More documentation on the origin of the ESV...

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(Tim: Most of the following was originally posted back in 2007. But last night I came across an old e-mail that adds to the historical record of the origin of the English Standard Version (ESV) within a working group composed largely of members and friends of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood during our work surrounding the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy. If you're interested in the material that's new with this particular post, today, take a look at the e-mail at the bottom of the post--I've put it under "ADDENDUM." This is one part of the history I'd forgotten but now document here, publicly.)

* * * * * * * *

(Originally posted October 27, 2007; but with an ADDENDUM added today, March 17, 2011.)

While moving into our new church offices, I found a new piece of correspondence documenting the origin of the ESV in the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy. Why bang this drum again?

Because the denial of any connection with controversy at the heart of the ESV's marketing campaign is so typical of the inability of evangelicals to understand that faith is battle, and men who hide the battle for fear it will scandalize the sheep actually harm the sheep.

Imagine reformers of past centuries trying to hide the conflict from those they were defending: Think of Calvin holding cloistered meetings with Cardinal Sadolet that the men of Geneva knew nothing about; or Luther publicly denying that his use of the word 'alone' in translating Romans 3:28 was in any way connected with the battle against Rome for justification by faith alone; or the Apostle Paul announcing in his epistle to the Galatians that Peter's particular failure of table fellowship had no significant bearing on his issuing this present letter--that this letter had been in the works for years prior to that public confrontation...

Lane Dennis (CEO of the English Standard Version's publisher, Crossway Books),and Wayne Grudem (the scholar most visibly associated with the origin and translation of the ESV) have made a number of public statements denying that the origin of their ESV is anchored in the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy of 1997. Here are some typical quotes taken from web sites and private correspondence:

The origin of the ESV really did not have its roots in the Colorado Springs meetings in May 1997 or in the gender controversy generally..."

-Lane Dennis in a 15 June 1999 letter to World magazine

"Enclosed is a copy of my recent letter to Joel Belz (publisher of World magazine)... I don't know if Joel will run my letter in World, but in any case it seemed important to respond to their reporting on our Bible publishing plans, because their coverage was seriously distorted and even false."

-Lane Dennis in 23 June 1999 letter to Ken Taylor

"...the (Gender Neutral Bible) controversy over the TNIV was not the driving force behind the creation of the ESV."

-Wayne Grudem, February 2006

"The ESV developed ...not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines. (In 1995 or 1996) Crossway initiated the idea for what became the ESV."

-from Lane Dennis' ESV Crossway Publishers site

"(C)ontrary to what you reported from your friend on the TNIV committee (which I think was his speculation), the ESV grew out of the appreciation of many scholars for the merits of the old RSV and a desire to see it updated, and not out of opposition to the TNIV Bible."

-Wayne Grudem in February 2006 letter to Ben Witherington

On the one hand, we have these men's denials. But on the other, we have many private conversations as well as E-mail and written correspondence (including the two letters reproduced below). Contra Dennis and Grudem, both letters document the ESV's origin in the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy; that at the time, the principal opponents of gender-neutered Bibles had concluded:

  1. First, that a new Bible translation was needed in order to prune evangelicals from their reliance on the New International Version;
  2. Second, that a revision of the Revised Standard Version was likely the best option to pursue for this new Bible translation.

On then to the letters.

In mid-1999, Lane Dennis wrote two letters denying his ESV had its origin in the Gender-Neutral Bible Contoversy. The first was a letter to the editor of World magazine dated June 15, 1999, in which Dr. Dennis denied the truthfulness of the following text from an article David and I had written which ran in World's June 5, 1999 issue:

The (ESV) had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.... During the course of the evening it became clear their concerns with the NIV extended beyond gender issues. The group discussed the merits of the Revised Standard Version, first published in 1952 by the National Council of Churches, and recently replaced by the New Revised Standard Version, a regendered update.

Mr. Dennis' second letter was addressed to my late father-in-law, Ken Taylor, who at the time was CEO of Tyndale House and publisher of the gender-neutral New Living Translation. In this second letter, Dr. Dennis claimed what David and I had written "was seriously distorted and false."

