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 become very similar to the English Standard Version (ESV), except that it is almost as gender-neutral as the NIV.
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 extremes 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 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.”)
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). The CSB does not (nor does the KJV or ESV). 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. I’m sure that the translators of the CSB are pleased with their new translation. Personally, with this radical revision, I see little difference now between the CSB and ESV, except for more gender neutral language in the CSB. For that 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).
I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, where we elected our first African-American SBC president: Dr. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans. Dr. Luter is an outstanding pastor, preacher and Southern Baptist leader. He took a congregation of 65 people and built it to thousands of members, only to see the membership decimated by Hurricane Katrina. He returned to rebuild the membership to over 4,500 in weekly attendance today. His church is a leading supporter of Southern Baptist missions. I am very excited that we have elected Dr. Luter, and I hope you will join me in praying for God to bless his leadership of our convention.
The convention also voted on changing the name of our denomination. By a 54-46% vote, messengers approved the proposal to keep the legal name Southern Baptist Convention, while at the same time encouraging anybody who wants to use a different name to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.” I voted against this. The name “Southern Baptist” has come to stand for who we are. Changing actions is more important than changing our name. I felt that it was an unnecessary proposal, since churches do not have to use the name “Southern Baptist” in their local church name anyway to be affiliated with us, and even though the other name is just an alternative option, I feel that it will be confusing for us to be using two different names to refer to our denomination.
The convention passed nine resolutions and declined to bring forward some proposed resolutions. Resolution #3 was a hotly debated resolution affirming the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to express repentance and faith. Some people, such as David Platt, have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to give people a false hope that they are saved simply by saying a prayer, even when they have not repented of sin. The resolution affirmed that the Bible often speaks of crying out to God in faith, and that there is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat a “sinner’s prayer” of faith, as long as it is not used as manipulation or an incantation that does not include a full explanation of the gospel and expression of repentance. Makes sense, right? However, two amendments were proposed to this resolution, both of which failed. One amendment tried to completely delete the term “a sinner’s prayer.” This amendment was defeated. The other amendment tried to add specific language saying that salvation is available to all who hear and all may respond. This amendment was also defeated, since the resolution already said the gospel is offered to anyone who repents and trusts in Christ. Then the overall resolution was adopted. Apparently, the two amendments that were offered came from opposite camps in the debate over Calvinism. Some Calvinists have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer,” since they feel it is manipulative, and cannot bring salvation to a person unless that person is first chosen and called to faith by God. The other amendment, which stressed the availability of the gospel to all to hear and respond, seemed to be a direct attack on the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (the belief that Christ only died for the elect), since it was stressing a general appeal to all to believe. It is very interesting that both amendments were defeated; despite the controversy, the convention and most convention speakers seemed to desire to steer a middle course that is inclusive to both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Resolution #5 spoke out against the Obama administration’s violations and potential violations of religious liberty on several issues, such as the health care mandate for that violates the consciences of the Catholic church and other religious groups that do not wish to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, and the threat to the ministry of military chaplains who do not believe in homosexuality, now that homosexuality is being approved by the military.
One resolution was of particular interest because it was not brought up for a vote. Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor in Texas, had proposed a resolution against the racist statements in Mormon source documents. He was concerned that Mormons have been evangelizing people of color, without those people knowing that passages in the Book of Mormon such as 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, 14 say that people with dark skin are cursed by God. An African-American member of the Resolutions Committee (I failed to get his name), said that the SBC has not been in the habit of speaking against specific religions, and implied that we didn’t want to set that precedent. He also said that since the Mormon church now allows people of color to be elders, we want to make sure we get our facts right before speaking on this issue. McKissic insisted that he still wanted the resolution to be brought up for a vote, because he said the Mormon church has never repented of these passages in their books, and the racist implications remain in Mormon “scripture.” However, the convention defeated Rev. McKissic’s motion to bring up his resolution.
Overall, it was a lively convention, attended by a little less than 8,000 registered messengers, full of inspirational reports from our International Mission Board and North American Misssion Board, great preaching and music. And of course, since it was a Baptist business meeting, there were as many different opinions as there were people in the room.
