I am going back to using my English Standard Version.
Last August I bought a Christian Standard Bible and really liked it and I still do, but in recent months my enthusiasm for this new translation has developed into reservation.
An odd thing about me is that I like to have one Bible that I stick to for personal reading, pastoral teaching, and my own study so that I become familiar with pages and passages through markings and highlights. I may reference or refer to differing translations, but my own preference is to have a single go-to Bible that I can mark and memorize.
So what’s my problem with the CSB? Well, it’s not a problem. I like the CSB a lot and if I wasn’t a pastor, and if I only used my Bible for personal use, I may actually continue to use the CSB as my primary go-to Bible.
Let me first explain something about Bible translations…a typical Bible translation is either more “formal” in its translation or more “dynamic” in its translation. Simply put, it means that a version that is “formal” is a translation that tries to stay as literal as possible to the original languages. A version that is “dynamic” is more focused on translating the thoughts of the text than the literal words of the text.
The 1984 NIV has been the most popular “dynamic” translation and a very good one at that. Unfortunately the publishers revised it a few times and made it way too “dynamic” by making it a genderless translation. The publishers got a lot of blow-back and stopped publishing the revised versions, but it confused the NIV brand to the point where most conservative pastors don’t want to use it or at least feel compelled to constantly explain they are using the 1984 edition.
The CSB was thought to have been the best replacement of the NIV, even marketing itself as a third category of a translation called “optimal” claiming to be the best balance between a “formal” and a “dynamic” translation, trying to be the most “formal” and a “dynamic” and achieving a status as the most readable.
I think the CSB has achieved the objective of being the most readable, but for me readability is not more important than fidelity to the original text. Fidelity to the original text is what makes a Bible version ideal for a teaching pastor, as I see it. When I’m ministering the word to the church, I can easily, through study, explain meaning and nuances of what the writer wrote, but I can’t easily explain why a translator added words or removed words as an interpretation of the Bible writer’s thought.
If you follow my Daily Promise devotional you may have noticed that last October I began to change my use of the ESV with the CSB. It has been during the process of changing over my daily devotionals that I began to realize that this “optimal” translation has some very “dynamic” takes on certain verses that I think over emphasize the thought rather than the words used.
The only problem with translating the thought, is it’s easy to go too far and become the actually interpreter not the translator. Below, I’ve listed four CSB verses as examples of problem translations, along with the corresponding ESV verse and a bracketed explanation of the problem.
Genesis 1:5 (CSB) – “God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was an evening, and there was a morning: one day.”
(ESV) – “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
[“One” is not in the text, “the” is in the text, and a “the” signifies not just any day or one day, but the first 24-hour period.]
Psalm 23:4 (CSB) – “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me”
(ESV) – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
[“The darkest valley” is the thought behind the phrase that’s in the text “the valley of the shadow of death.”]
John 1:18 (CSB) – “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him”
(ESV) – “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side he has made him known”
[John’s thought behind 1:18 is the Son of God, but “Son” is not in the text.]
Romans 2:29 (CSB) – “On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God.”
(ESV) – “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
[The text says “man” plural as in mankind, “person” and “people” is used for gender inclusiveness as the thought-for-thought translation.]
I realize that every translation has its own issues, and I know that a “formal” translation has the problem of readability. The ESV has been criticized by some for maintaining certain archaic phrases that have different meanings today, but in my mind there is nothing wrong with using our brain under the influence of the Holy Spirit to hear God speak from His word.
By the way, in case you’re wondering which versions of the Bible are considered to be “formal” with more of a literal word-for-word translations, and which versions of the Bible are considered to be “dynamic” with more of a thought-for-thought translations, consider this analysis:
In 2016 Dr. Andi Wu of the Global Bible Initiative that filtered nine top translations through some type of computerized statistical analysis ranking them according to “Readability” and “Fidelity”. Here are the outcomes of that analysis…
“Readability” = NLT 70.08% NIV 67.20% CSB 66.75% NET 66.28% NRSV 63.08% ESV 62.36% NASB 61.65% NKJV 60.32% KJV 48.83%
“Fidelity” = ESV 68.74% NASB 67.99% KJV 66.58% NKJV 65.21% CSB 64.75% NRSV 60.51% NET 53.94% NIV 53.10% NLT 39.90%
Those versions that ranked highest in “Readability” are more thought-for-thought translations, while those versions that ranked highest in “Fidelity” are more word-for-word translations.
At CrossHope Chapel we have different versions among us and as we go through our Sunday interactive Bible teaching we all get to hear that as it really does enrich our learning experience. So I don’t want to discourage you from using the CSB. My wife does and I will likely keep my CSB Study Bible within reach on my desk and continue to draw from it as I seek better understanding of some passages.
As a pastor, it seems to me, more important to stick with a more literal word-for-word translation for teaching and I thought I should explain that to you as you’ll find me reading and writing with my ESV, again.