”Testament” or “covenant”

We began our Lent observance on Ash Wednesday, which leads to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The central place of the Lord’s Supper within the worshiping community is highlighted throughout Lent and culminates in Maundy Thursday. I serve a congregation that celebrates the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, every service, which reflects the importance of it among God’s people, and especially for our people.

As Lutherans we confess the Lord’s Supper that in it we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a teaching that is different from Protestants(the bread and wine are symbols/representatives of the body and blood, which are not present).

One issue related to the Lord’s Supper is how to understand διαθήκη (diatheke) and how to translate it, whether “testament” or “covenant.” As I have been reflecting on this heritage of theology, some history of translation is helpful. In 1963 William Beck published his NT translation called An American Translation (AAT), but popularly know as Beck’s Bible (Beck died in 1966, but his OT was published in 1976 with two scholars [Schmick and Kiehl] finishing his work). In 1963 I was a freshman in high school, and our church began using Beck’s NT for Sunday School. Rather different than KJV for understandability!

Regarding this topic, the KJV used the word “testament” for διαθήκη. In 1986 the process of revising AAT began. Soon, the project became known as God’s Word to the Nations. I remember the “testament/covenant” issue that faced the translators of God’s Word to the Nations (GWN, 1986-1988), later New Evangelical Translation (NET 1988-1992), and eventually God’s Word (GW 1995).

I had the privilege of serving congregations from 1987-1995 that were testers for GWN, later NET, eventually GW. In 1992 there was a change in translation direction, much to my frustration about translating specific words in context. So when it was finally published as God’s Word (GW 1995), I opposed several of these changes because I thought they weakened the translation and changed the focus of the underlying Greek. Beginning in 1992 I had written repeatedly over the years  to ask that the GW translators revert back to the 1992 NET renderings.

Several critical changes: (original refers to the NET; change refers to the GW move in 1992-1995).

διαθήκη original: “last will and testament” changed to “promise”

χάρις original: “grace” changed to “good will”

ἅγιοι original: “saints” changed to “holy people” or “God’s people” or “believers”

This article explains the reasoning for using “testament” in the NT rather than “covenant” as a translation of διαθήκη.

Translating διαθηκη in NET

Here is the NET (New Evangelical Translation) of Matthew 26:26-28

While they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took a cup and spoke a prayers of thanks. He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. For this is My blood of the last will and testament, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

So, what is the significance of translating διαθήκη as “last will and testament” (or “testament” as in KJV)  rather than “covenant.” I think it becomes clear in Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is also why when speaking the words of institution, I use “testament” (and occasionally “last will and testament” —with explanation) not “covenant.”

Regardless of this discussion, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus offers his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. For that we rejoice.




God made flesh

Some discussion abounds on the internet about whether Dec. 25 is the actual birth date of Jesus. We don’t know the actual date; Scripture does not tell us. If a Christian does not want to celebrate this day, that is okay. But if a Christian denies who was born in Bethlehem and the importance of that in the Christian faith, then that is not okay.imgres

In freedom, this day is set aside to remember the fact that God did take on human flesh, becoming human (incarnation). This is one of the mysteries of the Christian faith (along with the Trinity). The incarnation is a stumbling block for many. But it is part of the foundation of the Christian faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote on the Incarnation of Christ:

In the Incarnation God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being. So that “He came down from Heaven” can almost be transposed into ”Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?

Likewise, as Christians we are not called upon to prove the incarnation, nor can we. Rather, we take this opportunity to proclaim the birth of Jesus. So, let’s return to the text of Scripture and read/hear this once again. And rejoice with the angels, the shepherds, Mary, and Joseph. And then rejoice in how this fits into all of God’s plan for redeeming humans.


 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising Goda for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  (Luke 2:1-20 NIV)


The fact and importance of God taking on flesh appears throughout the New Testament.


In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:philippians-2-5-11

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NIV)


But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV)


But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 NIV)


Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, a fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV)

Christmas Greeting

Why I used NAS

Over the past two years I have looked at translations that might be appropriate in our congregation. Essentially we have been using HCSB and GW, alternating on a quarterly basis; right now we have been using GW. Both translations have good qualities for use in our situation. Both have some weaknesses. This last Sunday, both translations left something to be desired.

