the HCSB: great but not perfect

Movable Type galley. Galera con tipos móviles.In two previous posts (here and here), I touted the excellence of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but I would be remiss to explicitly or implicitly suggest that the translation is perfect. As a translation, it is not perfect, but it is such an excellent version that its lack of widespread acceptance and use–even in light of the cult-classic status of the ESV–absolutely baffles me. Let me now offer four unsolicited, ‘big-picture’ suggestions for improvement of this already remarkable translation.  While I am working on a writeup dealing with translation recommendations of specific verses in the HCSB, I shall not get to that level of detail today.  Instead, these thoughts aim to serve is a high-level critique, suitable for consumption by everyone, not just those who want to dive into the details of language translation issues.

the name: HCSB1

OK, so this is probably not fair game because no established bible translation is going to change its name after nearly a decade of publication, but I lament that the publishers chose to name this translation the HCSB for three reasons:

  1. “Holman” — no matter how many times anyone says, “The HCSB isn’t a Southern Baptist bible,” having Holman in the name has forever wrongly linked the SBC and the HCSB, creating a theological bias that does not exist. It would be like Concordia publishing a bible that ‘wasn’t Lutheran’ or JPS publishing an Old Testament that ‘wasn’t Jewish’…except that the HCSB really is not a baptist bible!  Trust me on this, I went to Southern Seminary but am not baptist.  Even though, the HCSB does not have a denominational slant to it, I think it will forever fight an uphill (losing?) battle to convince folks of this reality.
  2. “Christian” — kinda goes without saying that a bible will be “Christian,” no? Why bother?
  3. “Standard” — in my opinion, the whole idea of a “standard” English bible died with the explosion of the multitude of bible translations the English language now enjoys. The RSV was probably the last true ‘standard’ bible.  Now, such a name is wishful thinking, at best.

Let this observation merely be a lesson to future English bible translation committees, not that we need one for the next 25 years or so given that we have the HCSB right now!

translation: “the name is Yahweh”

One of the banners at the top of the HCSB website proclaims, “The name is Yahweh. God gave us his personal name, which is why you’ll see it in the Holman Christian Standard Bible.” Translating the tetragrammaton (YHWH) as Yahweh instead of the traditional LORD was a bold move in bible translation, done previously to my knowledge only in the New Jerusalem Bible. It is also linguistically correct.  My last post pointed out the importance and benefit of this choice.

The first edition used Yahweh a handful of times. The 2010 update upped that to about 500 times. I’d love to see the translators use it consistently across the nearly 7,000 instances of YHWH in the Old Testament. There is no good case in my mind for translating YHWH as Yahweh sometimes and as LORD other times–if anything it only muddies the waters since most readers will not recognize that the Hebrew beneath these two translations is identical. “Pastor, what’s the significance of the difference here?” Reply, “Um, eh, um…there is none.”

editions: take a risk to create loyal fans, B&H

One of my favorite things about the ESV is that Crossway isn’t afraid to take a risk on editions that the ‘experts’ shun as unprofitable. Examples of ‘risky’ editions abound, including: the ESV Journaling Bible, the ESV Wide Margin (forthcoming), the Personal Size Reference Bible / Personal Reference Bible, and a host of single-column layouts. Crossway has also partnered with Baker/Cambridge to produce some stunning editions: wide-margin, Pitt-Minion, and Clarion layouts. While I have no idea about the sales of any of these individual editions, the overall strategy has worked.  ESV fans are some of the most incredibly-loyal bible version fans out there!  These are all rather niche editions that are probably not big money makers–I know because I’ve corresponded with folks in the publishing departments at B&H and Tyndale in the past and received that exact answer. No projected sales = no backing from management.  Pardon me, but Crossway has demonstrated the foolishness of this answer.

