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A review of the HCSB

Someone recently asked me what I thought of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). This translation was published in 2003 and is doing quite well. In fact, it ranked #7 in Bible translation sales in February, beating out The Message and my own personal preference, the New American Standard Bible (you can see the full report on the CBMW Gender blog). In the introduction to the HCSB, the editors list four goals:
  • to provide English-speaking people across the world with an accurate, readable Bible in contemporary English
  • to equip serious Bible students with an accurate translation for personal study, private devotions, and memorization
  • to give those who love God’s word a text that is easy to read, visually attractive on the page, and appealing when heard
  • to affirm the authority of the Scriptures as God’s inerrant word and to champion its absolutes against social or cultural agendas that would compromise its accuracy
In his book How to Choose a Bible Version, Robert Thomas gives a mixed review of the Holman Bible. (The parenthetical numbers represent his five main criteria for choosing a Bible.) He says,

The HCSB has the same goal as many other versions of the Bible: to obtain the ideal balance between faithfulness to the original text and readability. It has probably sacrificed too much of the former in order to achieve the latter, however. For example, it has omitted many conjunctions of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek originals, and has rarely if ever translated into English the original's basis for the familiar 'and it came to pass' (KJV) or 'and it came about' (NASB) that occurs so frequently in the text. That and similar factors reduce the effectiveness of this version as a study tool (#3). The presence of two English stylists on the eight-member editorial committee overseeing the project probably accounts for the diminishing of literal renderings, but also increases the readability value for the casual reader (#5). Also, the version's decision to render the Greek word Christos as 'Christ' in some context (426 times) and 'Messiah' (125 times) in others introduces interpretation of the translators into the text and thereby weakens its value as a study tool (#3). As a rule, the HCSB has allowed an Alexandrian text-type, but has clouded the issue by not clarifying instances where the reader must choose between the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types. The version has created this confusion by including ancient uninspired texts from Christian tradition and interpretation alongside the inspired text without alerting the lay reader in each place which text is inspired and which is not. This is a weakness in the area of textual basis (#2) as it is also in the area of theological bias (#4) because it implies a weak view of biblical inspiration. One would hasten to say, however, that this impression does not reflect the translators' view on the inerrancy of Scripture. As a whole, the version is theologically conservative, including its determination to avoid gender neutral inclinations (#4). Of course, the HCSB falls outside the Tyndale tradition of translations and thus possesses no historical lineage (#1). (quoted from pp. 156-57).
Picture a line with word 'readable' on the far left, and 'literal' on the far right. Every Bible translation falls somewhere on this continuum. Versions on the left side are what scholars call 'dynamic equivalence,' while versions on the right side are 'formal equivalence.' The goal is to find a translation that finds a balance of both, but there is always going to be a trade-off. In general, the more readable or conversational your translation is in English, the less faithful it will be to the original Hebrew or Greek.

I think it's good for many people to start with a more readable translation, like the NIV or HCSB, and then gradually work toward a more literal translation like the NASB, NKJV, or ESV once they become more skilled at reading and more familiar with the flow of Scripture. The more literal versions are not as enjoyable from a literary standpoint, but they are more conducive for deep Bible study.

Perhaps the best solution is to keep 3-4 translations at your fingertips and to compare between them regularly. But I think we all eventually fall in love with one particular translation. And as long as we are regularly reading and applying it, that can be a very good thing.

December 2010 Update: I'm becoming more and more impressed with this translation, and have been giving it a "test drive" from the pulpit this month. With the Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB Study Bible, and a 2009 revision, I believe this translation has really matured and gone more mainstream. Here's a paper by Dr. Bill Barrick showing the exegetical accuracy of the HCSB. 

October 2011 Update: After a year of testing, I finally decided to go with the ESV translation. Click here to find out why.


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