Written by Carolyn Custis James, MissioAlliance, 9/13/16.
The changes they (ESV) made are listed here.
The most controversial change is to words of curse in Genesis 3:16. ESV editors changed their earlier translation from “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” to “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
Others are weighing in on the serious implications of this translation change and the thinking behind it. Scot McKnight calls it “not only mistaken but potentially dangerously wrong.” But now, in the ESV, it is set in stone. For helpful and insightful analyses of this change, read Sam Powell’s blog, “Genesis 3:16”and Scot McKnight’s “The New Stealth Translation: ESV.”
What also troubles me, however, are the changes that weren’t made in the new version. According to General Editor Wayne Grudem, a major motive that led to the first version of this “essentially literal” (word-for-word) translation was the “gender-neutral” language he found in other translations—specifically the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), but also found in other popular translations such as Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).
Resisting Gender-Accurate Language
This final version of the ESV continues to resist what Grudem labels as “gender-neutral” language. The translations he opposes are matters of serious concern for female readers in particular.
Consider two examples.
When an apostolic letter begins with a greeting to “the brethren” or “the brothers,” the author is not addressing males only, but the whole church. The ESV translates Colossians 1:2 “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” Unless “saints” refers to women, the female members of the church appear to be suddenly excluded. The TNIV more accurately translates the same text to reflect Paul’s intended audience. “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Because of the awkwardness of the ESV translation, I’ve heard pastors in churches with ESV Bibles in the pews abruptly interrupt their public Bible reading to explain that the actual meaning of the text is “brothers and sisters.”
Another example is in the creation narrative, where God says “Let us make man in our image and likeness” describing them as “male and female,” (Genesis 1:26 and 27). The Old English term “man” describes all humanity. Yet the ESV retains the Old English language, while the TNIV and NLT substitute “human beings.” That modern linguistic clarification doesn’t make the text gender-neutral, but rather gender-accurate—reflecting the actual meaning of the biblical text.
Evidently, the original ESV translators were unbothered by modernizing the Old English word “ass” to “donkey” (cf., Numbers 22:22; Joshua 6:21). Apparently their editors deemed it more important to clarify the meaning of “ass” than “man.”