The Holman Christian Standard Bible debuts in fall 2003 Sunday-school curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources. This new version of the Bible is backed by the strength of the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing house, which boasts annual revenues of over $400 million.

Although this Bible will not be available for purchase until 2004, its use in study materials in Southern Baptist churches will represent a marketing blitz not seen in Baptist circles since the most recent edition of the Baptist Hymnal.

The Bible stands on its own weight and is above critiquing in a book review. Versions of the Good Book, however, are different. Every translation of Scripture is also an interpretation of Scripture. According to its publishers, the HCSB employed “90 scholars representing 20 evangelical denominations,” in this task.

The Experiencing the Word New Testament, which is now available in limited production, previews features of the forthcoming complete version. The book is edited through the filters of the popular LifeWay author Henry Blackaby, famous for his Experiencing God publications. In the margins of the text, the reader will find pithy statements from Blackaby, aimed at providing interpretive handles on the accompanying passage, along with 203 studies of Greek words, when they occur in significant places in the book. Notes regarding the Greek text are provided at the bottom of each page in an easy-to-read format. Words of Jesus are printed in red; the chapters and verses of each are book noted clearly. Within each chapter, the editors have grouped the verses into sections and titled each accordingly.

The editors have followed the standard Greek versions as their translation base and have followed traditional English syntax in translation. The version is readable and understandable. There are weaknesses, however, that result from the methods used by the editors.

The first mistake is in the editing and translating process. It does not appear that LifeWay attempted to include an ecumenical group of translators in its committee. Most modern versions acceptable to the English world include Catholics in translating and editing. LifeWay has not released a list of its editorial board, which is typically done to verify widespread appeal, but, apparently, non-evangelical groups did not have a voice.

Second, some rather lofty claims in the introduction mislead the buyer. The editors tout their method of translation, optimal equivalence, as unique to their version. But the method is actually a combination of two methods that are standard in Bible translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The Holman version is really just another kind of dynamic-equivalence translation, which renders Greek texts in the language and thought units of the people it addresses. The editors wrongly imply they worked from original Greek texts, when in fact only early copies of biblical manuscripts – not the originals – currently are known to exist. The editors chose the Greek text of the King James Version (Byzantine manuscripts) as the base for the English translations. One result is that the longer ending of Mark (16:9-20) is included, with little guidance to advise the reader that most scholars today consider that this section was a later addition not in the earliest text.

A third weakness is the overriding impression that concepts in the Bible can be reduced to short, theologically questionable, statements. Blackaby’s aphorism, “Stick a Fork in the Devil — He’s Done,” which accompanies Colossians 2:8-23, reduces serious theological issues into provincial quotes understandable to only a certain group. LifeWay claims to avoid colloquialisms, but “You Can a Learn a Lot from the Rocky Spots,” turns Scripture into throwaway maxims more suitable for Life’s Little Instruction Book. Theological bias as a result of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message also comes through when complex issues such as headship/submission are dealt with in comments on 1 Corinthians 10:24-11:7, without acknowledgement that many scholars might differ with the HCSB’s opinions. The same can be said for some of the comments regarding the second coming of Christ.

These concerns place the HCSB on the level of many other specialty Bibles suitable for use in private reading, but it should not be the only version that an individual reader uses, nor should it be endorsed for an entire congregation to read.

Baptists traditionally have shared the joy of learning from the scriptures alongside other ecumenical groups. Approaching the Bible with humility and listening allows all Christians to reap the benefits of other insights. The HCSB, conversely, targets Bible teaching to only a select group. It is suitable at best for private comparison with other more credible versions.

Bill Shiel is pastor of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas

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