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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Comparing the ESV and HCSB

Someone recently left a comment on this blog that stimulated me to compare the ESV and HCSB. I don't have a lot of time to compare these two versions in detail now with my current work load, but I'd like to at least begin such a comparison. And then maybe others of you can add to it.

The ESV and HCSB are two of the most recent English versions published. The ESV was published as a complete Bible in October 2001. The HCSB New Testament was published in January 2001 and the entire Bible in 2003. The ESV is published by Crossway, an independent Christian publisher. The HCSB was published by Holman, a longtime Bible publisher which is now owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.

The ESV and HCSB are the first English versions to explicitly follow the CSG (Colorado Springs Guidelines): Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture (1997). So both versions use grammatically masculine language in some verses where many exegetes would consider the meaning to include both males and females. Note Matt. 5:9:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (ESV)

Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God. (HCSB)
The ESV is a minor stylistic revision of the RSV. It does, however, have "significant corrections in the translation of key texts" of the RSV (Preface, vii). Such corrections especially involved changing what were considered theologically "liberal" wordings in the RSV to conservative ones. It also involved translationally highlighting Old Testament passages which the ESV translators consider to be messianic. In many such cases the RSV translators did not highlight the potential messianic flavor. Stylistically the ESV is promoted by its publisher as being within the classical Tyndale-KJV tradition of English Bible versions.

The HCSB, on the other hand, is a new translation, not based on any other English version.

The stylistic differences between the ESV and HCSB can be viewed as either an asset or a liability. Those who are accustomed to Bibles with a KJV or RSV sound and like that sound also like the ESV. If one has already used the RSV extensively it is easy to follow along in their ESV while the RSV is being read. The downside of this is that the ESV has inherited the literary negatives of the RSV which include obsolete negative word orders and some other obsolete syntax and vocabulary, as well as some wordings which sound strange to many current speakers of English.

The HCSB, on the other hand, is generally written in a formal, Bible-sounding, but current variety of English.

Compare Eccl. 9:8 in the two versions:
Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. (ESV: awkward adverb order in the first sentence and obsolete negative word order in the second sentence.)

Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head. (HCSB)
Both the ESV and HCSB have adjective substantives which agree both with singular and plural verbs, whereas standard English only allows such agreement with plural verbs. Note Psalm 10:4:
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (ESV)

In all his scheming, the wicked arrogantly things: "There is no accountability [since] God does not exist." (HCSB)
The ESV and HCSB sometimes differ in terms of coherence. Compare their wordings of Is. 64:7:
There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (ESV)

No one calls on Your name, striving to take hold of You. For You have hidden Your face from us and made us melt because of our iniquity. (HCSB)
Compare how they render Prov. 8:22:
"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. (ESV)

The LORD made me at the beginning of His creation, before His works of long ago. (HCSB)
The ESV and HCSB sound fairly similar for some of the most familiar and loved passages in the Bible. Compare Psalm 23 in both versions:
1. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4. 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.
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (ESV)

1. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
2. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
3. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
4. 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.
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6. Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live. (HSCB)
There are many more verses which can be compared in the ESV and HCSB, but these should be enough to give one a beginning feel for differences between these two versions.

Both versions had an interdenominational translation team. Some Sunday School and other church materials from the Southern Baptist convention now use the HCSB as the quoted translation. But it has always been the goal of the HCSB team that it would be used by those who are not Southern Baptists, as well. The HCSB currently has greater sales in Christian bookstores. It will be interesting to see if the ESV overtakes the HCSB in sales. In terms of nationally known Christian leaders in the U.S. (e.g. John Piper, R.C. Sproul, et al), there are probably more who promote the ESV than those who promote the HCSB. This simply speaks to the preferences of those leaders and their high visibility. We do not know how many Southern Baptist Convention leaders and pastors promote the HCSB publicly or to their congregations.

Ultimately, for many who want to use a new essentially literal translation a choice between the ESV or HCSB probably will be determined by how much they value the traditional KJV-RSV Bible sound.

Both versions are accessible online, the ESV here, and the HCSB here. In addition the ESV is available as a free downloadable module for the also free e-sword Bible study program.


At Wed Mar 01, 09:19:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I personally like the HCSB. Maybe it's the influence of this blog, but I have stopped teaching from my beloved NASB, although I can never imagine a time that I wouldn't have the NASB, the Greek NT, and perhaps another translation or two side by side as I study a passage.

I am one who respects almost all translations of the Bible and judge them based on how well they meet the goals they are trying to fulfill.

I could almost be persuaded to teach from the TNIV (although I'm not sure how that might be received at my church), but I just can't--at this point--based on its NIVisms (I'll save explanation of that for another time).

I like the HCSB because (1) it's a break from the Tyndale tradition. Although I collect translations and have read completely through a number of them, I'm not sure you really get to know a version of the Bible until you study with it. I'm having a grand time studying with my HCSB (with the NASB and Greek NT side by side, of course). And (2) I like the fact that the HCSB can be very literal (it's hard to escape literalness after primarily using the NASB for 26 years!), but also very free in its translation when it needs to be. Even the examples in your blog entry, Wayne, seem to demonstrate that it reads much smoother than the ESV (and I would suggest all of the Tyndale-tradition versions).

