Evaluation of Updated HCSB translation

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.

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

12 thoughts on “Evaluation of Updated HCSB translation”

  1. Howdy. You are right I have not spent time examining those two issues with regard to HCSB. At this time, we are not considering any change in pew Bibles. That also means oral reading is not as critical unless we were to use it for liturgical purposes.

    1. Readability: I found that it falls somewhere between the ESV/NAS and NIV. To me that is not necessarily a bad thing. The oral readability is a critical worship factor when looking at translations.

    The lack of reasonably priced pew Bibles can be a concern. We have large print NIV 1984, and they are in good shape. So we will continue using those.


  2. Having grown up in the RCC, and using nearly exclusively the NJB, I struggle with the protestant translations that replace the name God identifies Himself by, specifically for us.

    It is a weird violation of the 2nd article of the Decalogue, especially as Luther notes we should call upon this Name. Substituting a tile almost seems like a sin of omission, the same sort of attitude seen when Israel requests an intermediary to communicate with God.

    It would seem the HCSB in its vacillation almost gets it – but again the fear of intimacy with God restrains them. How sad for our people, who struggle greatly with intimacy with God in the first place.

    Don’t bother with the ESV, after 4 years, I am pretty much giving up on it.


    1. Sir, I am interested in your story. You said you grew up in the RCC but are now looking at protestant translations and you referenced Luther. What are the circumstances and decisions that led you that way?

      Also, are you giving up on the ESV because its handling of YWHW?


  3. Two things about RCC translations, NJB has Yahweh, but as I understand it the latest revision due out later this year or next year has moved away from having Yahweh in the text. The other concerns NABRE. What little I have read, I like it. But again it does not use Yahweh.

    You have expressed it well, especially your third paragraph.

    I have the ESV, but have never been a fan of it and still am not. Even the 2007 revision, which they solicited corrections/changes did not significantly change things. Some were changed (Luke 1:53 in 2001 edition was awkward to say the least), but John 20:23 was left (which I had written to them about, and is still poor as is NIV). Even the 2006 RCC revision of RSV is better than ESV and it gets John 20:23 right.


  4. I was looking for a Note Taking Bible and liked the set up of the HCSB, but I am not happy with the translation.

    My “go-to” look for translations is Luke 1:24 because the original texts say “Hail, full of grace”, but many have watered this important piece down to “favored one”. The HCSB did the same, stating “favored woman”.

    I usually can overlook this, though I was disappointed, but when I continued to read, I see that Mary’s response wasn’t “I am the handmaiden of the Lord”, it was “I am the Lord’s slave” (ref: Luke 1:38). This I cannot overlook, there is a major difference between handmaiden and slave–in one, Mary is giving of her own free will into the Will of God; in the second, Mary is a slave, which leaves her no choice but to do the Will of the Master.

    Because of this, and other translation issues, I will not use this translation.


    1. Greetings. Thanks for stopping by.

      How would you translate the Greek word in 1:38, δούλη (doule)? The basic meaning is slave or bond slave; haidmaiden is an older English term, but carries the connotation of “slave,” but only “nicer form,” and usually is only used in contexts that demand something like that. Nothing in the context suggests that understanding.

      It is the same word elsewhere in Luke’s writings to describe followers of Jesus, and also the masculine form to reference apostles (Acts 4:29; 16:17). So, I don’t see the objection to the use of the translation slave or bond slave. Check out the Hebrew word אָמָה and how it is translated most often in the Old Testament.

      For Mary, as for all Christians, the designation δούλη/δοῦλος is one of a right relationship with the Savior. “Slave” can be used negatively “slaves of sin” (Romans 6:17) or positively, “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18).


      1. Bingo !! John Macarthur would be proud of you ! I’m reading his book Slave right now and it does make more than sence… We are slave of Christ and have no rights in the eyes of God. We were slave of sin and were bought at a great price and became free from sin and became slaves of Christ. A servant choses to serve, a slave is bound to the master and we were chosen by God.(Act 4:28, Rom 8:29, 1 Cor 2:7, Eph 1:5, Eph 1:11 What better joy to give ourselfs fully to Christ in all aspects of life. Like Paul said: For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Phil.1:21. If Christ is my life and giving myself to him is my gain, then I would die for Him and gladly be the slave of my Lord Jesus.


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