Anti-ESV Politicking

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Wayne Leman has an excellent post on why Wayne Grudem's relentless tirades against the TNIV are misguided and morally questionable. I agree that those who criticize the inclusive language translations are ignoring real changes in the English language. I've made this point numerous times in the past, and I won't belabor it. What strikes me as odd is that one of Wayne's co-bloggers Suzanne McCarthy the next day links favorably to a post by Ben Witherington that seems to me to exhibit the same sort of rhetoric as Grudem but against the ESV rather than the TNIV (with no reference whatsoever to anything negative about how Witherington makes his point). Witherington is a top-notch biblical scholar whose work I have really appreciated. I have a few theological and interpretive disagreements with him, but I have benefited from much of his work, and he's usually fairly responsible in fairly representing those who disagree with him. On this issue, however, it's as if no one on the other side could possibly be considered intelligent or reasonable. His responses to comments about this haven't completely disabused me of that perception.

I think it's just as irresponsible to criticize the ESV the way Witherington does as it is to criticize the TNIV the way Grudem does. Suzanne's post does give cases where the different ESV translators don't act consistently. I haven't checked all her examples, but I don't doubt her conclusions. That sort of inconsistency happens in translations by committee. Witherington, though, claims that the ESV has a political agenda in the same uncharitable way that the TNIV detractors claim that the TNIV has a political agenda. I think both claims fail to understand the issues, and I think the misunderstanding is fairly deep. The central issue of debate over how to translate these terms is how to balance out two legitimate concerns. One concern (Witherington's) is that the English language is in the process of changing. In some dialects it gets the semantics completely wrong to use 'man' or 'brothers' when referring to humanity or a group of people of both sexes. In others it's completely standard. In some it's frowned on but understood, and if it's semantically understood but simply viewed as morally wrong then the English language hasn't fully changed. So some dialects are still in the process of changing. These aren't entirely regional dialects either. They're generational somewhat, and educational levels affect them as well.

Now the TNIV translators think the fact that it's changed in many dialects and is changing in enough others to be a very good reason to use inclusive language when the biblical text clearly has an inclusive sense, even if it doesn't have an inclusive form. Since it's a much more fully idiomatic/dynamic style translation, this fits well with its stated aim. The ESV, as Suzanne points out, is not consistently formally equivalent, though it doesn't exactly present itself that way. It describes itself in its preface as sometimes conveying the sense rather than the form, and it does so when the translators and editorial team think the case merits that. What the ESV doesn't want to do, though, is risk translating something inclusively when it might not have an inclusive sense. I think they might take this a little far, but I go both ways on this issue. Still, they're a more formally equivalent translation than the TNIV in general, even if they're not as formally equivalent as the NASB. Therefore, you might expect them to translate less inclusively with respect to gender. There are some elements of what the form conveys that you don't capture if you translate in the way we call gender-inclusive.

Suzanne is right to point out strange patterns and inconsistencies. I could do the same with the TNIV. There are plenty of places where the TNIV's inclusive translations have been pointed out as disguising some element that translating more formally would preserve. That's what the ESV translators consider to be more important than keeping with the English-that-is-becoming as opposed to the English-that-was. If preserving form captures something that preserving sense does not, then there's a real matter to disagree about. Some might prefer to keep what the form captures, while others might prefer to keep what the form does not capture and thus lose what the form conveys that trying to preserve other aspects of the sense will not capture. That doesn't mean this is a political agenda for either side, and I think that sort of claim is just as bad when coming from either side.

I highly recommend D.A. Carson's The Inclusive Lanuage Debate for more discussion of the legitmate motives from either side and the Bible Rage that it can turn into when criticizing the other side. It was written before the TNIV, but its main example, the British NIVi, is similar enough to the TNIV that the discussion wouldn't have been very different if he'd written it after the TNIV came out. (Update: I realize that there are many differences between the TNIV and the NIVi, but the same issues would have arisen with respect to gender translation, which is all I'm concerned about in this post.)

What suprised me most was Witherington's claim that the ESV translators know nothing about the last 30 years of text criticism, which is demonstrably false. Just look at the footnotes and compare any good commentary. It's one of the few good translations recent enough to be on top of this stuff. The HCSB, NET, and TNIV are probably the only other ones that I would say are in the same league. Given his other statements that seem to assume the ESV to traslate 'anthropos' as "man" when it generally translates it as "human" or the like, it makes me wonder if he knows much about the ESV at all. (Ironically, he puts the NKJV as better for a translation of this type, ignoring that the NKJV is unaware of the last 100+ years of text criticism while also ignoring that the NKJV is not the same type of translation to begin with. The NKJV attempts to be formally equivalent. The ESV aims to be something in between formal translations like the NKJV and NASB and moderately dynamic translations like the NIV and TNIV.)

His one example to support this comment about the ESV's textual ignorance is Romans 16:7, which the ESV translates as "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me." Most translations render it "well known among the apostles", which better captures the ambiguity in the Greek, but most scholars take them to be apostles. Given the more general meaning of that word as what we call missionaries (e.g. when it's used of Paul's traveling companions as opposed to Paul or the Twelve), the significance of this verse for gender issues is extremely overstated. So I agree with Witherington that this isn' t the best translation. He seems to spend an inordinate amount of time responding to views he disagrees with that the ESV does not adopt, and he dismisses the most likely understanding of what's going on here with what amounts to an argument from silence and selective handling of the evidence, but his main point that the ESV probably gets it wrong is correct, in my view.

Still, this is a hotly debated text. Every translation will have its annoying little renderings that many scholars will criticize. Every good translation has particular renderings that not very many scholars support. Furthermore, not one of the issues he discusses has anything to do with text criticism, and yet this is his one example of the ESV's lack of awareness of the last 30 years of text criticism.

Most importantly, his conclusion seems to me to be well beyond what most scholars do when arguing against views they disagree with. He treats those who disagree as if their conclusions are not just wrong but unintelligent and immoral. This is something that unfortunately find all too common among absolute egalitarians on gender issues. Why is it that on just these issues there's no room for allowing those who disagree to have genuinely good motivations and to have reasonable differences of scholarly opinion? Complementarians have the same problem, as evidenced by the above-linked post about Grudem. But two wrongs don't make a right, and I'm going to hold myself to that as well. I'm not going to accuse Witherington of having political motivations for his views on gender inclusive translation. I don't agree with either side on that, but I understand the motivations of both, and that means I understand his own position. I'm also not going to accuse him of having political motivations for his absolute egalitarianism. I strongly disagree with him on that issue and don't think it's possible to maintain such a view biblically, but I'll give him and other egalitarians the benefit of the doubt and not question their motives.

