I just got home from an event of which I was in fact one of the organisers: Jim Ramsay, Director of the Department of Evangelism in the Diocese of Sydney, was speaking at my home church building (as a hired venue) on Every church a mission centre – strategy, leadership and ideas. I appreciated what he had to say, much of which was about the importance of prayer in evangelism. But it came as no surprise to me, and probably wouldn’t to others familiar with Sydney Anglicanism, that he based his talk on a passage from the ESV Bible. And, given his subject, it made sense that he used the very same controversial chapter from ESV that Suzanne McCarthy has recently been complaining about: 1 Timothy 2. But Jim, reading only as far as verse 8, avoided the gender issue which upset Suzanne, except that on verse 8 he said that women were also called to pray.
It was concerning the ESV rendering of verse 5 that Suzanne wrote:
It is no longer possible to preach even the basic salvation of half the human race from the ESV … the ESV states clearly that Christ Jesus is not a mediator between Christ and women.
In a follow-up post Suzanne quotes the following from the ESV preface:
Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original.
What I noticed when Jim read out the passage was ESV’s lamentable failure to keep to this principle in this passage, 1 Timothy 2:1-8. In the Greek two different words for “man” or “human being” are used, one four times and the other once. Here is how they have been translated in various versions, in approximate date order:
Original Greek: v.1: panton anthropon; v.4: pantas anthropous; v.5: anthropon, anthropos; v.8: andras.
KJV: v.1: all men; v.4: all men; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.
RSV: identical to KJV.
NIV: v.1: everyone; v.4: all men; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.
NRSV: v.1: everyone; v.4: everyone; v.5: humankind … human; v.8: men.
ESV: v.1: all people; v.4: all people; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.
TNIV: v.1: everyone; v.4: all people; v.5: human beings … human; v.8: men.
It seems that none of these versions have done a good job of maintaining the coherence of this passage. In verses 1-7 there is a clear theme of what is applicable to the whole of humankind irrespective of gender (anthropos): prayers are to be made for them (v.1) because God desires them to be saved (v.4) and has provided the mediator to make this possible (v.5). Following that the author provides different instructions for male (aner) (v.8) and female (vv.9-15) readers. For this passage to make sense as a whole the Greek words anthropos and aner need to be translated consistently and distinctly. But none of the versions I have quoted have done this properly.
I applaud KJV and RSV for maintaining coherence in their rendering of anthropos as “man”, a good rendering at the time when “man” was commonly used in this gender generic sense. But they were let down by the weakness of the English language of the time, which has since been corrected, in that there was no suitable distinct word that they could use to refer to male humans only.
NRSV and TNIV have at least managed to make a clear distinction between gender generic anthropos and gender specific aner. But they have done so at the expense of losing the coherence of the “all people” theme in vv.1-7.
ESV, I am sorry to say, has gone for the worst of both worlds. It starts well by revising RSV’s “all men” in vv.1,4 to “all people”, and maintaining the contrast with “men” in v.8. But it is let down by its rendering of v.5, which seems to have been considered in isolation from its context. Or perhaps they simply omitted to revise this verse, which is identical to RSV. As a result a reader of ESV could easily assume that the “men” referred to here are to be contrasted with the “all people” of the previous verse and are instead to be identified with the “men” of v.8. Indeed this is how Suzanne seems to have read this verse.
Now I am sure that it is not the intention of the ESV translators to teach that “Christ Jesus is not a mediator between Christ and women”. But if so they need to demonstrate this. I suppose they have done so by putting this footnote on verse 5:
men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4
But Jim Ramsay didn’t read out or refer to this footnote, or copy it on his handout, and I’m sure the same will almost always apply when this verse is read out during public preaching or teaching. It is simply not appropriate to put a misleading translation in the main text and a correction in a footnote.
So I call on the ESV translation team, as well as the TNIV and NRSV teams, to revise their wording of this passage to ensure that the theme of “all people” is clear in verses 1-7 and contrasted from the “men only” instruction of verse 8.