Here is my own response to Dr. Dennis' denials. (Until now, I had not made this letter public.):

* * *

June 25, 1999

Dr. Lane T. Dennis, President
Crossway Books
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, IL 60187

Dear Lane,

The witness of Crossway Books within the evangelical world the past twenty years or so has been a source of significant encouragement to me, as I have mentioned to you several times. To see how you have guarded the truth of God’s Word, continuing to publish works very much in keeping with the evangelical theological heritage we inherited from our fathers, causes me to give thanks to the Lord.

More recently I have been pleased to see Crossway link arms with Wayne Grudem, Vern Poythress, and others in the production of the English Standard Version, a project close to the hearts of all those who went through the dark days of battle surrounding the Colorado Springs meeting in May of 1997. It’s my hope that you will read this letter within the larger context of my commitment to the ESV, as well as my respect for, and friendship with, you personally.

This letter is written in response to your June 15, 1999, letter to World’s publisher, Joel Belz, calling the two articles written by my brother, David Bayly, and myself “mistaken” concerning the ESV’s origin. These articles appeared in the June 5, 1999, issue of World and were titled, “Decline of the NIV?” and “A Radical Proposal.”

The essential question is whether we were accurate in reporting that the ESV “…had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issues.” You wrote, “The origination of the ESV really did not have its roots in the Colorado meeting,” and you implied that the idea of revising the RSV was yours and carried forward exclusively by you and your Crossway employees until such time as you brought Wayne Grudem into the process to assist you.

It’s clear that you fear having the ESV’s origin and direction tied in any way to the NIVI controversy, but the facts supporting this connection seem to me to be indisputable and, from my perspective, our work for World only states the obvious. Further, it is evident to a number of us who are familiar with the world of Bible publishing that your own foray into this world owes much of its vitality and future marketability to this controversy.

But returning to the places you claim my brother and I were mistaken, you say:

  1. We were inaccurate in reporting that the ESV “had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 Focus on the Family meeting; and
  2. We were inaccurate in not attributing the formative leadership behind the RSV revision to you and your employees at Crossway.

I would respond to your complaint, first, by pointing to the restrained way David and I made our case. Consider how different our article might have been had we mimicked the substance and tone of this letter just released by Christians for Biblical Equality concerning their own perceptions about the key role the controversy and their work in that controversy had in causing IBS and the CBT to proceed with their new translation:

June 1999

For CBE Members Only,

Rejoice with me! The International Bible Society has announced plans to MOVE FORWARD with a gender-accurate translation of the Bible! Women will be visible, as God and the original authors intended!

We’ve worked and prayed for over two years! CBE raised a collective voice! We produced and promoted materials that support gender accuracy in Bible translation. We wrote letters and press releases. Our efforts have been rewarded.

Your Support of CBE Made this Possible!

* * *
Cathie Clark Kroeger
CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) President Emerita

You know as well as I do that IBS and the CBT would deny the role claimed by Christians for Biblical Equality just as vehemently as you and Crossway have denied the NIVI controversy any role in your new translation. Unlike the all-encompassing claims made by CBE, David and I merely submitted this to World:

...The ESV partly ha(d) its origin in discussions surrounding the May 27, 1997 meeting at Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs called by Dr. James Dobson to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.... During the course of the evening it became clear their concerns with the NIV extended significantly beyond its recent embrace of inclusive language. The merits of the Revised Standard Version, a translation first published in 1952 by the National Council of Churches, were discussed by the group and it was lamented that the RSV was going out of print, but no plans to revise the RSV and bring it back into print were made at that time.

World edited and published our articles as follows:

...The (ESV) had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 meeting called by James Dobson at Focus on the Family headquarters to resolve the inclusive NIV issue.... During the course of the evening it became clear their concerns with the NIV extended beyond gender issues. The group discussed the merits of the Revised Standard Version, first published in 1952 by the National Council of Churches, and recently replaced by the New Revised Standard Version, a regendered update.

