The Christian Standard Bible

Speaking of modern translations, the next major Bible translation is probably going to be the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is a complete replacement of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which is the Bible I have been preaching out of for the last three years.

It is too early to give a full review of the Bible since it hasn’t even been released yet. Still there is some helpful information on their website (http://csbible.com/) that allows us to make some educated guesses. There were several things I really liked about the HCSB, so let me try to offer some evaluation by comparison.

1.Easy to Read

The first thing I really liked about the HCSB was that it is incredibly easy to read aloud from. Preaching from Matthew often required me reading rather long sections of Scripture at a time and the natural writing style of the HCSB helped me read smoothly in a way that I felt listeners could follow and understand. This is also a very helpful feature when using the Bible with our youth or at the prison, where students are used to hearing shorter sentence structure and often do not have a Bible with them.

It appears that the CSB is trying to keep this same reading style. Their website offers a compare translations tool which demonstrates their easy reading stylescreen-shot-2017-01-27-at-9-20-42-am

In comparison with the ESV, the CSB is in my opinion easier to read. In comparison with it’s predecessor, the HCSB, this particular verse reads very similarly, with the exception of exchanging the number 70 with the word.

2. Distinctive

Another thing I liked about the HCSB was that it often offered a reading distinct from other popular Bibles. For instance, where many Bible used LORD, the HCSB used YHWH, and where many Bibles used Christ, the HCSB used Messiah.

Technically, these differences didn’t change the meaning of the verses at all. However, I thought they were still helpful because they challenge our minds to notice the importance of those words. For instance, though we may know that Christ is a title, it can be easy to treat the term as if it is no more significant than a last name. By substituting the Greek cognate Christ with Hebrew Messiah, the author’s connection of Jesus to the Old Testament just seemed more apparent. (For info on these stylistic changes see: http://thislamp.com)

The CSB seems to have dialed back on many of the features that made the HCSB distinct. I think this new version will read more like most of its competitors. Some pastors may like this as there will be less need to explain why one Bible says LORD and the other says YWHW. My fear is that reducing the need for explanation will also reduce comprehension.

3. Trustworthy

A third thing I liked about the HCSB was that I considered it to be a very trustworthy translation. I am not one to consider any translation as perfect, and I fully recognize that any translator or translation team can make mistakes. That said, the HCSB did an excellent job of translating the message of the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) into modern English.

Part of my trust in the HCSB is due to my own limited work in the Greek New Testament. But, admittedly, a great deal of my trust in the translation is due to the fact that I trust many people on the translation team. (The CSB has provided a list of all the translators for the original HCSB as well as a list of those working on the new CSB).

First, I appreciate that the translation is a product of a team effort, rather than the work of one man. I hope that the influence of multiple well trained minds will sharpen the final product. Second, I am especially happy to recognize and trust many of the names on this translation committee.

Perhaps the most important names on the list are the co-chairs of the translation oversight committee. Thom Schreiner is a very competent Biblical scholar and I consider his Romans commentary in the Baker series to be the best available. His work as both a Biblical and theological scholar (I say theological in light of his work with the New Perspective), clearly show both incredible expertise and a sincere devotion and service to God. I know less about David Allen, but I do know that he is a man of good reputation, especially in Southern Baptist circles.

I was happy to see my own Greek professor from seminary, David Alan Black, among the list of translators. He is a world class Greek scholar and teacher. Constantine Campbell was also on the list, and is well known for his work in Greek grammar, including the often challenging area of verbal aspect.

So, in light of the quality of the translators working on this project, I am confident that the CSB will continue in the tradition of the HCSB as a very reliable translation.


On a final note, in hopes that someone like Trevin Wax might read this, I would like to mention a few ways that I believe the CSB could improve the publishing options as compared to the HCSB.

One of the limitations of the HCSB, in my opinion, was the lack of print options. Especially in comparison with the ESV, I often found that people who would have preferred the HCSB translation opted for an ESV because of it’s published format. In light of that, here are some things I would like to see.

