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The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club

The ESV Bible's Men-only ClubOver at Suzanne’s Bookshelf, I was reading a comment left by a blogger who goes by the name “Theophrastus”. Theophrastus pointed out that of the 95 theologians and scholars who contributed to the ESV Study Bible not one of them was a woman. Not one! They were all men!

Theophrastus joked, “I just guess there aren’t any Reformed women qualified to write about the Bible.”

The list of contributors to the ESV Study Bible is easy to find online. When I looked at the list for myself, I found, with a few exceptions, a veritable who’s who of many of the most well known hierarchical complementarians.[1] Hierarchical complementarians are Christians who believe that God has ordained men to be the leaders and authority figures in society, in the church and in the home; and that women are designed to be the submissive responders to male authority. Moreover, they believe being in authority and being in submission are the defining roles for men and women respectively.

It is not only the contributors to the ESV Study Bible that are all male. The members of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee, as well as the ESV Translation Review Scholars, are all, and only, male.

Most English Bibles, including the ESV, are reliable and trustworthy in how they translate verses and passages that pertain to the doctrine of Salvation.[2] The same cannot be said about how they translate verses that pertain to women in ministry. Some Bible readers aren’t even aware that many women are mentioned in the New Testament as being ministers and church leaders. This is because English translations have typically obscured or down-played the passages that mention these women. The English Standard Version (ESV) and the New Living Translation (NLT), in particular, are notorious for down-playing the ministries and roles of New Testament women in their translations.

I know that the message of Christian Egalitarianism is not well understood or well received by some Christians; and I am usually patient as I continue to write and teach that Jesus’ act of redemption on the Cross has brought about the real possibility of harmony and affinity between the sexes, as well as the equality of all men and women in society, in the church and in the home. However, I must admit to feeling dismay due to the fact that not one woman scholar was included in the ESV Bible’s men-only club.[3]

Update 19.6.2013: I just found this article on the website of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) entitled Literary ESV is Unapologetically Complementarian. The CBMW’s brand of gender complementarity is hierarchical, with distinct gender roles of authority for men and subordination for women.

Update 17.3.2016: Some of the links in this article no longer work precisely.


[1] As well as well-known Hierarchical Complementarian scholars, there are also some more obscure scholars who contributed to the ESV Study Bible. Theophrastus sarcastically observes, “ . . . it seems there is no Christian woman in the whole wide world more qualified that Rev. Andrew Stewart. Never heard of him? Well it seems he has an M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary. Also he is the co-pastor of a congregation in Geelong, Australia with about 100 parishioners. I’m sure we can all agree that he is more qualified than every single woman living on the planet.”

[2] Most English Bible versions are reliable in how they translate verses that apply to most major Christian doctrines, but show some bias when it comes to verses about women in ministry. The NIV 2011 makes a fair attempt at being accurate and fair in its translation of verses that affect women. The NRSV, TNIV and the CEB, however, have made a more thorough attempt to be gender-accurate and gender-inclusive. (More on this here.)

[3] If the real reason there was no woman contributor was because no woman was as qualified as the men (which I strongly doubt), this is another cause for concern.

In response to some comments below, I have compiled a list of women Bible scholars who were (and are) involved in recent English translations, here.

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Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias
A Critique of the ESV by Mark Strauss
Gender Bias in the NLT

Posted March 11th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Bible Translation and Interpretation, Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

31 comments on “The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club

  1. EricW says:

    My thoughts:

    1. To have a woman help with the translation or notes might violate the other translators’ or the ESV’s intended readership’s belief that women are not to teach men.

    2. Maybe the women scholars had too much respect for themselves, the Scriptures, and other women to want to be associated with a patriarchalist translation.


  2. Don J says:

    Hi Marg,

    I share your concerns with some translation choices on gender verses.

    I try to maintain a distinction between the terms “gender accurate” and “gender inclusive”. The latter term came from the NIVI, which was only published in the UK as far as I know, the acronym stands for NIV Inclusive. In that case, there went too far to avoid making gender distinctions, as I see it, and provoked a reaction from the masculinists, which also went too far in the other direction, temptations being what they are. This in turn lead to the Colorado Springs Guidelines, CBMW and the ESV and HCSB which have a stated agenda to be a masculinist translation.

    The TNIV was advertised as trying to be gender accurate. But the masculinists had been spooked by the NIVI, so they claimed the TNIV was also gender neutral and that is the preferred term they use to disparage translations with which they have concerns.

    Now the ESV is using the word “Trusted” in its advertising, which I see is precisely because it is untrustworthy in the gender verses area, but they of course do not see it that way.

  3. Elaine says:

    Not one Reformed woman interested, qualified or allowed – that speaks volumes from every angle!

  4. Theophrastus says:

    Marg, thanks for bringing this issue to the attention of your readers.

  5. KR Wordgazer says:

    Wow. I thought the Hierarchical Complementarian position was that women could not “teach or exercise authority over a man” in public church settings. Apparently, practically speaking, they do not allow women even to contribute scholarship to Bible translation. I was unaware that this was a form of “teaching or exercising authority over a man.”

