HCSB and GW: What’s missing?

Worship/Lectionary Bible

In September 2012 we began using the Narrative Lectionary. My plan was to use HCSB and GW as the translations printed in the bulletin and read orally in worship. I used one translation for one month, then the other for the next month. In one case the Sunday reading for Jonah, was extended (chap. 1, 3, 4). I had planned to use HCSB. But its inconsistent movement between Yahweh and LORD in the same verses did not help in an oral environment, and so I switched to GW for that Sunday. As it turned out, I continued to use GW through December (they are already completed).

Bible Study

We have a wide variety of translations used in Bible study. NAS, NKJV, ESV, HCSB, and GW are the most common.

This fall something interesting has happened in Bible study (I am using Sunday morning experiences, not the midweek studies). Several people who had used formal equivalence translations (i.e. NAS or ESV) had begun using GW translation and found it very refreshing and helpful. Others who had used NLT began using HCSB and found it much better for their use.

One Bible student who went from NAS to GW, and now uses the combination, commented last week that the further study of the text reveals how hard it is for translators to communicate adequately. And thus, the two translations are almost a “must-have” environment for study. I thought that was very perceptive.

What is missing?

With both HCSB and GW, we have noticed a major problem in using these translations; they both have limited varieties for Bibles. Neither has an adequate pew Bible, and large/giant print options are very limited. Study Bibles are also limited in HCSB and non-existent in GW.

One negative (or limitation) of the HCSB has been the “Plan of Salvation” page found in every edition of the HCSB. While that might work in a Baptist situation, that causes some issues within a Lutheran context. Note: This is not to say we have a problem with salvation! On the contrary, salvation is so important, that the HCSB presentation skews the salvation message. I would rather not have that page included and use references to a broader and more fully developed understanding of salvation.


Just a note on all HCSB editions: be sure to check the printing date of the edition. If it is prior to 2010, then it will use the 2004 translation; if it is 2010 or newer, then it is “normally” the 2009 edition. Make sure to purchase the 2009 revision.

Study editions:

The HCSB Study Bible and The Apologetics Study Bible. Unfortunately I have not had time to check out either one. My guess is that the notes in the HCSB Study Bible would reflect more of the generic Protestant view on Baptism, Lord’s Supper, etc. rather than giving the options (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran positions on these topics). I briefly glanced at the Apologetics Study Bible and it looks interesting. I may be examining that one in the coming months. Another available edition is the HCSB Minister’s Bible. I have not examined it yet, but I like the fact that it is single column. For oral reading and teaching purposes, single column works best for me.


The Ultrathin and Ultrathin Large Print editions of HCSB (genuine leather and duo-tone available for both) seem to be the best options for general use, along with the same in Reference editions. Straight text bibles work well for reading and devotional reading. For my teaching purposes, the Reference editions of most translations is the most useful. Sometimes I just need a quick look at the maps or specific cross-references while teaching in class. Study Bibles can be overwhelming in that context.

There are hardcover Pew Bibles available. It is critical to check the text date, for even some sold in 2011 used the 2004 text, not the 2009 text. One advantage of the Pew Bibles is the continuous text without section headings. I did not find a font size mentioned for any of the Pew Bibles. That could be a limiting factor.

The Super Giant Print Thinline is a large Bible with truly large-sized font (16 or 18 pt). This satisfies those with the needs for easier reading fonts. One of our members uses it and finds it ideal for reading and study purposes.


HCSB offers a Kindle edition and special children’s editions.


The choices for GW are even more limited. There are no study Bibles available. My guess is that unless a major denomination or parachurch organization backs this translation, there may never be a study edition using this translation. Also, the single column format requires more space, which may limit how much study material could be offered.

GW seems to focus on “Speciality Bibles,” such as Promises from God’s Word, God’s Word for Girls (Boys), God Girl Bible/God Guy Bible, and then some selected topics, one which is excellent is: Hope for Today: John’s Account of the Life of Jesus; we use this for giving out to people. Simply Jesus His Life and Teachings in Historical Order, works well for an overview of the Bible, and I have used the passion portion of this for Holy Week readings. Finally, The Names of God Bible Black, Hebrew Name Design, which I reviewed, and am currently using for my daily devotional reading, using the reading guide in the back.

Focus on speciality Bibles can be both good and bad. The good is that what Baker has already published meets a specific need. The Hope for Today booklet has proven to be an ideal tool for outreach in our community. I have not seen the Promises from God’s Word Bible, but my guess is that it will be equally valuable in specific contexts.

