First Thoughts on the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

This month Holman Bible Publishers released their major revision of the formerly-named Holman Christian Standard Bible, calling it now simply the Christian Standard Bible. I have been waiting for this revision for some time now, exited very much about the supposed changes that would take place. That time is here. I have had the CSB for a day now and have been scanning it for the changes, and here are my thoughts.

First, how about the name? This is the first translation of which I am aware that has dropped rather than added something to their revision’s name (e.g., the Revised Standard Version to the New Revised Standard Version). According to the CSB website, “The Holman family name in the name of a Bible translation often created more questions than answers. ‘Christian Standard Bible’ removes those questions and increases appeal to the broad audience that the CSB is designed to serve.”[1] I agree with this decision very much. The HCSB was the first major Bible Translation of which I am aware which placed the name of the publisher within the translation’s name. It has long been assumed that the HCSB was a Southern Baptist translation. Although in my reading of the HCSB (and the CSB) I have not found this to be the case at all (What would a “Baptist” translation even look like?), the fact that the name of the Southern Baptist publishing arm was contained within the very name of the translation contributed greatly to this misinformation. Thus, removing “Holman” from the name was a very good decision.

Praise for the Revision

How are the changes to the text? In general, I would say that, at first glance, most if not all of the changes are for the better. There are a couple things about the HCSB which stopped me from using it as my primary translation. First was the inconsistent use of “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament to translate the Tetragrammaton (יְהוָה). I don’t have a problem at all with translating יְהוָה as “Yahweh,” but if one is going to do this, it needs to be consistent. Although the HCSB, according to the its own preface, translated יְהוָה as “Yahweh” “whenever a biblical text emphasizes Yahweh as a name” or “in places of His self-identification,” the choice of translating יְהוָה as “Yahweh” still felt arbitrary to me.

This was the same with Χριστός (Christos) in the New Testament. The HCSB again, according to its preface, translated Χριστός as “Messiah” “based on its use in different NT contexts.” What does this mean? I gather that they translated Χριστός as “Christ” when in a Gentile context and “Messiah” when speaking in a Jewish context. But, again, this seems arbitrary.

These two inconsistently translated words led to awkward reading in the Old and New Testaments, sometimes leading to places where the words were translated differently in adjacent verses! (Just do a Google search to find examples.) This also led, no doubt, some people to believe that “Yahweh”/”Lord” and “Messiah”/”Christ” were translating two different Hebrew and Greek words. Now, if one merely read the preface to the HCSB, this problem might be averted. But, who ever reads the preface to their Bible translations? Who ever reads the preface to anything? In the end, consistency would have been preferable, regardless of how they decided to translate יְהוָה and Χριστός. Iain Duguid, one of the chief translators of the HCSB Old Testament and a reviser for the CSB, agrees, saying that such innovation was eliminated because “it was impossible to be consistent.”[2] Unifying the translations of these terms was a good decision, as well.

The second thing that bothered me about the HCSB was their overuse of contractions, not only in dialogue, but in, for example, the epistles. While I am coming to grips with the fact that it is no longer unacceptable to use contractions in formal English writing (I am reading several scholar-level books in seminary now that use them frequently), this still bothered me. What bothered me most, just like the translation of “Lord” and “Christ” above, was the seeming inconsistent nature of deciding what is going to be contracted and what will not. Take for example the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus arrives on the scene, both Martha and Mary approach and say the same thing to him. In the HCSB (and the CSB, for that matter), Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). Later, Mary comes to him and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” (v. 32). See the difference? Now, I imagine this is because Mary is significantly more distraught than Martha appeared to be, since the text says that Martha simply approach Jesus, while Mary “fell at his feet” (v. 32). No doubt the lack of contraction in Mary’s response mirrors her emphatic distress and anguish. Even so, this seems subjective to me. Although the CSB removed a large amount of contractions from the epistles, they have left contractions in dialogue. It normally isn’t (contraction!) a problem, but when the same words are both contracted and not contracted within verses of each other makes for awkward reading aloud, at times. Plus, it just violates my sensitive OCD, which is close to the unforgiveable sin!

Each of these things mentioned above made the HCSB, although a highly accurate translation, unusable for me. The idiosyncrasies were simply too much for me to deal with (I know: dramatic). However, there is much praise to be given for this revision. On the whole, the CSB has “fixed” these issues. They now consistently translate יְהוָה and Χριστός as “Lord” and “Christ,” respectively. They now use less contractions. The CSB appears to have new footnotes given in places where other translations could be probable. One place that always bothered me was the HCSB’s rendering of Galatians 6:16. It rendered it as follows: “May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!” There is no footnote given for this rendering, although many translations render it quite differently. Take, for example, the NIV (2011): “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” The NIV (2011) makes it clear—correctly, I think—that the final καὶ is functioning to show not that “all who follow this rule” is different from “the Israel of God” (as the HCSB rendering might suggest), but that “all who follow this rule” are “the Israel of God.” I am not a conspiracy theorist, but could the HCSB rendering be some Dispensational bias? I would like to doubt it. In any case, having no footnote there is questionable, at best. The CSB did the right thing in adding a footnote, which reads: “Or And for those who follow this standard, may peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God, or And as many who will follow this standard, peace be upon them and mercy even upon the Israel of God.” This is one of many places where helpful footnotes to alternate renderings have been added, something of which we cannot have enough.

