The HCSB is next in my mini-series of Bible Translation Thoughts:
The Holman Christian Standard Bible deserves wider circulation. It ought to be among today’s best selling Bibles but it’s disappointing to find so few British Christians are aware of it. The American Christian Booksellers Association reports strong sales in the US but I doubt it has achieved anything close to that in the UK.
Published in 2004, the HCSB is a brand new translation and not a revision of an earlier work. Perhaps because of this, it has a refreshing feel to it: it is unencumbered by existing renderings and the translators seem prepared to sacrifice traditional phraseology in favour of accuracy. Accordingly some verses appear odd but they reflect better the underlying Hebrew or Greek. For example:
John 3:16 “For God loved the world in this way…” as opposed to “For God so loved the world”.
Matt 6:9 “Your name be honoured as holy” rather than “Hallowed be your name”.
Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my Shepherd; There is nothing I lack” instead of “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want”
I imagine some Christians might dislike these changes since they don’t ‘sound right’ but perhaps they may be more forgiving in instances where the translators’ innovation is reflected in single words rather than whole verses. For instance, in translating the Greek doulos they avoid “servant” as in most translations, choosing instead “slave” – correctly, in my opinion. Thus in Romans 1:1, Paul introduces himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus”.
A certain boldness is evident in renderings that go against the majority opinion. For instance, in Galatians 6:16, nearly all translations opt for something akin to the ESV: “And as for all those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The HCSB is one of the few translations (NRSV is another) that separates the words “peace” and “mercy”. Accordingly, HCSB translates, “May peace be on all those who follow this standard, and mercy also be on the Israel of God!” The HCSB therefore suggests that Paul is addressing two separate groups desiring peace upon one and mercy on the other. Needless to say, this has interesting consequences for the exegesis of Gal 16:6.
Another interesting concept is the translation of the Greek Christos. Unlike other translations that consistently translate this “Christ,” the HCSB interchanges between Messiah and Christ. The translators explain their reasoning thus: “Where the NT emphasises Christos as the name of our Lord or has a Gentile context, ‘Christ’ is used … Where the NT has a Jewish context, the title ‘Messiah’ is used.”
I am unsure what value this has – Messiah and Christ have the same meaning (anointed one) and I don’t think this method adds any clarity. To a young Christian or someone unfamiliar with the two titles, it could even cause confusion. Furthermore it is surely sometimes difficult to determine whether a passage has a “Gentile context” or a “Jewish context”.
Sometimes, the interchanging of Messiah and Christ is very strange. In Romans 15:7-8, the HCSB reads “Therefore except one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God. Now I say that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God to confirm that promises to the fathers”. The HCSB seems to unnecessarily swap between Christ (v. 7) and Messiah (v.8). This seems particularly odd when v. 8 could be considered to have a “Jewish context”.
Finally, a word on translation philosophy: the HCSB translators coined a new phrase to describe their method – “optimal equivalence”. In theory, this means they translate some verses literally and others freely depending on need. In practice, they do not go far in either direction and so the translation never feels particularly literal (cf. NASB) or particularly free (cf. NLT). Overall, it sits somewhere between the NIV and the ESV on the scale of free to literal. It is not too dissimilar to NRSV although the HCSB does not use gender neutral language.
Overall, I love the HCSB. The scholarship is rigorous and bold resulting in a translation that is accurate and up-to-date. I consider it the best general-purpose translation on the market and ideal for church or devotional use. A few years ago, I was asked to choose the pew Bible for the church I attended. I selected the HCSB and I still believe that was the right decision.
Added 27/2/08 – Interview with Dr Ed Blum, General Editor of the HCSB.
Andy Cheung is a PhD student researching Bible Translation and a tutor in New Testament at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School, England, UK