Let me clearly state that, although the editorial process at World made the articles less acceptable to you, personally, it was not unacceptable to either David or myself since, as published, the piece was entirely accurate.

Second, it bears pointing out that you are somewhat handicapped in your attempt to dispute this process that, I submit, led to the ESV, just as I as a non-participant would be handicapped if I were to attempt describe your recent meetings in Cambridge.

When I report that in the days surrounding the Colorado Springs meeting there was growing discussion of the need for a new translation, the inadequacies of the NIV, and the possibility of building a new translation on the foundation of the RSV, I am describing correspondence, conversations, and meetings in which I was personally involved.

Of course, I would not suggest that all the participants in the events surrounding the NIVI controversy in the first half of 1997 would write identical reports on that work. Neither would I expect all of us who were personally involved in those events to have a totally uniform view of their importance to the several new versions of Scripture which have been announced in the days since. (Yet it is interesting that both the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the English Standard Version very clearly state that they are adhering to the Colorado Springs Guidelines.) Then too, it’s important to acknowledge that several of us had, in years past, planned for (or even encouraged) new Bible translations.

How much discussion about the need for a new version of Scripture—and about the possibility of a revision of the RSV serving as the basis of that new version—took place surrounding the Colorado Springs meeting?

Beginning early in 1997, serious consideration of the need for a new translation of Scripture (as readable as the NIV, as accurate as the NASB, not gender-neutral) was taking place among several of us associated with the NIVI controversy. Those discussions became more frequent and urgent in direct relationship to the development of the controversy between World, CBMW, the SBC Sunday School Board, and Focus on the Family, on the one hand; and IBS, Zondervan, and the CBT on the other. In February through May of 1997, I had a number of conversations during which I expressed to those involved in the controversy my conviction that only a new translation of Scripture would guarantee the accuracy of the text of Scripture used by the evangelical world in the years to come.

During our group’s preparation for the Colorado Springs meeting, I raised my concern with others who were centrally involved in the controversy, including Vern Poythress, Paige Patterson, Paul Gilchrist (stated clerk of the PCA), Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul, Charlie Jarvis, and Joel Belz.

Documenting those conversations is quite simple. This editorial by Joel Belz in the May 3/10, 1997, issue of World—an editorial based on a conversation between Joel and myself—demonstrates just how important the NIVI controversy was in making many consider the need for a new translation of Scripture.

FROM THE PUBLISHER: Farewell to freelancers: After playing the game this long, is there really no rule book?

By Joel Belz

It was an unusual suggestion. after reading and carefully digesting our April 5 issue, a reader called to propose that WORLD convene a meeting of selected theological leaders. Purpose of the summit: To develop a list of wise and transcendent rules to be observed when scholars prepare new translations of the Bible.

The suggestion made sense. “Have you reviewed recently,” our reader asked, “all that you have to go through to amend the U.S. Constitution? It takes a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, plus ratification by three-fourths of all the state legislatures. Compare that, then, with how little it takes to amend the Word of God. It’s conceivable that a simple majority of a self-appointed editorial committee of an independent publishing company can release a Bible that totally changes what God actually said.”

So, my friend suggested, it would be good to get some top scholars together for a week or two to sketch out some timeless ground rules that any responsible team of translators should observe when restating God’s Word in a different language, or when restating it in the same language but for a different time.

After all, there are more or less timeless rules governing achievements in athletics, science, and medicine. Should we be less fastidious about our handling of God’s very words?
I agreed with my friend that WORLD could find donors willing to fund such a meeting. It would be an exciting and historic gathering.

But the very next day my friend called back to pop my bubble. The more he had thought about it, he said, the more he realized that his suggestion carried with it the very seeds of the problem we so much need to avoid.

That problem, he said, is that we have thoughtlessly put the safekeeping of God’s Word in the hands of freelancers. The fact that they are well-meaning freelancers is beside the point. They are, in the end, responsible to no one but themselves.

The Committee on Bible Translation and the International Bible Society, which for the last 35 years have worked sacrificially to produce and refine the New International Version of the Bible, are good cases in point. Read the history of the NIV and you’ll find the fascinating story of how these two groups of faithful believers started with a broad commission from a variety of churches, schools, and evangelistic organizations.

