What Hath (Has) Nashville to Do with Bible Translations?

I sit corrected. When I first heard about the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I assumed that it would be a denominationally-niched Bible with little or no distinctive contribution to make. But it turns out that the HCSB, and in particular the new HCSB Study Bible, is a faithful and elegant translation which should have more than a little cross-denominational appeal.

As the publisher notes, the HCSB has at least five noteworthy distinctives as a translation. It uses the personal name of God when appropriate (Is 42:8: “I am Yahweh, that is My name.”); it highlights Jewish Messianic expectations (Mk 8:29: “Peter answered Him, “You are the Messiah!”); it identifies the radical nature of Jesus’ call (Col 4:12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.”); it clarifies the original meaning of John 3:16 (“For God loved the world in this way…”); and it employs 21st century speech patterns (Jn 1:36: “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”).

On the whole, I think these distinctives are appropriate and helpful. Take the Jewish Messianic expectations, for example. The HCSB translates the Greek word Christos differently, based upon its use in context. Whenever the biblical author emphasizes Christos in a Gentile context or as a name for our Lord, HCSB renders the word as Christ. Whenever the biblical author emphasizes Christos in a Jewish context, the title “Messiah” is used. This is particularly helpful in instances such as Matthew 16:16 and Mark 8:29, when Peter declares, “You are the Messiah!”

For the apparatus of study notes, HCSB Study Bible resources a strong group of reputable conservative evangelical authors, including Walter Kaiser, Tremper Longman III, Andreas Kostenberger, Mark Rooker, Eugene Merrill, Duane Garrett, Kenneth Mathews, and David Dockery. The layout is standard, with text on top and notes on the bottom. The notes include word studies that appear in sidebar format and include the Greek pronunciation, the HCSB translation, the number of uses in the NT, and an explanation of the word’s use in context. Finally, the HCSB uses a number of maps, charts, illustrations, and photos that appear to be, on the whole, attractive and helpful.

In a nutshell: if you are not settled on a particular translation, or if you are willing to give another translation a “try,” the HCSB is a fantastic place to start. To view the HCSB Study Bible website or to order a HCSB Study Bible, click here.

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  1. Pingback: Another Great HCSB Review | ChurchETHOS

  2. John   •  

    I remain far too wary of the HCSB to use it more than necessary. We must use it in Sunday School because we use Lifeway literature, but I make certain I explain its quirks when necessary (e.g. translating “glossa” as “languages” rather than “tongues” in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians). What better way to minimize controversies than eliminate them through the translation into English?

    I haven’t forgotten Dr. Mohler’s comment in the 2002 TNIV controversy: “I think in many ways there are too many translations, and having one more translation is not necessarily a great thing. [However,] the changes in the last several months have convinced me that in the end this is an important thing for Southern Baptists to do — if for no other reason than that we will have a major translation we can control” (http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=13580)

    The Scriptures do not belong exclusively to the SBC. If we insist on using our own “translation we can control,” we risk a comparison with others who also “control” their own translations, i.e. the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, I’ll continue to use the ESV, in conjunction with the Hebrew and Greek texts, in my sermons and studies.

  3. Paul Mikos   •  

    Thank you for your review of the HCSB. I’d like to invite you and your readers to also check out the new online resource for the HCSB Study Bible at http://beta.MyStudyBible.com.

  4. Thomas Cocklereece   •  

    I generally like the HCSB translation with one major exception. The translation team intentionally and “slavishly” translated the Greek word “doulos” in the New Testament as “slave.” My personal objection is that a person is a slave by force and against their will, but a person is a servant willingly and by choice. I understand the arguments about whether I serve out of my choice or God’s predetermination, however, I still think “servant” is a better translation of “doulos” for most people. My African-American friends certainly agree with me on this.

  5. Brent Hobbs   •  

    I have also been impressed in many ways with the Holman translation – it takes some important steps in breaking with some translation traditions that are less than helpful. (See their translation of John 3:16, which I think is excellent.) I also like their translating the divine name as Yahweh rather than simply putting Lord in small caps. I like using Messiah for christos.

    But I also had some concerns about it that made me shrink back from switching to that as my preferred translation. One is why they didn’t go ahead and use the divine name every time it’s used rather than editorially deciding when it’s important to the context. Maybe it’s always important! There were a few other things I termed ‘quirky’ at the time I looked closely at it that ultimately caused me to stick with the NIV.