The Minister’s Bible – But not for ministers.

By far, my favorite Bible both for daily reading and for taking into the pulpit was my HCSB minister’s Bible (ISBN 978-1-43360-087-6). However, I wish this Bible was available without all the minister’s aides in the back.

I really liked that it was a single column Bible with a large very legible font. It seemed most of the other HCSB’s were two column Bibles with smaller font. Those that weren’t lacked some features that I consider essential for a daily use Bible. For instance, while I don’t care about having all the minister specific articles in the back, I do really appreciate having a fairly substantial concordance and maps. The Minister’s Bible did not include a cross reference guide, which was acceptable because I preferred the wide columns for note taking. However, cross references placed in the footnote section would be helpful.

The Greek-English New Testament

Crossway has published a very nice diglot with the Nestle-Aland on the left and the ESV on the right. It is superior to the old RSV because the font is very large and there is plenty of room in the margins. If the CSB could come up with something similar, that would be great.

The Apologetics Study Bible

Our church has a tradition of giving a Bible to our graduating seniors each year. Last year I gave out the Ultra-Thin Reference Bible (978-1586407223) and it was really well received. I would have liked to have given the Apologetics Study Bible (978-1433614859), but it was cost prohibitive. Is there any way to get a Bible like that, but cut the cost by about 50%?

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The Latin Bible

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek, but for nearly 1,500 years it was read primarily in Latin. The story of the Latin Bible provides some interesting historical background that is particularly relevant for our conversation about modern English translations.

We don’t really know when the first Latin translation was made. Christians in Rome continued to read Greek well into the 3rd century.(1) But it is clear that several Latin translations where made and used within 100 years of the completion of the New Testament.(2) This again highlights the early church’s desire for people to be able to read God’s word in their native tongue as well as their belief that translations could accurately and meaningfully communicate God’s Word.

However, before long there were many Latin translations and often these translations appeared to be quite different from one another.(3) Many of these translations obviously lacked the skill of an experienced translator, and the differences between the many translations began to create some problems.(4) To address these problems, in 383 AD, Pope Damasus turned to the renowned scholar Jerome to produce a definitive Latin translation.(5)

It is interesting to note that Jerome, at first, turned down this request from the Pope. Metzger records Jerome’s response,

You urge me to revise the Old Latin version, and, as it were, to sit in judgment on the copies of the Scriptures that are now scattered throughout the world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the original. The labor is one of love, but at the same time it is both perilous and presumptuous—for in judging others I must be content to be judged by all …. Is there anyone learned or unlearned, who, when he takes the volume in his hands and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, will not break out immediately into violent language and call me a forger and profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections in them? (6)

Jerome appears to understand how much controversy a translation of the Bible can create. His predictions turned out to be true. When one congregation heard that in Jerome’s translation “Jonah took shelter from the sun under some ivy, with one accord they shouted, “Gourd, gourd”, until the reader reinstated the old word lest there be a general exodus of the congregation!(7) To be sure, modern translators still face the same kinds of responses that Jerome feared roughly 1600 years ago.

Nevertheless, Jerome eventually agreed to take on the project. His Latin translation became known as the “Vulgate,” because it was written in vulgar or common tongue.(8) This, of course, does not mean that Jerome’s Vulgate was base, sloppy, or elementary. On the contrary, the Vulgate is widely considered to be both beautifully and expertly translated. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that it is a product intended for Jerome’s contemporary public audience. Jerome himself famously said, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”(9) The Vulgate, then, was Jerome’s attempt to give the public access to Christ.

As we continue to work toward an understanding of modern English translations, it is worth noting at Jerome’s response to critics of what was then considered a modern Latin translation. To those unwilling to consider any updates or revisions to the “Old Latin” versions, Jerome responded calling them “two-legged asses” or “yelping dogs”—person[s] who think that ignorance is identical to holiness.”(10) For his own part, he worked hard to insure that phrase did not indict him as well. Jerome. Unlike many other translators, he committed himself to years of study in order to become proficient in Greek and Hebrew.