But you’ll also find the story of essentially independent entities who have no official accountability to the church at large. To be sure, it’s possible that apart from such an independent structure, the NIV would never have seen the light of day—but the point remains that translation policies can theoretically be changed willy-nilly by the CBT and the IBS. In effect, they make up their own rules.

All of which is fine so long as you know the rule-makers, and are well acquainted with the rules they make. But what happens when the rule-makers retire or die—as the CBT has experienced, and where only two of the original 15 committee members remain? And what happens when new rules are adopted?

Isn’t that when somebody like WORLD magazine needs to step forward? Except, as my friend recognized with his second call, that only perpetuates the problem. The publishers of WORLD magazine might be trustworthy right now—but they too will pass, and in their places might come folks with different views. In the end, we’re no different in kind from the Committee on Bible Translation, the International Bible Society, or Zondervan Publishing House. Our board, like all of theirs, is independent and self-perpetuating.

Instead, my friend proposed, the highest courts and councils of several church denominations—known to hold the Bible in the highest regard—should sponsor such a gathering. Together, they should write down a “policies and procedures” manual governing the translation of God’s Word. Like other great statements of the church through the centuries, this one would both unite and divide. It would say to translators and publishers: “Follow these guidelines, and we’ll support your efforts. Ignore them or water them down, and we’ll probably not buy your Bibles.” Properly framed, such statements should be enormously helpful to those who want to serve God’s people with faithful translations of the Scripture.

But clearly, the statements should come with the authority of broadly based churches, not just from some other independent agency. It’s time to ask the officers of Christ’s church to act like the officers of his church. Might the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, and other denominations rise to that challenge. (World, May 3/10, 1997: Vol. 12, No. 7)

Prior to the meeting in Colorado Springs, those who were to attend exchanged emails and phone calls trying to put together some statement of principles concerning Bible translation which could serve the entire group as a starting point. On May 24, 1997, Dr. R. C. Sproul forwarded a working document titled, “Principles of Bible Translation.” That same day I circulated the following response:

Dear Dr. Sproul,

This set of principles is helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do this work and for using a format that includes denials as well as affirmations.
A couple suggested changes/additions:

* * *

Number 13. We acknowledge that the publishing of Bibles in our culture is an enterprise of significant commercial value and that publishing companies are under great financial pressure to maintain sales levels and market share of products. We question the practice of using the copyrighting of God's Word to produce profits (as opposed to simply recouping production costs) at these publishing houses. Further, we believe that the granting of permissions to use particular versions of Scripture should never be a commercial decision.

God alone holds the copyright of His Word and it is our conviction that Bible publishers should cease their efforts to make the Word of God a means of profit. We believe that commercial concerns have intruded into the task of Biblical translation, thereby harming that process, and we seek the implementation of safeguards which will guard against such intrusions.

(Note: I realize this would be a radical change of direction within evangelical Bible publishing, and that some means of protecting the text of a particular translation, as well as recouping the cost of the work of translation, would need to be created. Nevertheless, I'm convinced we must get at the root of the problems within evangelical publishing and that this is a key one. It may be there are some works that will be accomplished with much higher quality if they're funded by patrons rather than anticipated profits.)

Then too, early in May there had been additional correspondence concerning the need for a new translation among those of us who later became a part of the Colorado Springs working group ….

Date: May 1, 1997
To: Wayne Grudem, Joel Belz, Marvin and Susan Olasky
From: Timothy B. Bayly <>
Subject: Your new editorial

Dear Wayne, Joel, Susan, and Marvin,

Although I’m in the middle of a two week sabbatical from CBMW, I wanted to say how much I agree with ____’s comments. From the pulpit I use the NIV, but like many other pastors I’d love to have another option which is both in the vernacular and accurate.

I wonder whether it may not happen at the conclusion of the proposed committee’s work that the committee itself gives birth to another translation? This ought not to be talked about now, I think, other than in a forum such as this, but a number of us have been talking about it independently already, according to my conversations of the past month (April of 1997). Thus it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Lord leading further in that direction.

