With the Bible, one little word can stir a ruckus and, thus, produce a news story

Here’s an intriguing story taken from religious Internet sites that has yet to reach any mainstream media, at least that The Guy has seen.

It’s a feminist-hued fuss over the English Standard Version (ESV), which ranks No. 3 in U.S. Bible sales behind the venerable King James Version and the New International Version. And no, we're not talking about that long-running argument over replacing singular pronouns in the biblical texts with “gender inclusive” plural pronouns.

In August the ESV’s publisher, Crossway, announced 52 word changes for a 2016 second edition.

Journalists will want to know that the most important concerns God’s curse upon sinful Eve in Genesis 3:16. The original ESV (duplicating the Revised Standard Version) says “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

The 2016 rewrite has “your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

This shift involves one little word, the Hebrew pronoun ‘el, which has a primary meaning of “to, unto, or toward.” Instead, the ESV translators (all male, all conservative) used the secondary meaning of “against,” which is archaic though some scholars find it acceptable if the context fits. Here it indicates rebellious women. Shall we say uppity?

One vigorous critic of the change is Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary. He says the change teaches that humanity’s sinful Fall in Eden caused  women’s “desire to rule or dominate” and “usurp men’s authority,” which challenged God’s design in which the male is to rule the woman.

The original ESV leaves room for the interpretation favored by McKnight and others, that God’s statement is not a “prescriptive” command but is “descriptive” of what human sin produces, with the man seeking rule over the woman. Says McKnight, “This is not what God wants; but this is what will happen.” He wants Crossway to immediately restore the previous wording. Here's another useful article on similar lines.

All of this has been fused with a second issue. Crossway’s board and the ESV translators declared that this disputed interpretation and all the other 2016 changes would now constitute “the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible, unchanged forever, in perpetuity” in order to provide a “stable” translation.

Experts reacted with disbelief  because language evolves and important textual discoveries occasionally turn up. Crossway President Lane Dennis then publicly apologized for this “mistake” and said “minimal” and “periodic updating” would occur as needed in the future.

When the next update occurs, ESV editors might want to rethink Romans 12:6-7. Critics say the pronouns are manipulated to indicate females should not “teach” or “exhort” in church, thus backing the  “complementarian” viewpoint against biblical “egalitarians.” For more on those two sides see this Religion Guy item.

Historical note: The ESV closely imitates the Revised Standard Version (RSV) from 1952, which also provoked a big ruckus over one little word. In Isaiah 7:14, the RSV translated the Hebrew almah as “young woman” instead of “virgin,” the word found in the familiar King James. In the New Testament, Matthew 1:23 quotes this Isaiah verse using “virgin,” which undergirds belief in Jesus’ virgin birth (also taught in Luke 1:31-35).

The ESV cheered conservatives  by restoring “virgin” in Isaiah. A footnote in the “ESV Study Bible” edition explains that almah “refers specifically to a ‘maiden’ -- that is, to a young woman who is unmarried and sexually chaste, and thus has virginity as one of her characteristics.” The ancient Jewish translation into Greek, quoted by Matthew, chose the precise term  for virgin, parthenos, but  “The Oxford Bible Commentary” contends that the Hebrew text “does not imply virginity.”

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