packer said in an interview about the ESV’s rendering of “men” in that verse:
Suzanne: I have to ask you about 2 Tim. 2:2. Did you think that anthropos referred to “men” in this verse?
Dr. Packer: I think it means “men” exegetically. We think that it means “men”…
Suzanne: I was brought up with that verse in our Christian Fellowship and I always thought that it was ‘men and women’. It was quite a shock to me to find that people would think that it was “men only.”
Dr. Packer: Well, Paul doesn’t say that it was “men only,” he just says “men,” but in the situation, it was to the teachers, surely it is obvious from the context that they were men.
This apparent bias appears in other passages, as well. In Romans 16:7, the ESV has Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. According to New Testament scholar Jay Eldon Epp, however, “among the apostles” is the correct translation. (See his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle) That’s a big difference! The CSB has “among the apostles.” This, and the fact that most other translations — including the NASV, KJV, NIV, and NRSV — have “among” makes the ESV stand out even more. To its credit, though, the CSB and ESV do translate the name “Junia” correctly as female. Most recent conservative translations, such as the NIV, have rendered it incorrectly as a male name. One does wonder, however, what the supporters of the CSB think about Paul’s naming a woman among the apostles.
When it comes to choosing a Bible, there are many fine choices. I myself like using more than one version. However, a person should always ask the basic question: how accurate is this translation? In that regard, I believe it is possible to say that not all Bibles are created equal.