Thoughts on the CSB (and they are good!)

csb

So, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was released this year.  It is something of an update to the HCSB that was previously released, but the revisions are so extensive that it has become its own translation, replacing the HCSB all the way around.

Let me give a little background on myself so that there can be some context to the rest of my post.  I mainly read the NIV (1984) for many years after becoming a Christian.  It was my  main Bible, while I would look at and compare others.  When the TNIV came out, I remained with the 1984 NIV (occasionally using the NASB or KJV) as my main translation.  In 2011, when Biblica revised the NIV and completely replaced the 1984, never to be supported or published again, I was not too happy with it.  I didn’t like some of the choices of how they chose to treat gender, and some of the ways they handled it in writing simply didn’t sound right to me.  While I understand the importance of making context clear (maybe saying “brothers and sisters” instead of merely “brothers” for the Greek word “adelphoi”), it seemed that the NIV went too far in some cases.  (This is personal preference, and I am aware that there are great scholars who feel the NIV got it just right.  I would not put myself on the same level as any of these scholars, and I don’t fault anyone who loves the NIV.)

For my purposes, I also found the permissions a little harder to obtain for the NIV.  So I began looking for a translation that would grant the permissions I needed to present Scripture dramatically.  After checking several translations and publishers, I ended up settling on the ESV.  I have used it for the last several years almost exclusively.  I have studied it, taught from it, and memorized large portions of it for presentation.

I did look at the HCSB, but some of the readings seemed to be a little too “new” for my liking.

When I heard the CSB was coming out, I was certainly interested.  I requested a sample, and was graciously given an entire copy to review.

Before I go further, for those who have not searched my blog a lot or don’t know me, I am in a different situation than some.  I have taught Sunday School and preached before, so I tend to look at translations from a teaching or scholarly perspective.  But my main form of ministry is presenting large portions of Scripture from memory in a dramatic way.  These two forms of ministering to others have caused some struggles in me as I try to look at translations.  From the teaching side, I want to be as close to the original text as possible, because I can explain anything that is culturally separate from our time, hard to understand, etc.  But from a presenting side, I don’t get to do that.  I get one shot to communicate as much meaning as possible, so a translation that clears up confusion for the reader by translating cultural issues into our current understanding is better.  To borrow Paul’s musing, which shall I decide?  I cannot tell; I am torn between the two.

Let me also add very clearly that my critiques of the CSB are not the final word in any way.  I believe Bill Mounce has said, “There is always a reason” for any translation choice, and just because it doesn’t make sense to me, doesn’t mean that it is wrong.  There is a lot I am not aware of with the translation process in general and, of course, the CSB in particular.  Still, as I compare, some of the thoughts that have come to mind are listed below.

I have taken a lot of time to read through large portions of the CSB, and I have also spent a lot of time comparing individual verses and words to the ESV, NASB, NET (with its extensive notes), and the original Greek (with what very limited knowledge I have).  Time and again I am seeing how the CSB has seemingly gotten a translation right where I may have originally questioned it.  Now, that is not to say it is perfect, but the more I look at it, read it, and examine it, the more I find where their translation decisions make sense.  It is also helpful that a representative of the CSB has taken several opportunities to respond to emails I have sent asking about translation decisions when I cannot find information to help me understand their choice.

A few examples are Revelation 5:6, where John writes “Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb…”  Most translation say “a lamb that had been slain” or something like it.  While “slaughtered” is very different, it conveys more of the visual of what John would have seen; this lamb was not pretty.  And the Greek does allow that as a possible meaning of the word.

Revelation 7:17 in the CSB says “For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them.”  I believe the ESV says (and this is from memory, so if it is not correct, it is my fault) “will be their shepherd.”  Gramatically, the CSB has it here from what I can tell.  The word in the Greek is a verb not a noun.

While “propitiation” may be a great theological term, and one we need to know, the CSB’s choice in 1 John 2:2 of saying “He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” is clearer to the average reader, and, to me, ties it in to the Old Testament concept of sacrifice more clearly than the word “propitiation” does.

Revelation 5:4 in the CSB has John saying “I wept and wept.”  The ESV says “I wept loudly,” I believe.  As far as I can tell, the Greek is closest to saying “I wept much,” so the CSB seems closer to the Greek here.  (To me, someone weeping loudly does not imply how much they are crying, just how intense at that moment.)

