October 1, 2010

HCSB Study Bible: God's Word for Life

The HCSB Study Bibleis now available and comes with this reviewer's studied recommendation. The importance of this recommendation should be evident since, after considering other popular study Bibles, I chose to give a leather-bound version of the HCSB Study Bibleto my middle son in order to encourage him further in his Bible reading. Before proceeding to a discussion of the Study Bible apparatus, we will consider this new translation.

The HCSB Translation

HCSB, Holman Christian Standard Bible, seeks to fill a recognizable hole among modern English translations in seven notable ways. First, the translators utilize the most recent critical editions of the Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts of the Old Testament and the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Second, the translators did not insist upon revising previous translations, as has been all too common, but they sought to provide "a new translation for today's generation" of English-speaking peoples.

Third, the translation philosophy of the HCSB is neither that of "formal equivalence" nor that of "dynamic or functional equivalence." Formal equivalence seeks to retain the exact equivalence of word and sentence structure from the original languages, but this sometimes results in awkward English translations. On the other hand, dynamic equivalence seeks to bring across the thought of the original into modern English forms, but this sometimes results in the loss of formal meanings affiliated with the original text. Recognizing the difficulties with both of these older translation philosophies, the translators chose to follow the practice of "optimal equivalence," retaining the original forms as much as possible without also sacrificing English comprehension.

The fourth notable fact about the HCSB is that the translators retained the original gender distinctions of the biblical text, a matter of no small consequence in today's egalitarian culture. Fifth, the HCSB has chosen to translate the names of God as closely as possible to the original, which means, for instance, that the personal name of "Yahweh" actually appears in the translation, a practice long overdue. Sixth, some special formatting features, such as marking quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament in bold, are very helpful. Seventh and finally, textual footnotes regarding alternate readings or more literal readings are provided.

These seven aspects of the HCSB translation make it a worthy addition to any Christian's library and a worthy gift for any unbeliever interested in hearing about the Christian Bible. One of the few complaints I have with regard to the translation itself is its continuation of transliterating the Greek words for immersion rather than translating them. This is a peculiar decision for a translation coming from a Baptist organization and one that runs against the grain of the HCSB's own stated translation principle of "fresh translation." Nonetheless, the translation is one that should continue to be tested and grow in usage.

The HCSB Study Bible

Now, we proceed to the commentary apparatus known as the Study Bible. There are seven notable features to the HCSB Study Bible that make it a worthy addition to the Christian reader's library. First, other than the introductions and essays, the publisher has chosen to make sure that the biblical text itself is highlighted on the typical page of the book. This is intentional, as it gently reminds the reader through text placement and font size that the Word of God is authoritative while the commentator's study notes are of entirely secondary status. Second, each biblical book is preceded by a short but informative introduction regarding the book's circumstances of writing, message and purpose, and a helpful structural outline. There is also a chronological timeline with each introduction.

The third notable feature of the Study Bible are the study notes that accompany the text. These study notes provide historical, linguistic and theological comments upon the biblical text prepared by highly-qualified Christian scholars. For instance, Andreas Kostenberger contributed the introduction and notes for the Gospel of John and Paul's letter to the Colossians, while Terry Wilder wrote the introduction and notes for 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude. The fourth notable feature are the essays scattered throughout the text, also written by highly-qualified Christian scholars. For instance, George Guthrie contributed a compelling essay on "How to Read and Study the Bible," which I recommend every Christian read, not only for its hermeneutical instructions but for its spiritual maturity and practical encouragement. The reader will appreciate the other essays, including such small jewels as "Christ in the Old Testament" by Craig Blaising, or "The Bible and Civil Rights" by Kevin L. Smith.

Fifth among the notable features of the Study Bible are the word studies and bullet points. The individual word studies bring the reader summary information regarding the historical and theological significance of important Hebrew and Greek words. The bullet points refer the reader to an appendix for definitions of important common scriptural words. The sixth feature concerns the helpful maps, charts, photos and illustrations that are scattered throughout the text.

