Friday, October 21, 2005

Thirty Sayings?

Even though I am fond of the English Standard Version, there are places where they deviate from their "essentially literal" translation philosophy and produce less than ideal results. One such example occurs in Proverbs 22:20-21.

The KJV reads as follows:

Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and
knowledge, 21 That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?

The ESV reads:

Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, 21 to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

The ESV follows the latest scholarly research in rendering the Hebrew
as "thirty sayings" rather than the traditional "excellent things"
because this section in Proverbs is said to be influenced by the
Egyptian writings of one Amenemope. Because of this assumed
relationship, the MT has been emended to correspond to Amememope
despite the fact that there is no Hebrew or LXX evidence to justify
such a change. I understand that the Hebrew is difficult here and I
believe the KJV actually follows the qere reading, but I am very
hesitant to assume a secular source for sacred Scripture.

In verse 21, the Hebrew specifically says "words of truth" or
maybe "faithful sayings" (emer emeth) twice in that sentence. I don't
think "right and true" or "true answer" is as literal as the reading
in the KJV. The distinction, by way of application, means that we
ought to do more than give a "true answer" to those who come to us
for counsel; we should try to say things the same way God does, to
think God's thoughts after Him. Is it too much of a stretch to
assume that we will be most effective when we use Biblical logic and
Biblical terminology when we deal with people?

In addition, this passage teaches something about Scripture itself.
The words (and I don't know if the Hebrew means actual words or just
the sayings) are certain – they are both faithful and true. Thus we
learn that Scripture is inerrant. Since the Bible is always true, we
can depend upon it as a faithful guide. I think the ESV does itself a
disservice by not being as literal in this verse as it claims to be.

I hate to be critical of the ESV because, for the most part, I believe it is significantly superior to the KJV and more readable than the NASB. I'm just pointing out places where I would make changes if asked by the translation committee. :)


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Mark Perry said...

Andy, I agree totally. I realize the ESV has to make some interpretive decisions (any translation does!), but since they have made so much noise about literal translation and leaving ambiguities so the reader can decide. I noticed that in 2 Thessalonians 3 they translate ataktos as "idle" instead of a translation that is more "transparent to the original" as they claim.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Yes, 2 Thess 3:6 is a complete departure from their philosophy and a big disappointment. One can only hope that in a furture ESV update they rethink that one.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Don said...

Hi Andy,

I have read the ESV extensively over the last few years and am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there are too many of these spots. No translation is perfect, of course, but some of these little "gotchas" are too much. I think the ESV errs in 1 Jn 2.15-17 as well, just going by memory.

I have been reading the NAS in the last four months and although it is a little wooden in spots, I think there are far fewer "gotchas" that bother me there. Accuracy is the main thing. Readability has to be second. I say all that with some regret, because the ESV is a noble effort at accuracy and readability for the most part.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Andy Efting said...


Normally, these "gotchas" occur when they depart from their translation philosophy.

The guy who runs the ESV Blog sent me a note the other day saying they may discuss some of these objections on their blog someday, and that they would link to my site when/if they do. You might think about adding a note that goes into more detail about your concerns with that 1 John passage -- it may come in handy.

Thanks for your comments.

At 1:25 AM, Blogger sardonic beholder said...

Thank you for your learned discussion on such things. I enjoy reading the ESV, and think I prefer it, but I am not knowledgeable in the original languages to decipher such things; when I hear such a reasoned statement like your original post (some good things, some things to change) it is refreshing departure from the more common banter of:
"ESV is Inspired" then "NO! ESV is from Hitler!"


Post a Comment

<< Home