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, the CSB says love “does not keep a record of wrongs,” versus the ESV’s “is not resentful.”  I believe the CSB, from my study, brings out the original word picture more clearly.

In Matthew 6:32, the CSB clearly brings out the tense of the verb by saying “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things.”  The ESV says “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.”  The same is true regarding the tense of the verb in Hebrews 12:2.

Now the CSB does translate “adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters” when they feel the context requires it, but unlike the NIV, I feel the CSB has a good balance here.  They are not afraid to still use “he” instead of switching to the plural “they” to avoid sounding gender specific.  They also don’t translate everything this way, but only when they think it is truly warranted by the context.  I find the CSB has a good balance of when to translate it inclusive of both men and women or not.

I could keep going with areas I think the CSB really gets the text right, but this post is already getting quite long.

That being said, there are areas I think the CSB could have gotten things a little better.  For example, in Matthew 13:13, the CSB says, “That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”  In my limited knowledge, the Greek here gives a play on words by saying something like “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear or understand.”  I like that word play, and I really wish I saw it here.

I also found a word missing (confirmed by someone from CSB) in Acts 22:3.  There should be some sense of a word “strict” or “thorough” related to Paul’s training in the law.  This was, as I understand it, a mere oversight while typing everything out, and it will be corrected.

In 1 Kings 18, the ESV has Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal by insinuating that their God had gone away to relieve himself, but the CSB says “maybe he has wandered away,” relegating the ESV’s text to the footnotes.

Psalm 19:5 in the ESV says something like “a groom coming from his bridal chamber,” whereas the CSB says “like a bridegroom coming from his home.”  I’m sure there is an explanation for this, and I have not asked yet, but most translations seem to align with the ESV, from what I can tell.

One of the hardest to get used to is in Daniel 5:6, where the king is so frightened after seeing the writing on the wall that “his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together.”  Most translations imply his legs gave out or something along those lines.  I have read an article explaining why the CSB went the way it did, and I can see it, though a scholar of ANE languages said he felt it was a stretch.

In the 23rd psalm, they chose to switch from “I shall not want” or even “There is nothing I lack” (both of which I have seen before) to “I have what I need.”  Ultimately, the meaning is not obscured, but I wonder why the switch to get rid of the negative word from the Hebrew that I believe is there and is reflected in the first two options mentioned here.

The CSB also says “He lets me lie down in green pastures” as opposed to the more common “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (ESV).  I like the idea of making/causing more than merely permitting (which seems to be implied in “lets”).

Deuteronomy 10:12 is another verse I am not sure about.  The ESV says something like “…and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.”  The CSB says “…and to worship the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”  Most translations agree with the ESV here, and from what I can tell, the Hebrew word seems to usually mean “serve.”

Again, in all of these critiques, I understand that the translators had a reason.  Maybe I will be able to find out what it is through study and maybe emailing someone.

Because of my ministry, I also tend to think about presenting out loud.  That is the one area where the ESV, for example, is a great translation: it is very poetic and rhythmic, and it retains a lot of that from the KJV.  For presenting out loud, that rhythmic, literary sound is great.  But it is not always natural.

The CSB definitely sounds more like how we would normally communicate with each other.  They use contractions (don’t we all?), and its word order is more like common English speech, breaking with Greek and Hebrew word order to do this.  Some people like this, while some do not.

But there are times where the CSB becomes a little more difficult.  Jeremiah 31:31-34 is an example.  Most translations say “thus says the Lord” or “says the Lord.”  The CSB says “this is the Lord’s declaration” or “the Lord’s declaration.”  It says it 4 times in these 4 verses, for example.  What’s interesting is that it is very accurate to the Hebrew, from what I can tell.  (The NET notes specify the Hebrew says “the Lord’s oracle.”)  The problem is, it doesn’t flow as smoothly when speaking out loud, in my opinion.

Another example of where the speaking out loud comes in to play is when someone’s quotes are interrupted by saying who is talking.  John 1:21 in the CSB says “‘What then?’ they asked him. ‘Are you Elijah?'”  The ESV puts who is speaking first always (as does the Greek, from what I can tell).  In this verse, for example, it says “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?'”  When reading, there is no issue here; if anything, the CSB keeps things fresh and from getting too repetitive.  But when presenting out loud from memory, it can be easier to preface with who is talking to show transition in speakers.