Here’s my question to B&H: since such customer responsiveness creates insanely-loyal customers and Crossway (another non-profit) is willing to take these risks, why not do the same with the HCSB instead of giving us a couple of very solid specialty editions (e.g., the HCSB Study Bible is an incredibly solid study bible for one) but repackaging the same few double-column, center-reference, red-letter editions over and over?2 Or how about this crazy notion, partner with Tyndale to create a parallel (facing-page, please) HCSB-NLT bible? I’ll buy a case, or ten!

editions part two: academic credibility

Another amazing thing Crossway has done with the ESV, which has created a great level of credibility in academic circles, is to partner with the United Bible Societies to create four amazing academic editions: a parallel Greek NT, a parallel Hebrew OT, and both NT and OT interlinear editions.

I would love to see the same thing done with the HCSB, especially the parallel/diglot editions.3 Looking to justify the gamble, B&H? Last I checked, the SBC had nearly 10,000 seminarians…how’s that for a great first publication run? How great would it be for this fantastic translation to be taken seriously (i.e., used regularly) in academic circles and not just SBC Sunday school materials?

Each of these ideas are mine, but I do not think I’m the only one that holds them.  In fact, I’ll bet that first case of HCSB-Hebrew/Greek diglots or parallel HCSB-NLT bibles that I’m not!


1 I’m really not sure why I bothered to list this, except to point out again, in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion that the HCSB is NOT a Baptist bible.
2 To be fair, the new text block in the most-recent HCSB reference bible is a thing of beauty. See my thoughts on it here. In addition, as I mentioned, the HCSB Study Bible is an incredible study bible that should enjoy much better sales than it currently does…I don’t have access to the sales history but it isn’t even in the Sept 13 top ten study bible list, seriously?! Especially unfathomable to me in light of the fact that the number one study bible is B&H’s KJV Study Bible.
3 I can almost see the visceral reaction of my Greek professors (one of whom is now the chairman of the HCSB translation oversight committee!) at the suggestion that we put diglots in the hands of seminary students.  I’m certainly not advocating these tools be used instead of the traditional Greek NT during Greek studies, but as one who has been in the post-seminary ‘real-world’ of ministry now for nearly ten years, I freely admit that my Greek / Hebrew skills will never be to the point where I don’t need some helps to read even though I read Greek / Hebrew several times a week.  A diglot is a much better tool (i.e., less of a crutch) than an interlinear.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Xosé Castro Roig

on approaches to bible translation

Prayer A Powerful Weapon

Last week, I posted a survey on languages and bible preference, which is still open by the way.  (If you haven’t spent the 30 seconds necessary to complete its four questions, I would greatly appreciate it.)  Soon after, I came across these thoughts on bible translation in the preface to a commentary on Romans by Fr. Lawrence Farley, a priest in the Orthodox Church in America serving at St. Herman’s Church in Surrey, British Columbia.  After briefly describing the two principle approaches to translation–formal and dynamic equivalence–he writes:

The English translator is faced, it would seem, with a choice: either he can make the translation something of a rough paraphrase of the original and render it into flowing sonorous English  or he can attempt to make a fairly literal, word-for-word translation from the original with the resultant English being stilted, wooden, and clumsy.

These two basic and different approaches to translation correspond to two basic and different activities in the Church. The Church needs a translation of the Scriptures for use in worship.  This should be in good, grammatical, and flowing English, as elegant as possible and suited to its function in the majestic function of the Liturgy.  The Church also needs a translation of the Scriptures for private study and for group Bible study.  Here the elegance of its English is of lesser concern.  What is of greater concern here is the bring out of all the nuances found in the original.  Thus this approach will tend to sacrifice elegance for literality and, wherever possible, seek a work-for-work correspondence with the Greek.  Also, because the student will want to see how the biblical authors use a particular word (especially St. Paul, who has many works included in the canon), a consistence of translation will be sought and the same Greek word will be translated, whenever possible, by the same English word or its cognate.

So, what do you think about Fr. Farley’s observations concerning the place of different translations in the life of the Church?  Do you agree that we would do well to utilize a more flowing, dynamic translation for public reading and liturgy as part of worship while resorting to a more literal translation for study?  It seems the desire of many (most?) of us is to find that one bible translation that is perfect (or at least suitable) for both worship and study.  In the ever-changing landscape of English bible translation, this quest is as elusive as it is ultimately frustrating.

What do you think of Fr. Farley’s advice?

photo credit: Creative Commons | abcdz2000