I just wish he would do the same with the ESV translators, a group that includes a few scholars whose reputation arguably exceeds even his own (e.g. Gordon Wenham). There were also scholars involved who have promoted the TNIV, including Craig Blomberg. Blomberg and Gordon Hugenberger, also on the ESV translation team, support women preachers and women elders (provided there is a man as head elder). This isn't some monolithic group with some clear agenda. Many people who resist inclusive language have principled reasons, as scholars often do, and even if those reasons are misguided it's no reason to paint them as having negative motives. I was encouraged by Bruce Waltke's fascinating description in the preface to his Proverbs commentary of why he was conflicted on the inclusive language issue but chose in the end to write his commentary in non-inclusive language. Since I understand that conflict to some degree but go the other way in my own writing, it really disappoints me to see anyone treating those who choose another approach than their own as if the only way they could have arrived at it is some sort of base political motive.

So after all this, where have we ended up? I will quote Wayne Leman about his own blog:

My sincere hope for this Better Bibles blog is that we might do more than keep saying the same things about which there are honest differences of opinion. Instead, I hope that this blog can be a place where people are encouraged to think clearly about differences of opinion about Bible translations. And my prayer is that we would do so with grace toward those with whom we might disagree.

I don't think Wayne or Suzanne violated that policy, but I have a hard time seeing Witherington's comments fitting within that kind of reasonable and graceful disagreement. Since I've complained about this sort of thing in the past with regard to the opponents the TNIV's translators, I think consistency requires voicing my objections to those who do exactly the same thing with the ESV's translators.


Jeremy, thank you for the spirit in which you wrote this post. It is important to hold everyone in the current Bible versions debate to a high spiritual standard, as you are doing. There have been too many ugly things said in recent years about Bible versions and their translators. If you haven't already, you might do well to send a copy of your post to B.W.

Hi Jeremy,

My concerns are a little different from Witherington's. I would not mind a more literal translation for some uses, or a more archaic one, and therefore more 'male pronouns are gender-inclusive.' What worries me is when someone who does not know Greek and cannot tell when the ESV departs from the one Greek word, one English word pattern, then attacks someone else for using a translation other than whatever the 'approved' translation is.

I also very much miss the fact that Jesus' humanity is not emphasized when the ESV fiddles with the consistency of translating 'anthropos'. In adjacent verses no less, so one can't put the onus on a committee approach.

There is some theological loss in my mind. But in other areas a literal approach gives a better translation in the ESV. So it is very uneven.

I am not sure if you are weighing the merits of my discussion of the translation of 'anthropos' or see that the ESV departs from formal equivalence whenever it translates male nouns like 'man' and 'sons'. So yes they depart from formal equivalence and so do other translations. But they have a claim that others are 'inaccurate.' They have deeply hurt some people with this claim.

I second Witherington's recommendation of the (New (I'm sure he just left that word out)) Jerusalem Bible. I've been using it for a couple of years now, and having read it through twice, have only a very few problems with it, which puts it a long way ahead of many other translations.

The one particular thing NJB did well on was using "Yahweh" in the OT consistently, rather than the various poor substitutes which most English Bibles use. It feels a little awkward reading "Yahweh" out loud, just because I'm not used to hearing anyone do so, but it is certainly the "proper" name for God in OT usage.

Also, I wanted to be able to read the Apocrypha, and this was one of the more economical ways of doing so. I've been amazed at how few protestants have any idea of what the apocrypha is.

Anyhow, most existing translations are far from horrible, so I don't get myself worked up over this stuff. I used the NASB for quite a while, but I'm finding myself less and less impressed by the arguments for literalism in translation, though it has its place of course.

I'm a little conflicted on translating the name 'Yahweh', for two reasons. One is that many Jews get upset if you even pronounce the name, and I like to be careful in public gatherings in case any are around. This is especially important in a campus setting, where I find myself much of the time. I therefore avoid any translation that transliterates God's name for that reason.

The other issue is that the NT assumes a translation of God's name as 'kurios', because the NT authors' Bible did that. That means the equivalent English translation is 'Lord'. One might argue that the NT authors were simply using a bad translation, but so many connections related to Christ's divinity have to do with his appropriation of the title Lord and the NT authors' frequent use of OT texts about God as applied to him with that title. OT-NT ties are thus lost if you transliterate the Hebrew title.

I think the reasons for transliterating a name accurately are strong. I'm just conflicted on this issue. You lost something important either way, just as is the case with gendered language, and I understand both sides of the debate.

Jeremy, I am confused here. You refer to "a post by Ben Witherington that seems to me to exhibit the same sort of rhetoric as Grudem but against the ESV rather than the TNIV", and give a URL, but when I follow the link, ALL that Witherington says about ESV, in the main posting, is:

Translations to avoid: ... 2) the ESV-- an attempt to push back the clock and the culture in the direction of the old KJV.

Is this really such a bad thing to say? Is it imputing motives to the translation team which they did not actually hold? Well, in an article on the ESV website they wrote:

the ESV carries forward the KJV’s literary beauty and the essentially literal translation legacy, based on the best original language manuscripts. ... In contrast [to TNIV], the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own terms rather than on the terms of our present-day culture.

This seems to me more or less enough to justify Witherington's claims, that ESV team is rejecting present-day culture and aiming for a translation closer than many others to KJV. It certainly makes his claims very different from the kind of immoderate rhetoric which has been written against TNIV. And it certainly doesn't allow Witherington to be held so guilty that even those who dare to refer approvingly to his posting should be judged guilty by mere association.

Peter, as I've said a few times above, most of what I was responding to was in his comments.

I do think his description adds a value judgment that your quote from the ESV website does not contain. When someone from Witherington's perspective (i.e. our views today on gender roles are almost entirely much healthier and more correct than the views of the KJV translators) says something about someone setting the clock back to the days of the KJV, with many contextual signs that he is speaking almost entirely about gender issues, it's pretty clear that his "push back the clock and the culture" statement involves a negative value judgment. The ESV translators would certainly not include such a value judgment in their own evaluation.

