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A review of the HCSB Study Bible

Today, I finally had a chance to browse through a copy of the new HCSB Study Bible.

The HCSB Study Bible is 2272 pages long (plus a few maps). As expected, the translation is the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) version. It ranks well and rivals the ESV in both exegetical accuracy and literary quality. Some of its unique features are:
  • Its translation of yahweh as "Yahweh" (instead of LORD) in the OT when referring to the personal name of God (e.g. Ex. 3:15)
  • The translation of doulos as "slave" instead of "servant" or "bondservant" in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 1:1)
  • The translation of christos as "Messiah" in the New Testament, whenever referring to the Jewish expectation of the Messiah (e.g. Matt. 16:16)
  • Capitalized pronouns when referring to God
  • The use of contractions in direct discourse (e.g. "let's go" in Mark 1:38)
  • A wonderful feature called bullet notes (small bullets next to key words that may be unfamiliar, pointing you to a glossary of common biblical terms; e.g. 'propitiation' in Rom. 3:25).
  • A willingness to alter familiar passages for the sake of accuracy. (e.g. "for God loved the world in this way" in John 3:16. You can read a fascinating article by Dr. Bill Barrick on this subject, and see his high scoring of the HCSB).
  • An innovative approach to Bible translation called "optimal equivalence," which retains the literal wording of Scripture except in cases where the idea is not easily conveyed in English. Then, the HCSB opts for a more "dynamic" translation to the text. This can really aid in reading, understanding, and memorizing the text.
  • A second edition in 2009 which further improved the translation and corrected a few unfortunate choices by the original translation team.

Additional tools include thorough study notes, charts, maps, word studies, architectural illustrations, timelines, photos, and over 25 essays by renowned scholars such as Daniel Wallace, Bruce Ware, and Kenneth Kitchen. Book introductions are helpful, though not quite as exhaustive as the MacArthur Study Bible or ESV Study Bible.

The theological viewpoint of the notes and essays are conservative, and lean Baptistic and dispensational. For example, the note under Romans 11:25-27 says,
A mystery has been revealed by God: (1) A partial hardening has come to Israel; (2) this will continue until a full number of the Gentiles com in; and (3) then all Israel will be saved. "Israel" is the name for the Jewish people. It is used 70 times in the NT of Jews, Hebrews, or Israelites. It is not used as a title for the church. Galatians 6:16 is not an exception; it refers to saved or godly Jews as "the Israel of God." Here in verse 26, "all Israel" means there will be a conversion of the Hebrew nation. It does not mean that every single Jew living will be saved. Salvation is defined in verses 26-27 as the new covenant that the Messiah will inaugurate.

This is a positive feature that distinguishes it from the ESV Study Bible. But regardless of one's ecclesiology or eschatology, every Bible student will find a strong commitment to Scripture. In his opening comments, the General Editor Jeremy Royal Howard writes,
"The goal of each tool in this study Bible, whether notes, essays, book introductions, maps, charts, or the online study component (hcsbstudybible.com), is to serve the text of Scripture by bringing to light facts that aid comprehension. As servants to the text, the study tools are designed to keep the focus on Scripture and never on the too.ls themselves. Practically speaking this approach is demonstrated by the fact that the text of Scripture is never positioned beneath a study tool. The uppermost feature on any given page is the text of Scripture itself. Theologically speaking our text-centric approach is reflected in the fact that each of our contributors honors the Bible as God's inspired and inerrant Word."

The HCSB Study Bible has the most effective use of color I've ever seen in a Bible translation (at least since the days of illuminated manuscripts). Book introductions are printed on pages that resemble ancient parchment. Verse numbers are marked in a subtle blue, pericope headings appear in brown, and the marginal notes are set apart in a tan. Holman has long featured some of the best maps available in their Holman Bible Atlas, and these maps look great in the HCSB Study Bible, though the font is a bit small. Font size of the biblical text is easy on the eye, and the genuine leather edition feels comfortable and sturdy.


To learn more, check out the complete notes of the HCSB Study Bible online for yourself, or view this sample of the book of Matthew.

While there are already some great study Bibles on the market, I believe the HCSB Study Bible makes a valuable contribution to our study of God's Word, and would heartily recommend it.

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Photo credits: Robert Jimenez

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