My brother responded to my post about Ben Witherington and the ESV via email, saying that the ESV most definitely arose from an agenda, and I thought it might be worth clearing up what I'm saying and what I'm not saying. I was aware of the ESV agenda he refers to. He's right. They had a deliberate agenda in initiating the work that led to the creation of the ESV. That agenda had nothing to do with inclusive language translations, however. I wasn't thinking in that direction, because my focus was on gender translation. The ESV agenda was to make a more conservative-friendly RSV. They wanted a translation much like the RSV but without some of what they viewed as liberalizing tendencies in the RSV. The two most notable of those were the Isaiah 7 "virgin/young woman" issue and the removal of any reference to propitiation, which the ESV was designed to fix. By the time they had a translation, though, it had ended up being much more than a straightforward conservatizing of the RSV with updates in style. As I noted in my previous post, they paid a good deal of attention to recent developments in text criticism, comparative linguistics, and all the usual factors that would influence a new translation to improve upon an older one. It became a new translation in its own right because of the work of some very good scholars who insisted on revising a lot more in the RSV than the original agenda had in mind.
I want to stress that, while I'm admitting that they had an agenda, this agenda was not primarily to do with gender. That's something a few people who were involved later made an issue. This was only after the TNIV issues become hotly debated, and it mostly was about how some people were promoting the ESV, not primarily about how they went about translating it. Most or all of the translation work had already been completed when the TNIV issue exploded, and the ESV people began their efforts to promote the ESV as a non-inclusive language alternative. These efforts had the immediate effect of convincing some people (including a friend of mine) that this was Grudem's own translation, and they dismissed his arguments against the TNIV on the grounds that he was saying it merely to promote his own translation. No, the arguments are to be dismissed because they are bad arguments, not because the ESV is Grudem's translation. He might have had some influence on how it came to take the form it took, but it's not his translation, not all the translators share his views, and the agenda of the ESV committee was not about this issue at all during the actual translation process. At best, that was a promotional agenda taking advantage of the irrational mass hysteria against the TNIV. A number of its translators did favor non-inclusive translation in general when they translated it, but that wasn't the initial reason for the ESV, as Witherington suggests, and that view isn't necessarily as extreme as Grudem's even on that issue. For some it is. For some on that committee it isn't. For a few on that committee, even the moderate opposition to inclusive translation is wrongheaded. So Witherington is claiming that he knows how the ESV originated, but these statements just sound to me as if he doesn't in fact know very much about how it originated. That's why I think he sounds just like those who claim that the TNIV stems from radical feminists who want to impose an ultra-feminist agenda on the Bible in their translation. Both claims are simply false.
I should also mention, also per my brother's email, that many translations Witherington would have no problem with originated from an ideological agenda. The NIV, in fact, began as a response to the same tendencies in the RSV that spurred the ESV revision. It just turned out that several things the NIV did annoyed some of the people who didn't like these aspects of the RSV, and they wanted something more formally equivalent. The NASB agenda was thus born. Over the years some found that translation too formally equivalent. It just doesn't read like English. Thus the ESV agenda began, which wanted more of the classic KJV style with modern readability and less formal exactness to Greek and Hebrew word order than the NASB. Others wanted KJV style but modern readability with a very fomalistic translation of the faulty textual basis of the KJV. That was the basis of the NKJV agenda. The JPS translation began as an effort to have a distinctly Jewish translation not tainted by how Christians have interpreted the Hebrew Bible.
So lots of translations begin from an agenda. Sometimes that's fine. Sometimes it's not. My point was that the agenda Witherington posits for the ESV was not the agenda it had. Some who translated for them would have refused to do it if it had been. Those issues came to the forefront in its promotion, but the translation process wasn't about gender issues. It was about de-liberalizing the RSV. Both the TNIV and the ESV have come to represent two opposing views on gender neutral translation, but neither one came about primarily because of such issues. The main goal of the TNIV was to update the NIV, to correct errors and outdated views captured by its renderings, and to keep up with new scholarship. In the process, they made more changes to make it less dynamically equivalent than they did to make it more dynamic, and they also decided to be consistent with their dynamic translation philosophy with respect to the sense of gender-neutral masculine terms. The latter is what has come to symbolize the changes in the TNIV, but that wasn't its primary agenda. That's why I think those who portray either translation as if it was basically about such issues is simply speaking from ignorance. I think Witherington showed some clear ignorance about the ESV in some of his claims (particularly the one about text criticism), so it doesn't surprise me if he doesn't know its history very well.