Besides, all they said about the KJV is that they like some of its stylistic renderings. Witherington himself has agreed that the KJV and ESV have nice style. It's clear from other statements by the ESV translators that what they intend to preserve of the KJV is nothing to do with a mindset of any time period, as Witherington alleges. What they are on record saying they want to preserve is wordings that people are familiar with. They wanted a translation that would be easy to switch to from the KJV, something that wasn't true of the NIV. Enough wordings are similar enough in enough places that it will be more familiar to KJV users than most translations today are. In that it's like the RSV.

You're right that this one statement isn't quite as far as what the anti-TNIV people have been saying, but it's not this one statement that I was primarily concerned with. I indicated in the post which of his comments I was referring to in most cases, and the ones I most strongly criticized were his comments in defense of the original statement when commenters questioned him about it.

Well, yes, Jeremy, it is clear that Witherington is making a negative value judgment about ESV, and this is very explicit, for he lists it under "Translations to avoid". The ESV team seem to think that going back towards the KJV is good. Witherington seems to think that is is bad. Aren't they both entitled to their point of view? Is no one allowed to say that they don't like ESV?

As Suzanne made clear in her comments on the Better Bibles Blog, her posting on that blog referred only to Witherington's original posting, not to any later comments on it.

Except that, as I pointed out already, what he means by "going back to the KJV" is not what they have publicly stated that they see as good about the KJV. It's not simply about being entitled to your own opinion. It's about fairness to those you disagree with, and his criticisms have so seriously misrepresented the ESV translators that I couldn't tolerate it without speaking up.

Suzanne did say that, but I'm having a little trouble making sense of what she said when she linked to him if that's correct. She cited Witherington's post as a place where the sort of argument she made was also made. He didn't make any arguments in the post. He simply said it was a translation to avoid because it seeks to set the clock back on lots of progressive thinking. He didn't give any arguments for that claim until someone called him on it. Her link made it sound as if he had made the sort of point she was making, which was a serious criticism based on argument and not rhetoric. There was no argument until the comments, though. So even if she didn't intend to link to the specific claims he made in the comments, I contend that the most reasonable interpretation of her wording when she linked is that she was talking about the arguments in the comments.


As I said, I did not see the comments in Witherington's post. I wrote,

"If congregations are looking for a translation for a pulpit reading over this Christmas which maintains the use of traditional language, they are, in my view, better off reading from the KJV or NKJV. Thanks to Ben Witherington for saying this here."

That is exctly what I said. I like the KJV for a liturgical reading - it uses 'brethren' and not 'brothers', and most important it does not confuse the translation of 'anthropos' but consistently uses 'men'.

ESV uses 'people', 'human' and 'man' alternatiely to translate 'anthropos' thus hiding connections, and making theological and interpretive points. I am not attributing a motive but for the record, I agree with Witherington's comments - it just happens that I didn't see them.

BTW He is accurate in his comment about the translation of 'anthropos' in the ESV. Have you checked this? I find his comments very accurate althogether, but I came to my conclusions independent of anything he wrote. I read his post after I wrote my own and found that I agreed with him in his judgement of several different translations. And I must assure you that meither him nor I have a negative view of the KJV/NKJV.

And no, these differences of translation in the ESV are most certainly not because of 'different translators' as you say - they occur in the same chapter. I am disappointed to find the factual information in my post so misrepresented by you.

More than anything, the fact that you attribute these differences in translating 'anthropos' in the ESV, to the fact that there is a committee, indicates that you have a very low view of the general editor of the ESV. I have a much higher view of his scholarship than that.

Your 'this' apparently only ranged over the immediately previous sentence. I see that now. I didn't before, until you explicitly signaled it here. Given all that Witherington said, it seemed much more likely to me to range over your more general point, since he was making a much more general point in the comments that did correspond more closely with your post.

My point is that I have read the ESV in its entirety (and thus, yes, have "checked" it), while he seems not to have spent much time in it at all. The ESV regularly uses 'person' or 'human' or 'someone' for 'anthropos'. The times it doesn't have seemed to me to be times the translators weren't sure if the context was inclusive or where they thought some other reason made those terms sound funny or created enough loss of information that they didn't want to do it. There are exceptions to this, and it's not clear to me that they made the right decisions in many of their cases, but the exceptions and errors don't seem to me to be the norm. I've been able to see principled reasons why they would do much of what they do with this.

You keep saying that the inconsistencies appear in the same place and then conclude that it must be because one translator wanted them to be different in those two instances. I don't see how that follows. Just because a word is translated differently more than once in the same passage doesn't mean it's because one translator wanted it to be that way. Translations by committee tend to pick up on different readings by different translators, and they don't always remove inconsistencies like this.

This doesn't, as you allege, require thinking that the editor simply missed them. They may have simply considered the arguments the translators gave, concluding that in individual cases one reading seemed to capture something important while in another the other did. They may have then had to choose whether they will lose one of those two things for the sake of consistency or lose consistency for the sake of those two things. In some cases they seem to have gone with the second option. If anything, this shows that like me the ESV people are somewhat conflicted on inclusive translation and take a more eclectic approach for philosophical reasons, not thinking any one approach best captures anything. You place a higher priority on consistency across cases, arguing that the overall data of how the same word is used is something people should see. They place a higher priority on more accuracy within a particular context, even the very small context of one sentence as removed from the context of the next one. That's arguably the wrong choice, but it's not hard to see how someone might end up at that position without simply being a terrible editor. Sometimes this might only happen when the different translators argue for different readings, but each may be convincing only with one instance in a given passage.

As for his recognition of the problems with the KJV text, he was all too plain:

But of course not all teams are created equal. For example, the team which, with Lancelot Andrewes translated the KJV in 1611 were only as good as their skills in the Biblical languages and in the English of Shakespeare's era, and more to the point could only be as good as the original language manuscripts that lay before them. The truth is, we have far better and earlier manuscripts of both the Hebrews and the Greek texts of the Bible today than they did back then, and so can produce a translation much closer to the original wording than they could have done.

Yet he then recommends the NKJV, which has the same faulty textual basis as the KJV, while claiming that the ESV isn't up on recent textual criticism, which of course it is. I find that deeply ironic.

Hi Jeremy,

I commented on your current post without seeing your response here. However, it has not been posted - in cyberspace somewhere.

