Thomas R. Schreiner, Co-chair of the Translation Oversight Committee
This is a good question, especially since we already have access to so many excellent translations.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) isn’t actually a new translation, but the revision of a translation that was already in the public square. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) came on the scene in 1999 with the publication of the New Testament, and the whole Bible was published in 2004. The HCSB was fresh, innovative, and often rendered phrases in new and striking ways. As with any translation, the HCSB contained renderings and word choices that needed to be reconsidered. As we listened to feedback from scholars, pastors, and laypeople, we were able to identify some key areas that needed revision. The goal of the CSB, then, is to retain the freshness of the HCSB, while also enhancing its faithfulness to the original languages and its readability for a modern audience.
Why We Need New Translations
Revisions of current translations are necessary because language is always changing. This is apparent when we consider the King James Version. Many people today don’t recognize some words that appear in the KJV, such as “concupiscence” or “emulation”. Consider Ps. 59:10 which is rendered in the KJV as, “The God of my mercy shall prevent me.” Very few people know what that means anymore. The CSB is much clearer, “My faithful God shall come to meet me.” Even at 17, when I was converted, I remember reading the KJV, and I found myself baffled and put off by the almost museum tone of the text.
Since language is constantly changing, our translations must be updated. This is why most translations go through periodic revision. We would all prefer to keep our translations as they are forever, but they inevitably grow antiquated. Certainly we don’t want to change a translation quickly and rashly, for that would be utterly confusing for readers. Conversely, we could also wait too long, and find ourselves reading a Bible that is dated.
Is Translation a New Thing?
It is fascinating to compare Christians with Muslims on the matter of translation. Islam doesn’t believe in translation, and thus some Muslims who memorize the Koran in Arabic don’t know what it means or what they are repeating. Christians, on the other hand, from the very beginning believed in translation. The very earliest Christians translated the New Testament into Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and other languages. We see in translation the missionary spirit of the Christian faith. Early Christians wanted others to understand the truth of the gospel. At the same time, translation served to strengthen existing churches. Churches would be stunted in their growth if they didn’t understand the Word of God.
Is there a biblical precedent to translating the Scriptures? How do we know it was a good idea for the early church to translate the Scriptures into various languages? We actually know from the Bible itself that translation is a good thing, for Old Testament believers gave themselves to translation. They translated the Old Testament into Greek, into what is typically labeled as the Septuagint. They desired to communicate the truth of God’s Word so that it was understood by their contemporaries.
And we know that God was pleased with the effort, because when New Testament writers quote the Old Testament they most often quote the Septuagint. Since they often cite the Septuagint, it is evident that the inspired writers of New Testament Scripture thought that translation was commendable. It follows, then, that we have biblical grounds for translation. Indeed, most Christians throughout history have come to learn about God’s Word through a translation, not the original languages.
We have seen, then, that there are both historical and contemporary grounds for translating the Scriptures. A word should be said about the translation philosophy of the Christian Standard Bible. It is best described by the phrase “optimal equivalence.” I have already said that there are many excellent translations. Some are marked by formal equivalent (more “literal”) translation and others are marked by dynamic (more “readable”) equivalence.
The CSB places itself in the middle between these two translation philosophies. It isn’t overly formal, nor is it overly paraphrastic. This is not a criticism of those other versions, for there is certainly a place for more formal and more dynamic translations. We believe, however, that there should be a middle ground, and it is that ground we try to occupy with the CSB. Naturally this isn’t an inflexible rule. One could find examples where the CSB sounds more formal than the ESV and more dynamic than the NIV, for example. Still, as a general rule, the CSB occupies a middle position. Hence, the CSB is an excellent Bible for personal study and for public preaching and teaching. We believe that you don’t have to choose between accuracy and readability.
The revision of the HCSB into what is now called the CSB makes a good translation even better. It is an honor for me to serve on a translation team of men and women who truly love God’s Word. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this fresh translation for the spread of the gospel, for the edification of churches, and in times of private reading and prayer.
Learn more about our Translation Oversight Committee.