In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was organized in Augusta, Georgia, just a couple hours’ drive north of where I now live. However, we’ve come a long way since then, not just in miles or time.
In 1845, one of the main reasons why Southern Baptists split from the North was that the SBC wanted to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. Today, many SBC churches are integrated, including my own, African-American pastor Fred Luter is our vice-president, and Luter will probably be elected president this year at the convention meeting in New Orleans.
In 1845, all of our churches were in the South. Today, we are still concentrated in the South, but we have churches in all 50 states. One of our largest churches is in California.
The idea of changing the name, particularly dropping the word “Southern” in favor of something else, has come up many times in the past century, and has always been voted down. Now the Executive Committee of the SBC is passing along the following recommendation to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention: to keep the legal name Southern Baptist, while at the same time encouraging churches that do not wish to use that name to adopt the informal name “Great Commission Baptists.”
I have mixed feelings about this recommendation. Although this is not officially a name change proposal, it could lead to name “erosion” and confusion. Imagine two Baptists who meet and ask about each other’s churches. One says, “I’m a Southern Baptist.” The other says, “I’m a Great Commission Baptist.” They have no idea their churches are affiliated with one another. How does that unify us?
While the name “Southern Baptist” is negative for some, it has positive connotations for others, such as those who received assistance in SBC disaster relief efforts after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and for millions who found faith and Christian nurture in an SBC church.
I am a Southerner, but I grew up an Army chaplain’s son, and lived outside the South, as well. I remember that while attending a Southern Baptist church on Staten Island, New York, that “Southern” was not considered helpful to evangelism. After all, what New Yorker wants to join a “Southern” church? However, the church simply used the name “Baptist,” just as most SBC churches do in the South, including my own. My former youth minister, Jason McNair, who now serves in the Utah-Idaho convention, feels that a name change is a waste of time and energy and doesn’t address the most important issues.
If we earn a good reputation, people don’t care as much about the name. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is the name of a conservative Lutheran denomination. Lutherans looking for a conservative church are glad to find a church by that name, even if they are not in Missouri. It’s not the name that matters; it’s the reputation behind the name. After all, New York Life Insurance sells in Georgia, and Kentucky Fried Chicken sells in California.
Some claim that “Southern” is offensive to African-Americans. I asked this question of my former classmate Cathy McNair, an African-American who graduated with me from Petal High School in Petal, Mississippi. She said, “Well….used to…back in the stone age…it was pretty much understood that Southern Baptist was a synonym for Blacks need not attend….nowadays…not so much.” (By the way, Cathy said about the same thing as Jason, that spending time on a name change was ignoring “weightier matters.”)
Cathy makes an important point about the “used to” and “nowadays” of the Southern Baptist name. Although the name remained the same, the name gained a new reputation over the years, as Southern Baptists repented of the racial sins of the past and many SBC churches opened their doors to all races.
And here is the key: we must be known for what we are for instead of what we are against. Too often we are known as those people who boycott Disney and hate gays. We should be known as the people who love all people (gays included) enough to show them how to change. Our logo says it all. The cross, Bible and globe show what we are for: the gospel of forgiveness by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, faithfulness to the Bible, and sharing this good news with the whole world. If we are known for these things, we will please our Lord, whatever name we choose to use.
I may vote in favor of the recommendation, since it keeps the legal name and only encourages those who already don’t want to use the SBC name to at least use the same name (“Great Commission Baptist”). But for me, the bottom line is, that it’s far more important for us to change our ways than to change our name.
(The Southern Baptist Convention will hear this proposal at its meeting in New Orleans on June 19-20, 2012.)
To read more on this subject, read these reports and blogs:
Official recommendation from the task force on a name change.
by Ed Stetzer, researcher with LifeWay Christian Resources, favors a name change, but feels changing our actions is more important. Many comments on his blog, many of them with objections to the name change.
by Benjie Potter, feels the name change proposal is silly, and offers a Southern Baptist revision of Shakespeare’s “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
(Below is a photograph of the historical marker in Augusta, Georgia, where the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845.)