In any case I believe some things have been cleared up. I dislike the inconsistencies around anthropos, brothers and sons, but they do not bother you. That is fine.

Thanks for explaining what you meant about the committee.

I have no comment on textual criticism.

I have followed the CBMW guidelines on translation from the beginning and believe that these guidelines inform the ESV translation.

Your comment got through and was appearing on this page, but the main page wasn't rebuilding due to a problem with MTAmazon, which I've temporarily resolved. It should show on the main page now.

I didn't say the inconsistencies don't bother me, just that I can understand why people might prioritize things differently from how you do. I think loss of any information is unfortunate. I just haven't ranked them myself, so I won't endorse any of these views on which sorts of information not to preserve in the translation.

Suzanne had no comments on textual criticism, but I do. You commented that Ben Witherington "recommends the NKJV, which has the same faulty textual basis as the KJV". But note what Witherington in fact said about NKJV, in that same controversial posting:

What about the NKJV? Well it overcomes the archaic language issue for the most part, but alas, it doesn't do a better job with the text criticism. There are consequences to knowing the Vulgate and the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus do not represent the earliest and best text of numerous Biblical verses. If you do a translation that pays too much hommage to any of these later texts, then you are ignoring the evidence from 2nd and 3rd and 4th century papyri and codexes that indicate that the original text did not have this word or that phrase, and so one.

So why does Witherington, later in the same post, write "Go with the NKJV ... its much better"? To understand this, we need to look at it in context, which is the whole controversial comment about the ESV:

Translations to avoid: ... the ESV-- an attempt to push back the clock and the culture in the direction of the old KJV. Go with the NKJV if this is your orientation, its much better.

Surely Witherington's point is that for those who want to go back in the direction of the old KJV NKJV is much better in that it does a more comprehensive job of it. But I don't quite understand why for such people he doesn't recommend KJV itself, as even closer to KJV!

ESV, from Witherington's perspective and from mine, seems to be a half-hearted and sometimes confused (I note Suzanne's point about inconsistent renderings of anthropos) attempt to mix modern scholarship and semi-KJV language. Witherington's point seems to be like Revelation 3:16: it is better to be on firm ground at one side or the other than to fall into a chasm of confusion in the middle.

I wish to point out, even to complain, that when I typed in my previous comment simply "Revelation 3:16" the software from this blog automatically created an HTML anchor producing a popup window "English Standard Version Bible". I had no intention of referring explicitly to this version of the verse or of endorsing the ESV. I object to software that inserts apparent endorsements in this way.

Another point: Jeremy wrote that the ESV translators "wanted a translation that would be easy to switch to from the KJV, something that wasn't true of the NIV." Fair enough, although NIV really isn't that much further from KJV than ESV is. But then the TNIV is a translation that is to switch to from the NIV, something that isn't true of the ESV. So, would the ESV translators agree with me that NIV users looking for a change should not switch to ESV but instead make the easier transition to TNIV?

Of course I meant to write before: "...the TNIV is a translation that is easy to switch to from the NIV..."

Yes, you point out his inconsistency nicely. He says its textual basis ignores the best texts we've got. Then he recommends it as better than the ESV as a non-inclusive language translation. It's not, because it has the faulty textual basis.

Surely Witherington's point is that for those who want to go back in the direction of the old KJV NKJV is much better in that it does a more comprehensive job of it. But I don't quite understand why for such people he doesn't recommend KJV itself, as even closer to KJV!

If that's his point, then it's a pretty awful straw man. The ESV has no intention of going back in the direction of the KJV in every way possible. They like its style and want to preserve what they can of its beautiful English without the pre-Shakespearean English that the RSV in many places retains. They had no intention whatsoever of keeping to the faulty textual basis the way the NKJV did. He may be right that those who prefer the KJV in every sense but its archaic language should use the NKJV, but that's not the target audience of the ESV, so it's a terrible argument.

The ESV turns out to be getting a large number of people switching from the NIV, but it's not people who like the NIV. It's people who have grown more and more disappointed with it over the years who tend to prefer something more formally equivalent than the NIV or who were angry at the decision to revise the NIV with gender-inclusive language. That's not the same sense of being well-placed to switch to the ESV, but a large contingent of ESV users seem to be in this group from the comments I've been reading online. Those looking for a change who don't mind inclusive language should, of course, switch to the TNIV. It's a much more accurate translation.

As for the software, I've simply thought of it as a nice feature. The ESV people have been technologically innovative enough to write something that can give immediate links to Bible verses, and I've gladly taken advantage of that wonderful feature. It's not an endorsement. It's a feature. I would never have expected anyone to take offense. I would have thought that if it showed anyone's endorsement of the ESV, it would show mine, since it's a feature that my blog takes advantage of. I don't see it as an endorsement, though. I would have used it if had been any of a number of translations.

Also, the biggest problem I have with Witherington's claim and your unfathomable endorsement of it is that the ESV did not go back in the direction of the KJV in the sense of taking RSV translations and going back to how the KJV had them. What they've done is significantly revise the RSV, which was a revision of the KJV. Not moving something in a more dynamically equivalent direction does not amount to moving backward. Not moving something as far along the inclusive language spectrum as the TNIV or NLT have done does not amount to moving backward. It just means it hasn't brought the RSV forward as much.

As for the chasm point, I firmly disagree. If there are errors to avoid on two sides of a more balanced middle, we ought to find that balance. That's what they seek to do. I agree that they don't always succeed, but no translation succeeds at what it sets out to do. If you took these criticisms as a sign that the ESV is a terrible translation, as Witherington seems to be doing, then you'd have to throw out pretty much any translation. Suzanne notably doesn't accept that conclusion. She thinks it's a good translation but is simply critical of it on that one point.

Hi Jeremy,

No, I don't think the ESV is good except for that one point. I agree that it has been updated, I have no comment on the textual ciriticism at this time, I prefer, either "brethren' or 'brothers and sisters', not 'brothers' etc.

I agree that the ESV has been updated except where the editors want to keep male gender language. That is a big except. They translate 'anthropos' as people and humans, except for here, here and here. Why would they do that? They translate 'uois' as children except for here and here. Since most of the time 'human' and 'children' are used, readers will automatically think that when the ESV reads 'man' that it actually says 'man' in the Greek, but, of course, the Greek may read 'human'. Or one might think that sons and children are different words, and they are, but this is not in any relation to the ESV translation of these wrods. nor the TNIV either. Each translation makes a decision, and the ESV makes decisions according to a gender policy - it absolutely has to have a policy, this is the page of guidelines which I linked to before.

