What Bible translation should a pastor use from the pulpit?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
KJV: 31 %
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).
Finally, pastors should announce the translation they are using, either audibly, or at least by showing it on the PowerPoint screen. It frustrates members to guess which translation is being used. Believe me, I have heard this opinion repeatedly from worshipers. Let them know what translation you are using!
The HCSB is now the CSB. What’s the difference?
In 2003, Holman Bible Publishers, which is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a completely new translation of the Bible, called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was used in all of LifeWay’s literature, including its Sunday school curriculum. The HCSB was nearly as readable as the popular New International Version (NIV), yet closer to the New American Standard Bible in accuracy. When Zondervan revised the NIV in 2011, making it more accurate in some ways but gender neutral in reference to mankind, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention publicly condemned the revision, and some pastors who were using the NIV, myself included, switched to the HCSB. Now the HCSB is no more.
In 2017, Holman released a radical revision of the HCSB, under the new name, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is now the translation used in LifeWay literature instead of the HCSB. So what’s the difference? Basically, the CSB has positioned itself between the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV). It is nearly as contemporary and readable and almost as gender-neutral as the NIV, but nearly as accurate and literal as the ESV.
1. The CSB is more gender neutral.
Interestingly, the CSB follows the gender neutral trend of the NIV far more than the HCSB did. Even the HCSB had begun to use “people” instead of “men” in places where the text clearly refers to people in general, like Matthew 4:19 where it refers to Jesus teaching His disciples to “fish for men.” But the CSB goes much further. In Proverbs 27:17, the CSB says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (The HCSB has “men.”) One may argue that the context implies all people there, although men’s groups have often equated it to masculinity. A more significant change is the constant reference to the believers in the church in the New Testament letters as “brothers” in the HCSB. The CSB changes this to “brothers and sisters.” So we read in Romans 16:14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Again, the reasoning for this is that the apostle must have had in mind all members of the congregation, both male and female (although all of the Greek names in Romans 16:14 happen to be male).
To be fair, the CSB avoids the extreme examples of gender neutral language found in the NIV. The NIV goes so far as to translate the Hebrew ab, father, as “parent” in Malachi 4:6, and in Hebrews 12:7 it says “God is treating you as children,” although the Greek word is “sons.” The CSB does not goes this far; in both of these passages, the CSB uses the masculine word, and the CSB is consistent in always referring to God with the masculine pronoun (as is the NIV).
2. The CSB is more traditional.
The HCSB broke translation tradition in several ways, including the frequent, but inconsistent use of the literal “Yahweh” instead of the traditional “LORD” in all capital letters to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The HCSB also translated the Greek christos as “Messiah,” since many people did not understand that Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words for the same title, Anointed One. In contrast, the CSB has returned to more traditional wording. The CSB uses “LORD” in the Old Testament for Yahweh and often uses “Christ,” for christos in the New Testament, although the CSB does use “Messiah” in some places where a declaration of faith is made about Jesus, such as John 11:27: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”
3. The CSB is usually more literal.
A good example of how the CSB is more literal than the HCSB would be Psalm 1:1, which the CSB translates literally: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway of sinners or sit in the company of mockers.” The HCSB paraphrased the “walk, stand, sit” poetry of Psalm 1:1 this way: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Notice again, however, that the HCSB uses “man,” while the CSB uses the gender neutral “one.”)
However, in some places the CSB uses a traditional translation that is not as literal as the HCSB. For example, the CSB translates both doulos (slave) and diakonos (servant) as “servant, deacon” whereas the HCSB translates doulos literally as “slave.”
4. The CSB no longer capitalizes pronouns referring to God.
A fourth major revision of the CSB is that it dropped the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. The HCSB showed reverence to God by capitalizing all pronouns that referred to God, as does the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), Berean Standard Bible (BSB) and a few others. The CSB does not (nor does the RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, KJV or NLT). The CSB translators reasoned that it is not always clear in the context if the reference is to God. Thus we see the difference in John 15:26, a passage which refers to all three persons of the Trinity. This verse is translated by the HCSB: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– He will testify about Me.” But John 15:26 is translated this way in the CSB: “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– he will testify about me.”
No translation is perfect, as they are made by imperfect people, and language is constantly changing. As I said at the beginning, the CSB has positioned itself between the readable, gender-neutral NIV and the more literal ESV. In doing so, it has eliminated some of the quirky, fascinating translation characteristics of the HCSB. For this reason, I hope that the HCSB will still be available for those who want something different. Each person will need to make his (or her) own choice, and never forget that the Author is God, not man (or humanity).
(For more study on changes from the HCSB to CSB, here is a good resource: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1U7uvZHYsCtSpQdKNwrS6zZYSre-MdY7GbDQZzefWs50/pub)
(You can read Holman’s own list of the changes here: https://csbible.com/ministry/hcsb-to-csb/)
(There is a Facebook group for people who like the HCSB here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/289605548301539)
(And the CSB has a Facebook group as well here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1278639902253540)