Further, I am teaching from the HCSB on Sunday mornings because it's in the Baptist Sunday School literature and that makes it an extra point of contact with my class.

Of course the HCSB is not perfect, as is no translation. It has its quirks. I have no idea why they use the word "deluge" instead of "flood" in Gen 6-11. It's weird to think of "Noah's deluge." I emailed Ray Clendenen about this issue and he forwarded my query to one of the translators, but I've yet to hear back.

But I am delighted at times to see things such as "slacker" used instead of the old word "sluggard" which I imagine no one uses anymore.

“How long will you stay in bed, you slacker?
When will you get up from your sleep?”
(Prov 6:9 HCSB)

Don't you just love the word, "slacker"? I was able to use the word "slacker" now and then back when I was a high school teacher. Now, thanks to the HCSB, I'll be able to continue to use it!

At Wed Mar 01, 10:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Yes, Rick, "slacker" is a nice strong word which anyone today should understand, I would guess (yes, yes, for anyone listening in, subject to adequate field testing, of course!).

I think that the HCSB translators had a pretty good feel for English. I had the privilege of meeting several of them (I really appreciated Ray C. who had his son along for ETS or some such meetings, then for fly fishing) doing some checking of their work for pay. They accepted some of my suggestions and not others, which is standard. I met with a number of them and they listened carefully to my lists of wordings in their N.T. which seemed non-standard to me. Right in the meeting they agreed that some of them needed to be changed. I admire that kind of openness.

They had some on the team with good credentials in language analysis. Ray C's Ph.D is in English and his dissertation is on the discourse structure of some book of the Bible. I forget which now (which book, not which Bible!). Trent Butler had at least an M.A. in linguistics, from Northwestern Univ., I believe, which would have been a pretty decent program when he was there, I would think.

Good people! The quality of English in the HCSB is superior to that of the ESV. I have field tested extended passages from the two versions and the HCSB always has won. Of course, as I said in my post, for those who prefer the Elizabethan sound, the ESV would be the better choice between the two.

At Wed Mar 01, 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Whoops, Rick, my brain intended for my fingers to type that Ray's Ph.D was in linguistics, but my fingers often have a mind of their own. Never mind, now it is repaired with this followup, if you don't mind.

At Thu Mar 02, 12:06:00 AM, Blogger Ben Martin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Thu Mar 02, 12:30:00 AM, Blogger Ben Martin said...

I know a fair amount of Southern Baptists, and indeed the HCSB seems to be doing well among the Southern Baptist staff/ministers I know. I don't know how popular it is with rank and file.

The HCSB is alright for a more literal translation. Or, anyway, it's a break from the NASB. The HCSB has, as I recall, some problems with evenness of tone: sometimes in a single passage it will switch between more and less formal language. I wish I had good examples, but I haven't kept track of examples that bothered me.

One interesting aspect of the HCSB is it's relatively frequent use of contractions - even the NIV never went that far. For example, I see "I've" in John 3:28, "You're" in John 9:28, "don't" in John 10:25. Ironically, I don't necessarily find these easier to read. Which surprises me since, as you can tell, I do not avoid contractions even in writing.

At least, unlike the NASB, I have never run across a sentence that I didn't even think was English. It does still have some really unnecessarily complex syntax. A quick skim produced this example from John 2:4: "What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?" It took me a second to figure out that sentence. The NASB has the much more readable "Woman, what does this have to do with us?" It's a sad day when the NASB is more readable... (Though the HCSB beats the NASB with Mary's response.)

At Thu Mar 02, 06:09:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Wayne, I can speak well of Ray Clendenen, too. When I first started examining some passages in the HCSB and had questions, I submitted them to an online form. I was soon forwarded to Ray C. who has been very gracious to answer my questions. Not wanting to be a pest, after the second or third question, I asked him if it would be more appropriate to send my questions to someone else. He told me to send them to him, and what he didn't know he would forward to someone else.

I certainly won't ever abuse that privilege, but I've never had such access to a translator of a major Bible version before. It is very refreshing to experience their openness to questions and ideas.

At Thu Mar 02, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Andy said...

Very good post, Wayne. Thank you for your work on this.

At Thu Mar 02, 09:04:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I came across and interesting, perhaps odd verse in the HCSB tonight--Eph 2:2.

Since this was a blog entry comparing the ESV and HCSB, I'll supply both translations. The ESV is fairly standard:

“in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—”
(Eph 2:2 ESV)


“in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient.”
(Eph 2:2 HCSB)

Two things struck me. First I'm not sure "ruler of the atmospheric domain" is any better of a translation than "prince of the power of the air." In fact, the HCSB seems a bit awkward here.

Secondly, I noticed that the HCSB completely removes υἱοῖς changing the text from the traditional "sons of disobedience" to simply "the disobedient." Interesting that by dropping "sons," they create a more inclusive translation of the verse, allowing for both genders to be equally disobedient!

At Thu Mar 02, 10:35:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Secondly, I noticed that the HCSB completely removes υἱοῖς changing the text from the traditional "sons of disobedience" to simply "the disobedient." Interesting that by dropping "sons," they create a more inclusive translation of the verse, allowing for both genders to be equally disobedient!

I suspect that this makes the HCSB more accurate for this verse. Thanks for the observations, Rick.


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