So, why the HCSB?

Yesterday, I posted about my decision to move away from the New International Version as my primary preaching and teaching text. You can read about the reasons for that decision here. I also announced, at the end of the post, that I am intending to move to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). I also gave a couple of the reasons why I am choosing the HCSB, but I want to provide a little more detail about some of the strengths and weaknesses I’ve found with the HCSB, as well as the reasons for choosing this particular translation over a number of other excellent choices.

First, though, I want to tell you about how the HCSB came onto my radar in the first place: utter and complete accident. Earlier this year, I had a little extra money from a project I had done, and so I went to the Christian bookstore to pick up some new resources to add to my library. In particular, I went to get the Archaeological Study Bible, which I have had my eye on for a long time, and I decided that, while I was there, I would also grab a thinner, lighter Bible (with larger text than the other small Bibles I had) to use in the pulpit because my other study Bibles were falling apart and they were too heavy to really carry around the platform. For this second Bible, I simply went to a shelf which was labeled NIV, grabbed up a plain, thinline Bible which had a reasonable text size and went to the checkout. When I got home, I opened this Bible to mark my text for that Sunday’s message and discovered, to my horror, that it was not the same as I had been studying! I immediately checked the spine and realized that it was not the NIV but some other version: the HCSB.

To be honest, I very nearly exchanged the thing for an NIV, but I decided that it couldn’t hurt to have another version to consult from time to time, so I kept it. I have now decided that this was God’s way of opening the door.

So that’s how I stumbled upon the HCSB. Let’s talk about its strengths. In the last several months that I’ve been using the HCSB regularly, I have found on more than one occasion that I absolutely love the way it renders things. Even before I really decided to migrate away from the NIV1984, I quoted out of the HCSB on Sunday morning on a fairly regular basis because it just nailed some verses and terms. I have also found that, while I think it does tend to lean a tad more toward the formal (word-for-word) translation side of things than the NIV1984 did, with the advent of the NIV2011, it may be the most evenly-balanced translation out there. Simply put, it does a great job of conveying the idea while still remaining exceptionally close to a word-for-word translation. And finally, I really liked how the HCSB was translated by scholars from a broad spectrum of theological camps. The end result of their efforts is a translation which is faithful primarily to Scripture rather than any theological camp, a problem which is evident in some other translations.

In addition to these more technical strengths, I have found one, more practical strength that I really, really, really, really like about the HCSB. Really. Whenever a word appears for the first time in a chapter, it is preceded by a bullet (i.e., a little circle) which indicates that you can find a definition for that word in an appendix at the back of every copy of the HCSB. I absolutely love this feature because it provides a simple, immediately accessible resource that I can use to better understand the key concepts and terms being discussed.

Now for the weaknesses. So far, I’ve really only found two of these. The first, more important, is that, while the translators have generally done an excellent job rendering the original text into contemporary English, sometimes, I find some of their word choices feeling a bit… archaic. Now, that’s not to say that it’s unreadable. You won’t find thee’s and thou’s, etc. But sometimes, the translators have used words that I just don’t hear used all that often and would expect to find in something more like the King James. Again, that’s not bad. The King James remains an excellent and beloved translation, even after 400 years in print. But it does make the HCSB seem at times, in particular passages, to be a bit older than it actually is (the copies I have are copyright 2003).

The second weakness that I’ve found is that, while the HCSB was translated by a large group of scholars representing a variety of theological perspectives, it has been funded and printed by the Broadman & Holman Publishing Group. B&H is a subsidiary of Lifeway Christian Resources, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church. Now, please understand that I have no problem with the SBC. And I will reiterate that I have found the HCSB to be a very theologically balanced text. But this very close affiliation to one particular denomination is noteworthy because there may be some points where the theological preferences of the SBC may influence a variety of things. So really, maybe this isn’t so much a weakness as it is a note to myself and others to double and triple check the veracity of theological tenets.

So why the HCSB versus other translations? Well, when it comes down to it, there are really two things that have set this one version out in my mind versus all the others I’ve read: the balanced translation and the readability.

I’ve already written at length about how I have found the HCSB to be an excellent balance between formal (i.e., word-for-word) and dynamic (i.e., conceptual) translation. Some versions which I considered tended to swing markedly toward the formal end of the spectrum (e.g., New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version). And others tended toward the dynamic end (e.g., New Living Translation, New International Version 2011). When preaching and teaching, I very much prefer a translation which balances the two almost evenly because, while I believe that the idea is essential, sometimes, the wording is just as critical. This conviction comes from the notion of 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is “inspired by God” (HCSB). In short, while I don’t believe that God dictated all of Scripture to the various writers, I do believe that He gave them the ideas they were to write and, on many occasions, specific words or phrases they were to include. So I like the balance.

Readability has been another critical consideration for me. I shared in the other post how I contemplated reading levels and things like that. That’s important. Equally important is the use of contemporary language and phraseology so that the HCSB feels like something modern and relevant. While I did note that, sometimes there are words and phrases that feel older, in general, the HCSB does a great job of this.

So there you have it. A little more information about the thought processes that are going on in why I have chosen the HCSB as my next preaching and teaching text. Stay tuned for more information and resources about the HCSB as we make the transition progresses! And in the meantime, I would strongly recommend that you do a little research for yourself. For example, check out the HCSB site, http://hsbc.org, which includes a variety of resources, including translation comparisons so you can see how the HCSB compares to the NASB, KJV, ESV, and NIV; information about the translation itself; and more. You can also check out the HCSB for yourself on your Kindle (or any device with Kindle software) for free, or you can pick up a hard copy at your local Christian bookstore or online here: http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/books/bibles.asp?c=HCSB

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4 Responses to “So, why the HCSB?”


  1. 1 Wayne September 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on the translation. I haven’t read from this version before. We’ve been using the ESV since it first came out (I was a little biased as a good friend of mine was the OT editor).

    • 2 jgeerdes September 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Wayne: no problem! And for the record, I love the ESV as well. As I mentioned in my previous post, the final two candidates were ESV and HCSB. The deciding factor was reading level: the ESV has an 11th grade reading level, while the HCSB is estimated about 8th grade. Since the average American has an 8th grade reading level, I went with the HCSB. But I do love the ESV and use it often in personal use, sermon prep, Bible study, etc. And I know a fair number of other pastors who are using it almost exclusively.

  2. 3 jgeerdes December 1, 2011 at 2:12 am

    A couple of updates since I posted this. First, while the copies that I had at the time of writing were the HCSB 2003, we are transitioning directly to the 2009 update. As good as the 2003 version was – and is – the 2009 version just knocks it out of the park. Further, http://mystudybible.com is an awesome resource which should be in every preacher/teacher’s bookmarks. This offers the entire HCSB Study Bible (which is, itself, a phenomenal resource) online, free of charge. Seriously. Check it out.

    • 4 Joshua H. (@eparses) June 16, 2016 at 4:40 am

      I found this post via Google. My translation experience has been like yours in a few ways. I started off with the Living Bible and then used the KJV, NIV, and then NRSV. I got back into church recently and started to reevaluate translations; I settled on the ESV. I started to use it in Sunday School study and in memorizing Scripture. The readability and general clumsiness stuck out. The HCSB has been a much better experience!


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