Every dozen years or so, I change the Bible translation I use for my personal devotions in order to force myself to read, re-highlight, and notate the text afresh. Yet, there will never be a perfect translation. As someone trained in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, I can say that the best way to understand the original text is to learn the original languages — something is always lost in translation. Nevertheless, the major English translations we have these days are very good and contain notes informing readers when a word or phrase doesn’t have an exact English match.
I’ve worked extensively with the New American Standard (NAS), the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and, most recently, the Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB). For detailed study I use the Logos Bible Software program to compare translations across many other versions (ESV, NRSV, etc.) and to dig into the original languages.
Yesterday, I learned that an update to the Holman Christian Standard Bible was released in January, 2017. They dropped Holman from the name which makes it the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) now. I don’t know how that release got by me unnoticed, but it did. I added it to my Bibles in Logos — you can check it out yourself for free, via an app or online. I also discovered that an update to the NAS is due out in 2018.
Comparison of Translations
How do all the versions compare? The CSB’s Readable vs. Literal Scale provides the following useful chart mapping where the different translations land on the Readable vs. Literal scale. The translation process is always a delicate decision between being either literal or readable. This chart helps us see the differences at-a-glance.
Translating the Divine Name
For the most part, I’ve appreciated the HCSB. It’s like a smoother, and slightly more accurate NAS, with the major exception being the use of God’s personal name Yahweh (Hebrew YHWH, officially termed the ‘tetragrammaton’), instead of the standard translation practice of the title “the LORD” or “the Lord” (in small caps), in many occurrences. I like its use of Yahweh because it was:
- Used over 6,000 times by the inspired writers of the Old Testament.
- The name Hebrew readers spoke when reading the Old Testament aloud — prior to the intertestamental/deuterocanonical period between the Old and New Testaments.
- It distinguished Yahweh from every other deity whom people called lord, such as lord Baal in passages like 1 Kings 18:39.
- The name God first revealed as His personal name in Exodus 3:14–16; compare Exodus 34:6:
HCSB: Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth…
CSB: The LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: The LORD—the LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth…
Therefore, I think it might be disrespectful not to maintain God’s personal name in our versions of the Old Testament. But hey, that’s just me and my proclivities. In contrast, many translators hold the exact opposite view. They believe that using Yahweh or YHWH is disrespectful to the divine name. So, there you go.
To be clear, I do not advocate addressing God as Yahweh when we pray. Jesus taught us to pray to the “Father.” All New Testament writers followed His instruction by addressing their prayers to God the Father. See my post To What Name Should We Pray?
I will, however, defer to the inspired New Testament writers who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, chose “the Lord” when translating the original Hebrew word Yahweh. If it was acceptable to them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is acceptable to me. I also understand that the Septuagint — the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures produced during the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., and favored by Greek-speaking Jewish readers for at least several centuries thereafter — often influenced the New Testament writers word choice as they often quoted from the Septuagint.
Despite my personal preference for maintaining Yahweh in English, its use can create unnecessary confusion to the average Bible reader. For this reason, consistently using “the Lord” throughout the Bible would be best for them.
I believe this entire line of reasoning is what was behind the HCSB original choice of “Yahweh,” and the CSB switching to “the LORD.”
Changes in the CSB
My personal divine name issues aside, what’s changed in the new version? The CSB site states the following updates were made to make the HCSB more favorable to a wider audience. The CSB:
- Dropped the capitalization of personal pronouns that refer to God.
- Dropped the use of “Yahweh” in favor of the standard title “the LORD.”
- Uses “tongues” instead of “languages.”
- Uses “servant” instead of “slave” to translate the Greek word “δοῦλος.”
- Retains gender specificity when the original language does. The CSB’s gender wording matches the NRSV’s and the latest version of the NIV. Depending on word choice, this strategy can be a distracting emphasis on gender and an injection of the prevailing cultural views into the biblical text, at a time when we need the opposite to happen. How different, I wonder, would our translations be if the biases of every century changed the original wording of Scripture? And what other edits to the biblical text will be made to make it more palatable to our culture?
Point #4 above was one of two main gripes I had with the HCSB. It used the word “slave” instead of “servant” or better “bond servant” when referring to Christians. I understand that translating the Greek word “δοῦλος” as “slave” is more accurate, but the English word slave has a connotation that doesn’t best match the Greek word.
My second gripe was the word order of some of the most dearly held Scripture passages. The Beatitudes and Psalm 23, were awkward in the HCSB. Fortunately, at least the first half of the Beatitudes in the CSB have been changed to a more traditional and accurate cadence. In Matthew 5:3, for example, the NAS is accurate to the Greek:
HCSB: “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
CSB: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
NAS: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Capitalizing Personal Pronouns Referencing God
To show respect, I prefer capitalizing these personal pronouns. The NAS, NKJV, and the HCSB are the only major translations that maintain this practice. The CSB sites the following two reasons for adopting the traditional approach:
First, the original text of Scripture is not always clear about to whom a particular pronoun may be referring; translations that capitalize any reference to a divine person are often forced into making unnecessary judgment calls in passages where the interpretation is debatable. Second, since Scripture sometimes includes prophecies that have double fulfillment, the choice to capitalize a pronoun can have the unintended outcome of erasing the additional, non-divine meaning.
Both points are valid, but are of secondary importance to me.
On the first point, the number of uncertain occurrences is extremely low. Too few, in my opinion, not to just note them. You might ask, do the original languages capitalize these pronouns? Actually, all letters are capitalized in the originals, there are no spaces between words and no punctuation: ALLTHEWORDSJUSTRUNTOGETHER. So, this is a matter of the reader’s personal preference.
Will I Use It? (Updated 6/16/2017)
I’ve had the opportunity to read the CSB a fair amount since my first post. It’s a very good translation. I’m not opposed to it. I encourage you to get it.
As far as the HCSB study Bible is concerned, I have not been overly impressed with it. The cross references are okay to good, as are the study notes. The quality of the study notes varies from book to book. I haven’t seen a CSB study Bible yet. Hopefully it will be better than the HCSB study Bible. The most highly rated study Bible right now appears to be the latest NIV study Bible. In fact, I bought my wife one when it came out. She loves it. The translation’s gender renderings, however, is an issue for her too.
For now, I will continue to use the HCSB as the primary translation in my personal devotions; at least until the NAS update comes out next year. By that time I’ll be about due for a translation change anyway. Frankly, I expect the NAS update to be close to the smother reading CSB, except for the capitalization of the personal pronouns of God and the gender rendering, but they may change either or both of those too.
As I’ve stated at the outset, the major English translations we have these days are very good. That I have the luxury of choosing one based on my personal preferences is quite extraordinary. The best translation is the one that brings you closer to God. Reading the Bible daily is more important than capitalization issues. So we need to keep our priorities straight.
Yet, translations should be faithful to the wording of the original texts, interpretation is not within the purview of translation. Translators must be careful not to edit the original words given to the original writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God changes our hearts and minds to conform to God’s will. We must be ever vigilant not to change God’s Words to conform to our will.
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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award winning author of “Intimacy With God: One Man’s Journey” available from Amazon.
©2017 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.