Where this has been difficult for me is that for the last few years I have been conditioned to think of the most formal/literal translation as the best.  But as I have presented dramatically, I have questioned that somewhat.

If I am presenting to a crowd of people, all of whom are at various stages in their Biblical literacy, is it better to say “not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law” as the ESV does (since not everyone may understand what an iota is), or should I say “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter” as the CSB does?  What about “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV) instead of “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (CSB)?

When I present, I cannot stop and clarify hard-to-understand ideas and terms like I could if I were preaching or teaching.  So I have grown more to think that it may be better for me to present something that will more clearly communicate meaning without hindrance to hearers.

What’s really interesting is that it seems you have to possibly stop either way.  If you use a formal translation, you often have to stop and explain what the text means to communicate to your hearers.  If you use a dynamic translation, however, you may have to do the opposite, stopping and explaining what the original text said.  So it sort of becomes a toss up as to which way you go.

Of course, the CSB is willing to break with tradition for the sake of accuracy (look at Psalm 23, for example), and that could be jarring to some people who are so used to hearing “Yea, though I walk through valley of the shadow of death” (KJV) as opposed to “Even when I go through the darkest valley” (CSB).  The CSB is more accurate here.  But people are so used to hearing it the other way that I wonder if they might reject hearing the CSB version just because it sounds so different.  But I am also wondering if I should elevate tradition above clarity and accuracy?

Is the CSB a perfect translation?  No.  Believe me, while I would like one, in my studies I have quickly found it does not exist.  Is the CSB a good translation?  Absolutely!  It stays very literal (sometimes more so than even the NASB or ESV) while still being very readable and clarifying ideas when needed.  It sounds very natural while reading aloud, which is a big consideration for me with what I do.

I have not decided completely whether I will be making the switch from ESV to CSB yet or not, but I am certainly leaning toward it greatly.  The more I read the CSB, the more I like it.  Yes, it loses some of the literary quality of the ESV, and yes, it sometimes loses the cultural distance of a formal translation.  But it gains readability and understandability, which are very important factors as well.  The translation reminds me very much of what the 1984 NIV used to be, although the CSB is a little more literal.

I look forward to continuing to dig in to the CSB more, to learn more about it, and to keep comparing it to other translations and the original languages as I am able.  I must say I am quite impressed.  I think, last I saw, it was already #6 out of the top 10 Bibles in terms of sales, and that is only after less than one year.  They are producing some great editions (some of which I hope to review eventually), and the translation is a sheer joy to read.

If you haven’t checked out the CSB, I strongly encourage you to do so!

 

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Book Review – CSB Reader’s Bible

I have recently become a huge fan of Reader’s Bibles.  I love the simplicity of only the text on the page without the distractions of chapter numbers, verse numbers, and footnotes, helpful as they may all be.  I currently have a six-volume ESV reader edition, a one-volume ESV reader edition, and the NIV Books of the Bible reader edition.

One recent (re)translation that has come out is the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).  I have enjoyed reading through that translation, and I was excited to hear that they had a Reader’s Edition being released.  Upon request, the publisher agreed to send me a copy to review.

The edition I received was a gray cloth over board edition.  Interestingly, the slipcase is the same cloth over board material as the Bible itself, which was a nice tough in my opinion.

CSB R 1

CSB R 2

CSB R 3

CSB R 4

The Bible is well constructed, and it lays flat from the very first page of the Table of Contents all the way to the end.

CSB R 5

The font is a decent size and boldness, which makes for easy reading.  The paper is very white, but that helps the text stand out. Because it is a one-volume edition, the paper is not as thick as the multi-volume editions released by other publishers; it can’t be if you want a portable Bible.  But the line matching helps to minimize ghosting from one page to the next.

Each chapter starts with a larger initial letter in a blue font, and the same blue font is used at the bottom of the page to give you a rough guide as to what book and chapter you are reading in.  This could be helpful if one were to take the Bible to church to read with, although you would still need to listen to the context and be familiar with it, as there are no verse numbers throughout.  It also retains the bold font for quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament.  There are maps in the back, but there are no guides as to what page numbers certain chapters could be found on.

CSB R 6

CSB R 10

CSB R 11

I like the CSB’s use of setting new dialogue in different paragraphs, more like a modern novel would.  It helps me keep track of who is talking when.  This has always been a weakness of the ESV to me, as they may have a back-and-forth conversation all in one paragraph.