* * *

Warmly in Christ,
Tim Bayly

It was on this same date that the possibility of a new version based on the RSV was first suggested within our group.

Date:    May 1, 1997
To:    (members of the working group, including Joel Belz, Tim Bayly, etc.)
From:    Wayne Grudem

In a message dated 97-05-01 14:22:49 EDT, you write:

<<Do you really think another version is possible? It is an enormously expensive and consuming ambition.>>

… Another possibility is getting permission to redo either the old RSV (by changing Thee and Thou, and maybe 5 or 10 places where OT Messianic prophecies were blurred) or the NRSV (by undoing the gender-neutral language). Bruce Metzger himself might be interested in that… The RSV copyright is owned by the National Council of Churches.

A third possibility is a new translation. But a really good one will look a lot like a sanitized RSV or a slightly more readable NASB. And the NASB has to change its name to gain acceptance in the rest of the English speaking world…

To recapitulate: the above makes clear:

  1. That discussion concerning the need to replace the NIV with a new translation as readable as the NIV but as accurate as the NASB began among members of the Colorado Springs working group subsequent to the initial World article on the NIVI but prior to the Colorado Springs meeting,
  2. That the basis of those discussions was not a well-developed plan centering upon the RSV; rather, we began with only broad sketches of basic principles which were progressively refined in the months leading up to the Colorado Springs meeting.

Shortly after our discussion of the merits of the RSV on the night prior to the Colorado Springs meeting, Wayne Grudem again suggested to me in a phone call that the best means of getting a new translation into print might be simply to revise the old Revised Standard Version.

These events were fresh in my mind during our meeting at CBA in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 15, 1997. During that meeting, I’m sure you will recall, I suggested to you that Crossway step into the gap created by the NIVI controversy, by sponsoring a new translation. I also repeated to you Wayne’s idea that the RSV might serve as the basis of that new translation. It seemed clear to me during our meeting that neither you nor anyone else at Crossway had ever considered getting involved in a revision of the RSV, and that this suggestion was a new concept to you. I also remember speaking with you on that occasion about the possibility that loss of sales by the NIV due to the NIVI controversy might create a significant market for such a work.

In early fall of 1997 discussion continued among those involved in the NIVI controversy concerning the need for a new translation. Far from being an established project, there was a sense of anticipation and excitement among us as we gradually realized over those months that the NIVI controversy had created the momentum necessary to sustain a new translation. It was out of this context that Wayne Grudem approached you and obtained your commitment of support for this new translation. Beyond this point I can’t speak of the history of the ESV since my involvement in the project ended at that time. Since then, work on the ESV has proceeded entirely under the leadership of Wayne Grudem and the folks at Crossway.

But to sum up in those areas in which I do have first-hand knowledge, it is clear to me that both the suggestion a new translation be done, and the suggestion that this new translation be a revision of the RSV had their roots in the NIVI controversy precisely as we wrote in our article.

Please understand that I have here described my knowledge of these events and the part I played in them only because of your impugning, in your June 15th letter to Joel Belz, the essential accuracy of what David and I wrote.

I have no desire to cast doubt on your statements suggesting that Crossway had long considered getting involved in some aspect of Bible publishing. (I assume every evangelical publisher would like to publish a popular and respected version of Scripture.) I do, however, want to suggest that such considerations as may have taken place at Crossway prior to the NIVI controversy never centered on a revision of the RSV.

Turning to another area of concern beyond mere questions of fact, I want to express my own personal disappointment with this statement from your letter:

“…the ESV is not ‘against’ other translations,” and we would affirm the tremendous ministry of the many contemporary translations presently being published. (I would specifically mention our appreciation for the NIV and the NLT.…)”

Is Crossway embarrassed by its association with those who took a public stand against the plans of Zondervan, the International Bible Society, and the CBT? Is Crossway saying it wishes Paige Patterson, James Dobson, and World had not fought this battle with such tenacity? Are the members of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee prepared to say they believe the NLT is a faithful translation of Scripture, and do they wish to commend it to their children and grandchildren—particularly where it rids the text of such arcane expressions as ‘adelphoi’, ‘adelphos’, ‘aner’, and ‘adam’?

