Wow, it has been three weeks since I blogged here! A lot going on. I am working on the second installment of “Cry of the Broken.”

In the meantime, I recently received two updated issues of Bible translations: HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) and NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition). Today’s review focuses on HCSB.

HCSB 2009

You might ask, why is this “new”? I had the original release hardbound, 2004, I think, and had used it occasionally. I was generally pleased with the translation, but had not been in a position to test it in real-life ministry. Having recently taken a call to serve a congregation, and with the changes in NIV, I decided to look at other translations.

Externals and Format

So I bought the HCSB 2009 revision, Ultrathin Black and Pearl Gray Simulated Leather edition. I like the this Bible; the size is good for teaching and preaching purposes, sufficiently flexible but not drooping over the hands. For laying on a lectern or pulpit the hardbound would be acceptable, but I have found for public work like this, a hardbound Bible is awkward. This binding is just right for me. I also like the feel of the binding in my hands; time will tell whether it will stand up well.

HCSB Thinline—Simulated Leather

The font size works well for me. As I saw the size of the Bible in the box I began to doubt whether the font would be readable in preaching/teaching. The 9 point font is readable, and the design of the font makes it even easier. It is one of the better new fonts for Bible publishing. Bleed-through is evident, but not distracting. I am not a fan of red-letter editions; they are either distracting or printed more faintly than the black. In this case, the red printing is okay.

One thing surprised me (also in the first edition) was the bold of Old Testament quotations. I understand the need to avoid italics because of its other uses, but bold draws so much attention to itself that the quotes dominate the pages. Notice the quote in Mark 1 at the bottom of the page. I would much rather have them in regular font (or if available semibold), since they are marked off by indentation already. Page 1043 (Romans 9-10), the quotes are almost overwhelming.

Old Testament quotations in New Testament

The maps are usable, but a little small. If you examine the map pages (all color), they do not take up the whole page. To me expanding the maps and making the print larger would have been a much wiser decision.

Generally I like single column texts better than double column, but this is not a deal-breaker for me, since most translations are double column (see God’s Word for the single column approach, which is very well done). I like that lists (i.e. Matthew 1:2-16, Revelation 7:4-8) are written in list styles and not continuous paragraph style (see NRSV, NAS, NET). The list style aids in quickly reviewing and catching specific names, etc.

The Translation

The New Testament was translated by Baptist scholars, and the Old Testament by Baptist and Presbyterian scholars. It is tempting to say that such bias would be reflected in translation choices. Of all the critical passages I checked (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), there does not seem to be any bias evident in the translation. That means the scholarship was more important than theological agendas. Well done!

Most of my current teaching involves the New Testament (and also my specialty), so most of my comments relate to that. However, I have started teaching Genesis in the congregation recently, and this fall I have been teaching the seminary course “Introduction to the Old Testament.” I have been using both HCSB and ESV for these purposes.

The one feature of the Old Testament that stands out is the sporadic use of Yahweh for the name of God (YHWH— the tetragrammaton from Exodus 3:14). Almost all English translations have followed the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures), namely using κυριος (Lord) for this name. In English to distinguish this, this means that “LORD” (technically, small capital letters) translates יְהוָֽה YHWH (name) and “Lord” translates  אֲדֹנָי֮ Adonai (title). But HSCB is inconsistent at best and confusing. For instance, the claim is “…the HCSB OT uses Yahweh, the personal name of God in Hebrew, when a Biblical text emphasizes Yahweh as a name” (from introduction, p. viii). But compare these two examples and see what difference there is:

Genesis 1

I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of Yahweh: “Yahweh, save me!” (Psa. 116:3b-4)

I called to the LORD in distress… (Psa. 118:5)

The only difference is the use of “name” (שֵֽׁם Shem); but the essence of each is to call on the name in distress. To me that is artificial, and leads to a disconcerting confusion, especially when in 116:5, the text continues:

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.

Now the reader has to mentally convert, and remember that Yahweh in v. 4 is identical to LORD in v. 5. To me, the translators would have rendered a better service to completely convert to Yahweh (as did NJB) or stay with the majority of English translations. What I thought might be a good move with using Yahweh, in practice, has been confusing for the average Bible reader.

In the New Testament, the HCSB goes for the use of “churchly” translations including “righteousness” (root δίκαιο-). I think this is a positive step. I have read and heard all the arguments about not using such words in English translations, but I find all alternatives less helpful, especially for liturgical use and Bible study. Pastors teach the meaning when new people take new member classes; equip members to understand and use it. In Romans 3:21-28 there is a slight inconsistency. In 3:26, HCSB maintains the consistency of translating the roots δίκαιο- “righteous” for both nouns and verbs (God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.) But then in 3:28, the translation uses “justify” (For we conclude that a man is justified by faith). So, will someone understand that it is the identical verb as used in v. 26? If v. 26 has been modified to reflect “righteous” then v. 28 should as well.

In Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 I think that HCSB is okay in translating the future perfect passive.

[Jesus said:] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19)

[Jesus said:] I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matt. 18:18)

I would prefer the NAS translation (“will have been forgiven”), but at least this translation emphasizes that God’s declaration of forgiveness precedes the announcement of forgiveness by disciples (which is proper Biblical authority).

I will note that HCSB has taken the “traditional” approach to pronouns and gender issues (using “he” for both masculine pronoun and gender-non-specific uses). By doing so, the translation avoids some awkward phrasings or changing singulars into plurals. Some might debate whether this is a fault or a benefit. For my use and work, the approach of HCSB seems appropriate and better than what NIV 2011 has done.

Overall, this a very good translation and I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone interested in reading and studying God’s Word. I have not used it in a liturgical setting, so am reserving that for further evaluation.