This is not balance - this is a wish to translate 'anthropos' literally as 'human' except for when they don't want to for some other reason,i.e. the gender guidelines. The ESV has a right to do this, but it should be discussed and recognized as their pattern.

I see myself in agreement with Peter and Ben Witherington on most if not all points. You say that you have not followed the development of the gender guidelines of the CBMW, but you must know that they have influenced the ESV quite openly.

I have to admit that there were certain misunderstandings earlier, I jumped to a conclusion about what you meant by committee. I thought you meant that these inconsistencies were not deliberate but I am glad that we both agree that they are deliberate. Now I am wondering if you would suggest another reason why words like 'anthropos' and 'uios' are translated so inconsistently. I see that these patterns follow the Colorado Springs gender guidelines, and I believe that that is what the ESV editors intended.

I cannot accept that balance is the answer. If one were to take turns translating 'adelphos' once 'brothers' and then ' brothers and sisters' turn about would that be balance or confusion. That is what the 'anthropos' and 'uios' alternations sound like in certain places. But they explain that this is to maintain the gender assigment as it was in the KJV, but when it won't upset the gender relations of the KJV, then they update the language.

I firmly agree that the ESV has opened up a chasm. I have not said anything specifically negative about the ESV because I have to reflect on how this compares to other translations.

Sometimes it is very hard to put myself in the shoes of someone who does not read Greek. It is only occasionally that I am viciously confronted with the fact that I have said something heretical, and I find out eventually that I have not used the exact wording of the 'translation of the day'. (not necessarily gender issues - some pretty minor stuff ) These have been public confrontations, and I have tried to walk away from them, but how do people get to be so sure that whatever translation they have had recommended is the same as reading the Greek. no translation should be recommended as such.

I don't think the ESV editors have said that but others are saying it is closer to the Greek and therefore is more accurate. However, this is only true *when* it is true and how can you know *when* unless you already read Greek.

[Note: this comment was submitted at this time. I didn't see that it was being held for approval because of more than three links until two hours later. The next bunch of comments does not reflect this comment. I can't change the time on it. -- Jeremy]

Jeremy, you wrote "the ESV did not go back in the direction of the KJV in the sense of taking RSV translations and going back to how the KJV had them". I agree that they did not do so in general. But they did do so on specific points related to what you have called their agenda of removing liberalising tendencies in RSV. See further your follow-up posting on this issue, and your comments and mine on it. And our discussion here is primarily about agenda-related changes rather than stylistic ones.

Concerning those who prefer NKJV, you wrote "that's not the target audience of the ESV". But it is, for according to a promotional page "Our goal with the ESV is to publish one Bible for all of life. Combining an essentially literal translation with readability makes the ESV suitable for any situation". So it seems that the target audience is everyone, and there is no sign here of a recognition that for some people other versions are more appropriate.

As for those "who were angry at the decision to revise the NIV with gender-inclusive language" and so switched to ESV, it is interesting that many of those who stirred up this anger, and continue to do so, were members of the ESV translation team and so presumably have a vested interest in the commercial success of the ESV.

I don't claim that ESV is a terrible translation. It is generally an improvement on RSV, except at Isaiah 7:14 (and I will let your automatic link show up here!) If it had appeared in the 1970s, I would have endorsed it, as better than other translations available at the time, and because there was then still a wide understanding of generic "he" and "man". However, as Wayne Leman has pointed out, "Its English is not at all current English. The ESV uses negative inversions which most English speakers stopped using by about 1740 A.D. Negative inversions were already on the wane (no pun intended!) by the time the KJV was published in 1611 A.D." As a result, except for those readers who really prefer 17th century language, ESV is clearly stylistically inferior to earlier translations like NIV. Now I accept that there are some theological issues with NIV, which have been partly resolved in TNIV. But, apart from the gender issue and the desire to go back to something more like KJV, I cannot see any reason to prefer ESV over TNIV. And my views on the gender issue are well known. Therefore I would agree with Ben Witherington in listing ESV as a translation I would not now recommend.

On the point of the relationship between the ESV and the Colorado Springs guidelines, I found an interesting article, by Michael Marlowe I think, which suggests a rather close link. This generally pro-ESV page quotes a 1999 World magazine article:

The English Standard Version (ESV), announced in February by Crossway Books, had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.

The night prior to the meeting, critics of regendered language gathered in a Colorado Springs hotel room to discuss the next day's strategy. During the course of the evening it became clear their concerns with the NIV extended beyond gender issues. ...

If this is accurate, it implies that right from the start part of the motivation for ESV was to follow the Colorado Springs guidelines, but there were other concerns as well.

There seems to be some strange new feature on this blog which enables me to post fairly short comments like the one above, but which rejects longer comments with a misleading message:

Your comment has been received. To protect against malicious comments, I have enabled a feature that allows your comments to be held for approval the first time you post a comment. I'll approve your comment when convenient; there is no need to re-post your comment.

Of course this was by no means the first time I posted a comment, and I got this twice for a longer comment while able to post a shorter comment in between.

Or is the situation really that there are some keywords which cause comments to be rejected? Perhaps you have now added "Witherington" to some such list? Well, we will see whether this comment is rejected for that word.

With ''uios', there's a real argument why they would sometimes translate it as "sons". The concept of sonship in the ancient world included inheritance, and the point of saying that all Christians are sons is not to pretend that they're male, as the anti-ESV agenda would have it. It's to include women in the inheritance as full inheritors. Some of the ESV translators have recorded their conviction on this. They think that, at least in certain passages, translating ''uios' as "children" hides that. I don't know if the places they do one or the other match up well with this intention, but that's something they've said in defense of this.

There is at least one place I know of where some scholars think translating 'adelphoi' as "brothers and sisters" actually brings women in when they mean not have been among the recipients. Some think James was addressed to a group of elders, which would not have included women. If this is right (and I have no familiarity with the relevant issues; I've just heard this said) then translating it as "brothers and sisters" obscures the original meaning. The word can refer to a group of men, and it can refer to a group of women. But that English translation can't do both. It can only do the latter. That's a real problem if careful study has revealed (and I reiterate that I don't know if it has) that the group in question is in fact male.

