Where HCSB failed

A year ago I wrote an initial evaluation of the HCSB. Over this past year I have used the HCSB more and found it is generally very good. It is one of the final translations we are considering for the congregational use. One concern I had was the inconsistent use of Yahweh [LORD in most English translations] in the Old Testament of the 6,600+ occurrences of the divine name (יְהוָ֜ה) HCSB translates it about 484 times with “Yahweh,” where it specifically refers to the name. The other 5,925 times it is rendered “LORD.”

In the month of September we used HCSB as the Scripture texts for the bulletin. It went well, and the texts in the Narrative Lectionary (focusing on the Old Testament) were good. But then for November 11, 1012 the Old Testament reading is Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10; 4:1-11. As I was preparing the bulletins for November, I realized how the inconsistency of HCSB renders such a text, specifically 1:14-16.

14 So they called out to the LORD: “Please, Yahweh, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For You, Yahweh, have done just as You pleased.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 The men feared the LORD even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

So for this text, would the reader/hearer recognize that LORD and Yahweh are identical? Not hardly. But then it leaves all the other renderings in the three chapters confusing, trying to relate it to this section. Interestingly I read the HCSB that was last updated in 2003 and in this passage, each instance used LORD, not Yahweh.

This makes me pause about using it for every text. HCSB has been reliable in so many readings. But this highlights the drawbacks of the inconsistency. The translators should either change entirely to Yahweh or adopt the common LORD of other translations. Either option would be far better than this.

(Note: I still think HCSB is an excellent translation, despite this quirk.)

Wisdom that isn’t always wise

Next to prophecy, wisdom literature is the most misunderstood and misapplied type of writing in the Bible. Many use it as an absolute guide for cause and effect or as general books of common sense that can be applied by anyone anywhere. Neither of these uses is valid.

Consider this common one, Proverb 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (NAS95)

Sounds good, initially. But how many parents go through grief because the son or daughter did indeed depart from that training? How often do churches ostracize those who go through such an experience. Rather than comfort, it becomes a source of guilt, shame, fear, disappointment, discouragement.

If we make it an absolute, then we place the Law (what we do and say) at the center rather than God (and His mercy and forgiveness). If we elevate the Law in this way, then the next step is that we can apply it in any community, Christian or not, as long as Law is the dominant operating dynamic.

However, if we understand that wisdom literature describes the general horizontal life within the covenant community, it becomes a description of life as God intended. But there is a recognition that covenant living involves both sin and condemnation under the Law, but also restoration in the Gospel. Only those who live within the covenant (faith) community can rightly understand and profit from this wisdom.

Ultimately, we see all of Scripture (including the wisdom literature!) fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

[Jesus said:] You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me (John 5:39 NAS95)

Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45 NAS95)

Note that the three-fold division of the Old Testament includes “Psalms” which is the heading for the entire corpus known as “wisdom literature” (Psalms being the primary/first book in Hebrew reckoning).

For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him. (2 Corinthians 1:20 HCSB)

Thus, Jesus is the Wise One. Wisdom from the Biblical perspective means knowing God, but especially His covenant of love and mercy, as fulfilled and perfectly demonstrated by Jesus in His earthly ministry. When we believe in Jesus as Savior we gain His wisdom taught by the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18–25 HCSB)

The wisdom of God is seen in the foolishness of the cross, not in our ability to live up to the standard of God’s Law (even good wisdom literature Law). Rather true wisdom is found in Jesus’ dying on the cross to pay for the penalty when we can’t live up to that perfect standard of God’s Law!True wisdom clings to the Wise One, Jesus Christ.

May we live in the freedom of that wisdom!

Bibles in Worship

I didn’t intend to write about our use of GW translation after one week. But a comment triggered something that is pertinent to all translation choices.

Someone commented that some people like to read along with the text in their own Bibles. In this case, the use of GW was jarring to that practice. The person admitted that GW is by far the best oral translation available. But when reading in her own Bible, it was distracting because the phrasing is so different (not wrong, just different).

This got me to thinking about the different uses of Bibles in worship; there is nothing inherently wrong, but just a difference.

Teaching Focus: In general Reformed/Protestant worship, the emphasis is on teaching, not on Bible readings. Sermons tend to be essentially a teaching ministry. Hence each person having a bible in worship is expected, preferably the same translation as the one.

Preaching Focus: Generally in liturgical worship the emphasis is on Bible readings (usually Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, as well as a section of a Psalm). Usually Bibles are not used, but an insert with the day’s readings is given to each worshiper. Sermons focus on proclamation, not teaching.

Interestingly, when we look at translations, there are two groups: 1) liturgical (Roman Catholic, Orthodox) producing translations such as NJB, NABRE, but also approving RSV, and NRSV for use, 2) less formally liturgical (Protestants), with extra church groups producing translations such as NAS, NKJV, NIV, HCSB, NLT. In the second group there is only limited contact with the church bodies, giving more attention to individual scholars.

So where does that leave Lutherans? In this division, Lutherans definitely fall into the liturgical side, but the intrusion of Protestant emphases elsewhere into the church means that it occurs even in translation usage.

Two Bibles?

Based on the comment from this one person (and many others who have said similar things over the years), and this dichotomy of the use of the Bible in worship, perhaps we need to consider two Bibles: one for worship and one for study, and then what to do with memory work. Obviously there are drawbacks to this. But it seems much more doable within a Lutheran context than in a Protestant one.

Consider this scenario:

God’s Word (GW) thinline

Worship Bible: God’s Word (GW) would head this list because it is the best oral translation available. There are some issues that would have to be dealt with: will people accept “God’s approval” as the general translation of δικαιοσουνη rather than “righteousness”? How will long time church members handle the ttransition?