Last Sunday in the Narrative Lectionary, the Gospel reading was John 11:1-44. The theme was obvious from v. 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live even if that person dies.” But here is what GW has:

John 11:25 GW   Jesus said to her, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.”

The translation is legitimate, but it also runs into a problem. Namely, there are a few texts which are so well known, even by nominal Christians. This is one of them. Psalm 23 is another. So, I thought we might use HCSB.

John 11:25 HCSB Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”

Okay HCSB seemed to be the right choice for this Sunday.

John 11:33, 38 HCSB

But then as I explored using HCSB, I ran into another issue. The translation may be legitimate, but it is so jarring that people might be so distracted by it, that they miss the greater thing in the text.

John 11:33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved.

John 11:38 Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

Most translations provide: “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” I won’t go into the details, but notice how “angry” changes the focal point. And the first question that arises is: What is Jesus angry at? Himself, for delaying too long? His friends, Martha and Mary, for not believing what He says? The crowds? Sin?

The problem is that nothing in the text suggests an answer. HCSB has a footnote, but again, it is speculation. In the process, though, the center of the text, what Jesus is revealing in Himself, is sidetracked.

The Solution

So I chose NAS for this text.

John 11:33 NAS When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,

John 11:38 NAS So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

And it worked well. The reading was not a long, complicated Pauline sentence (i.e. Ephesians 1:3-14). But for this Sunday NAS was the right combination.

Balaam, son of Beor

Do you ever read something several times over many years, but forget? Yeah, I do, too. As I am reading my way through the HCSB translation (via the Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible) I found myself in this position.ReadGodsStory

We first meet Balaam in Numbers 22-24. He is the man God uses to speak to Balak, king of Moab. Balak had sent messengers to Balaam to have him curse Israel.

God spoke to Balaam and instructed him on exactly what to do and say—“don’t go with the men, do not curse these people, they are blessed” (22:12) With this first invite from Balak, Balaam obeyed God and did not go with the men. But Balak sent messengers again, and Balaam goes. But the result was a mixed signal.

The Angel of the LORD blocked Balaam and even used the donkey to get his attention. In the end Balaam delivered the message God intended.

“Then Balaam got up and went back home, and Balak also went on his way” (Numbers 24:25). End of story —not!

Today I was reading the sequel. The Midianites were troubling Israel again. So, we read:

The LORD spoke to Moses, “Execute vengeance for the Israelites against the Midianites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” (Numbers 31:1-2)

They waged war against Midian, as the LORD had commanded Moses, and killed every male. Along with the others slain by them, they killed the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (Numbers 31:7-8 HCSB)

So, despite being used by God to send a message to Balak, Balaam did not change his ways. He continued his life with the Midianites, as an enemy of God’s people. And the people, Israel, were still blessed by God as He told Balaam originally.

Interesting that I had forgotten about his death, even after having read the Bible many times over the past 50 years.

Comment on GW translation

I often will compare translations at some critical spots. In Numbers 31:2 I think the HCSB does well as a translation. So I compared that with God’s Word (GW):

“Get even with the Midianites for what they did to the Israelites. After that you will join your ancestors ˻in death˼.” (GW)

I generally like GW, but in this case “Get even” sounds too much like a personal grudge, settling the score, almost a personal vendetta. Vengeance on the other hand often reflects God’s justice being executed on people for sin. I think the difference is important, especially in this context.

HCSB — Self-Denial

In my devotional reading recently I have noticed an unusual rendering in Leviticus and Numbers. The reading was jarring because I couldn’t remember that phrase.

Lev 16:29   “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.

Lev 16:31 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute.

Lev 23:27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly and practice self-denial; you are to present a fire offering to the LORD.

Lev 23:29 If any person does not practice self-denial on this particular day, he must be cut off from his people.

Lev 23:32 It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening.”

Num 29:7   “You are to hold a sacred assembly on the tenth day of this seventh month and practice self-denial; you must not do any work.

fn (in each case): “Practice self-denial” Traditionally, fasting, abstinence from sex, and refraining from personal grooming

The Hebrew phrase is תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם . The Greek LXX translates it ταπεινώσατε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν, and both have traditionally been translated as “humble your souls.”

