4 Translations: “You got rhythm” Part 2

In the last post I looked at NIV 2011 and ESV regarding oral reading and public use in worship. Now I turn to HCSB and GW. As a starting point, I want to provide the introduction to the previous post:

So far in this discussion about the four translations we have examined word choices, sentence structure, “meaning,” etc. But another critical aspect of translation usage for a congregation involves memorization and liturgical use. Let’s be clear, all four translations can be memorized and can be used in liturgical worship. There is nothing special or unique about them. Some might be easier to memorize, some hard. But all can be memorized.

There are actually several parts to this whole memorization issue: broader scope, familiarity from the past, and “feel.”

For both of these translations, I include visual layout because they affect the oral reading of the text, one negatively, the other positively.

HCSB and GW Design/Layout

I have almost developed a love vs. not-so-loved sense about HCSB. There are many things to commend it. But in this particular area of oral suitability, it is actually a visual stumbling block. Obviously oral readers should practice reading the texts before standing in front of the congregation; sadly many do not. This is not a translation issue but rather an editorial and design layout issue.

HCSB Sample
HCSB Layout: Isaiah 64

HCSB follows the NKJV in layout (two-column pages) for poetic sections. In the process, the choppiness of the layout leads to many short phrases on different lines. See this example in which many lines have between two to five words, and that makes it difficult to read silently and orally.





In contrast, GW design layout favors a very good approach to oral reading, and even personal reading. Notice in the photo, how the single column allows the reader to follow the entire pattern and sentence structure visually. For me, that has been one of the best features of the GW translation.

GW Layout Design: Isaiah 64




HCSB and GW Texts

HCSB falls on the more traditional side in many texts, but avoids the reverse order of words that plagues ESV; GW is more innovative in its approach to some texts (that is not necessarily a negative criticism). I am using the same verses that were used in the NIV 2011 and ESV post

After these events, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.(Genesis 15:1 HCSB)

Later the Lord spoke his word to Abram in a vision. He said, “Abram, don’t be afraid. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.” (Genesis 15:1 GW)

Both translations offer acceptable contemporary English. The slight difference is that HCSB uses some contractions, but often not in direct discourse by God, whereas GW tends to use the contractions often. From an oral reading standpoint, GW is more consistent. Even in more formal settings, contractions are not uncommon, and contractions certainly do not change the text meaning.

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! (Psalm 1:1 HCSB)

Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers. (Psalm 1:1 GW)

Both HCSB and GW avoid the ESV problem, but they also the improve the second phrase as well. ESV and NIV 2011 have “stands in the way of sinners.” But in current English usage, the ESV/NIV 2011 rendering has more of a blocking sense, “get in the way of someone” whereas the text is referring to “following the way that sinners take.”

But HCSB translates the word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי as “happy” rather than the traditional rendering “blessed.” “Happy” suggests something internal that is sensed because of circumstances, whereas “blessed” seems more focused on the external reality declared by someone outside the circumstances, namely God. “Happy” also seems more limited to a feeling dependent on what happens, rather than the “blessedness’ regardless of what happens. GW keeps the word “blessed” which reversed the predecessor translation (Beck’s Bible) which had “happy.”

Next consider Isaiah 22:17, where ESV especially had the awkward “seize.” These two translations avoid the awkward phrasing, but perhaps a little too much.

Look, you strong man! The LORD is about to shake you violently. He will take hold of you, (Isaiah 22:17)

Look, mighty man! The Lord will throw you out. He will grab you. (Isaiah 22:17 GW)

Here the HCSB translation seems weaker than the Hebrew, עָטֹֽה. According to BDB, it carries the sense of wrapping or enclosing (and HALOT follows somewhat the same sense), and parallels the previous “violently.” Looking at the other three translations, they supply a stronger word, even GW has “grab” which is more than “hold.”

Looking at another passage which the ESV mangles, let’s see how these two translations render the passage:

But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He became their enemy and fought against them.(Isaiah 63:10 HCSB)

But they rebelled and offended his Holy Spirit. So he turned against them as their enemy; he fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10 GW)

Again both translations offer a readable text for the second part of the verse. It might be interesting to see how or whether people see a difference between “grieved” and “offended” in the first part of the verse. In the last decade or so, “offended” can most often be seen as “hurt feelings” which is not often interpreted as a big deal, as expressed in “If I have offended you, I’m sorry,” which is clearly not an apology, and different than this particular Biblical text.

Regarding split quotations in speech, HCSB has its own share of these. Thus, while it doesn’t have as much as ESV, it still does in other texts.

 “Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6 HCSB)

Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”
The person replied, “I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Get up! Go into the city, and you’ll be told what you should do.” (Acts 9:5-6 GW)

In this text, HCSB splits the verbal response, whereas, GW moves the indicator phrase “the person replied” to the beginning, and so that the response is complete in itself. Again, this doesn’t change the meaning, but in oral reading it would be easier to follow GW than HCSB.

In looking at Matthew 15:16, we see that HCSB and GW offer a good translation that is more accurate than the NIV 2011.

“Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked. (Matthew 15:16 HCSB)

Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? (Matthew 15:16 GW)

Interestingly HCSB translates καὶ as “even” whereas most translations would use “also,” or in this case subsume it under “yet” (as does GW).

The last text is where NIV 2011 had “all who make spoil of you I will despoil.” Both translations provide a good parallel structure and verbal connections without resorting to odd or out of date language.

Nevertheless, all who devoured you will be devoured, and all your adversaries—all of them—will go off into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered, and all who raid you will be raided. (Jeremiah 30:16 HCSB)

That is why everyone who devours you will be devoured, and all your enemies will be taken away as captives. Those who looted you will be looted. Those who stole from you in war will have things stolen from them. (Jeremiah 30:16 GW)


Since this is only a cursory look at the four translations in very limited selections, I do not propose that this is the definitive guide for translation choice based on oral readability. However, just from the few examples given, and much more in actual use over the past few years (except NIV 2011), I can say that these are indicative of the translations in total.

ESV remains a solid translation, but from an oral reading and public worship use, it is the most difficult of the four translations. Despite some recent electronic changes, the basic flaws noted here remain. For me the surprising one was NIV 2011. For years I had heard how people praised the NIV for its readability, even if they did not approve of the translation as a whole. However, I suspect readability for many making that claim has to do with private (silent) reading; and so the claim may have been true. But as I have listened and read orally the NIV, and now NIV 2011, I find that its oral sense can be a stumbling for readers and listeners.

HCSB is a solid translation, and I think in many cases better than ESV and NIV 2011. But the layout design and some sentence structures do hinder its oral presentation. GW has from its inception been a translation with always an eye on readability, and especially oral comprehension. The design layout for GW is by far the best thought out among all translations, not just these four.

And what about memory work? My sense is that if the majority of the congregation comes from a traditional background, then ESV would be the choice. For those in the tradition of the last 30+ years with the NIV, then NIV 2011 makes sense. Even the HCSB is close enough to the KJV tradition that it might be acceptable, but would take some work on some familiar passages. GW is the most different of these, so memorizing is possible, but there would not be any confusion about “Is this NAS, NKJV, ESV?” This translation makes sense in the environment in which most of the congregation and its surrounding mission field is unchurched background. There is nothing to compare. The challenge for those memorizing GW is if the person moved to a new congregation in which a more traditional translation is used.

Author: exegete77

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

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