Every ten years or so, I change the Bible translation I use for my personal devotions in order to force myself to re-read, re-highlight, and re-notate the text afresh. Over the years, I’ve worked extensively with the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and, since 2012, 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 nuances of the original languages.
In January 2017, an update to the Holman Christian Standard Bible was released. They dropped Holman from the name making it the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) now. I added it to my Bibles in Logos. You can check out the CSB online or download the free app from csbible.com. I’ve also learned that an update to the NASB is due out on a to-be-announced date in 2019. I’m keeping tabs on its progress, see my post “New American Standard Bible (NASB) – 2019 release.”
Translation Readability Comparison
How do all the versions compare? The csbible.com website provides a Readable vs. Literal Scale chart mapping where the major translations land on the Readable vs. Literal scale. Before starting a project, Bible translation committees make an intentional decision between being either more literal to the original languages or more readable to English readers. This decision is necessary because a straight Greek to English translation of a number of New Testament Bible verses results in a word order that is unintelligible to those without Greek training.
The csbible.com’s chart, provided below, helps us to see how well the CSB balances English readability and the wording of the original languages. According to this chart, the CSB hits the sweet spot, the right balance between them.
Changes in the CSB
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.
1. Dropped capitalization of personal pronouns referring to 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, to save parchment, 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.
2. 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 God’s personal name is:
- 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, believing 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.
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 is best. I believe this entire line of reasoning is what was behind the HCSB’s original choice of “Yahweh,” and the CSB’s switching to “the LORD.”
3. Tongues instead of languages
The average Bible reader will not even notice this change. It is a technical distinction which doesn’t influence the meaning of Bible verses in any significant way.
4. “Servant” instead of “slave”
This 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’s meaning.
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.
5. Retains gender specificity when the original language does.
This is the most controversial change in the CSB. The challenge here is the translation of the Greek word ἀδελφός which, according to the TDNTi, when used in a general/spiritual sense denotes “fellow-Christians” or “Christian brothers.” It goes on to say that “ἀδελφός is one of the religious titles of the people of Israel taken over by the Christian community.” The CSB has chosen to translate ἀδελφός, when used in a general/spiritual sense, as “brothers and sisters.”
Unfortunately, I believe this translation emphasizes division based on gender, instead of on the unity we have with one another as Followers of Christ. Therefore, I prefer the historic use of “brethren” or “brothers” because it is more accurate. Compare how the various versions translate Hebrews 10:19:
NASB: Therefore, brethren
HCSB: Therefore, brothers
ESV: Therefore, brothers
CSB: Therefore, brothers and sisters
NIV: Therefore, brothers and sisters
NRSV: Therefore, my friends
Will I Use It?
I’ve had the opportunity to read the CSB a fair amount since my first post. It’s a very good translation. It’s a slightly smoother reading HCSB, while also a faithful translation of the original text. I encourage you to get it.
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.
The major English translations we have these days are very good. That we have the luxury of choosing one based on our personal preferences is quite extraordinary. The best translation, however, is the one that helps us better understand God’s Word. Reading the Bible daily is more important than capitalization issues. So we need to keep our priorities straight.
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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God” available from Amazon.
©2017-2018 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.
[i] Von Soden, H. F. (1964–). ἀδελφός, ἀδελφή, ἀδελφότης, φιλάδελφος, φιλαδελφία, ψευδάδελφος. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 145). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.