The bad part is that these Bibles are complementary to the main work in the church with regard to Bibles. That is, I have not found an adequate Bible with GW that meets the three prime uses of a Bible:

1. Text Bible:

The thinline Bibles are nice, but the print is too small.

Thinline GW
Thinline GW

I realize that the single column format (for the poetic sections) takes more space than double column, and thus increases the size of the Bible. But there is considerable room for improvement. Even the Large Print GW is not a handy size.

What I have in mind is the size and font used for the NIV Thinline Large Print Bible. I have a 2011 edition of it, and our congregation had used the 1984 edition until this fall. It was an ideal size for carrying: 10.1 x 6.9 x 1.6 inches and weighs less than 2 lbs, with 11 point font. It made an excellent teaching tool, easy to read, hold for long periods of time, etc. I kept several copies in the office for counseling—an ideal resource. I think Baker is missing the mark by not publishing a similar GW Bible like this.

2. Reference Bible:

Sadly there is no reference Bible available for GW. Textual notes, substantial cross-references, and maps would be sufficient to make this an ideal combination. Again, NIV is available in this combination.

3. Study Bible:

It would be good to have at least one study Bible with GW. Obviously I would prefer one not slanted toward Reformed theology. But timelines, maps, charts, cross-references, can be a valuable tool.

Of these three, I think the first two are doable and very necessary for GW to be considered as more than a peripheral Bible. We are using GW printed in the bulletin and it works well for worship. But for study and general purpose use, then #1 and 2 have to be seriously considered and offered. The study Bible option may not happen until a major denomination or parachurch organization moves to use GW as a primary translation.


Author: exegete77

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

10 thoughts on “HCSB and GW: What’s missing?”

  1. HI Rich,

    The only black friday shopping was to go down to a Lifeway store and pick up a HCSB study bible. It was marked down from $50 to $10. The layout and text is beautiful. The study notes however are not good when it comes to sacramental and conversion passages. For example in the notes to Matt 3:11 in the study notes we find: “John’s baptism was a public expression of repentance, but his baptism could not change a person’s heart. Jesus, however, baptized the repentant with the holy spirit, making them holy through inner transformation.”

    If our church body (WELS) does decide to go with the HCSB, we have been assured that we can print our own study bible with our own study notes. For that matter, the ESV study bible (not to be confused with TLSB from Concordia) has statements just as weird as the HCSB study bible. And, I imagine the NIV study bible would have the same comments.


    1. Thanks, Steve. Wow, what a savings! Maybe I should have done that Black Friday thing!

      Sadly you are right about study notes. I have found that in most (non-Lutheran) study Bibles: sacraments, conversion, end times, and prophecy notes tend to range from confusing at best to wrong at worst.

      It is good to hear that HCSB would allow WELS to have your own study Bible (I assume without the “Plan of Salvation” page). That could be a winner!


  2. Three things:

    1) Just to emphasize all that much more so the frustration with study notes, let me give two examples:

    A) From the ESV study bible, referencing 1 Pet. 3:21 we read (in the study notes): The mere mechanical act of baptism does not save, for Peter explicitly says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body,” meaning that the passing of water over the body does not cleanse anyone. Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith, as evidenced by one’s appeal to God for the forgiveness of one’s sins (for a good conscience)” Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds., The ESV Study Bible (Accordance electronic ed. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p.

    B) So also, the archeological study bible (a popular NIV study bible): ” The place of baptism within early Christianity occasioned sustained reflection by various New Testament authors upon the meaning of this symbolic act. Within the New Testament canon baptism is viewed as the symbolic identification of the believer with the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ro 6; Col 2:12), through which the believer becomes “clothed … with Christ” (Gal 3:27), as well as a clear expression of repentance before God (1Pe 3:21)” John H. Walton, ed., Archaeological Study Bible (Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), n.p.

    2) Yes, you’re correct. Our Translation Feasibility Committee told us that they (B&H) are planning on phasing out the “plan of salvation” page. And so, by the time we would be making use of the text it would not be included.

    3) Karin and I got to the Lifeway store right at the opening time, and I thought I’d have to fight off the baptist folks to get my hands on an HCSB. But the weird thing was that even though the place was filled with baptists, I was the only one who was getting the HCSB. So, at $10, I bought three (one for me, one for Karin and the third for my fellow PA WELSer pastor up the road). It does make me wonder though if the HCSB people could be doing a better job of marketing to their own people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite not caring for their translations, I have to credit both Biblica/Zondervan (NIV) and Crossway (ESV) for much better promotion of their translations than all others.