CSB R 12

The Bible does include on dark blue ribbon bookmark to help you keep track of where you are reading.

To me, the CSB Reader’s Bible is almost the perfect layout.  I love the font, and the boldness of the text.  It doesn’t seem too cramped on a page.  But the one thing I wish they had done is take more of a note from Biblica’s Books of the Bible set or the six-volume ESV set and do away with chapter numbers all the way around, possibly redividing text by thought.  I understand that keeping the beginning of chapters noted with the large blue first letter helps orient some readers, but it still forces an unnatural division into the text.  It’s almost like the CSB Reader’s Bible got right on the verge of producing one of the “perfect” Reader’s Bibles and stopped just short of the final goal.

All in all, the CSB Reader’s Bible is a welcome addition to my collection of reader’s editions, and it is one I will refer to again and again.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Update on the ESV (No Longer) Permanent Text Edition

copyright

In an interesting decision, Crossway has decided against their former plan to have a permanent text edition of the ESV.  You can read about their decision here.

I must say that the response to their original decision to establish a permanent text has been interesting.  I was not aware of just how many negative responses there were.  I read at least one that questioned one of their changes in terms of the impact it had on understanding the meaning, but that is to be expected in just about any translation, in my opinion.  I am not aware of a translation that perfectly captures the original Greek and Hebrew with no parts that are questionable.

It appears that all of the negative feedback caused Crossway to reconsider.  They have decided to follow after other translations in occasionally making minor updates as new linguistic and manuscript evidence leads, or to keep current with English usage.

I understand the reasoning behind it.  We will always make more headway in our understanding of the original languages, and I am sure there are more manuscript variants waiting to be discovered.  Sure, we need to take those into account.

But I have to say that in an other way, I am a little disappointed.  As someone who has worked on committing Scripture to memory, and since the ESV was my translation of choice for doing that, I was excited to think that translation, at least, had reached a point where I would not have to worry about future changes.  I could rest assured that what I had memorized would stay the same for the rest of my life.

My saving grace is that I have obtained permission from Crossway to continue to memorize and present the 2011 text edition, regardless of future changes.  Knowing myself, however, the draw of keeping up with the most current edition may override my desire to stick with one edition.

The other problem with changes is that even if I were to stick with a 2011 text edition, online editions and audio editions will always be changing to keep up with current editions.  Unless I have a dedicated back up of the audio, I will eventually no longer be able to find the 2011 edition, and whenever I look something up online, it will be the newest edition, not my usual.

We have seen this with the NIV.  If you still prefer the 1984 NIV (as I tend to) over the 2011 edition, you will be hard pressed if you want to find it digitally.  Biblica no longer promotes or supports the 1984, so any online or digital Bible will use the 2011, to the best of my knowledge.  The print editions are getting more scarce, and I imagine the audio editions may be as well.  If not now, they will eventually.  The hardest part is that the digital changes are often not signaled clearly, so digital editions can change without one’s realizing it until he or she starts to study deeper.

Is it a huge deal?  I suppose not.  But I still prefer to think I can have a text I can use for life with no changes that is easily accessible across all platforms.  Honestly, it is one reason I considered moving to the KJV.  The KJV has not changed since 1769, I believe, so it is a safe bet it will remain unchanged for at least the rest of my life.  Granted, there is still a question over the Oxford or Cambridge edition of the KJV, but most, I think lean one way predominantly.

So, while it is not unusual for a Bible publisher to decide to continue to update their translation rather than leaving it unchanged, a part of me is sad that Crossway has followed the same pattern, even though they had previously announced they would not.  I don’t hold it against them in any way; it is just my personal preference.

What are your thoughts?

Book Review – “Saving the Bible from Ourselves” by Glenn R. Paauw

saving the bible

Mark Twain has been quoted as saying “A classic is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads.”  It seems that this is true for the Bible in many cases as well.  Someone has said the Bible is the “most owned, least read book in history.”  Sadly, this is the case among Christians too.

One of the reasons many fail to read the Bible is that it seems too daunting.  It is one volume made up of 66 separate books (by the Protestant count).  These books span several hundred years of history, and were written to a time and people far different from ours.  Glenn Paauw, in his book Saving the Bible from Ourselves, suggests that there are other issues as well, problems that we have introduced ourselves.  But don’t fear, he proposes solutions throughout.

