Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of the Christian Standard Bible

Since the new Christian Standard Bible is available for reading online and in electronic media, I thought I would give a little personal review of it.

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Allegedly, the update is significant enough to give the version a new name by dropping the "Holman."

I have for a long time appreciated the HCSB. I believe it is the best, or one of the best contemporary translations available for the New Testament. On the other hand, I never thought the HCSB Old Testament was useful for Bible study. I think it is too interpretive and textually uncritical in the Old Testament. Below, I will compare the two in light of my impressions of the HCSB.

One of the features I have appreciated about the HCSB is that it translates the word "Yahweh" in the Old Testament. It does not translate it everywhere the name appears; but it does translate it as "Yahweh" in places where the name has special significance. So, in Genesis 2:4 we have "... at the time that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens" (HCSB). However, in Isaiah 42:8, where the name has special significance, HCSB reads
I am Yahweh, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another
or My praise to idols.
I like that HCSB translates "Yahweh" in some places. I wish it translated it everywhere. Apparently, translating "Yahweh" in the Old Testament bothers a significant segment of the Bible buying market; so the CSB translates the divine name as "the LORD," following the tradition of most English translations. Thus, in Isaiah 42:8, CSB reads
I am the LORD. That is my name,
and I will not give my glory to another
or praise to idols.
I can handle "LORD." I supposed I have conditioned myself to it. Sometimes, the reading of a version that uses "LORD" can be a little misleading. Take, for instance, Isaiah 7:14.
Therefore, the Lord [not "LORD"] himself will give you a sign....
In an out-loud reading of that passage, it is unclear of what is read is "Lord" or "LORD." It may not matter in the above example; but "Lord" (adonay) could refer to the king in other contexts. Readers can tell the difference; but listeners cannot tell the difference between "LORD God," "Lord GOD" and "LORD GOD" (Isaiah 12:2). Currently, there is not a comfortable solution to that minor problem.

I am not a big fan of Bible translations that capitalize pronouns that refer to God or Jesus. The main reason for my disdain is that too often the translators have to guess whether a pronoun refers to God or Jesus or someone else. (For the same reason, I am not a big fan of red-letter Bibles―too much guessing). You may have noticed in the example of Isaiah 42:8 that CSB has dropped the use of the capital pronouns. Zechariah 12:10 is a good case-example where the capitalized pronouns amount to guesswork.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn. ..."
You may agree that the emphasized (in bold text) pronouns in that verse apply to Jesus; but you should be honest and admit that it is your own interpretation of that verse that applies it to Jesus. When the HCSB (and other translations that capitalize divine pronouns) supply the capital letters, they are forcing an interpretation that means Jesus is the one pierced. Such an interpretation should be the task of the Bible student and not the translator. To CSB's credit, there are no more capitalized divine pronouns. CSB otherwise reads identically to its predecessor in Zechariah 12:10.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn. ..."
CSB made another change in the Old Testament that I find interesting. CSB changed "the LORD of Hosts" (HCSB) to "the LORD of Armies." For example, Isaiah 1:9 says
If the LORD of Hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would be like Sodom,
we would resemble Gomorrah.

If the LORD of Armies
had not left us a few survivors,
we would be like Sodom,
we would resemble Gomorrah.
I am not sure what I think about that; but it is interesting. Some translators prefer to not translate the Hebrew tsbadah ("hosts" or "armies), preferring a transliteration "Yahweh Sabaoth." P. Kyle McCarter argues that not translating tsbadah is more meaningful as a longer form of the divine name than as a description of creator of armies (McCarter, 59).

I mentioned above that I thought the HCSB was insufficiently critical, textually, in the Old Testament. There are numerous ancient copyist mistakes that have been identified by scholars and restored to the text of English translations. In most of the cases, the HCSB relegated the restored text to footnotes. The CSB restored a significant number of them into the text proper. Consider 1 Samuel 14:41.
So Saul said to the Lord, “God of Israel, give us the right decision.”[footnote] Jonathan and Saul were selected, and the troops were cleared of the charge.

So Saul said to the LORD, “God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If the unrighteousness is in me or in my son Jonathan, LORD God of Israel, give Urim; but if the fault is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were selected, and the troops were cleared of the charge.
The CSB is a BIG improvement over HCSB in that text. First Samuel 14:41 is a good litmus-test verse when evaluating a new translation. Another sample text is 1 Samuel 10:27-11:1. There is a huge copyist error there that NRSV restored to the text proper. In the case of CSB, the restored text is still relegated to a footnote.

Addendum: Another good litmus-test verse for new translations is Jude 1:5. If the name "Jesus" appears in the verse as the one who saved Israel from Egypt, the translation is taking the textually critical way rather than the textually safe route. Here is the CSB:
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;...

One of the strongest features of the HCSB New Testament is its treatment of perfect tensed verbs. The closest approximation in English for perfect tense is English present tense... not English past tense. Ephesians 2:5, 8 are shining star examples (emphasis mine).

Ephesians 2:5, HCSB:
... made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

Note the present tense "are" over the usual "have been" of most English translations. Throwing the perfect verb into English past-tense makes the verse suggest that salvation was a one-time event in the past rather than a life-long process. Currently, the only other major translation that properly translates the verb in Ephesians 2:5, 8 is the King James Version; but KJV fumbles on the perfect tense in Matthew 16:19 while HCSB and CSB do not. There, HCSB and CSB read slightly differently from each other, but not significantly.

Also, in the example of Ephesians 2:5, CSB changes HCSB's Messiah to Christ. That works better in my mind too.

HCSB and CSB (also NKJV) have a weakness at Matthew 10:29. HCSB and CSB read the same:
Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent.
The verse suggests that God ordains the deaths of sparrows; but that is not the meaning. The meaning is that even sparrows do not die alone. God is with them. This meaning is clear in many translations including NABRE, MEV, CEB, NRSV and KJV.

I am personally bothered when a translation bends an Old Testament text to help it to conform to a New Testament text. A really good litmus-test verse to check for New Testament bias in translating an Old Testament text is Psalm 89:4. HCSB and CSB read alike in that verse.
I will establish your offspring forever
and build up your throne for all generations.
Instead of "offspring" the text should read "descendants," "children," or even "seed." HCSB and CSB betray an interest in conforming this verse's translation to New Testament passages such as John 12:34 and Galatians 3:16. Again, interpretation is the job of the Bible student, not the translator.

No translation is perfect and I am very pleased with the upcoming CSB. I am especially pleased with the Old Testament improvements in this update. I like it a lot.

McCarter, P. Kyle. Commentary on 1 Samuel. Anchor Bible. Doubleday: 1980.

More useful articles on the CSB:
Matthew William Bassford

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