Granting that the ESV does a bad job with this one issue, how is that a justification for saying it's a bad translation overall? That seems a bit far for me. I disagree with some of the ways the TNIV deals with gender (though certainly not to the degree Grudem does), but I don't think it's a bad translation on that ground. This is just one aspect of a huge amount of translation work, and it seems unfair to me to use it as the basis of a negative judgment on the translation as a whole. (I was sure that you had said that the ESV as a whole was a good translation, but I can't find it. Maybe I just got that sense.)

I'm no longer familiar with the specifics of any of the three or four lists of gender guidelines over the years. I read Carson's treatment of it in his book on the issue, and other statements have come out since, but I'm fuzzy on the details now. It's been a while. I did know that some of the people involved with the ESV have endorsed the entirety of the CBMW views on the issue, while others have not. One of them has even endorsed the TNIV.

Where exactly do they "explain that this is to maintain the gender assigment as it was in the KJV, but when it won't upset the gender relations of the KJV, then they update the language"? Everything I've read from the ESV people conveys to me that they're nowhere near that beholden to what the KJV translators happened to have decided.

I agree entirely with your last point. Anyone treating the ESV as if it's closer to the original languages in every point simply because it's closer to it in some ways is acting dangerously. That's been my point all along, in fact. I just think it applies in the other direction too, which is why it angers me so much to see the ESV being described as less close to the Greek simply because there are some ways it's less close to the Greek.

Peter, the host of this site is aware of the problem and knows he needs to fix the message. It's simply giving the wrong text for whatever problem is happening. I don't think it has anything to do with the length of the comment, though. He says it has to do with whether you typed the security code in properly, but I'm pretty sure it's done it to me when I've typed it in correctly, so I don't know what the problem is. Usually it just takes persistence. I've never had it give me the error three times in a row.

I have now tried TEN TIMES to submit my comments, and all have been rejected. What's going on? Are you able to approve the comments? Please contact your site host. I note that sometimes I am getting the same security code several times. I am using Firefox 1.5.

The problem is not with Firefox, for I just had the same problem twice with submitting the same comments through Internet Explorer. But at least with IE I can read the whole of the Parableman intorductory words - with Firefox the last line is cut off in the middle.

Which error? There's the MTAmazon error, which tells you that it's the MTAmazon error. That's a problem with rebuilding the main page. Your comment gets submitted, and then it tries to rebuild the main page so that it gets listed as a new comment there. If that error happens, your comment got through. I just need to go in and manually edit my code for the Amazon books on the main page so that the error stops. That takes time, and I can't do it when I'm changing a diaper, as was happening about ten minutes ago when this problem was occurring.

There's also the error that gives the message you mentioned before relating to the security code. I already explained that. Those comments don't go through, but you need to keep trying, because in every case I've been able to get it through with some persistence.

There's also a limit to the number of URLs you can include in a comment before it gets held for approval. This is a spam-prevention technique. These comments get saved in my MT software, and when I go in to check what's going on I can then approve them if it's not spam. I count ten comments from you that all start the same way that are sitting on my server waiting for approval. What message are you getting? It should just say that it's a spam-prevention that requires approval. If that's not the message, Matthew might need to figure out why.

Thanks, Jeremy. The message I get is the one which I quoted in my 08:25 AM message. There was no mention that the problem was with too many URLs (three, plus the automatically inserted one). You suggested that this message was spurious, and made no mention that you had a comment waiting for approval, so I assumed you did not. And you encouraged me to try again persistently, which is what I did. Sorry to have made things more difficult than they might have been.

The original comment has now appeared, for 08:10 AM, presumably because you approved it. You are welcome to discard the retries! But the problem with comments appearing out of order is that delayed ones are missed by people reading out of order.

Now that I can see everything that's gone on, here's what I think the problem is. The server held your repeted comment submissions because they had three or more links, a spam protective measure that I think is worth having. The problem is the message it gave you. It said it was because it was the first time you had posted. That message, I believe, is a holdover from a feature that allows people to log into Typekey to comment and then be remembered. We don't make people log into Typepad now, though, and I don't think you even can anymore (though for some reason it keeps treating me as if I'm permanently logged into it with every comment I leave). Somehow the message being given for multiple links is the message for new commenters. It is correct that your comments are getting through. It's just wrong about why.

Anyway, I approved the comment. It appears when it was submitted, because I couldn't change the time (and I'm not sure if it would be right to change it anyway). It's listed at 8:01 am this morning (which is when you submitted it, at least in EST; I'm guessing you're in GMT).

Now for content. I don't think the ESV people would deny that they won't be getting many customers who think the Textus Receptus and related text traditions are the inspired manuscript tradition. Someone who thinks the older manuscripts are alterations from God's word are not going to be using the ESV unless they don't know that it uses the older manuscripts.

Do the ESV translators get royalties? I would be surprised at that. It might help their scholarly reputations if the translation gets scholarly acclaim, because scholars would know who was involved, but mass promotion of an agenda wouldn't have that effect. It seems to me that their promotion of this translation out of an agenda is more to serve the agenda and not for any personal gain. What you're saying makes it sound as if they don't really believe what they're saying, and I'm not going to make that charge. They seem genuine in their view as far as I can tell.

The reason I prefer the ESV to the TNIV is that I prefer to have for myself a translation that is more formally equivalent, including on gender issues. I've already read the ESV, though, and I'm now working on reading the TNIV New Testament and the HCSB Old Testament (whose NT I read when it came out a while back). I don't have the whole TNIV, but I intend to get it and read it in its entirety. Out of all the translations I currently have (NASB, NKJV, NIV, TNIV New Testament, HSCB, REB, RSV, CEV, NCV, NLT, NRSV, and maybe a few others that I can't think of at the moment) I do find the ESV to be closer to what I like in a translation than any of the others I've spent a lot of time in, and some that I haven't spent a lot of time in have seemed to me to warrant not spending much more time in (CEV and NCV come to mind).

I acknowledge that this is a personal preference, though. I know enough Greek to know what non-inclusive translations mean. I haven't insisted that everyone should use the ESV, but I've defended it as a good option for someone like me who knows enough to be able to know what it's getting at and who has resources to check for sure what exactly it's translating when it does the things Suzanne has been complaining about. I would recommend different translations for different kinds of people, and the ESV is on my list for a certain kind of person.

