Examining the Bible Versions

Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004)

The roots of the HCSB can be traced back as early as 1984, when Arthur Farstad, general editor of the New King James Version of the Bible, began a new independent translation project. In 1998, Farstad and LifeWay Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) came to an agreement that would allow LifeWay to fund and publish the completed work. Farstad died shortly thereafter, and leadership of the editorial team was turned over to Dr. Edwin Blum, who had been an integral part of the team. Interestingly, the death of Farstad resulted in a change in the Greek New Testament text underlying the HCSB; although Farstad had envisioned basing the new translation on the same texts used for the original King James Version and New King James Version, after Farstad’s death, the editorial team replaced this text with the Greek New Testament as established by modern scholars.

The motivation behind the version was explained by David R. Shepherd, vice president of Bible publishing for Broadman & Holman, in an article which appeared in the SBC’s Baptist Press while the New Testament was under preparation:

“Some recent translations have reinterpreted the Bible to make it consistent with current trends and their own way of thinking…. Current trends in Bible translation have been a real wake-up call for everybody who’s concerned about preserving the integrity of Scripture. The CSB will be under the stewardship of Christians who believe we should conform our lives and culture to the Bible – not the other way around.” This statement directly refers to the NIV attempt to update itself with gender-neutral language (what now is the TNIV).

The translation committee sought to strike a balance between the two prevailing philosophies of Bible translation: formal equivalence (literal,”word-for-word”, etc), found in translations like the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version, and dynamic or functional equivalence (“thought-for-thought”), found in translations like the New International Version and the New Living Translation. The translators call this balance Optimal Equivalence.

According to the translators, the primary goal of optimal equivalence translations is “to convey a sense of the original text with as much clarity as possible”. To that end, the ancient source texts were exhaustively scrutinized at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) to determine its original meaning and intention. Afterwards, using the best language tools available, the semantic and linguistic equivalents were translated into as readable a text as possible.

LITERAL, YET FUNCTIONAL

I think the best attribute of the HCSB is its ability to remain literal to the original, but able to use modern language that communicates the original meaning more easily. A great example of this feature is found in Philippians 2:5-7:

NKJV: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
HCSB: “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form….”

I grew up with the NKJV and never could figure out how Christ “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” The sentence really does not make sense, though literal. The HCSB really nails the meaning of the text and shows the submission of Christ, who did not use his equality with God to be used for selfish reasons. There are many passages where HCSB does an excellent job in translating literally yet also keeping the reading understandable.

SOME DIFFICULTIES:

As we have noted many times, there are issues that arise with all the versions. Here are a couple minor things that have bothered me.

Psalm 51:5

HCSB: “Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.”

Most of the modern versions simply butcher Psalm 51:5 refusing to translate the text literally. Unfortunately, the HCSB is no exception when it comes to this problem. A user of the HCSB needs to be aware of this problem.

The only other personal dislike that I have with the HCSB is how it describes the Lord’s oracles in the prophets.

Isaiah 37:34

HCSB: “He will go back on the road that he came and he will not enter this city. This is the LORD’S declaration.”
NASB: “By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he will not come to this city,’ declares the LORD.”

For some inexplicable reason, the HCSB likes to use this phrase “the Lord’s declaration” rather than the much more fluid phrase, “declares the Lord.” For a version that I have come to really like, this is a disappointment.

Conclusion

The HCSB is more readable than the NASB or NKJV but is more literal than the popular NIV. The HCSB is willing to be bold enough to break away from”traditional renderings” if it will bring greater accuracy to the text. I appreciate the efforts of the HCSB and it has become one of my personal favorites that I use heavily. The minor problems noted should not cause people to think that they cannot have confidence in this translation. It is my belief that this is a version that Bible students should consider using if they want accuracy and readability.

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