Acceptable Translation?

I am wrestling with whether the HCSB is an acceptable translation in this instance. Is it readable English? Yes. Is it faithful to the text? This is where I hesitate.

The Hebrew word, ענה, is in the Piel, which is often translated “afflict” or “be humilated.” In these cases, the affliction is done on/to the person, i.e. your nephesh, or “your soul.” This suggests that the sense of the Hebrew (and LXX) phrase is that it is an inner aspect of the person, obviously assisted by God. NAS  catches that understanding, even woodenly, literalistically “humble your souls.” HCSB translation (“practice self-denial”) seems to focus on the activities associated with that rather than the inner aspect of the heart. ProudToBeHumble

Checking other translations notice the subtle change that several provide, as does HCSB:

ESV: you shall afflict yourselves

NIV 2011: you must deny yourselves

NLT: you must deny yourselves

GW: must humble themselves

NET: you must humble yourselves

NET footnote adds:

Heb “you shall humble your souls.” The verb “to humble” here refers to various forms of self-denial, including but not limited to fasting (cf. Ps 35:13 and Isa 58:3, 10). The Mishnah (m. Yoma 8:1) lists abstentions from food and drink, bathing, using oil as an unguent to moisten the skin, wearing leather sandals, and sexual intercourse (cf. 2 Sam 12:16–17, 20; see the remarks in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1054; B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 109; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 242).

The references to Psalm 35 and Isaiah 58 have the added note about fasting in the text. While the Mishnah is helpful at times, we have to remember the limitations:

The Mishnah reflects debates between 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim. The Mishnah teaches the oral traditions by example, presenting actual cases being brought to judgment, usually along with the debate on the matter and the judgment that was given by a wise and notable rabbi (from Wikipedia, yes, I know a quick reference overview is what I needed)

Thus, the Mishnah may not help us translate the Old Testament texts, because the focus is on outward behavior and judging of that behavior. That is reading back into the Hebrew text. Interestingly, the LXX translation of the Penteteuch in mid 3rd century BCE does not favor the Mishnah direction.

Given this, it seems that HCSB, and closely followed by NIV and NLT change the focus to outward behavior rather than a heart issue.

New Testament Use

Moving into the New Testament, the Greek word focuses on the inner aspect of the word, ταπεινός. Perhaps the most famous use from the following passage:

Matthew 11:29

NA-28 ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ⸋ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ⸌, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν·

HCSB: All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.

Note also that in James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, (quoting Proverbs 3:34) each of the translations above use the word “humble.”

NA-27: ὅτι °[ὁ] θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν

HCSB: God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

NAS: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

ESV: for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

NIV 2011: because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

NLT: for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”

GW: because God opposes the arrogant but favors the humble.

NET:  because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

At this point, I am not convinced that the HCSB translation of תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם, “practice self-denial” is the best translation. In fact, it seems to miss some connections with the LXX and certainly in the NT.



One year—GW and HCSB

It has been a year since we converted to using GW and HCSB for our worship readings. Initially we alternated every month, but about six months ago I switched to using one translation for three months.

Observations on GW

The general consensus is that GW is an excellent oral reading translation. Most of the time that worked well for me when preaching. The times that brought up the difference between GW and most other translations involved words such as “God’s approval” instead of “righteousness.” In one case I used the HCSB translation for Romans 3. Aside from that, GW is a good choice for our congregation. This Sunday we begin the second year of the Narrative Lectionary, which means that this fall, the preaching text is the Old Testament readings. GW works well as a translation the Old Testament and will be used this fall.

Thinline GW
Thinline GW

For Bible study, we have a few people who use GW (plus, ESV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, HCSB). This has been helpful in Bible classes because often the users of GW will ask, “But this says…” That allows us to dig further and for the participants to see that it is not always a case of “this translation is accurate” and then judge all others by that. Rather, I remind them each translation is helping the read to better grasp what the original language text says. In a few cases we have found that GW does better than any other. (See Dave Brunn. One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? IVP Academic, 2013 for more. Soon I will be posting a follow up review of his book.)