According to Paauw, one of the biggest problems with our Bible reading is that we have complicated the Bible over time.  It started with the addition of chapter numbers.  Then verse numbers came along.  The decision was then made to separate each verse out into its own paragraph. To save space and for ease of printing, the text was then separated into two columns.  Along the way various notes were added (textual variations, study helps, cross references) and then section headings were put in to make things easier to find.  In some cases, when all is said and done a page may have more study helps and notes than it does the actual text of Scripture.  Needless to say, all of these additions that were intended to help may have actually done more harm than good.  While they were meant to help, they ended up making the text itself harder to read and follow.  We took a book that was meant to be read and turned it into a reference book.

There were benefits to some of these decisions.  Chapter and verse numbers make it easy to reference information.  But, as Paauw points out, it also makes it so much easier to take verses out of context and make them say whatever we want.  I think of a boxer I heard about one time who had Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on his robe.  I’m relatively certain that when Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” he didn’t have in mind knocking an opponent unconscious in a boxing match.  But without context, who’s to say?

In the book, Paauw calls for a return to actually reading the Bible.  Not just reading a verse or two every day or jumping around and reading various portions out of context, but to slow, determined, deep reading of the text itself.  Reading whole books at one time (or over only a few readings), reading books in order for flow (there is a definite plot to Genesis through Judges, for example), and remembering that we are reading a story that must hang together.  While Paauw is not the first or the only author to call for this kind of reading (I think of James Gray, for example, among many others), he does a great job of presenting an ideal type of Bible reading.

The main way Paauw does this is by calling for a return to seven aspects of Bible reading we need to recover: Elegance (in design), Feasting (reading large portions in order), History (remember the Bible was written for us, but not to us), Story-Turned-Drama (there is a narrative, and we are part of it), Creation (the Bible was written to show how God is working to redeem and restore all of His original creation), Community (the Bible is not merely a book we read by ourselves for independent life change; it is a book we read together to grow as a community called by God), and Beauty (paying attention to the flow and writing of the authors themselves). (Taken from p.213 and summarized from ideas throughout.)  There is no question that reading the Bible in this way would be revolutionary (and I don’t use that word all too often) for our growth and understanding of God’s plan and our place in it as His people.

Anyone who is familiar with N.T. Wright (especially) and Dallas Willard (in part) will sense certain similarities of ideas that they write about throughout this book.  That is really the only possible weakness I saw.  In an effort to restore a communal mindset to salvation, that it is not merely about individual salvation from sin and Hell, but that it is about creating a community of people who follow the Messiah and help inaugurate God’s plan of redemption for all of creation, I feel that Paauw occasionally overlooks the individual aspect that is there, as well.  To me, it is not either/or, but both/and.  It seems that authors tend to overemphasize one or the other.  To be fair, the individual aspect has been emphasized so much that we probably do need a correction the other way, but if we aren’t careful, the communal will be overemphasized to the opposite extreme over time.  We need both in tension.

There are parts of the book that people, such as myself, who have been raised in churches with a heavy emphasis on individual salvation from sin and its consequences will struggle through (but in a good way, I think).  For example, on pp. 138-139, Paauw gives an overview of Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration that is very standard.  I read it a few times while wondering what was wrong with it.  As I kept in mind Paauw’s overall argument, I started to see what he was getting at, but we are truly so taken by the common explanation that it is hard to see past it to anything else.  This issue does not detract from the main impact of the book, however, and the main idea is still a much-needed insight.

One of the Bible’s Paauw mentions as an elegant Bible is Biblica’s Books of the Bible edition of the NIV, as Paauw had a hand in its development.  I do have to say that Biblica had it right in redividing the text based on actual breaks in thought and intention, and while Crossway has been doing a lot in their “Reader’s” editions, I hope they may consider it in the next release of their 6-volume set.

Overall, if you are looking for a book to help you understand where we may have gone wrong in our Bible reading and what we can do to correct it, I highly recommend Saving the Bible from Ourselves.

*I edited the original review.  When I first wrote it, I mentioned the one-sided aspect of mentioning only the Biblica reader edition as being a negative.  Mr. Paauw very graciously explained in a comment on my Amazon review that he only mentioned that one as others, such as Crossway’s, had not been published at the time he wrote his manuscript.  I apologize for any confusion.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.