Bible Review: HCSB

From a reader request this week we’ll review the HCSB, or Holman Christian Standard Bible, using our 3 Steps to Choosing a Bible Translation.

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1. Translator Methods

Philosophy

First item to check: why they felt a new translation was required, how they did it, and what they used. From their about page

WHYEnglish is changing rapidly, and Bible translations must keep pace. Well, yes and no. We certainly add new words like computer and cell-phone, but for a Bible this doesn’t mean much. Of course, if words change meaning, that’s an issue, but that happens much more slowly.

Advances in biblical research provide new data for Bible translators. If you’re critical of the modern “scholarship” and the critical text (Alexandrian) this again doesn’t mean much, and actually could be a bad thing.

HOW — They call their translation philosophy “optimal equivalence” as opposed to “formal equivalence” (word for word) or “dynamic equivalence” (paraphrase). Optimal equivalence seems to be the latest buzzword, meaning somewhere between literal and paraphrase. It’s marketing-speak.

It means in the HCSB you’ll find God’s personal name (Yahweh), the use of “Messiah” in the New Testament, the use of “slave” in the New Testament, just to name a few examples

Most Bibles translate Yahweh as LORD (in all caps) to distinguish it from the more general lord meaning ruler. Not a big deal, but since other translations don’t normally use Yahweh, you might be surprised about it. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but if you’re not familiar with “Christianeze” you might not understand what it is (it’s actually YHWH, some call it Yahweh, others Jehovah).

The “slave” presents a bigger issue. They translated the Greek “doulos” as slave — other translations typically use bondslave. It’s not a slave in the sense we’re used to, the doulos (bondslave) chooses to serve their master, and has roots in the Old Testament (Exodus 21).

Textual Base

They’re using the Alexandrian line:

Using the most up to date critical texts, Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum 27th ed., the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament 4th ed., and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia 5th ed.

As we’ve noted in our Primer on Bible Translation, Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies (UBS) are different names for what remains essentially Westcott and Hort’s controversial work.

How much did they follow the Alexandrian’s controversial edits? To that question we shall now consider.

2. Missing Verses

It surprises many people when they find out verses have been deleted from their Bible. Does the HCSB follow Westcott and Hort’s lead? Some translations — even based on the corrupt Alexandrian Westcott-Hort text — don’t follow as much as others (NASB is one example which refuses to delete all the verses Westcott and Hort did).

Let’s see how it stacks up. HCSB verses come from My Study Bible.

  • (Matthew 18:11 NKJV) For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
  • (Matthew 18:11 HCSB) [For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.] (FOOTNOTE: “Other mss omit bracketed text”)

Verse 11 is in the text, but bracketed as missing in some manuscripts (those manuscripts being the corrupt Westcott-Hort / Alexandrian).

  • (Revelation 11:17 NKJV) saying: We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
  • (Revelation 11:17 HCSB) saying: We thank You, Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, (FOOTNOTE: “Other mss add and who is to come”)

Now we’ve come to a huge problem, as the HCSB translators didn’t tell you what the “other mss” are. In Matthew 18, the “other mss” are Westcott-Hort, while in Revelation 11, the “other mss” are Textus-Receptus. They’ve chosen one textual line over the other in some places, but neglected to inform the reader which one.

That’s a BIG problem. Even as we spend considerable time studying Bible translations, we’d be hard pressed to immediately identify which textual line every footnote refers to. It’s a big problem hopefully they’ll fix.

  • Matthew 25:13 (HCSB) Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour. (FOOTNOTE: “Other mss add in which the Son of Man is coming.”)
  • Matthew 25:13 (KJV) Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Watching if you don’t know what time it is makes no sense at all — in this case it’s not a question of which Greek text proves superior, it’s an obvious example of editing of God’s Word rendering the text illogical.

This is a sad following of the Alexandrian line — would someone tell you to keep watch because you don’t know what time it is? That makes no sense at all. You keep watch because you don’t know what time some event will occur (Jesus returns, enemy attacks, time for dinner, someone else takes over the watch, etc).

In this case, the “other mss” means Textus-Receptus.

3. Check Cornerstone Verses

2 Timothy 2:15 remains a cornerstone verse, revealing much about how a translation views its job. Is it literal, or more of a paraphrase? Wordy, or concise? Consider how various translations handle this verse:

  • KJV — Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
  • NASB — Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
  • HCSB — Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
  • NIV — Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
  • NLT — Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

“Be diligent” is fairly good translation — much preferred over “do your best”, or “work hard”.

“Correctly teaching” isn’t quite right, it’s correctly handling. Teaching might imply this verse is for pastors, but it’s meant for everyone as you must study the Bible yourself.

Bonus: Ephesians 6

The HCSB seems to be a cross, so to get a admittedly biased idea of style, a passage I’m quite familiar with is Ephesians 6:

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics [e] of the Devil. 12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14 Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist,righteousness like armor on your chest, 15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. [f] 16 In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

The footnote [e] notes “tactics” in the text can also be schemes, or tricks. It would be preferred to put those in the text instead, as “tactics” is a general term, while scheme is a specific tactic. In this case they’ve generalized a specific meaning. Why they choose to do that would be an interesting question for the translators, especially when they provide the specific term in a footnote.

Verse 13 says “you must take up”, which implies more of an order (which it is).

On a personal note we’ll admit we’re quite used to the majestic use of the KJV. Overall this paragraph isn’t too bad.

Bonus: John 7

His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. (John 7:3–4 KJV)

so His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (John 7:3–4 HCSB)

Jesus’ brothers urged him to go to Judea for the celebration. “Go where your followers can see your miracles!” they scoffed. “You can’t become a public figure if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, prove it to the world!” (John 7:3–4 NLT)

In this case, the paraphrased NLT brings out the meaning better — Jesus’ brothers were taunting Him a bit, saying “show your stuff”. In John 7 you might miss that if you haven’t referred to a paraphrase, and the HCSB follows most translations.

In fairness to the HCSB, it’s not their intent to create a paraphrase.

Conclusion

The text appears well-footnoted with explanations. It seems — similar to the NASB — the HCSB tries to take a middle approach to Westcott-Hort’s edits of the text.

While the HCSB states it’s based on the Westcott-Hort textual line, they do reject some of the silly and absurd changes Westcott and Hort made to the text. Why the HCSB doesn’t just use the preferred Textus-Receptus instead remains a mystery only the translators could answer.

The HCSB appears to surpass the NIV (and most definitely the new 2011 NIV the Southern Baptists rejected) for those looking for a modern-language translation. If you’re in the NIV camp and don’t like the 2011 revised NIV, you might find something to like in the HCSB, if you don’t like the reigning Bible translation champion KJV/NKJV.

For years we’ve recommended the KJV/NKJV for serious study, and for a paraphrase a New Living as the “modern language” style. We frequently start new Christians with the NLT, and then move them to the NKJV; we don’t see anything in the HCSB to replace the venerated KJV as a literal translation, though for some uses it could be used as “starter” Bible in place of the NLT.

If they will just correct the nasty footnote problem — that’s a show-stopper for serious use.

Further Reading

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