    I’m really looking forward to the NIV update and hoping it does not go gender-neutral. Because I really believe they will have the best translation of the Bible in English. Yes, I said it ESV people. :) Though I will still keep my ESV Study Bible on my desk and use it often.

  6. Brent Hobbs   •  

    Found another just this AM studying… they (HCSB translators) translate Rom 1:17 as “God’s righteousness” rather than “righteousness of God” (more literal) or “righteousness that comes from God” (NIV). The HCSB translation therefore limits the genitive idea, in my mind, too far in one direction of the possible meaning. (I understand you can argue the NIV does the same thing in the opposite way, but at least it captures the right emphasis.)

    But after saying all that, I came back this morning to say that I do recommend using the HCSB as a study tool… For every place I’m not comfortable with their translation, there are many where I think they do a great job of capturing the original meaning.

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    John, your interpretation of Mohler’s comments is misguided (and if intentional, it is also uncharitable). In speaking of “controlling” a translation, he is not saying that the SBC owns the Scriptures. He is saying (like many or most evangelicals) that he and others would like to have an interpretation that they can carefully oversee, one that is not adversely affected by faulty theological presuppostions or misguided hermeneutical approaches.

    Your final comment (“Therefore, I’ll continue to use the ESV”) caused me a great deal of unsuccessfully suppressed laughter, I must admit. Do you think that the ESV trust did not seek to “control” the hermeneutical approach and theological presuppositions of their translators? Of course they did, just as they should have done and just as the HCSB did.

  8. John   •  


    I meant nothing uncharitable against Dr. Mohler. However, the connotation of his remarks, coming in the midst of the debate over the TNIV and given his stature in the SBC, made the comment most unwise at best. Had anyone else from another denomination made this comment regarding another translation, few Southern Baptists would have adopted the translation in question.

    I admit some puzzlement to your amusement regarding my comment on the ESV. I happen to have studied under at least 2 of the scholars on the ESV translation team (Frank Thielman and Allen Ross). Allen made a comment one day in Hebrew Exegesis: “A translation is the most concise form of commentary.” I’m fully aware that any translator approaches the texts from a subjective point of view. Try as we like, none of us can objectively read the Scriptures, regardless of the language(s) in which we read them.

    For that reason, I never prepare a sermon solely from an English translation. I consider the Hebrew and Greek texts as indispensable in my studies. Allen recommended to us that any minister should use at least 3 different translations until achieving some proficiency with the Hebrew and Greek languages.

  9. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    John, thank you for clarifying. Your updated comments are helpful, and I agree with you on preparing sermons from Hebrew and Greek texts in addition to English translations. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on our blog. We appreciate your input.

  10. Brad Williams   •  


    I have a copy of the HCSB, but not the study Bible. I have studied through it, not in tremendous detail, but fairly closely when I switched from preaching in the NKJV and was trying to decide which way to go.

    I like the HCSB, but sometimes it seems to try too hard. I find the switching between “Messiah” and “Christ” to be a bit unhelpful and not terribly consistent. (For example, I don’t think they ever translate “The Lord Jesus Messiah.”) Another example is when it translates Ephesians 2:1-2, “And you were dead in your tresspasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this wordly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain.”

    The Ruler of the Atmospheric Domain? Just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

    On the positive side, I do like that a translation finally puts Yahweh in the translation. I find that very helpful compared to simply capitalizing LORD. Also, it is easy to read. But if I were picking style and “easy to readness” I’d go with the NIV.

    And as John mentioned, insofar as one is able, it is best to develope some skill in the original languages. Or, at the very least, have several copies of a readable translation handy during study. A translation is, after all, still a translation, including one’s own.

  11. Barry Pierce   •  

    I’m still yearning for a translation that goes the extra step and actually translates YHWH into English — I AM — instead of the Hebrew Yahweh. Yahweh is a step in the right direction like stepping onto the front porch is a step toward the goal of going to work. Why stop here?

    I think it’s tragic that most translations give “I AM” for YHWH in Genesis 3:14, then immediately ignore I AM’s desire be known by that Name by changing it to “LORD” in the verses immediately following! — as if they failed to even read what He just said!

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