I should also go on record saying that other things in the ESV annoy me. I've mentioned both of these before. One is that they translate the infamous verse in Philemon as "sharing your faith", which the NIV got wrong and has fixed in the TNIV. This makes it sound like evangelism is in mind, but the issue is fellowship.

The other is that they sometimes translate 'pistis Christou' as "faith in Christ" and sometimes as "the faithfulness of Christ", which certainly doesn't reflect a harkening back to the KJV. I haven't figured out why they do both of these in different places (and even once in the same place). That's a similar problem to the one Suzanne has been playing up lately, and it has nothing to do with gender. I'm assuming they have a principled reason here, but I don't know what it is.

These things are annoying, as is Suzanne's case. There might be principled reasons for them, but they annoy me. That doesn't stop me from seeing it as a work of great scholarship and one of the best translations we have in terms of staying up to date on recent research. It doesn't stop me from using it regularly along with other translations with different tendencies. It doesn't lead me not to recommend it to people who I think will see it as satisfying what they're looking for in a translation. These sorts of problems appear in any translation.

Thank you, Jeremy. We seem to have worked round the technical problems now.

I suggested that certain people "were members of the ESV translation team and so presumably have a vested interest in the commercial success of the ESV." Well, perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "commercial" as that suggests that their interest is mainly financial. But surely they have an interest in the success of their work, for their own self-esteem, for their reputations, and for possible spin-off projects which would be financially gainful.

However, I accept that their campaigns against TNIV are sincere, although misguided, for they really believe the linguistic nonsense they are spouting. And they genuinely want to serve certain agendas - there are at least three partially separate ones which might be involved. But one reason for their extreme zeal in this matter just could be their interest in the success of TNIV's main rival, ESV.

I accept that ESV is a good translation for certain purposes. I actually use RSV quite a lot because I have a Greek-English New Testament which has RSV printed in it. The RSV text helps me to understand difficult Greek! And it provides a handy literal translation, in most places. For such a purpose, NIV or TNIV would be less useful, but ESV would be an improvement on RSV (as Isaiah 7:14 is not in the New Testament). For such rather specialised purposes ESV is good. My main problem with ESV has always been with the insistence by many that it is "one Bible for all of life... suitable for any situation".

I appreciate having the ESV available on 'ESWORD' for no cost. It would be wonderful to see the ESV come out with the Deutero-canonicals/Apocrypha.

It seems to me after reading this entire post that it is not possible to come to an agreement on any translation.
My opinion is not as educated as some of the others that are posted here, but when you open up a single word to be translated as anything from the entire human race to one specific individual and even combinations (brothers and sisters) it seems to me that this is more interpretaion than translation.
I wish most translators would give the people who read God's word the option to examine the text as closely as it is written in the best copies we have than to make it say what they think is the best representation of the Gospel.
I read the greek new testament and all I have read about current textual criticism is that the more difficult reading is prefered, isn't it a little ironic that these same critics turn around and attempt to smooth out all of these social or political difficulties when they translate it.
I think that most translators feel as if it is their calling to bring the true message to the masses, unfortunately I don't think they do that without an agenda, since no matter what translation we have there is always need for a new one.
I don't think we need to strive to make the text fit the culture in translation. It has been my experience as a Pastor for many years, that most people can do that on their own.

The reason you prefer the most difficult reading in text criticism is because people would be less likely to change the text to a more difficult reading. When you're dealing with those who copy texts, you have to take into account the psychology of text copying.

What is the similar principle for translation? I don't see the analogy. It's not as if the reading more socially or politically acceptable is more or less likely to be true. I just don't see how a similar process should work in translation. If we're reconstructing Paul's psychology in terms of what he meant by a term, how can some political or social agenda in the 21st century help us determine what he would have been likely to think?

Besides, it's not as if people are generally disagreeing about what these expressions mean. They're disagreeing about what the English expressions mean. Whether gender-inclusive terminology is a legitimate way to translate depends entirely on whether you think the English language works the way linguists think it works or whether you think it works the way Grudem and Poythress think it works.

There's no need for an agenda to have a new translation, other than the agenda to have a translation that takes into account contemporary English. Some aren't satisfied that we have that yet. There may well be other agendas, but you don't need one, and such agendas may not be bad, depending on what they are. Having a translation suitable for one purpose and not for others is not necessarily a bad thing.

My point is that if the "psychology of text copying" makes it possible to understand the reason for the variations in the manuscripts.
Then I think a "psychology of text translation" ought to be applied. It seems to me that we can say why this copyist worded the text this way or that and make judgements about his motives. Then if the principle is reliable in understanding copyists then it should apply to translators.
Even as there is a logical and personal reason for a copyist adding to the text or smoothing out difficulties, (in which he became an editor instead of a copier), I also think that the same methods could be used to determine when a translator becomes an interpreter.
The point is this.. it is ironic that we congratulate ourselves when we make adjustments to the text but criticize those who have done it in the past.I think you would say that we are not adjusting the text but instead expressing its meaning in the translation of it.
But if you applied some of the principles used in textual criticism of the ancient mss to the variations in the texts of modern translations,(i.e word choices) I think we would have to admit that they were due to something other than simple linguistics.
I can't help but believe that the same motives that brought some the variations in the ancient manuscripts is at work in our modern day translators.
I would not be suprised if we could talk to some of those ancient copyists who made those changes in the text that they would not say they were mistakes but instead would defend them as vehemntly as some of these posts have defended their views.
I have admired those who I think are determined to find that text which is most like the original.... Maybe we need something equivalent to the United Bible Society in its research of the text of scripture, to set forth a method for the translation of scripture.
Although their are alot of word variations in the copies of the ancient scriptures, you will find that the word variations in modern translations are growing with each new translation.
Again as a Pastor all this diversity in the translations is very confusing to the layperson. We need a standard of some sort, but with the motive for translation being to stay with the most current usage of wording in the culture, and the speed now in which the culture changes, that does not seem possible.

I don't see the parallel. I certainly don't think someone could look at a text with a while line missing and defend it. Some of the errors have something to do with seeing a word you just saw and picking up after it, not recognizing that it appears twice in the original. Some have to do with missing a small enough mark and getting a wholly different word, but a quick check of the original would show that it's a mistake. No copyist would defend that when looking at the original and the copy. These are indeed mistakes. Even the ones based on theological assumptions might be because they don't understand the text, and in light of an understanding of it they'd admit that their correction was in error. But the issue there is an issue of interpretation, and they would defend their interpretation. In that there is a similarity.

