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Holman Christian Standard Bible: maintaining a faithful heritage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A full-fledged translation of Scripture such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible is an undertaking of biblical proportions.

Among the challenges: addressing questions not just among the HCSB’s Bible scholars and editors but also among pastors and church members.

The proverbial question of whether another Bible translation is really needed is always at hand, as is the question that can be posed in myriad ways of why a particular Bible passage has been translated in a particular way.

“The explosion of knowledge means there’s always going to be a need for new translations,” general editor Ed Blum noted.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible, however, is especially in the spotlight amid the debate over how extensively “he,” “him” and “his” should be replaced by gender-neutral language in Bible translations.

Scholars on all sides regard the debate as highly significant in terms of a translation’s integrity, readability and cultural sensitivities. Yet the thrust of the Southern Baptist Convention entity producing the HCSB — LifeWay Christian Resources through its Broadman & Holman Publishers division — is far broader than staking out ground as a gender-accurate translation within the biblical inerrancy tradition.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is an original translation from the biblical Hebrew and Greek languages within a heritage stretching from William Tyndale’s translation in the 1500s to the New International Version in modern times.

The HCSB translation of each book of the Bible starts with a scholar’s draft from the original Hebrew or Greek. The process subsequently includes two committees of scholars who study each draft word by word with an eye toward refinements and improvements drawn from their expertise and the latest in biblical scholarship and archaeology.

A state-of-the-art software program, for example, can speedily provide HCSB scholars and editors with the ability to compare a Scripture passage in progress with the same passage from 30 previous Bible translations or revisions. Also available through the software program are a searchable array of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, atlases and other resources.

Another distinction of the HCSB as an original translation is that the scholarly fruits of the in-depth studies of the original Greek and Hebrew words will be included as a feature in most HCSB Bibles, in addition to the usual cross references and footnotes.

“In working through the Greek and Hebrew texts, the translation team often came to words that had several possible translation options,” Blum, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, recounted. “To decide on the best English rendition, we would take ourselves through focused word studies [which proved to be] both interesting and instructive in honing in on the exact meaning of the words. By including some of these, we hope to bring readers even closer to the truth of Scripture.”

The HCSB New Testament, which was released in 2001, includes 222 word studies. The HCSB Old Testament translation is to be released in the spring of 2004.

The HCSB, incidentally, is not solely a Southern Baptist undertaking. Among the 95 scholars and editors involved in the translation, Blum and about 60 percent of the participants represent other evangelical traditions. The HCSB’s associate general editor, meanwhile, is Ray Clendenen, a Bible scholar on staff at LifeWay who also is the general editor of B&H’s 40-volume New American Commentary series.

A belief in biblical inerrancy is shared and fleshed out in the HCSB by Blum, Clendenen and the translation’s other scholars. “The standard of evaluation has to be, What does the [original] text actually say?” Blum noted.

With a goal of achieving both accuracy and readability, the HCSB strives for a word-for-word translation within the English language’s noun-verb-subject framework, Blum said. Translations in the King James tradition, meanwhile, may be a bit more difficult to read, he said, because they reflect more of the original languages’ word order, which can place nouns, verbs and subjects almost anywhere in a sentence. And the HCSB differs from New International Version because the latter moves beyond a word-for-word approach to a concept-for-concept style.

Because the HCSB is an original translation, various passages sometimes have an unexpected tone — even its gender-related renderings.

In Romans 12:6-8, for example, the King James Version includes six uses of “he,” “him” or “his,” and the New International Version includes nine, while the HCSB has none — the same count as Today’s New International Version, an NIV revision that immediately ignited debate after its release earlier this year over many of its gender-neutral word choices.

Even with its biblical inerrancy orientation, the HCSB incidentally may share common ground with the controversial TNIV translation simply because in some cases HCSB scholars saw that a passage in the original language indeed had no gender specificity. On the other hand, in some cases the HCSB may break with the 1984 New International Version which added masculine pronouns not reflected in the original text.

