At the end of May 2020, I pulled the trigger on a brand-new Bible translation – the Christian Standard Bible – published by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. And owing to the lock-down, I’ve had a chance to read through the majority of the text and would now like to offer my opinions on this fresh, new translation of the Holy Scriptures. If you’re in a hurry, I would heartily recommend this rock-solid translation to you as it offers a unique blend of readability and accuracy that will certainly enrich your walk in the Christian faith. What follows here are some general notes I made of this new translation.They are merely my impressions of the work, so are entirely personal. For more details, please read on.
The Christian Standard Bible(CSB), which was first published in 2017, is a completely updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) which was first published back in 2004. Although I have not personally read through the HCSB, I understand that it is a good and well-respected version of the Bible in the English language, but had some peculiarities that are not found in other modern translations. For example, The HCSB used the Hebrew name for God, known as the Tetragrammaton – YHWH or JHVH – articulated to Yahweh, or Jehovah, more often than the more commonly used term, Lord. The CSB, in contrast, uses the word ‘Lord’ throughout the text. If you don’t like this change, best to stick with the older, HCSB, which, I’m reliably informed, will continue to be published by Holman in the coming years.
The second thing that you’ll notice is that the CSB introduces more gender neutral language than the HCSB. This is quite a common move among many modern English Bible translations, where terms like ‘brethern’ or ‘brothers’ is replaced by ‘brothers and sisters’. That said, the use of such gender neutral terminology is much more subdued in the CSB than in other popular translations such as the NIV 2011 or the NLT. Personally, I don’t mind the inclusion of such changes if it makes the text more friendly and inclusive, but I do understand that its over-use tries too hard to be politically correct and we should never view the Bible in a way that comports with any human-derived political movements. The Bible is just not PC and should always remain above and beyond petty societal concerns.
That said, using the more inclusive phrase, ‘brothers and sisters’ certainly works well in many places when reading through the Biblical narratives but it is noteworthy that the CSB is more respectful in places where this is simply not necessary – unlike the NIV 2011, for example.
Based on the minority texts, the CSB often refers to God as the ‘Lord of Armies,’ which is a legitimate name for the Creator in that one of His attributes as a truly righteous God is wrath(after all, a truly righteous deity must avenge sin). Here the CSB follows the NLT which uses the related attribution of ‘Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Technical words like ‘propitiation’ are replaced by more understandable terms like ‘atonement,’ so readers who like to see such age-old terms as these may be a little disappointed with the CSB in that it follows many of the most popular ‘thought for thought’ translations in this regard. Yet, in other ways, it is more traditional. For example, the CSB retains the rather obscure term ‘selah’ throughout the book of Psalms which many modern versions interpret, rightly or wrongly, as ‘interlude.’
The 100-strong team of inter-denominational Bible scholars, linguists, stylists and proofreaders commissioned to work on the CSB project went to great lengths to use the most precise modern language to maximise the intelligibility of the text that is obvious on every page of the translation. As I’ve explained before, Bible translation philosophy falls into two camps; so-called ‘thought for thought’ and ‘word for word.’ The former emphasises the essential thoughts conveyed in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek but at the expense of departing somewhat from the precise wording of these foundational texts. The latter philosophy tries very hard to insert an English word corresponding to each Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word found in the original manuscripts but, as a result, can make the text more wooden or clunky, with the result that the translation can be more difficult to assimilate. What the CSB translation team claim is that they have found a so-called ‘optimal equivalence,’ which they assert, combines the very best of both. And while the same term conveys the impression of being some sort of precisely defined mathematical rule, it’s really just a way of saying that they made a more concerted effort to keep the accuracy as good as possible whilst retaining the overall flow of text.
An example will help illustrate these principles. Consider 2 Samuel 22:23 in three different translations;
“For all His ordinances were before me,
And as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. (NASB)
I have followed all his regulations; I have never abandoned his decrees.(NLT)
Indeed, I let all his ordinances guide me
and have not disregarded his statutes. (CSB)
Notice that the highly accurate NASB uses words like ‘ordinances’ and ‘statutes,’ both of which are retained in the CSB, but are replaced by ‘regulations’ and ‘decrees’ in the less literal NLT. However, in departing from the phrase, ‘ all His ordinances were before me,’ you do seem to lose a sense of the ‘majesty of language’ in the CSB that more literal translations retain. That said, I’ll leave it up to you to judge which translation best conveys the essential thoughts of the original writers!
I found the Book of Psalms to be the most difficult to navigate in the CSB, simply because I have a strong grounding in more traditional Bible versions such as the NASB, KJV and NKJV. Every Bible reader comes to his own personal favourite of the Psalms and it doesn’t come easy when the wording is changed significantly in a new Bible translation. Consider the much loved Psalm 23 in the NKJV and CSB respectively:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have what I need.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
For me, the poetic virtues of this time-honoured Davidic psalm are somewhat subdued in the CSB rendering, making it less engaging and exciting to read. Yet, if I were a beginning Bible reader, I don’t think I’d have any problem with the CSB translation!
You see, it’s all down to personal taste!
Did the CSB translation committee achieve their goals? I think so!
I would consider the CSB to be more literal than the NIV but less than the NKJV, more smoothly reading than the ESV, but less so than the NLT.
Now, I would like to say a few words about the particular CSB Bible I purchased and why I absolutely love it!
Consider the two Bibles shown below, both published by Holman; on the left is the NKJV and on the right is the CSB.
Both Bibles retail for about £20 UK, have a lovely faux leather cover, with the same simple embossed cross. Both have a good, Smyth-sewn binding, gold-gilded page edges and possess a single satin ribbon marker. But now, have a look at the differences in the paper used and the text.
Though the NKJV is a 2013 printing, I think you’ll agree that the CSB has a larger font size and has less ghosting than the former. The paper used on the CSB also seems to be of slightly higher quality than the earlier NKJV edition. Another great feature of the CSB is its neat thumb indices which make finding the right book of the Bible a lot easier and quicker to access a given book and chapter;
The lovely, large print on the Holman CSB makes the text very easy to read, even without eye glasses, yet is still small and light enough to take along with you anywhere!
I would thoroughly recommend these Holman Bibles(CSB or otherwise) to anyone as they offer exceptional quality for a very reasonable price. No doubt, I’ll be checking out more from their new range in the future!
God bless you all and thanks for reading!
Erratum: I came across one printing error in the CSB, which occurs in Zechariah 2:5( see below) page 1264 of the text. However it is correctly presented in the online text. See here.
Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. If you like his work, please consider supporting him by buying one of his books.