The final notable feature of the HCSB Study Bibleregards the intention of the publisher and the contributors (and, yes, I am one of them, having written the introduction and notes for the epistle to the Hebrews). As Jeremy Howard notes in his introduction, the contributors seek to be "servants to the text" so that people might be encouraged to engage God's Word "on a deeper level." We believe that all human beings "are sinners in need of reconciliation with God, and that this reconciliation comes only through faith in God's Son who paid our sin debt on the cross." This is why the reader will repeatedly be encouraged to encounter God in the Word by the power of His Spirit.

Yes, I would have written some of the notes and essays differently from my colleagues. (The most disconcerting example being the general editor's choice to impose a Calvinist meaning in his comments upon the text through the theologically loaded language of "effectual," including the authoritative use of unexplained quotation marks, to describe the calling of Romans 8:30.) However, that said, this Study Bible is worthy of purchase and use by the average Christian, as long as it is remembered that our commentary upon Scripture is fallible while the Biblical text itself remains absolutely trustworthy.

The HCSB Study Bibleis available in hardcover, imitation leather, bonded leather and leather. The HCSB Study Bible also may be accessed through the internet at mystudybible.com, and a very nice application is available for use on iPhones and iPads.


  1. Blake5:29 PM

    If we believe the Bible was given to the whole Body of Christ for its edification then why should we accept a translation that was done by an especially theologically narrow group of Christians compared to the make up of translation committees of more popular Bibles? Wouldn't it be better for the Bible to be translated by the largest, most diverse group of theologically orthodox Christians that could be mustered to be sure that its words don't end up representing one particular strain of Christianity? Doesn't the SBC set bad precedent (and encourage unChristlike behavior John 17:20-26) by creating, what boils down to, their own translation?

  2. Anonymous4:01 AM


    I am not a bible scholar in anyway, just a Christian that likes to study the word and to look at the same verse in a number of translations.

    HCSB is really not that well know here in England, I have a regular reference version and yesterday Amazon delivered my HCSB Study Bible. All I can say is that I am very impressed. Most study bibles that I own live on a shelf and just get looked at when I want to check a point or need a bit more help with something. The HCSB study bible just makes you want to read it. The typeface is nice and clear, putting the verse numbers in blue is such a great idea. The pictures and maps work well.

    In a modern translation the choice of words used is always going to be personal preference, but this is the first time I have seen a study bible that I have wanted to use as my regular reading bible.


  3. Blake,

    Just a few questions for you to consider:

    Have you looked at the translation philosophy of the HCSB or at the list of those who were actually involved in the translation? If you do, you will discover that there is a broad and diverse group of qualified scholars who made the translation. This is far from being a translation only by and for Southern Baptists, who are themselves not necessarily "theologically narrow," as you accuse.

    A secondary but important question regards your understanding of "the body of Christ." Are you following a biblical definition of that metaphor or one only loosely affiliated with the text?

    A third question regards your definition of "orthodoxy." Where do you derive that definition, and more specifically, who has the authority to establish that definition?

    In Christ,

  4. Alex,

    Thank you for your comments. HCSB is not really well known in the USA either, but I think your reaction to the study Bible will be a widely shared one.

    In Christ,

  5. To all,

    Please help us by making sure that comments are always "edifying" in their content.

  6. Dr. Yarnell,

    I utilize a number of translations in my personal study and sermon preparation (NASB, NKJV, KJV and yes, even the ESV). Like many rural area preachers, I do not have seminary level Greek or Hebrew, hence the use of numerous English translations. I also use the Strongest Strong's Concordance (my favorite study tool) as well.

    I say all that just to say that the HCSB is starting to gain more usage in our church, particularly our Adult Sunday school classes. I teach the Adult men, and they like the HCSB, but we also use the KJV as well for comparison.

  7. Brother Charlie,

    I use all of the translations you have listed and find things that I like about each one. Personally, the KJV or NKJV is the one that I use most often, but, like you, I try to compare them all in my sermon preparation, as well as using the tools you have listed. The HCSB is increasingly one that I appreciate, too. The word studies feature of the HCSB Study Bible may be very helpful for theologians in the local churches, as you describe.

    In Christ,

  8. Dr Yarnell,

    Thank you for the most helpful notes accompanying the book of Hebrews. I downloaded the iphone app for ten bucks and found this study bible a treasure trove for a lay student such as myself. Wonderful valediction as well. The last chapter certainly has some practical applications ive been neglecting. May God preserve your mind sir
    David Campbell


Edifying comments always appreciated!