Q62 : ESV and HCSB Translations

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Q62 : ESV and HCSB Translations

I enjoy reading your comments about various Bible translations. I have read about the ESV (their website) and wondered what your opinion was of this translation. I don't find it too different from the RSV (2nd edition) so far and sometimes the ESV changes a reference from "man" in the RSV to a more general term in the ESV. It might be better than the RSV in some ways but it doesn't seem that different to me. What do you think?

I've also been reading about the HCSB which is supposed to be a more responsible kind of paraphrase than the NLT. Actually, have you seen that they call their translation an "optimal" equivalence translation! I'd like to get your opinion on their assertion that the so called optimal method is better than the NLT paraphrase.

Both the ESV and the HCSB claim that they use more traditional theological vocabulary than more modern translations which I find very positive.

Do you recommend either of these translations? I think I've seen that you could recommend the ESV. I'd like to read your assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. Would you use the HCSB as well? Again, what is your assessment of its strengths and weaknesses?

A62 : by Tony Garland

Unfortunately, I'm not as familiar as I would like to be with either the English Standard Version (ESV) or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). So I'm not well placed to comment extensively on these relatively recent versions of the Bible. Of the two, I've spent more time looking at the HCSB.

Keeping in mind my lack of detailed knowledge regarding these translations—and especially specific examples where they vary from one another or other accepted translations—I will hazard some general impressions in case they may be helpful.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The ESV is a continuation of the work of the English Revised Version (RV, 1885), the American Standard Version (ASV, 1901) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV, 1952, 1971). The New Testament portion is based on on the 27th edition of the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Socieities (UBS) which is the critical text. Thus, in the New Testament, it has more in common with other translations which follow the critical text (e.g., NASB, NIV, HCSB) than those which favor the Textus Receptus (TR) or Majority Text (MT) behind the KJV and NKJV.

In its favor, it utilizes an "essentially literal," translation method and, as you observe, retains traditional theological vocabulary (e.g., propitiation, justification, sanctification) which is most helpful when studying important Biblical teachings by the many saints who have gone before us.

Less in its favor are its lack of an indication (such as italics) where words are added in the English translation which are not found in the underling Hebrew or Greek and its movement toward inclusive, gender-neutral terms. Rather than retaining the simple understanding that "men," "mankind," and the like simply denote people, not just those of male gender, gender neutral terms are substituted. Across Christianity in general, there seems to be a feminist-influenced agenda, however slight, to deny the traditional use and understanding of these terms in favor of an explicit gender neutrality which to me is unwarranted. There are also some passages where the translation appears to adopt less common readings, such as ESV's partitioning of Daniels seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-27).

Even so, from what I've seen so far, this is a much more reliable Bible than many other modern translations and paraphrases on the market. The main reason being that it is "essentially literal." Translations which tend toward dynamic equivalence or paraphrase (e.g., the NIV, the NLT, The Message) are simply too "fast and loose" with the underlying text to be reliable for the serious student of Scripture.

Holman Christian Study Bible (HCSB)

The HCSB appears to be a promising new translation. Like the ESV (and NIV, and NASB), the New Testament portion is based on the critical text. However, unlike the ESV (and NIV and NASB), it offers footnotes providing alternative readings representing the Majority Text (MT). This can be very helpful in a small group Bible study as it will alert you to when others in the group may be seeing a significant variation from what you are reading. (The NKJV also includes this valuable feature.) The HCSB seems more unique in the Old Testament where it provides numerous alternate readings of the Hebrew along with the one preferred by the translators. Another positive factor is that the HCSB places English words which are added for readability, but which are not supported directly the Hebrew or Greek text, in brackets. Like the ESV, the HCSB also retains traditional theological vocabulary.

Small detractions from the HCSV would seem to be the inconsistent way in which YHWH is translated within the Old Testament (sometimes by Yahweh, sometimes as LORD), its tendency toward colloquialisms, and its utilization of an "optimal equivalence" translation method which occupies a position part way toward dynamic equivalence from formal equivalence—representing a small movement in the direction which eventually leads to paraphase. Yet it does so in a very minor way and is still to be much preferred over the NIV, NLT, and other translations which go further afield (e.g., The Message).

One also wonders about the need for new English translations when other excellent formal equivalent translations were already available in modern English. The desire expressed in the HCSB introduction that each generation have God's Word in its own language had already been met well in advance of developing the HCSB. Although one is reluctant to assign an ulterior motive, who can fail to recognize the unfortunate copyright restrictions on most modern translations—as well as the competitive positions of various Bible publication companies? Whether a modern translation is motivated to some degree by a desire to avoid licensing fees incurred when printing the translations of competing publishers is something which only God can judge.

With each new translation comes yet another textual variation in the pews and classrooms of our churches and seminaries, yet another promotion by Christian bookstores, the development of yet more concordances and software packages, etc. The textual riches are embarrassing, but one also wonders at the amount of additional time and money which is redirected away from making progress using the excellent translations we already have available to us. Ultimately, the main problem in the West is not the need for more English translations, but finding people who have interest in reading those we already have!

In summary, both the ESV and HCSB appear to be reasonable translations which are better suited for serious study than most. However, neither of them should be cause for students to move away from the excellent modern English translations we already have such as the NASB (which follows the critical text) or the NKJV (which reflects the Majority Text and Textus Receptus). The preexisting publications, helps, and software for these existing translations far outweigh the advantages of switching to the new translations which will have to scale this same mountain all over again—all to provide a marginal gain in our understanding of God's Word.

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