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Medes and Persians

September 12, 2016

Bible students know what we mean by “the law of the Medes and the Persians.”  They know, primarily from the book of Esther, that these laws could never be changed.  Even the king could not over-ride the death sentence he gave to the Jews so, when he realized his error, he had to work around it by giving the Jews the right to fight back.

Many of us use that phrase whenever we want to (usually tongue-in-cheek) chide someone for being unbending on some stance, even when it has nothing to do with religion.  I sometimes find myself saying things like “this isn’t the law of the Medes and the Persians you know” with my non-Christian friends only to realize my error when I see their blank stares.

But it seems that the law of the Medes and the Persians is still with us.  Crossway Publishing, owners of the ESV translation of the Bible, recently made a small number of changes to the ESV. In doing this they made the following statement:

“All future Crossway editions of the ESV, therefore, will contain the [new] Permanent Text of the ESV Bible—unchanged throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity.”

It kind of makes you want to say “Amen” doesn’t it?

It is also both arrogant and silly.  The reality is that as language changes, and it is changing faster all the time, you simply have to change your translation to keep the meaning you intend.  Just look at the snarky jokes that will come when you sing “now we don our gay apparel” next Christmas.  Crossway defends its position by referring to the KJV, saying it has been unchanged since 1769.

But the ESV is not the KJV, which has sort of an entrenched following that has nothing to do with clarity of meaning. The ESV is one of several good modern translations.  Further it, like many others, tends to finds that certain theological patterns define its fans.  The ESV is the favorite translations of complementarians, in the same way that the TNIV is favored by egalitarians.  Both these translations, and many others, are pretty darn good and should be checked in our Bible studies.

Further, Crossways newly permanent translation seems to shamelessly cater to its complementarian followers.  Here are two translations from its previous and permanent versions.

Genesis 3:16:

Previous:  “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

Permanent:  “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband but he shall rule over you.”

Genesis 4:7:

Previous:  “It’s [sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Permanent:  “It’s [sin’s] desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

For complementarians these verses are prescriptive. Which means this is God’s curse on all women for all time.  The “desire” of the women in Genesis 3:16 is understood, as the result of the fall and God’s curse on them, to be a desire to rule or dominate. Women will want to usurp the man’s authority. The man’s task — as part of God’s prescriptive design — is to rule, guide, and lead the woman.  Switching from “for” to “contrary to” supports this view.

But this translation also does something far worse.  Not only does it equate women’s desire and sin’s desire, it makes men and women adversaries by divine fiat.  To punish women for Eve’s sin God has declared a permanent war between the sexes to be the norm with men being the God-ordained winners.  Men will always rule and women will always be contrary.

Isn’t it more realistic to agree with other translators that the verses are descriptive?  That, yes, fallen women and fallen men will at times be in a war of wills but that this is not divine order?  Isn’t it possible that this is really a tragic and accurate prediction of what life will be like now that all of us, both males and females, have chosen to be like  God rather than servants of God?  Doesn’t history prove that not all men and women fight?

If we assume this is possible then the “gender wars” that we have had since the fall aren’t solved by declaring men the winners.  They are solved not by having men rule and women desire but something altogether more beautiful.  Maybe the Song of Solomon has it right where in 4:7 the man says “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”  (I’ve used the ESV there just for fun.)  Maybe the answer is not that one sex rules and the other desires. Maybe it is that they both desire each other and don’t need or want to rule to express it.



From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Doug Hilliard permalink

    Thanks for this Tom! Additionally, it is a puzzling translation to me of the Hebrew. The preposition they translate “contrary to” is the same preposition that occurs at the first of the verse: “To the woman, he said….” The definitions for this preposition are some form of “towards” or “to” or a nuance like that. Context is king in translation and interpretation of course, but here, the most natural way to translate is that the woman’s desire would be “to” or “toward” or the usual “for” her husband.

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