After the TNIV was introduced earlier this year, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood challenged as inaccurate more than 100 passages with gender-neutral translations. The HCSB translated the same 100-plus passages in a gender-specific fashion, keeping intact the meaning of the original languages.

In large part, the TNIV-HCSB differences can be attributed to the fact that the International Bible Society, which produced both the TNIV and the earlier NIV, announced earlier this year it was “withdrawing its endorsement” of the 1997 “Colorado Springs Guidelines” for translating gender references in Scripture. The IBS said it had decided “upon further review and consideration” that “many of the technical guidelines are too restrictive to facilitate the most accurate possible text in contemporary English.”

The guidelines were forged in the midst of a controversy over plans by the International Bible Society and its NIV partner, Zondervan, to introduce a gender-neutral NIV revision for the U.S. market in 2001 — plans that surfaced in news reports but had not been publicly announced by the IBS and Zondervan.

Among those voicing concern at the time were James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; various Southern Baptist leaders, including seminary presidents R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Paige Patterson; and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The IBS and Zondervan quelled the furor by announcing they had “abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version.” Their representatives also were among 12 signers of the Colorado Springs Guidelines that emerged from a May 1997 meeting convened by Dobson in Colorado Springs outlining gender-related principles for trustworthy Bible translation.

The CSG signers noted, “Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible, and we therefore agree to the attached guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture.” Their statement also noted: “We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.”

The Holman Christian Standard Bible, meanwhile, has embraced the principles in Colorado Springs Guidelines throughout the translation process.

Bruce Ware, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in an e-mail letter noted he had compared the HCSB with various passages in the TNIV “that were of deep concern to us at CBMW … and the HCSB does not use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language in those passages as the TNIV does.”

“Please remember that we are not opposed to every change made in the TNIV,” Ware wrote, “but we are concerned in passages where intended gender specificity is eliminated.” In passages he has examined thus far, Ware wrote, HCSB translators “have not followed the same policy as has been employed in the TNIV.” The Colorado Springs Guidelines can be viewed on the CBMW’s website, at http://www.cbmw.org/resources/articles/niv/guidelines.html.

Broadman & Holman’s publisher, Ken Stephens, told Baptist Press, “The goal of the Holman Christian Standard Bible project is translation accuracy and readability. Our language guidelines have specified from the beginning that inclusive pronouns are used only where the original text, not our contemporary culture, allows it. Those guidelines also prohibit changing gender references to achieve inclusiveness and from adding to the inspired writings of the biblical authors. This is compatible with the Colorado Springs Guidelines endorsed more than four years ago by Broadman & Holman, Focus on the Family and other organizations and biblical scholars.

“Our goal is to be gender-accurate, not gender-neutral or gender-inclusive,” Stephens said.

“Masculine references to God are translated as such,” he added, “and pronouns referring to God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are capitalized to ensure clarity, which the KJV and NIV do not do.”

For general editor Ed Blum, there’s also a vital human dimension to the HCSB’s thrust for faithfulness to the biblical text.

At a family retreat for those involved in the HCSB translation, Blum engaged in an evening discussion with about 15 students ranging from grade school through high school fielding questions from “Why do they call it the Bible?” to detailed facets of the translation process.

“In the middle of it all, looking around at all those eager faces, it struck me anew why we’re doing this,” Blum recounted. “These young men and women represent our legacy. They’re the ones depending on us to pass the Word of God down to them accurately, undefiled and uncompromised by contemporary trends and secular cynicism.

“They and all who follow them will live in a world of relativism I could scarcely have imagined when I was their age,” Blum reflected. “Ironically, when they need inerrant truth the worst, that truth itself is most at risk. And they can’t know the difference between the real truth and fallible, relative truth unless we leave them a reliable guide.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: YES, A NEW TRANSLATION and ED BLUM.