  3. I’ve been using the HCSB Minister’s Bible as my primary bible for over a year now. It is a fantastic edition–an absolutely amazing leather cover, sewn binding, wide margins, single column, black-letter, and decent-sized font.

    The end-material that makes it the “Minister’s Bible” is useless to me, though I imagine some finding use for it in an SBC or plain vanilla evangelical context. This edition is omits cross-references, if that is important to you, but the textual variant footnotes (which are quite good in the HCSB, IMO) are included.

    Overall it is an excellent edition! Just my thoughts since you said you hadn’t had any hands-on with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that hands-on assessment. I like everything you write, except the lack of cross-references. I still may have to purchase a copy to see and use it firsthand.


      1. I’ve enjoyed using the wide margins to add my own cross-references…but it would be nice to have a cross-reference system already there. The inner margins would be perfect for this, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m one of the few Baptists in my area that probably owns a copy of the HCSB – multiple copies, actually, in the form of the HCSB Study Bible and then a compact large print design.

    I shared a few months back that our [Baptist] church had gone through the search to replace the NIV 2011 based on some of the changes that would seem to conflict with the beliefs of the Pastor and church as a whole. The choice came down to the ESV and HCSB. I chimed in that although ignorant of many of the textual concerns and translation arguments, I found that the HCSB walked a nice line between literal concerns and readability. I felt it was closest to our NIV 84 that he used and most of our members used. (An informal visual survey of our members yielded an assortment of KJVs, NKJVs, NLTs and NIVs.)

    Ultimately the ESV decision was made, and we’ve been using it for roughly six months now. Being of modest means, we offered the paperback version to everyone for free, but we don’t have traditional pew Bibles so we did not incur major costs.

    Six months later and I noticed the Pastor had returned to the NIV (’84 I believe) for his latest sermon series. I said something to him about it one night, and we talked about how the ESV translation just boggled us in places like Acts 20:12. It literally (no pun intended) returned to the KJV phrasing that would leave a modern reader wondering if they were very comforted or very comforted at all. This is not a concern in the way of doctrine in this passage, but why leave that ambiguity when even the NASB translates it clearly and concisely? How much could translation like this confuse a new member or someone new to the faith in another more important verse? Did sticking with the literal translation here accurately communicate the intent of the original language to the host language?

    The HCSB is simply clearer like the NIV, which is a plus. I’m not really a fan of the use of Yahweh based on our uncertainty of it exactly being God’s name, but I can overlook that and other such choices.

    However the product marketing stinks, for lack of a better term. I watch all of the top publishers on social media, and while they’re doing better with the HCSB (mystudybible.com is the best Bible-specific page/app out there which actually rivals Bible Gateway, Logos’ products and YouVersion), they still have a long way to go. I am not very surprised the Baptists overlooked the HCSB.

    I’ve been reading the NIV 11 as of late, and I can deal with it. However, I keep returning to the HCSB, even when I get somewhat frustrated with terms like “temple police” or some of the odd phrasing that it still uses.

    FWIW, I’ve found myself to be more catholic (little “c”) in my beliefs and what we can learn from other traditions. So, I hope you don’t mind this Baptist contributing some, as I have found the Lutheran point of view intriguing. I also desire to get outside of the Baptist way of doing things, if you know what I mean. I really do appreciate your careful consideration here, as well as the thoughts of your contributors. It’s interesting that aside from the SB and AB notes, the HCSB doesn’t seem to just be a SBC Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to have your response. Thank you. Your perspective about how many Baptists don’t know about the translation is enlightening, and sadly confirms what I have seen as lack of marketing.

      Re: Acts 20:12 in ESV, there are actually two problems in terms of English style: The first is your concern (“and were not a little comforted.”), and I agree with you. The second is the first part of the verse. “And they took the youth away alive.” Normal English would put “away” together with the verb “take”. So it would read: “And they took away the youth alive.”


      1. Hello,

        I really like the HCSB but I believe it is being held hostage by the Baptist and therefore it is a Baptist Bible, no matter what they contend otherwise. I have called, twittered and emailed them repeatedly to quit putting a plan of salvation in front and their reply is to keep changing it to make it more universal. Well that just opens up another can of worms, just give us the text, not your interpretation of the text.

        Why Holman is that soooo hard to understand?

        Right now I have went back to the old standards of NAS and NKJV, just because they are solid. I want an easier to read translation that is accurate without political correct thinking in it. The ESV and HCSB come so close, but a little common sense would take them both to the next level. Especially the HCSB! Drop the H, and make it a Bible for the people.

        Liked by 1 person

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