Study/Memory Bible: New American Standard (NAS95) make sense because of the memory work that would provide consistency with those who grew up with the KJV and RSV.

New American Standard Version

Well, it probably wouldn’t ever work, but it does raise some interesting possibilities.

Okay, back to sermon study and preparation for several Bible studies!!

One month of HCSB in worship

In September, we used HCSB as the Bible readings included in the bulletin. I had announced the first week about the change. And we began the Narrative Lectionary that same Sunday.

So how did it go?

No one said anything negative about the translation. The readers did not seem to have much trouble reading it orally. I email each reader the readings early in the week prior to that Sunday, so they can practice. I listened to the reader rather than following the reading in the bulletin. After all, this is an oral “test” of the translation. Overall, it went very well with HCSB.

HCSB Ultrathin Bible, Black/Gray Duotone Simulated Leather

I am preaching according to the Narrative Lectionary. That means in the fall (until Christmas Eve), the sermon will always be on the Old Testament reading for each Sunday. Here are three Sunday sets of Old Testament readings

Genesis 15:1-6 2012 09 16 HCSB (09/16/2012)

This text read well, keeping the traditional “credited as righteousness,” in 15:6. The corresponding Epistle reading, Romans 4:14–25, picked up on that phrase. After studying the Hebrew text, the HCSB became a good translation to work with preparing and putting together the sermon.

Genesis 37:3-8, 26-34; 50:15-20 2012 09 23 HCSB (09/23/2012)

The reading includes two separate chapters (beginning and end of Joseph’s “ministry” life). The separated readings can be confusing for some, so the fact that they were printed out to follow, the congregation members did not have to flip through chapters and locate the readings on their own. Again, with preaching preparation, HCSB served me well, and I could direct people to the insert to follow my major thoughts.

Exodus 12:1–13; 13:1–8; Exodus 15:1-8 2012 09 30 HCSB (09/30/2012)

For this Sunday, I used only the first two readings for the Old Testament reading, then used Exodus 15:1-18 as the Introit (in place of the Psalm), since it is a song of victory. Also, I omitted the Epistle reading for the day. In this case, the extended readings meant more focus for me in preaching. However, again, the HCSB presented no problems in preparation or in the actual preaching.

Evaluation of HCSB

Overall, the readers did very well. The sentence structure was not prohibitive for oral reading. The flow of reading was good, mixing appropriate pauses through clause and sentence breaks. Preaching from the HCSB texts posed no problems for me, and it felt comfortable for me. HCSB proved to be a usable translation in public worship.

In the month of October, we will use GW (God’s Word) translation.

previous posts related to hcsb:

General Observations of Four Translations

Four Translations—Readability

Evaluation of Updated HCSB

Four Translations: Key NT Texts

Prayer—“but not that!”

Two recent posts (Too Close, Too Hurtful, Too Important and Prayer at the Deep End) call forth another related post on prayer. The prayer that is followed by “…but not that!”

With our older son, the situation got so bad, we had tried everything possible to reach our son and turn him from the destructive path he was on. Then 20 years ago I had prayed a prayer of desperation: “Lord, do anything to reach him!” It was a last gasp of air, a last attempt to salvage a life—from my perspective.

Prayer of trust

And it became my final surrender of what I could do; I had nothing left to give.

Less than two months later, God was answering my prayer. And despite outward circumstances, He seemed to be in control (as if he weren’t already!). Our son and his wife lived about five hours away from us. On the Friday morning before Super Bowl Weekend 1993 (yeah, the day sticks in our minds!), my wife received a call from an ER nurse at the hospital in a city not far from where our son lived. The conversation went like this:

“Do you have a son, named…?” “Yes.”
“Does he have a wife?” “Yes.”
“Is he …?” “Yes”
“He and his wife have been in a serious car accident. He is here in the ER. Oh no, wait! He just went critical! Don’t leave!


Thus began a two hour wait for the next phone call. When she called back, she said that he had a broken clavicle, punctured lung, and pelvis broken in three places. But the critical thing was that his brain began to swell, and they had to remove about half of his skull to allow the brain to expand, otherwise he would have died. She told us that he was in surgery and probably would be for 7-8 more hours.

“Now, wait, Lord. When I prayed a couple months ago, this is NOT what I had in mind.” But it was what I prayed. And so now, his life was on the line. My faith and trust in God were on the line. Did I really mean that prayer? Did I fully entrust him to God? After a long afternoon and evening I recognized that, yes, I really had prayed that prayer, and I really did trust God. But oh, was it hard!

They called us about 5 PM and told us that he would be out of surgery shortly, and we could make the trip. We arrived at the hospital about 10 PM. We met the neurosurgeon about 10:30 that Friday night, and he told us that his condition was critical, such that it might be 6 weeks before we know whether he would live, and up to a year before we know whether he will have full capabilities (speech, walking, etc.). Oh, and the neurosurgeon had been on leave because he injured his hand and this was his first day back, and our son was his first patient.

Well, God, You are in control.

We were able to see him 5 minutes every hour, which we did during that next two days. The doctors finally told us that we could go back home as he had stabilized some. That Tuesday he underwent more surgery, and that next Friday he had surgery again to replace the skull and staple it in place. That following Monday (just 11 days after the accident) he was released from the hospital!

So, who was in charge? God obviously was and is!

Our son still had major recovery time, and he lived with us for a month so I could help him move and perform other care necessities. Did his heart change? At times we thought so, but it wasn’t too many months later that he began drifting back to his old ways. Since that accident he has nearly died 3-4 times.

But God has continued to work. My prayer is still, “Lord, whatever You have to do…” And I am still clinging to God’s work 20 years later. But I no longer follow that prayer with “but not that!”