But I don't see how that has to do with a more or less difficult reading. The more or less reading gives us a greater probability that the harder to understand textual reading is the right one. In translation, however, we are not in disagreement about what words are there. We're in disagreement on how to render it in English. In these gender-inclusive issues everyone even agrees on the original meaning but disagrees about how to say the same thing in English. So I don't see how it's really supposed to be the same issue as the more difficult reading issue, which is about reconstructing the original, not about how to render it in English.

As for a standard translation, I think that would be the worst thing to do. When I first saw that argument in Leland Ryken's book, I was horrified. Without the variety of translations that we now have, we would have a much harder time seeing what's so easy to see now by comparing translations. The difficulty of translating certain verses is the very reason we ought to have multiple translations that have different translation philosophies, because it gives us a better idea of the range of possible translations the experts would allow for.

I think that's a very, very good thing. I don't see how someone can consistently accept Ryken's argument without accepting the kind of the KJV-onlyists regularly argue. His argument is basically a restatement of something they say, except it's not applied to the KJV anymore. But I don't know how you can argue against the so-clled instability of God's word via multiple translations that disagree without going back to the idea of one inspired translation. Such a view distorts the idea of an authoritative scripture by placing authority in one translation. That's bad even on the level of doctrine, never mind how it would mislead in particular cases by giving translations that aren't always going to be correct.

I am not talking about the issues of honest error. If you are familiar with any of Bruce Metzger's work in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament or The Text of the New Testament,you know that the rejection of most of the manuscripts that are labeled as Byzantine are not due to human error, but to the smoothing or harmonizing of the texts.

This was done by inserting parllel passages from other texts or including marginal notes, or other methods of making the text flow better.
The entire discipline that produced the UBS 4th edition of the Greek New Testament is to bring a standard reliable text from all of the 5000+ mss that are known to exist.
The variations in translation that I see today are parallel to me of those who originaly produced the Byzantine text. They both come from a subjective interpretation of what is the best way to pass the scripture on to others.
I know that when you seek to find the original in textual criticism it is a different process than when translating a text. But I would hope that the goals of both disciplines are the same... accuracy.

My hope of a more standard translation is the same purpose of the UBS when they sought to find as close as possible the original text among all of the variations that were known in the mss. I do not think it is somehow dangerous to attempt to recover the original text among all the variations and settle on one reliable form of the text. I also don't think that it is dangerous to have one reliable translation. I am not familiar with Ryken, and certainly not KJV only, but my whole point tonight has been that if accuracy in reclaiming the text is possible then accuracy in translating that text is also possible.

I only refered to the text critical issue because it exposes how the scripture has been passed down through the years and the obivous human element in that process has produced changes in the text. This was stated only in the respect of translation, as it relates to the human element in it. Although it is not an exact parallel in process (and I think that is what is making it hard for you to follow) it does involve people who have subjective views who look at our current translations and think that they don't represent the text accurately.
I know that even the discipline of textual critcism is both a science and an art,as is translation. But it seems that alot that is presented in current translations is getting more and more art than science. Some have begin to take a great deal of liberty with the text and as I said from the beginning they are not simple linguistic difficulties.

With the focus on translation as an art, I do not think that anyone can condemn any translation anymore than someone can condem any other piece of art. The value of it is subjective, that is what I think many of these translations are. They are focusing on selling their form of the scripture to the public and there is certainly a demand for translations that are more palatable to certain views.

To comment on the original post; I don't see how anyone could condemn ESV as going backwards. If that is going backwards is a Bible like that described by Bishop Spong going forward? To me to find accuracy in the text we must go backwards toward the original. But if the goal is to remove certain elements of the text that are considered cultural or archaeic then it is not translation that is going on.. but modification.

I do not think it is somehow dangerous to attempt to recover the original text among all the variations and settle on one reliable form of the text.

But you notice that the UBS text critics are not certain on a great many of their text-critical decisions, giving the alternatives in the footnotes. They do not think that you can be sure enough to have one authoritative, correct text that we know is the original. They even indicate within the text itself that some of the readings are very unsure by putting them in brackets.

Accuracy is a very important concern in translation, but it is the only concern with textual criticism. In translation, however, you have other concerns that are also very important. Readability is one. Some translations are geared toward children and people without the level of English understanding to be able to grasp what requires a 12th grade education, in some cases.

Sometimes a more accurate translation requires thinking about what you are going to be accurate about. You can be accurate to the form of the original (e.g. word order, structural features like chiasms or poetic parallelism, gendered endings if they contribute toward the meaning, similar-sounding words or cognate words used next to each other, and so on). You can be accurate to the sense of the original. Sometimes you cannot do both. So which is more accurate? Well, one is more accurate with respect to one feature of the original form. Another is more accurate with respect to a different feature of the form. One captures one aspect of the sense of the original better than the others, but maybe a fourth captures a different element of the sense of the original better. It is simply impossible in some cases for a translation to capture everything about the original accurately. That's the nature of translation.

I can see very easily how someone can describe the ESV as going backwards (even if I disagreed in the above conversation with that particular way that was being suggested as backward). One very clear way is that it is deliberately using archaic language like inverted negatives (see the links here) and 'lest'. That is not how the English language works anymore, and it is indeed going backwards linguistically. What Spong is up to is very different, and it's not going backward or forward linguistically. It's going in a direction that gives in to what our surrounding culture would like the Bible to say. You can't measure that on the same axis at all. But what it does raise is that some translations can simply be objectively wrong. See here, for a good example.

I agree with the idea that what is currently going on is taking the sense of the text and presenting it toward a certain demographic which results in many differing versions.

With that in mind it also makes it very difficult to condemn any translation since it may be perfect for particular group it was designed to serve. And as to the post about people defending their version wrongly because they don't know greek, as long as we can have all different types of accuracy in translation there will always be this type of conflict among the masses.

dmcintos wrote: "Maybe we need something equivalent to the United Bible Society in its research of the text of scripture, to set forth a method for the translation of scripture".

The United Bible Societies themselves have published quite a lot on "a method for the translation of scripture", especially the works of Eugene Nida. See this page for a catalogue. Another organisation which has published extensively in this area is SIL. I would also recommend to you the Better Bibles Blog.

Thanks Peter

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