Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ETS Paper Stirs a Debate Over the ESV

Mark Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, read a paper on "Why the English Standard Version Should Not Become the Standard English Version: How to Make a Good Translation Much Better." You can find it here. The paper has created a bit of a controversy with Bill Mounce promising to respond at next year's ETS meeting. While I have been reading the ESV since it first came out I found some of Strauss' comments insightful while others seemed to miss the point of what the ESV was trying to do. To give one example Strauss points out how often the ESV uses the word "behold" and says that "virtually no one speaking English uses the word this way." After a discussion on the difficulty of translating the word he says his "counsel would be for literal versions to retain 'behold' and for standard English versions to either drop it or use 'look' or 'see' when appropriate." So why bring this up? Since he includes it in his discussion of "archaisms," is this an archaism that is OK to use but the others are not? Strauss talks a lot about the ESV not using "contemporary English." But I don't look at the ESV as a "contemporary" translation but one that seeks to maintain a literary level that sometimes elevates the language above the common use. I don't want my Bible to sound like the chit chat of my workplace break room. If I want that I'll read The Message.

Finally, I don't understand when Strauss says, "I need to say first of all that I like the English Standard Version (ESV). After all, the ESV is a moderate revision (about 6% I believe) of the Revised Standard Version (RSV; 1952), which itself was done by very competent scholars." But he then describes the translation as "overly literal—full of archaisms, awkward language, obscure idioms, irregular word order, and a great deal of 'Biblish.' Biblish is produced when the translator tries to reproduce the form of the Greek or Hebrew without due consideration for how people actually write or speak." With that said what's there to like? He says it's a "good supplement to versions that use normal English." Why? How is a translation so plagued with problems a good supplement?

I will watch with great interest to see how this plays out. Also, there was a paper read on another translation which has not had enough visibility--The Holman Christian Standard Bible. You can find that here.


jeremy said...

Thanks for linking to these papers. Very interesting. I didn't realize there was so much animosity surrounding the various Bible translation camps. Personally, I tend to agree with the sentiments of Strauss and those writing in support of him. I think people in the ESV camp are afraid that Strauss is trying to say that the ESV is not a legitimate translation, or even a good one. I think this is a misreading of Strauss' intent. In my (limited) experience interacting with the ESV and those looking to purchase one there is a tendency to look down on other translations. It is a sentiment reminiscent of KJV only folks.

One of the reasons I appreciate the HCSB is because every copy of the translation contains the philosophy of the translators which discusses the reasons why they chose to translate certain things in certain ways. I didn't realize until recently that the ESV translators have never provided this.

Say what you will about the HCSB, at least if you have a question about the translation you can look at the philosophy of the translators and attempt to determine why they translated it that way.

In conclusion (I didn't intend for this to end up this long) I don't believe Strauss is attempting to criticize the ESV translation itself as much as the attitudes of authority and exclusivity of those associated with it.

In today's society it's far more important that people are actually reading their Bibles than which version their reading. No translation is holier than another (except, maybe, for those magazine Bibles).
What does it matter whether the Bible is ESV, NIV, HCSB, NRSV, NKJV, TNIV, NLT, TCV or even The Message if no one is reading it?!?!

just my two cents.
Looking forward to seeing y'all in two or three weeks!


Esteban Vázquez said...

Mark Strauss addresses his reasons for writing this paper here.