The history of the English Standard Version...

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Across the years many have written about the connection of the English Standard Version to the gender-neutral Bible controversy as well as to those of us principally involved in that controversy, and it's my conviction that any one or two persons must not be the only voices leaving a written history either of that controversy or of the connection of that controversy to the new Bible translations that have since been issued. Here then is the history of the origin of the ESV written by a participant, and therefore an eyewitness.

The origin of the proposal taken to Crossway to create a new Bible from the RSV
During late Spring 1997, Wayne Grudem and I personally and frequently discussed the necessity of a new Bible translation being created in direct response to the gender-neutral work of the International Bible Society, Zondervan, and their Committee on Bible Translation. Our discussions were both by phone and in person--we worked together for the three years I was executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1996-2000)...

We carried our discussion into a broader forum, namely the larger group of leaders who were brought together and began phone and E-mail dialog in preparation for our meeting called and hosted by James Dobson in Colorado Springs on May 27, 1997 at Focus on the Family's headquarters. During that preparatory dialog, this new translation was the subject of discussion within our group both by phone and E-mail.

Indicative of our discussions was one E-mail written by Wayne in which he responded to an E-mail asking, "Do you really think another version is possible? It is an enormously expensive and consuming ambition." Wayne responded that the new translation was a "possibility" using one of three possible foundations. It could be a "redo of the old RSV," it could be a "redo... of the NRSV," or it could be a completely "new translation."

Then the evening prior to the May 27th meeting at Focus on the Family, Wayne and I met with the other anti-gender-neutral participants at our hotel and planned our strategy.

During the evening, we had a substantial discussion of the need for a new translation, took a poll among ourselves concerning the Bibles we each presently used and what our preference would be for the future, and concluded (informally, of course) that the Revised Standard Version would form the best foundation for this new translation. The next day gave birth to the Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture.
No one from Crossway Publishers was involved in any of the discussion chronicled above concerning the need for a new Bible translation. Rather, we brought in Crossway later, after it became clear that these men were of a will to proceed and they believed the text of the Revised Standard Version was, in fact, the most hopeful avenue to pursue.

Then one of us met with Crossway's CEO, Dr. Lane Dennis, and presented to him the proposal that Crossway work cooperatively with these men--particularly Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress--to pursue getting the rights to the RSV and starting the work of revising that text to the end of publishing a new Bible translation--the one we all now know as the English Standard Version.

The pastoral context for this controversy
No two historical accounts of an occurrence are ever the same, even when written by direct participants who were on the same side of the battle. Look at the Gospel accounts and it's clear that each Gospel writer brought to his account his own personality and perspective, and that the Holy Spirit did not despise those aspects of human authorship. In the same way, our present battles will go down in history with different thrusts and parries being given emphasis by different authors. Some will write histories that are essentially positive, talking about the good and true and beautiful. Others will decline to leave out the negative, describing the bad and false and ugly that motivated the declaration of the good and true and beautiful.

In a day when the feminization of discourse has led evangelicalism to almost completely abandon the proclamation of God's "No" as well as His "Yes," from the pulpit and in person, David and I are convinced that a restoration of God's "No" must be one of the central items on the agenda of the reform of pastoral ministry.

Many of us gave up the New International Version and switched to the New American Standard Bible (Tim) or the English Standard Version (David) out of a desire to protect ourselves and our flocks from the work of feminists being introduced to the Bible we had, until 1997, used as our principal Bible for both preaching and study--the New International Version. Our switch would be incomprehensible to our families or congregations without seeing it against the backdrop of the gender-neutral Bible controversy of 1997.

Surely there are many others writing history who consider it sufficient to speak of the good and true and beautiful language of the NASB or the ESV, and to leave their case to be decided on that positive basis alone. But David and I believe the people in the pews ought to be fully aware of the nature and principals involved in the contemporary battle for God's Truth. We are not apologetic in naming the International Bible Society, Zondervan, and Tyndale House Publishers as evangelical organizations who have turned away from the plain meaning of the text of Scripture to a sanitized version that avoids Scripture being able to be accused of sexism or anti-Semitism. We are not apologetic about speaking of the destructive philosophies of men who serve on the Committee on Bible Translation, translator of the just-issued gender-neutered Today's New International Version, such as our own seminary professor, Gordon Fee. We hold so dearly to the authority of Scripture that we are willing to see our own families divide over this matter.

Others may wish to nuance past history in such a way as to allow the two sides to go their separate ways peacefully, with no mutual recriminations, but that was not how the church in Galatia, the church in Wittenberg, the church in Geneva, the church in Waldensia, the church in Northampton, or the church in London was reformed. And it will not be how the church is reformed today.

We must stop despising the tools God has ordained for the peace and unity of His Bride, principal among which is the naming and casting out of heresies and heresiarchs. Until men called by God to pastoral ministry are willing to name feminism for the heresy it is, to name the men who promote that heresy as the heresiarchs they are, to force their church and synod and presbytery and association and convention and general assembly to see the choice confronting them in all its stark simplicity and to choose whom they will serve, to make the case as clear as possible with all the boldness and truthspeaking of Peter and Paul and John and Luther and Peter Waldo and Edwards and Lloyd-Jones; until men are willing to fulfill their calling enduring suffering like good soldiers of Jesus Christ; our sheep will be slaughtered by false shepherds and we will have blood on our hands.

The battle will never be won by the election of our candidate as moderator of the general assembly, a growing market share for our Bible translation, or the election of one of us to the presidency of these United States. Rather, the battle will be won by men ordained to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament casting themselves on God's mercy and, with feet of clay, speaking the truth in love, warning their sheep day and night with tears.

(If there's some part of this account of particular interest to you, or if you'd like to ask some questions concerning documentation, please feel free to contact me.)