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The Origin of the ESV

Ben Witherington recounts a secondhand tale of how the ESV came into being. We wanted briefly to share our version of events.

The real origin of the ESV Bible goes back to the early 1990s, long before the gender-language controversy, when Crossway’s president, Dr. Lane T. Dennis, talked to a number of Christian scholars and pastors about the need for a new literal translation. He found a hunger for a Bible that conveyed the majesty and dignity of God’s Word, a Bible both accurate and beautiful.

The ESV developed from this perceived need, not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines.

Crossway explored some specific possibilities in the early 1990s, but without success. Then, some five or six years later, Crossway initiated the idea for what became the ESV.

From the beginning, Crossway wanted to revise an existing translation of the Bible; the logical place to start was the Tyndale/King James legacy, with centuries of history behind it. There was debate over whether to use the ASV of 1901 or the more recent RSV (itself a revision of the ASV) as the starting point for the text. The RSV won out in the end, largely because:

  1. The RSV is a good translation (some have called it the finest translation of the 20th century), so the translators would not have to revise large swaths of it.
  2. The RSV has wide scholarly acceptance.
  3. Many prominent Christian leaders were trained on the RSV.

Other Points

Over 100 people helped translate the ESV. This group includes Wesleyans and Calvinists, dispensationalists and covenant theologians, Pentecostals and cessationists, egalitarians and complementarians, paedobaptists and credobaptists. Even the fourteen-member Translation Oversight Committee did not make for a completely homogeneous group on the question of gender or other major translation points; spirited debate often revolved around such questions.

A page on this site deals with how the ESV treats gender issues. In a nutshell, it uses inclusive language where the context warrants it and retains a masculine sense “where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew.”

One word that can mean either “men” or “people” (depending on context) is the Greek word anthropoi, which is the example Dr. Witherington gives. Below is a table showing all the dative plural instances of this word and how both the ESV and the RSV translate it. The ESV translates it without a masculine component in 17 of the 43 instances. The RSV translates it that way only once.

Passage ESV RSV
Matt 6:5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matt 6:14-16 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matt 6:18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matt 9:8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Matt 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
Matt 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matt 23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long
Matt 23:28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Mark 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Luke 1:25 Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people. Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
Luke 12:36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks.
Luke 16:15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. But he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
Luke 18:27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
John 4:28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people,
John 17:6 I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word.
Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Acts 4:16 saying, “What shall we do with these men [Peter and John]? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
Acts 5:4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.
Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” But Peter and the apostles answered, We must obey God rather than men.
Acts 5:35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men [the apostles].” And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men.
Acts 14:11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men [Paul and Barnabas]!” And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”
Acts 15:26 men [Paul and Barnabas] who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent.
Rom 14:18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
1 Cor 3:21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours. So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours.
1 Cor 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.
1 Cor 14:2-3 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
Gal 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.
Eph 4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Eph 6:7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men
Phil 4:5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.
Col 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.
1 Thes 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.
1 Thes 2:15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind. who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men.
2 Tim 2:2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men
Titus 3:8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.
Heb 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment
February 21, 2006 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Author: Crossway Staff @ 4:21 pm | (19) Comments »

19 Comments

  1. Ben Witherington: The Problem with the ESV

    UPDATE (Feb. 21): Today the ESV Bible blog responded to Ben Witherington, denying his “second hand tale” of how the ESV came to be. I suspect that we have not heard the end of this one, since I seem to recall hearing Wayne Grudem publicly give one or…

    Trackback by Better Bibles Blog — February 21, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

  2. BW3 and the ESV

    UPDATE: Crossway responds to Dr. Witherington on the ESV Bible Blog…. This post will get some excitement going in the blogosphere. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III has written more about why he dislikes the English Standard Version of

    Trackback by Wesley Blog — February 21, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

  3. ESV and TNIV debate continues

    There has been a sudden rush of interesting posts around the subject of Bible Translation, mostly focusing on the TNIV and ESV translations and moving beyond just the gender issue.

    Trackback by 42 — February 21, 2006 @ 6:19 pm

  4. [...] [...]