I tend to use NAS for several reasons: 1) I have used NAS since 1978, and so my memorization of Scripture has been with that translation. 2) My method of study and recall includes knowing where on the page something occurs. That is, if I work with a specific passage, and it is on the left-hand page, ⅔ of the way down, then that becomes part of my visual recall and memory pattern. 3) The edition of NAS I use is single column (which I much prefer) and it has cross references in the outside margin. This allows a larger font size for the text and references. The size of print is critical, and I have been very disappointed with recent study Bibles that offer notes and references in sizes that are impossible to read. This is specially important in a teaching environment where I want to quickly glance at something.

For my own personal reading, I began reading GW for daily devotions. For 30+ years my primary devotional Bible was also NAS. I have used a few other translations for short periods of time, but always came back to NAS. This time I maintained my reading in GW for six months. With GW, I discovered that it was an inviting translation for devotional reading. Many people begin reading and do well for 2-3 weeks or perhaps longer. But then the person finds some barrier to continuing, whether habit, translation choice, schedule conflicts, etc. But using GW for this devotional time was refreshing. I didn’t run into the challenge of drifting away from daily reading. The style made it easier. But I think the single column layout and the indentation patterns used in the poetic sections encouraged reading, and reading for understanding.

General Observations on HCSB

For the most part, HCSB has served us well for worship readings. We just finished last week the summer schedule where it was the translation. But we ran into the opposite side of the issue with translating that was the case with GW. For one Sunday the reading was 1 John 2:1-2. I substituted GW for HCSB. Notice which word is the problem for an oral reading:

HCSB Ultrathin Bible, Black/Gray Duotone Simulated Leather
HCSB Ultrathin Bible, Black/Gray Duotone Simulated Leather

My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 HCSB)

My dear children, I’m writing this to you so that you will not sin. Yet, if anyone does sin, we have Jesus Christ, who has God’s full approval. He speaks on our behalf when we come into the presence of the Father. He is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 GW)

So the choice was: In 2:1 do we use HCSB where it uses “propitiation” or GW which uses ” the payment for our sins”? In 2:2, do we use GW which has “who has God’s full approval” rather than “the Righteous One” (HCSB)? That is the trade off in this use of translations.

But overall, HCSB worked well for worship.

In Bible study, I have been carrying the HCSB as well as NAS (of course, my Greek NT). At times I will use HCSB (obviously, in preparing the session, I have already checked it out) because the rendering of a passage will be useful in teaching the class. Only one regular Bible study participant uses HCSB.

For personal reading, I began using HCSB when we moved into the summer schedule. I had just received a copy of the HCSB Chronological Bible, which became my reading Bible. The challenge was seven weeks of travel during the summer, and the size of this Bible was prohibitive. I would take the HCSB Ultrathin Bible on my trips. For the summer then I managed to read Genesis–Leviticus, plus Job, plus the sermon prep texts.

I have grown to like the HCSB, but it has been an uneasy relationship. Some critical passages are very well done (i.e. John 20:23). At the same time I encountered the frustration of alternate use of LORD and Yahweh in the same passage, and throughout the readings. One example is Leviticus 22:26–33

26 The LORD spoke to Moses: 27 “When an ox, sheep, or goat is born, it must remain with its mother for seven days; from the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a gift, a fire offering to the LORD. 28 But you are not to slaughter an animal from the herd or flock on the same day as its young. 29 When you sacrifice a thank offering to the LORD, sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. 30 It is to be eaten on the same day. Do not let any of it remain until morning; I am Yahweh.

31 “You are to keep My commands and do them; I am Yahweh. 32 You must not profane My holy name; I must be treated as holy among the Israelites. I am Yahweh who sets you apart, 33 the One who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh.”

Notice that in vs. 26, LORD speaks to Moses, and refers to himself as LORD in vs. 27 and 29. But then ends the statement in vs. 29, HCSB has “I am Yahweh.” And then in vss. 31-33 the reference is to Yahweh throughout. But the question is for the reader and hearer is: Do I understand that LORD and Yahweh refer to the same entity, with identical connotations and denotations? Not hardly. So, my urging to the HCSB translation team is to use Yahweh consistently in translation.

It has been an interesting year. I have grown to appreciate both translations. And Brunn’s book (One Bible, Many Versions) has been a helpful tool in working through the “accuracy” arguments about translations.

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.