    By excluding women entirely, the ESV team has shown that their anti-woman bias extends far beyond what they would claim is her “biblical role.”

  6. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thank you very much for this post! Your saying, “how they translate,” may just be one of the most important things you’re pointing to. From how the ESV decisionmakers choose their translation team to the consequences of its hierarchically-complementarian male-only team, the effects from this cause are quite clear.

    And this seems to be one of Theophrastus’s most important points, which he unfortunately only shares as a (perhaps-polite) parenthetical note. With more emphasis, I quote:

    “Certainly I am not aware of any Christian women’s study Bible that prints the text of the Bible in original languages. Little Jewish girls spend their hours after school from ages 3 to 12 learning Hebrew and preparing for their Bas Mitzvah ceremony. What do little Evangelical girls of those ages learn in Sunday School?”

    The ESV male-only Christian-only kyriarchical-bent methods of translating the appropriated Hebrew Bible not only silence women but it also perpetuate an unlearned or at least a less-learned class of Christians than either Evangelical males or Jewish females. And so no wonder contemporary feminists in general, who study the Bible, find methods and expertise among the women and their works to be found among the Jewish Women’s Archives: http://jwa.org/.

  7. Marg says:

    Thanks for all your comments; and adding humour (Eric) and insight.

    (Sorry about the delay in “approving” first-time comments. I’ve been at my Mum’s all day.)

  8. KR Wordgazer says:

    “The ESV male-only Christian-only kyriarchical-bent methods of translating the appropriated Hebrew Bible not only silence women but it also perpetuate an unlearned or at least a less-learned class of Christians than either Evangelical males or Jewish females.”

    Indeed. In many churches, men’s meetings are about theological issues or intensive Scripture studies, while women’s meetings are about homemaking, childrearing, and being submissive. It’s as if the only Scriptures a woman needs to know are the ones used to keep her in her place.

  9. Marg says:

    @K.R. Wordgazer.

    I find it very difficult to determine exactly where Heirarchical Complementarians draw the line on a variety of issues.

    Their stance of denying women the opportunity to teach, either in a church setting or as a Bible commentator, seems to indicate that they do not believe that God has given any woman anything of spiritual or theological value to teach any man. Yet the insightful and prophetic words of several women are included in Holy Scripture.

  10. Mabel Yin says:

    @K.R. Wordgazer.
    I find it very difficult to determine exactly where Heirarchical Complementarians draw the line on a variety of issues.

    Well, I have good news for you, wonder no more, Hierarchical complementarian Wayne Grudem finds it easy to determine where to draw the line. He will give you over 80 guidelines here, just follow them. He has it down to a science.

  11. Marg says:

    Mabel, thanks very much for the link!


    This is some of what I found:

    Grudem lists 83 ministries in (according to him) decreasing order of the “authority” of the minister and ministry. In his second list (there are three lists in all), Grudem actually lists the ministries of writing a study Bible and writing a Bible commentary.

    According to Grudem a minister who writes a study Bible for women does not need as much “authority” as someone who writes a study Bible for both general use. Is it just me, or is this view just plain insulting for women?

    Here’s an excerpt from Grudem’s second list, which is a list of decreasing authority in the area of Bible teaching:

    8. Bible teaching to an adult Sunday school class (both men and women members)

    9. Bible teaching at a home Bible study (both men and women members)

    10. Bible teaching to a college age Sunday school class

    11. Bible teaching to a high school Sunday school class

    12. Writing a book on Bible doctrines . . .

    13. Writing or editing a study Bible

    14. Writing a commentary on a book of the Bible

    15. Writing notes in a study Bible

    16. Writing or editing a study Bible intended primarily for women . . .

    I find these lists incredibly arbitrary! Oddly, Grudem has “Speaking to large groups of non-Christians (for example, an evangelistic rally on a college campus)” and “Working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures” as numbers 21 and 22, just above “Moderating a discussion in a small group Bible study (men and women members)” and “Reading Scripture aloud on Sunday morning”, numbers 23 and 24. I would think that someone preaching the gospel at a rally or someone working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures would need to be very sure of their calling and equipping in God and the authority that comes with that. I would think that a person reading Scripture aloud on a Sunday morning would need very little personal authority.

    It is unfortunate that Grudem attributes greater authority to Sunday church meetings as having (and/or needing) ministers of greater authority than mid-week meetings. Is this Scriptural? Do different congregational meetings have different levels of authority in God’s eyes? Grudem believes that a person teaching the Bible to a high school Sunday School class (number 11) needs more authority that someone teaching the Bible to a group of women during the week.

    After making his lists, Grudem goes on and writes:

    “I know I speak for the entire membership of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when I say that it is our sincere desire to “open the doors wide” to all the areas of ministry in the church that God intends for women to have.”

    Too many doors, however, are tightly shut because of the premise held by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that certain ministries and roles are not God’s intention for women. I, for one, do not agree with their premise; nor do I believe that the members of this council correctly understand, teach or portray genuine Biblical manhood or womanhood.