No, on the contrary, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that privately Crossway and the ESV team are actually quite pleased with those who placed their personal and collegial relationships on the line opposing the NLT, NIVI, and other gender-neutral versions of Scripture—but while you may applaud those who took these steps, you still hope personally and corporately to escape the fallout of that controversy.

Forgive me if I suspect falsely, but if there is any truth in this suspicion, I appeal to Crossway and the members of the ESV team to stand with World, James Dobson and many others in saying God’s ‘no’ as well as His ‘yes’ to the People of God. It’s my prayer that in the future Crossway will demonstrate a willingness to explain to the Flock of God why they ought not to use a neutered Bible, and why the ESV has made a conscious decision to forsake that wide and prosperous path.

If there is any way I may serve you, please don’t hesitate to ask. Meanwhile I continue to give thanks to the Lord for Crossway’s faithfulness. May our Lord establish the work of your hands.

Your brother in Christ,

Timothy B. Bayly


cc:    David Bayly
        Joel Belz
        Wayne Grudem
        Kent Hughes
        Marvin and Susan Olasky

* * *

Upon receipt of the above letter, Lane Dennis responded with another letter dated July 2, 1999, addressed to me, personally. In this letter Dr. Dennis did not respond to the smallest part of the documentation of the roots of the ESV I'd provided. Instead, he simply wrote:

Tim, I can't go into a long analysis and defense of my letter to Joel Belz... I would simply stand by (it).

Dr. Dennis added a postscript that he forbid any direct "or indirect reference" to his letter.

Adding to the above documentation, during our current move into new church offices I was filing old correspondence and came across another letter that I'd forgotten. Had I remembered it at the time I wrote the above letter to Lane Dennis, it would have been a central part of that letter.

To give this letter its proper context, here are a few dates to keep in mind:

  • April 1997: World published its excellent "Stealth Bible" issue detailing the plans of the International Bible Society, the Committee on Bible Translation, and Zondervan Publishing House to change the text of the New International Version in order to make it gender-neutral
  • April/May 1997: Many private conversations about the need to replace the NIV with a new Bible translation for the evangelical world, leading to the conclusion that a revision of the RSV would likely provide the easiest route to that new translation
  • May 26, 1997: The night before the May 27 meeting at Focus on the Family's headquarters from which the Colorado Springs Guidelines were issued, most of the meeting's participants opposed to gender-neutral Bible translation met at the Colorado Springs Marriott Hotel. Having already raised the subject of the need for a new Bible translation in our group E-mails preceding the meeting, we continued the discussion that night at the Marriott, identifying to each other which Bible translation we used, and continuing our discussion of the RSV serving as the basis for this new translation.
  • June 20, 1997: Lane Dennis and I meet to discuss book proposals from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. During the meeting, one of five proposals presented to Dr. Dennis is that Crossway consider doing a new Bible translation.
  • July 15, 1997: Lane Dennis and I meet a second time, this time at the Christian Booksellers annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia. During that meeting I reiterate the proposal made a few weeks earlier in Wheaton, that Crossway step into the gap created by the NIVI controversy and work towards publishing a new Bible translation. At this meeting, I add that Wayne Grudem and others are of the conviction that the RSV would best serve as the basis of this new Bible translation. Dr. Dennis expresses keen interest in pursuing this suggestion.
  • Late 1997: Lane Dennis decides to take up the project and begins work with Wayne Grudem to secure copyright for the RSV.
  • June 5, 1999: David and Tim Bayly publish an article in World stating that "the ESV had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 Focus on the Family meeting"
  • June 15, 1999: Lane Dennis writes a letter to World denying that "the ESV had its roots in discussions that took place before the May 1997 Focus on the Family meeting," and implying that the idea was entirely Crossway's and had been in the works for many years prior to the gender-neutral Bible controversy. In the letter, Dr. Dennis states: "The origin of the ESV really did not have its roots in the Colorado Springs meetings in May 1997 or in the gender controversy generally..."
  • June 23, 1999: Lane Dennis writes a letter to Ken Taylor of Tyndale House Publishers in which he claims the June 5th article in World is "seriously distorted and even false" concerning the origin of the ESV in the gender-neutral Bible controversy.
  • February 2006: After Ben Witherington posts an article on his blog detailing the origin of the ESV in the gender-neutral Bible controversy, Wayne Grudem responds with a lengthy letter denying it. In his letter, Grudem categorically states: "...the (Gender Neutral Bible) controversy over the TNIV was not the driving force behind the creation of the ESV.
  • February 2006: Also following Ben Witherington's post detailing the origin of the ESV, the ESV's publisher, Crossway, issues this statement on its web site: "The ESV developed ...not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines. (In 1995 or 1996) Crossway initiated the idea for what became the ESV."
  • And finally, also in February 2006, Wayne Grudem writes: "(C)ontrary to what you (Ben Witherington) reported from your friend on the TNIV committee...the ESV grew out of the appreciation of many scholars for the merits of the old RSV and a desire to see it updated, and not out of opposition to the TNIV Bible. (T)he controversy over the TNIV was not the driving force behind the creation of the ESV."