    Pingback by SmartChristian.com » Blog Archive » — February 21, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

  5. [...] Ben Witherington’s apocryphal account of the origin of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible has been roundly refuted on the ESV Bible Blog (HT: Justin Taylor). Among other things, Witherington alleged that the ESV translation too often manifests conservative biases rather than accurate translation. [...]

    Pingback by Denny Burk » Blog Archive » New Testament Scholar, Ben Witherington, Takes a Whack at the ESV — February 22, 2006 @ 1:38 am

  6. Witherington Controversy Continues

    ESV loyalists and amateur Greek scholars are foaming at the mouth over at Ben Witherington’s blog because he dared give his opinion about the English Standard Version. Some have called on Witherington to apologize. Here’s his response to one commente…

    Trackback by Wesley Blog — February 22, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

  7. ESV reviews by Rodney Decker

    The most scholarly, fair, and detailed reviews of the ESV, to date, are by conservative seminary professor, Rodney Decker. Decker has posted to his resources-rich website both short and long versions of his review of the ESV. Although Decker wrote his …

    Trackback by Better Bibles Blog — February 22, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

  8. [...] Click here to read ESV Blog’s story of the origins of the ESV translation. This is in response to Ben Witherington’s inaccurate account. For perspective, you can read his thoughts here. [...]

    Pingback by Heart Soul and Might - passionate pursuit of God, truth and the abundant life » The Origin of the ESV — February 23, 2006 @ 1:13 am

  9. [...] Ben Witherington’s apocryphal account of the origin of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible has been roundly refuted on the ESV Bible Blog (HT: Justin Taylor). Among other things, Witherington alleges that the ESV translation too often manifests conservative biases rather than accurate translation. [...]

    Pingback by » New Testament Scholar, Ben Witherington, Takes a Whack at the ESV — April 24, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

  10. I asked the ESV website the following question: given that the NASB existed, why was there a need for yet another translation? Their response consisted of the following pages of their website: 1. How is the ESV Different from Other

    Trackback by ESV Responds! — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  11. When a scholar of caliber like Ben Witherington expresses his thoughts on the ESV the result is an almost unending chatter of blogging. Ben Witherington on the ESV. The ESV response. The fine folks at Better Bibles Blog also chime in

    Trackback by ESV Round-up — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  12. Finding the needles in the haystack of the internet through the lens of the blogosphere to save you the trouble, just because I care. It’s the least I can do. Really, it is the least I can do. Browse the World Press Photo Awards for

    Trackback by The Weekly Town Crier — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  13. Justin Taylor, who works for Crossway, which publishes the ESV, has just posted a statement of apology from Ben Witherington on his (Justin’s) blog Between Two Worlds. Ben’s apology, which first appears in the comments to his own blog

    Trackback by Ben Witherington apologizes for ESV comments — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  14. Ben Witherington posts critically on the ESV translation of the bible here, and the ESV site responds here. ‘He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.’ Proverbs 18:17.

    Trackback by ESV or not ESV, that is the question — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  15. Some background on this: Ben Witherington’s Blog and ESV Response. Apologies to Phil Johnson, the undisputed heavy-weight champion of the Magazine Cover Spoof.

    Trackback by Who’s Afraid of the ESV? — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  16. Ben Witherington has problems with the translation of gender in the ESV. It has caused quite a stir. I do not speak Greek and Hebrew and inspite of this limitation, have no opinion on the subject.

    Trackback by ESV vs. TNIV vs. Kingon Standard Version — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  17. I am continually amazed at the gall and vicious words that people type in the blogosphere! I am referring to Dr. Witherington’s post and comments on the ESV. I skimmed and read some of the comments and was pretty disappointed by the way

    Trackback by Fights... — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  18. The ESV Blog responds to Ben Witherington’s (incorrect) secondhand account of the origin of the ESV. Update: Professor Witherington has issued the following apology:. Dear All: I have thought about all that has been said,

    Trackback by The Origin of the ESV — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  19. Ben Witherington seems to have started quite a stir yesterday with his post about the ESV entitled The Problem with the ESV. I like Ben Witherington’s work quite a lot, and respect him, but most of this post has to do with who

    Trackback by ESV Controversy and Women — January 18, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

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