  12. […] The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club […]

  13. […] The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club […]

  14. A very intriguing post, which gets me to thinking. How do the “gender accurate” (or choose the name you prefer) translations compare, when one pulls out the list of the scholars who contributed to them? I’m sure that male-dominance is still the norm, but are the more “inclusive” translations also inclusive when it comes to who’s on the translation committee?

  15. Marg says:

    Hi Mark,

    Considering that the ESV is a relatively new English translation I think it speaks volumes that not a single woman has been involved in its translation or in the Study Bible.

    I’ve had a look at the committees of other translations and there are usually at least two women who have worked on the newer translations.

    The NIV 2011 translation committee, which consists of only 15 people, includes Jeannine Brown, plus Karen Jobes as secretary. (I’m pretty sure Karen did much more than take dictation and sharpen pencils. I love her commentary on 1 Peter.) http://www.niv-cbt.org/translators/

    The NRSV translation committee includes Phyllis Bird, J. Cheryl Exum and Katharine Sakenfeld. http://www.nrsv.net/about/faqs/

    The NLT (which I have major problems with) has Marianne Meye Thompson and Linda Belleville. Their list of translators can be found here: http://www.newlivingtranslation.com/05discoverthenlt/nltintro.asp
    My article about Gender bias in the NLT is here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/gender-bias-in-the-nlt/

    The HCSB have several women on their “Reviewers and English Stylists” list. http://hcsb.org/about.aspx

    I understand your question. There does not seem to a clear correlation between women working on translations and gender-accurate translations.

    My NT of choice is the gender-accurate Greek New Testament. 😉

  16. Re: NLT, I assume you mean Marianne Meye Thompson? (I work as a Faculty Assistant at Fuller Seminary, and Marianne is one of the professors I’ve worked for there, for over a decade now). If not, I’m impressed at the existence of another person with such a similar name, but certainly extend my apologies for the presumption.

    Either way, thanks for taking the time to answer the question so thoroughly. I don’t supposed you know who was on CEB (an even more recent version, admittedly, but I know Joel Green, another of the professors here at Fuller, was on that, and I’m told it does reasonably well on gender language)?

  17. Marg says:

    Thanks Mark, I’ll correct the spelling.

    The CEB had 120 translators of which about 20 are women. http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Explore/AbouttheCEB/Translators/tabid/207/Default.aspx

    I have a friend who is a friend and former colleague of Joel Green who keeps recommending his work to me. She is a strong advocate of Christian egalitarianism.

  18. […] church is strongly recommending the ESV study Bible.  I have resisted purchasing the ESV.  I learned  recently that there were no women on the team of contributors, the oversight committee and […]

  19. […] Also recommended:The ESV Men’s Only Club by Marg Mowczko, Battle for the Bible Translation in Christianity Today, and From ESV to NIV. […]

  20. […] Also recommended:The ESV Men’s Only Club by Marg Mowczko, Battle for the Bible Translation in Christianity Today, and From ESV to NIV. […]

  21. […] The ESV Bibles’ Men-only Club  […]

  22. […] The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club […]

  23. Nick Quient says:

    To my knowledge, Grant Osborne is a vocal egalitarian – at least as regards women in the church. I think he’s a complementarian in the home, but was moving away from that a few years ago. I could be wrong. My wife took a course with him at TEDS.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Nick,

      There are [or were] actually a few egalitarian, or somewhat egalitarian, men on the committees including Gordon P. Hugenberger, Bruce Winter, [the late] Leon Morris, etc. Many, though, are staunch complementarians. I’m not sure how the more egalitarian minded men got on with Wayne Grudem, and the like, during the translation process. Hopefully they got on well.

      The fact remains, however, that the translators and reviewers were all men.

      There are some complementarians who translated the NIV 2011. Bill Mounce springs to mind.

      • Nick Quient says:

        Hey Marg,

        I completely agree. I heard from Phil Payne that Hugenberger (and Winter I think) was a complementarian. Is there any source you could cite?

        In Christ,


        • Marg says:

          Hi Nick, I might be wrong, but I thought Hugenberger was egal after reading his paper “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8-15” JETS 35/3 (September 1992) 341-360. (A pdf of this article is here.)
          It’s been ages since I read the paper and I may have miscontrued something.
          I wrote this short post based on his paper: The (Im)propriety of Bible Women with Authority

  24. Adele Hebert says:

    Thanks for this post Marg. The ESV does not translate any of the “put away” passages accurately. In responding to an email I had with Jim Thompson (New England Bible Sales), Mark Vedder confirmed,

    “Hi Adele. Jim Thompson has been forwarding your offerings of corrections to me since i’m the one who implements them. I just wrote him and said:

    well, she’s technically right; apolusE is putting away, and apostasion is divorce; the first meaning ‘loosed’ and the second meaning ‘not standing’ literally. the ESV doesn’t distinguish between these words, whereas Panin does. but this is typical for the ESV; it is more concerned with getting the English idea across than with accurate distinctions of the Greek (or Hebrew).” – Mark Vedder


    ESV is harmful to women regarding mistranslation of divorce.

    Adele Hebert

  25. […] The ESV-Bible’s Men-only Club […]

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