The CSB has also changed what I thought were awkward phrases, although they may be correct renderings. For example, the HCSB in Ephesians 2:2 spoke of “the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens.” What exactly is this? Like I said, this is probably a correct, if not a better rendering. Research is needed to make a better judgment. But, I felt that this rendering violates their “optimal equivalence” methodology, where they seek to be as literal as possible, except where understanding is hindered by it. I wonder if the HCSB accomplished this by this rendering. At any rate, I find that the CSB’s rendering, which has “the ruler of the power of the air,” to be much better (although, as I said, possibly less correct).

I also appreciate that the CSB decided to stop capitalizing pronouns referring to deity. Although the motive behind this is noble, the fact is that it forces interpretations of certain texts that may or may not be warranted. An example is 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Here, the pronouns have been interpreted to refer to the Holy Spirit or to other powers. If the pronouns are capitalized (as they are in the NKJV, then one must interpret the restraining power as the Holy Spirit. But, if they are not capitalized, the reader can interpret the text in many ways, because uncapitalized pronouns in translations which do not make a practice of this can refer to either deity or creature. This was a good move, in my opinion.

Lastly and briefly, I like that the CSB used the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition as the textual basis for the New Testament. This, for example, gives us the cool variant in Jude 5 which says, “Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe” (emphasis added), which is a significant text for 1) defending the pre-existence and deity of Christ and 2) gaining a better understanding, perhaps, of the identity of the “angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament.

Critiques for the Revision

Although the CSB’s changes are quite good, there are some things I think should not have been done. First is the removal of the word “propitiation” from texts like Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2. The CSB left words like “predestined” in Acts 4:28, yet they felt as though (it seems) a word like “propitiation” would be difficult to understand for the CSB’s target audience. I, for one, have never found this concern compelling. I am all for making our Bible translations easier to understand, but eliminating words like “propitiation” is, in my opinion, too far. In my opinion, “sacrifice of atonement” is about as clear as “propitiation” is in terms of what it means. I notice that the CSB has “propitiation” in a footnote as an alternate rendering, but I feel as though that should have been left in the text block.

Another issue I have with the CSB revision is its use of “brothers and sisters” as a rendering of αδελφοί. Now, do not read what I am not saying. I think it is great that translations are starting to recognize that this masculine Greek term in many contexts, especially the epistles, refers to men and women. However, as with most of my grievances with the CSB, I have found the rendering to be inconsistent. This is perhaps most notable in James 3:1 where the CSB renders the passage: “Not many should become teachers, my brothers.” It is clear that the CSB here, because of their change to translating αδελφοί as “brothers and sisters,” were forced to reveal the fact that this is a complementarian translation. Now, I am a complementarian, but I think this whole problem could have been avoided if they would have left “brothers and sisters” in a footnote consistently through the CSB. So, maybe it is not that I have a problem with this particular rendering of James 3:1, but that I ultimately have a problem with rendering αδελφοί as “brothers and sisters” due to the interpretative binds in which it puts translators in passages like this.

Conclusion

All things considered, the CSB is a fine and welcome revision of an already wonderful translation of Holy Scripture. It is accurate, readable, and modern. It has its flaws and inconsistencies, of course. What translation doesn’t? I clearly have far more praise than I do critique. I highly recommend finding a copy (when they come out, of course, in March) and reading it and studying from it. No doubt one’s walk with God will be enriched through such an endeavor.


[1] “FAQ – CSB,” Christian Standard Bible, accessed January 20, 2017, http://csbible.com/about-the-csb/faqs/.

[2] Iain Duguid, “CSB – Christian Standard Bible – HCSB Minus the H :),” The PuritanBoard, January 20, 2017, http://puritanboard.com/threads/csb-christian-standard-bible-hcsb-minus-the-h.91966/#post-1124524.

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3 thoughts on “First Thoughts on the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

  1. Those interested in the new Christian Standard Bible can get it now for Windows, Mac, and iOS for Accordance Bible Software. The CSB is a free upgrade for Accordance users with the HCSB or at $9.90 introductory pricing. If you’re not already an Accordance user, you can download our Accordance Lite software for free and then purchase the CSB to run in it with no further obligation. Go to https://www.accordancebible.com/CSB/ for more information.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr. Mansfield, it is an honor to have you comment on my blog!

      Yes, I also highly recommend Accordance Bible Software. They were not playing games with getting the CSB module out. The next big step is to get the tagging information from B&H.

      By the way, most of my excitement about the CSB came through reading your “insider” information regarding it. So, thanks for that! You inspired this particular post.

      Also, another cool fact: Mark Allison (who, for those who do not know, works for Accordance Bible Software along with Mr. Mansfield) is my dear father-in-law, and he speaks highly of you!

      Again, thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

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