ESV Interview : verses in footnotes #2

ESV Interview : verses in footnotes #2 June 20, 2005

There are several places where “extra” verses are placed in the footnotes, e.g., Matthew 12:47, and others like Mark 16 where the “extra” verses are bracketed out but in the main text. How did you make decisions like that and why have you differed from other translations in some places?

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Sometimes the question is raised about a few places in the New Testament where there are notable differences between the ESV and some other translations because it may amount even to a whole verse, although it’s very seldom that that happens that one Bible includes an extra sentence or two that is not in another Bible. Why does that happen?

It happens because we do not possess the original writings that the Apostle Paul or Luke the Evangelist wrote. They wrote one copy of what they wrote, and then that one copy became the source of many copies. And those copies in turn were copied. And in the course of that copying, errors sometimes crept in.

The endeavor for the ESV was to present to the English reader as closely as possible what the Apostle Paul actually wrote, what Luke the Evangelist actually wrote, and so on. The fact is that there is very little difference between all these various copies. It’s only in a very few places that there are significant or noticeable differences. We can thank the Lord that that is so.

But where there were those differences, then we endeavored to find, as accurately as possible, what the original actually said. You do this by looking at all the copies and seeing where there are these minor differences, seeing which form of the copy which of the copies is more likely to represent what the Apostle Paul wrote or what Luke wrote.

I should say one thing more, and that is that any one of these copies gives us something that is quite close to the original. There’s no point of doctrine that’s affected by whichever copy you might choose. The message of the Bible, the message of the New Testament is still the same. And we can thank the Lord that there is so much agreement between all these copies so that we can be absolutely confident in the great majority of verses, as to what the Lord wrote through these apostles in the first century. And then from there we proceeded to do a translation of what the original authors wrote, inspired by the Spirit.

My reponse to this reply
It is of great encouragement to us that we can be as confident as we are in the original text of the bible. There is no doubt that we can be remarkably confident about what the bible originally said. What is true of the original copies is I believe also largely true of our modern translations. I cannot think of an example of different wordings used in any major modern translation of the bible, no matter how much of a paraphrase, which cast doubt on a significant point of doctrine. It may be an interesting challenge for my readers to come up with such an example. The truth is, the orver-riding message of the bible rings clear whoever translates or reads it. This is really what I was getting at a couple of days ago in my post on the new perspectives on Paul. As much as we depend on the work of scholars and translators, very rarely do we discover that the church has been mislead on a significant point of doctrine because of a disagreement over the actual words of scripture. Our disagreements are more usually more about how to interpet those words and make a system of theology out of them. As good protestants, we try not to rely too much on tradition, but at the same time we should listen to those who have gone before us in reading God’s word. It is rare indeed for a Luther to arrise and say “you all got it wrong”, and even Luther pointed to those who had gone before him and taught the same thing. Doctinal error frequently does occur in the church, but in my opinion, it rarely because of a genuinely changed understanding of what a biblical text actually said in the original, but more frequently reflects a distinct effort to explain away what the bible plainly says. I am more than willing to be proved wrong on this. Comment on this post for your chance to win a free ESV Bible.

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