Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Piper on Tyndale, KJV, RSV, and ESV

I saw this video clip of a recent talk by John Piper at a meeting of Christian booksellers at Justin Taylor’s blog. Piper spends about half the time talking about the 400th anniversary of the Tyndale/KJV and the other half on the doctrine of Scripture.

Here are a few things I found interesting from the first half of the talk:

1. Piper presents the idea that the RSV/ESV proceeds from the Tyndale/KJV tradition.

This reminded me of similar comments by Leland Ryken in his book The Legacy of the King James Bible (Crossway, 2011) [see my review and response, pp. 16-22]. Around the 10:00 minute mark, Piper notes that in the translation of the RSV there was a disagreement between Moffatt (who wanted the RSV language to follow the Tyndale/KJV) and Goodspeed (who wanted the RSV language to be completely new). He then reads from the RSV preface to contend that Moffatt “won” this dispute.

Of course, behind this argument is a promotion for the ESV which is a revision of the RSV. Piper, Ryken, and others would like to see the ESV as the heir to the KJV as the most read and used English Bible. Sidenote: Though he ESV has made significant gains, especially among the YRR crowd, it still lags significantly behind in sales. Rather than sweeping the market it has more or less added to an already crowded field (according to the August sales stats, the ESV is only at number 5, behind the NIV, KJV, New Living Translation, and NKJV, and just ahead of the Holman Christian Standard Bible at no. 6 and The Message at no. 8). 

I believe that this argument, however, is seriously flawed. I believe a study of the language of the RSV/ESV would show that it is actually a departure from the Tyndale/KJV tradition. Most significantly, it departs from the underlying text that was used by Tyndale and the KJV translators (the MT of the OT and the TR of the NT). The RSV/ESV must trace its roots to the 1881 English Revised Version, which was , in fact, conceived to overthrow the dominance of the Tyndale/KJV tradition, particularly with regard to its text.

2. Piper expresses his own preference for the RSV tradition.

This begins around the 12:00 minute mark. Piper laments that the RSV went out of print in 1990 when the gender inclusive NRSV, used by the mainline denominations, was completed. He notes that he got his first RSV as a college student in 1966 and it was his Bible of choice for c. 45 years. He even says he used it as a pew Bible (at Bethlehem BC?). I found this curious given the critique of the RSV by traditional Christians. Surely, Piper does not approve of the RSV rendering of passages like Isaiah 7:14.

3. Piper makes confusing reference to Crossway’s attainment of the RSV copyright.

Around the 13:39 mark, Piper makes reference to Crossway’s attainment of the copyright of the RSV to produce the ESV. He sees this as a fortuitous providence. He does not mention that the copyright permission was attained from the ultra-liberal National Council of Churches or under what terms. It is also a bit confusing because Crossway does not appear to have attained exclusive copyright to the RSV, given that the title page of each copy of the ESV continues to list the copyright as belonging to the NCC: “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.”

4. Piper contends that the ESV follows in the Tyndale tradition in its phraseology.

Again, I would like to do a bit more study on this. The RSV/ESV does indeed have some overlap with the Tyndale/KJV, as almost any “essentially literal” translation would, given their dependence on the Hebrew and Greek original texts. I think closer study, however, would likely show that the ESV has a stronger family resemblance to the 1881 Revised Version than the Tyndale/KJV. Like father, like son.

To test this hypothesis here is a sampling of three passages in Tyndale, KJV, RSV, and ESV (Note: I have included only the body of the main text, excluding footnotes in the RSV/ESV):

First example: Mark 9:43-48:

Tyndale: And if thy hand offend thee, cut him off. It is better for thee, to enter into life maimed, then to go, with two hands into hell, into fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire never goeth out. And if thy foot offend thee, cut him off. It is better for thee to go halt into life, than with ij. feet to be cast into hell, into fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire never goeth out? And if thine eye offend thee pluck him out. It is better for thee to go into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire never goeth out.

KJV: And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

RSV: And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

ESV: And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Second example: Romans 3:13:

Tyndale: Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues they have deceived: the poison of Aspes is under their lips.

KJV: Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

RSV: "Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."

ESV: “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

Third example: 1 Corinthians 15:33

Tyndale: Be not deceived: malicious speakings corrupt good manners.

KJV: Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

RSV: Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals.”

ESV: Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

Conclusion on this point: These three examples are hardly conclusive, but they clearly show how the RSV/ESV departs from the Tyndale/KJV tradition.

4 comments:

NintendoNaut said...

I've never liked Piper--Not that I've heard/read much of him at all--Certainly not enough to judge him as a whole. But it seems like whenever I do come across anything to do with him I find very odd situations and contradictions. While I've never really agreed that the KJV is the "best" version, perse, I would probably call it the "safest." And to suggest a more modern translation as a sort of replacement? Well, I find that just plain foolish.

Will Kinney said...

Hi all. The ESV is basically the liberal RSV in a new bag. And it has already gone through 3 different editions in just 10 years. I have all three of them in hard copy. They keep changing their underlying Hebrew and Greek texts as well as their English translation.

See many concrete examples in my article The ever changing ESVs - just another Vatican Version.

http://brandplucked.webs.com/theesv.htm

Hugh McCann said...

His latest - https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/04/12/mike-reeves-interviews-john-piper-on-a-peculiar-glory/#comment-184289

Wu said...
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