Friday, February 24, 2006

Grudem Responds to Witherington

Posted in the comments section of Ben Witherington's blog post on the ESV:

[Update: It appears that Witherington has now removed his original post, along with all the comments (including Grudem's).]
Wayne Grudem said...

Dear Ben,

I have appreciated your writings, but I don’t believe I have ever had the opportunity to meet you.

Regarding your blog about the ESV Bible on Feb. 20th, 2006, I suspect I am the “one particular scholar” to whom you refer in your second paragraph. You report on the conversation with someone on the TNIV committee (the CBT or the Committee on Bible Translation of the NIV) as follows:

"This scholar sought, and obtained a hearing before the TNIV committee years ago, and when it would not acquiesce to his demands that inclusive language NOT be used in the TNIV, it is my understanding that the process was then set in motion to buy the rights to the old RSV."

If this statement is in reference to me (as it seems to be), the statement is completely incorrect. I have only met with the CBT once in my life, the evening of July 12, 2000. That meeting was at their initiative, not mine. But the ESV translation project began in 1997, the contract to buy the rights to the old RSV was signed in 1998, and our Translation Oversight Committee had its first meeting in Orlando in November, 1998, and worked throughout 1999, 2000, and 2001.

As you mention, the ESV is indeed based on the 1952/ 1971 Revised Standard Version, but it is substantially revised.

But contrary to what you reported from your friend on the TNIV committee (which I think was his speculation), the ESV grew out of the appreciation of many scholars for the merits of the old RSV and a desire to see it updated, and not out of opposition to the TNIV Bible. The reason for my own involvement with the ESV was a long-standing desire to see an updated RSV, and had little or nothing to do with the TNIV controversy. Here are some historical markers leading up to my involvement with the ESV:

1967: I was beginning my sophomore year at Harvard. Vern Poythress, then a Ph.D. student at Harvard, encouraged me to switch from the King James Version to the RSV as my personal Bible, and I soon begin memorizing Scripture in the RSV. (In 1998 both Vern and I became members of the Translation Oversight Committee for the ESV.)

1967-1997: During these 30 years many of the scholars who would be involved in the ESV continued to use the RSV frequently, with several of them (such as myself) using it as their main study and teaching Bible. (I used the old Harper Study Bible-RSV for most of those 30 years, and even had my copy rebound.) But everyone who used the RSV realized it had some deficiencies (such as the use of “thee” and “thou” to address God) and needed some correction.

1994: I published my book Systematic Theology (Zondervan) using the RSV as the primary Bible version that I quoted throughout the textbook. However, I had received special permission from the RSV’s copyright holder to use “you” instead of “thee” and “thou” when I quoted the RSV throughout the book.

1998: Translation Oversight Committee was formed and work began on the ESV.

July, 2000 (two years after the ESV was well underway): I met once with the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation at their initiative.

October, 2001: ESV was published.

I mention this history simply to say that the controversy over the TNIV was not the driving force behind the creation of the ESV. The ESV would have been produced whether there was any TNIV controversy or not. I was one of a number of scholars who sought an updated RSV Bible because it was the kind of “essentially literal” translation that we thought best suited for multiple purpose use in the church, and because it retained a readability and literary excellence that seemed to us to be superior to that of the other essentially literal translations that were available.

Another item on your blog is the question of the knowledge of Greek among the translators of the ESV. Someone writes and reports a comment from J.I. Packer “that only two people on the ESV translation really knew Greek as a language.” That is not an accurate report of what Dr. Packer was reported to have said in link to the interview posted in that comment, nor is it an accurate statement. In fact, eleven of our twelve-member Translation Oversight Committee had a good working knowledge of New Testament Greek, and seven of those translators had Ph.D.-level competence in New Testament Greek. (See the ESV website ( for information about the academic credentials of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee and ESV Review Scholars.)

Finally, contrary to what you say on your blog, I do not oppose, but favor, translating Greek anthropos (singular) as “person” and anthropoi (plural) as “people” and we tried to do this fairly consistently in the ESV unless the context indicated that a man was being referred to, or in a few other constructions (such as cases where a contrast between God and man was emphasized).

Thank you for allowing me to mention these things, Ben. I appreciated very much your earlier posting in which some other background information was cleared up.

Thanks very much.

Wayne Grudem, Ph.D.
Research Professor of Bible and Theology
Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, AZ