Bible Q&A – What About the Holman Christian Standard Bible?

Brother Cobb, I was given a really nice Bible, but it’s the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  I’ve never heard of this before.  Is it reliable?–Mrs. Cole, An Inmate in Oklahoma.

Thanks for that question.  It’s great that you want to know about the Bible version you’re reading.  In order to get a decent answer, we have to first look at the background of this Bible version.

Initial History

The education wing of the Southern Baptist Convention had signed an exclusive contract to use only the New International Version (NIV) in their Sunday School curriculum. When that contract was nearing an end, the Baptists engaged the services of Arthur Farstad, who had been one of the lead translators of the New King James Version (NKJV) to help them make their own version. The reasons for wanting to stop using the NIV and make their own version came down to these main points:

  • Broadman and Holman is the publishing wing of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • They were having to pay a lot of money to publish curriculum using the NIV, which is owned by Zondervan Publishing (one of their competitors).
  • There was a revision of the NIV which was forthcoming at the time, which sought to incorporate gender-neutral language (to appease feminists).
  • They sought to buy the rights to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but to no avail.
  • They wanted a Bible that they could control any and all revisions on.

Initially, the plan was to use a Greek text close to that used by the King James and New King James, but when Mr. Farstad passed away, they decided to instead use the Greek text employed by the NIV, American Standard Version, and practically all newer translations. While this may not seem noteworthy, there are some large differences: multiple verses that are found in the KJV and NKJV are absent from these Bibles (Acts 8:37 is one such example). The HCSB includes these verses, but places them in large black brackets to alert the reader that they do not believe those verses belong in the Bible.  However, in over 1500 instances, various words and phrases are just missing from the HCSB. One example of a phrase missing from the HCSB is, “and whosoever marries her which is put away commits adultery” from Matthew 19:9.

It’s not the leaving out of the verses that causes me the most concern.  Most newer translations do that anyway, it’s the extremely arbitrary way they put some parts in brackets as “not part of the original,” but then leave others completely out without even a note.

The 2009 Revision

The HCSB was released in 2004, and a revised edition was released in 2009. Some changes are as follows:

  • In the original 2004 edition, any words added by the translators (usually for clarity’s sake) were placed in brackets [like this] so the reader would know those words were not in the original Greek. In the 2009 edition, there is nothing to alert the reader to these additions because the brackets have all been removed. So it is possible that they have added words which change the meaning, but you would not be able to tell from just reading their Bible. The KJV and NKJV both place added words in italics to alert the reader that these words have been added.
  • The King James Version translated the name of God (YHVH in Hebrew) as “the LORD” in the Old Testament (except in 4 instances where it is translated “Jehovah”). Most English Bibles follow this same practice. The name of God appears 6,828 times in the Old Testament. The HCSB translated it “Yahweh” (which some believe is a more accurate pronunciation than Jehovah) 75 times in the original edition, but almost 500 times in the revised edition.

Translation Issues

There are some questionable translations within this version of the Bible, and the following are a sampling:

  • Micah 5:2 – The KJV says of Christ that His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. The HCSB says that Christ’s “ORIGIN is from antiquity, from eternity.” The KJV says that Jesus is eternal; the HCSB says that Jesus had a beginning, an origin.
  • John 1:14, 3:16 – the KJV says Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The HCSB says that Jesus is the “one and only” Son of God. But the Bible says all Christians are children of God (Galatians 3:26-27). If Jesus is the only Son of God, then we cannot be sons of God.
  • I Samuel 6:19 – the King James says 50,070 people died. The HCSB says that seventy of the city of 50,000 died. No other translation of the Bible agrees with the HCSB in this reading.

The HCSB sought to create a conservative translation of the Bible that was readable, but still true to the original. As such, they did not try to translate word-for-word (as does the KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NASB). This version is only slightly more literal than the NIV.

Things to Understand About This Version Before Putting Your Trust in It:

  • This version was translated exclusively for the Southern Baptist convention.
  • This version was paid for by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Though some of the Old Testament was translated by other denominations, the New Testament was exclusively translated by Baptists.
  • It is owned, 100%, by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Part of the motivation for creating this translation was $$$$.
  • In many instances, it does not give a translation, but their interpretation of the text.

Conclusion

The people who oversaw the creation of this new translation sought to create a conservative version that they could own and edit as they see fit. Though it may be easier to read than some other versions, one must be careful in trusting it completely. When translators decide to give their interpretation of God’s word instead of translating it, it stops being God’s word and becomes their own commentary and opinion.

Right or wrong, when a religious group—motivated by money—creates their own translation of the Bible, it will be viewed suspiciously by others. This translation is useful for comparative purposes, but this writer would not make it his primary Bible from which to read and study.

–Bradley Cobb

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