The obvious quality of Jerome’s work won out over time. Bruce Metzger points out the lasting significance of this translation stating, “For nearly a thousand years, the Vulgate was used as the recognized text of Scripture throughout western Europe. It also became the basis of pre-Reformation vernacular Scriptures, such as Wycliffe’s English translation in the fourteenth century, as well as the first printed Bibles in German (1466), Italian (1471), Catalán (1478), Czech (1488), and French (1530).”(11)

Though the Vulgate was meant to be a Bible in the language of the public, time brought a sadly ironic twist Jerome’s work. The Vulgate began to be produced most often as highly ornate and very expensive books available only for the most wealthy.

[T]he clergy and the church used the Bible not as daily guidance to spiritual maturity but as an object to be worshiped and venerated. One needs only to view these magnificently decorated manuscripts to understand the mentality, the superstition, and they highly mystical makeup of the medieval Christ. Shepherd sums it up: “To translate the Latin Bible would have been to transform the whole frame of knowledge human and divine.”(12)

By 1401, as John Wycliffe’s English translation of the Bible gains popularity, the Church’s hatred for a vernacular Bible will become so intense that they will sign “De heretico comburendo,” promising death by burning to any heretic who tries to translate the Bible into a modern tongue for the common man.(13) The sad destiny of the Vulgate was that it not only ceased to be a translations accessible to the public, it’s venerated status denied average people the opportunity for their own “vulgata editio.”

The history of the Latin Bible can teach us several things as we consider modern English Bibles. First, it reminds us, as the Septuagint did before it, that Christians have historically believed in the importance of a Bible that people can access in their own language. As Jerome himself said, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

The history of the Latin Bible also teaches us that not every translation is equally good. Some translators are better equipped for their task than others. Christians are not expected to believe that every, or for that matter any, translation of the original Hebrew or Greek texts are inspired in the same way the original was. On the contrary, just as some Latin translations were better than others, we can assume that some English translations will be better than others.

A third lesson that the history of the Latin Bible teaches us is that we, Christians, can be dangerously prone to resist change. Jerome faced great opposition in his task to get produce a translation for the common man. And as language changed, and Latin was no longer a language spoken by common people, Christians again protested any translation that might again put the Scriptures back in the hands of the public. Perhaps some modern English translations will be demonstrably inferior to older translations such as the KJV, however we must be cautious not to become so afraid of change that we prohibit the public from accessing God’s word in a format that they can understand.


(1) Bruce Manning Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 30.
(2) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, states that Latin manuscripts were in North Africa during the 2nd century, with extensive quotes of a Latin Bible being found in works by both Tertullian (150–220) and Cyprian (200–258).
(3) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, states, “Since one finds numerous and far-reaching differences between quotations of the same passages, it is obvious that there was no one uniform rendering; some books were apparently translated a number of times, and no single translator worked on all of the books.”
(4) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, evaluates the early Latin translations saying, “The pre-Jerome translations in general lack polish and are often painfully literal.” Further evidence of the lack of quality in many of the Latin translations is demonstrated by Augustine who lamented, “Those who translated the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith, everyone who happened to gain possession of a Greek manuscript [of the New Testament] and thought he had any facility in both languages, however slight that might have been, attempted to make a translation.”
(5) D. Brown, “Jerome,” in Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, edited by Donald McKim, (Downer’s Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2007), 567, Suggests, “Damasus was concerned about the vast number of differing Latin translations that were circulating at the time and wished to impose some order on them by introducing an accurate standard translation.”
(6) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 32.
(7) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(8) The Latin “vulgus” refers to the common people. The “vulgata editio” then refers to the edition prepared for the public.
(9) Taken from Jerome’s commentary on Isaiah as quoted at https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/ignorance-of-scripture-is-ignorance-of-christ-st-jerome/
(10) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(11) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(12) Donald L. Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 36–7.
(13) Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible, 47