With this background, here's an excerpt from the letter I just came across after many years of moldy existence in a pile of corresondence waiting to be filed. This letter I received from Lane Dennis a couple days after our appointment in Wheaton on June 20, 1997:

5. New Bible Translation. I agree that this is critically needed, and would welcome the opportunity to explore this further with you and others. (As I was thinking and praying more about this this morning, I'd like to think seriously about how we could begin to develop a new translation. Let's talk more about this soon.) [Note from Tim Bayly: The number 5 refers to this proposal being fifth in a list of proposals I had made to Mr. Dennis for consideration by Crossway.]

Here Dr. Dennis himself hammers the final nail in the lid of the coffin of Crossway's denial that the ESV had its origin in 1997's Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy.

Why would Crossway fear the ESV being associated with controversy?

Why indeed.

* * *


Going through old correspondence this evening, I came across the following e-mail addressed to "CBMW Office" while I was serving as CBMW's Executive Director. The memo was later forwarded to a list of CBMW supporters.

To protect his identity, I've removed the name of the memo's author, but it's helpful to know he was a scholar who'd already been paid to produce one gender-neutered Bible and he ended up being paid to produce the ESV, also.

Note the date is around three months before Lane Dennis wrote Joel Belz at World magazine denying the ESV's origin in the gender-neutered Bible controversy. This memo makes it clear why Crossway has so strenuously denied those origins. It's unlikely the author of this e-mail intended for anyone to lie to cover up the ESV's origins. He simply thought the connection with CBMW and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy would be detrimental to sales and shouldn't be paraded. Others, though, took the memo's advice and have subverted the truth.

Date:              98-03-23 08:24:27

To:                  CBMWOFFICE

...May I offer an unsolicited opinion? I think it would be a mistake to have the new Bible identified in any way at all with CBMW. The latter is a flashpoint for controversy. The new Bible would be perceived as "agenda-driven" and intended only for CBMW-partisans, if in any way this were formally linked with CBMW. It would really hurt the public reception of the Bible. It would marginalize it. I believe that the leaders of this version must try very deliberately to show that it is a broadly evangelical version while true to classical principles of Bible translation. In other words, what should drive this version is something inclusive of, but far larger than, concerns over gender-nuetral language. What should drive this version is a vision for classical Bible translation. If it is perceived as driven by anything else, can you imagine how CT would trash it? And a lot of folks who don't understand the issues and who don't care to become embroiled in a controversy would pass the version by for a less "hot" version. People don't want their Bible to be controversial. They don't want it to be tied to one little organization, like CBMW. They want it to be more transcendent in stature. You must carefully guard that by the way the thing is conceived of, by how the Preface is written, and by who participates in the revision.