Found in Translation

On March 1, Holman Bible Publishers will officially release a new Bible translation called the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). The CSB is a significant update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which first appeared in 1999. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably already figured out that I like the CSB. Holman made the CSB text available online in early January, and I’ve been quoting from it here ever since.

Since the CSB is just about to make its official debut, I’d like to explain why I’m encouraged by the CSB, and also give a few thoughts on Bible translations in general.

Those who are new to the Bible can become confused by the myriad of English Bible translations that are available these days. On the other hand, those who have long studied certain Bible version(s) can regard other translations with suspicion, especially the recent arrivals that sound strange and unfamiliar to their trained ear. One way to start a lively discussion among a diverse group of Bible-loving people is to simply ask “What’s the best Bible translation?” (The resulting discussion also tends to reveal the people who are strongly for or against certain translations.)

So what is the best English Bible translation? That’s a difficult question to answer, even for me personally. It would be much easier if there were only two credible English Bible translations available to me, and I found the first one hard to understand and the second one much clearer. In that case, I’d pick the second, because it would do a better job communicating the original message of Scripture to my particular English-thinking mind.

But with all the good Bible translations available in recent years, I haven’t preferred just one. There are several translations that I’ve read and studied regularly, including the English Standard Version (ESV), New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

If I had to choose a favorite today, the new CSB would definitely be in the running. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and studying the HCSB (the predecessor to the CSB). I’ve found that in many passages I’ve preferred the HCSB wording of the text. For example, I’ve always admired the HCSB translation of John 3:16, which departs from most English translations in order to clarify what Jesus was saying about the way God loved the world.

However, the HCSB never became a clear favorite with me, because it made a couple major translation choices that I found somewhat quirky.

First, in the Hebrew Old Testament, there is a sacred name of God, revealed to the nation of Israel, that appears over 6,000 times. Most English translations render this name LORD (in all caps) to communicate the holiness, power, and weight of that name. But the HCSB often translates the name literally, rendering it Yahweh. That’s an accurate choice, but I feel it can be confusing to those not already familiar with the name. And for those with a Jewish background, it could even be offensive; many Jews have grown up hearing that this sacred name should not be spoken or written out of reverence for God.

“The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh when I stretch out My hand against Egypt, and bring out the Israelites from among them.” (Exodus 7:5 HCSB)

“The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them.” (Exodus 7:5 CSB)

Secondly, in the Greek New Testament, there is a particular word that refers to those who belong to a master and serve his household. This word (doulos), which appears 126 times in various forms in the New Testament, can be translated servant or slave and can refer to those serving human masters or to those serving God. The HCSB translates this word slave even when referring to servants of God. This would not have confused the original audience in the slightest–slavery was just a fact of life, and being the slave of a good master was preferable to some other ways of scraping out a living. Fortunately, slavery is widely rejected in our culture today, but that means a phrase like slave of Jesus Christ tends to trip people up, especially when it’s given without any explanation.

Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James: To those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:1 HCSB)

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James: To those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:1 CSB)

So I was very happy to see the CSB address each of these quirks. In the Old Testament, LORD is used instead of Yahweh, except in some footnotes. And in the New Testament, when referring to those who serve God, servant is used more often. Slave is still used in specific cases when the text uses the concept of human slavery to expand on the concepts of belonging to God and serving him.

Will the CSB become my default Bible translation? Perhaps. First I’ll need to read it all the way through at least once. But I’m definitely excited about reading the CSB, and I’m looking forward to hearing how God speaks to me as I journey through its fresh expression of God’s words.

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