Crossway announced in August that the new and final edition, which had changed 52 words in 29 verses, would “remain unchanged in all future editions”. The move provoked controversy and critique not only for its attempt to finalize one translation but for its attempt to canonize a particularly conservative interpretation of gender roles.
In a statement released yesterday, Crossway president and CEO Lane Dennis said: “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”
One key criticism of the final edition had been over its denial of the need for updates as biblical scholarship progresses and as the English language evolves.
The statement goes on: “Our goal at Crossway remains as strong as ever to serve future generations with a stable ESV text. But the means to that goal, we now see, is not to establish a permanent text but rather to allow for ongoing periodic updating of the text to reflect the realities of biblical scholarship such as textual discoveries or changes in English over time.
“These kinds of updates will be minimal and infrequent, but fidelity to Scripture requires that we remain open in principle to such changes, as the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee see fit in years ahead.”
The other criticism was that the edition attempted to finalise an issue still under debate in evangelical circles, that of male and female gender roles. The new edition translated Genesis 3:16 in a way that emphasised male headship. It had formerly read: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” The new edition read: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
As New Testament scholar Scot McKnight wrote, such a reading was not only dubious in the way it translated “for” as “contrary to” but because it made the subordination of women not merely descriptive, but prescriptive. McKnight said the new ESV had “sneaked in a translation that is not only mistaken but potentially dangerously wrong”.
Christian today contributor Ian Paul accused the ESV of attempting to “fix” the Bible, in translating it to fit one particular point of view.
Crossway’s statement makes no comment about this verse, but many welcomed their decision to continue updating the translation.