Why I’m Reading My HCSB More Lately

For the record, I’m not writing this to suck up to the new pastor, who is a big time cheerleader for the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Ironically, it was his father Thom Rainer who gave me (along with about 9,000 other T4G attendees) my first Hard Core Southern Baptist translation of Scripture. Ever since then, I’ve been doing a lot of my reading with it, especially since Pastor Sam began preaching from it at Stevens Street.

While I do not see it taking the place of the English Standard Version as my primary reading Bible, I’ve found that there are some things about the HCSB that I really appreciate. Here are a few:

Gives Familiar Passages New Freshness

I find that there is a lot of value in occasionally reading from a different translation from my everyday Bible. Seeing verses translated differently causes me to pause and reflect on the meaning of the text, when reading a more familiar translation might tempt me to skim past it. Granted, this benefit comes to me from reading any translation besides the ESV, but I have found that I much prefer the HCSB over any of the other translations on my bookshelf.

Use of the LORD’s Name in the Old Testament

I like that the HCSB prints “Yahweh” in instances where the tetragrammaton (יהוה) is used. This is God’s given name, and I think it is worth retaining it as a proper name rather than printing it “LORD” (as opposed to “Lord”, which is used as a title rather than a name) as the ESV does, in the tradition of the KJV. Regardless of which translation one uses, it is important to know how God identified himself, and what that name means. Seeing it printed “LORD” has never been a distraction for me, because I know that the ESV consistently translates יהוה that way, and I know what it means. But it is more likely that inexperienced readers will find it easier to distinguish between “Yahweh” and “Lord” than between “LORD” and “Lord”.

Use of the Old Testament in the New

I have really enjoyed the formatting of the HCSB in instances when the New Testament writers quoted Old Testament passages. The Holman puts all such quotes in bold print, making it very easy to identify them. Along the same lines, the substitution of “Messiah” for “Christ” in certain New Testament contexts has been an interesting change. Reading through Colossians last week, I actually stumbled a few times reading “Messiah” frequently in chapters 2 and 3. I’m just not used to seeing it. While it’s not technically a correct translation, I can understand why the HCSB chose to use it when New Testament writers make reference to Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecies. (“Christ” and “Messiah” are from the Greek and Hebrew words for “anointed”, respectively.) This is a similar situation to “Yahweh” in the Old Testament; one way or another, people need to know that “Messiah” and “Christ” mean the same thing and refer to the same person throughout the entire Bible. Perhaps using “Messiah” in the N.T. will help readers make the connection… though I think I still prefer the use of “Christ” throughout the New Testament. Call me old fashioned.

John 3:16

There are some verses you just don’t mess with, right? Up until now, every single English translation of the Bible I owned retained the clause “For God so loved the world” from the King James Version, and it’s always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I much prefer the wording of the HCSB, which had the courage to alter the most famous verse in Scripture. Here’s how it reads: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” This gets the correct sense of the verse, which tells us the way in which God loved the world — by giving his Son — not how much he loved the world. Bravo!

Online Study Bible

I think it’s totally awesome that HCSB offers its Study Bible online totally free at MyStudyBible.com. It’s also free for Kindle and other e-readers. It’s not as pretty as the print version, or as user-friendly as the online ESV Study Bible, but did I mention it’s free? (Crossway charges $20 for access to their online Study Bible, though you get free access when you purchase a print copy of the ESV Study Bible.) As far as the study notes go, I much prefer the ESVSB if I only had to choose one… but I’m thankful that I don’t!

The Stuff I Don’t Like So Much

One of the reasons I love the ESV is that it retains so much of the beauty of the KJV. The attention to detail in how the text reads (particularly when reading aloud) is what won me over in the first place about ten years ago. The difference between how the ESV and HCSB read is most prominent in (but certainly not limited to) the Psalms and other poetic sections. I suppose it was difficult to work things like stress and meter into the formula for “Optimal Equivalence”, but it’s a shame. A poem should feel like a poem, and I think the HCSB falls short in this area. The ESV also seems to lend itself better to memorization. This may be partially due to a bias from familiarity, but I think it’s also a product of the use of language.

I’ve also been turned off by the HCSB’s insistence on the superiority of their consistent translation of the Greek word doulos as “slave”. Even if they are right about this (I have no formal Greek training, so I’m staying out of this area of debate for now) they have overstated their case and that gets on my nerves. That’s a purely subjective (and possibly petty) judgment, however, so feel free to ignore it!


I think the HCSB and ESV are both excellent translations. I’m thankful to have access to both, and will continue to use both frequently. I plan to continue working my way through the entire HCSB, but expect to go back to using the ESV as my primary Bible after that. I’m not going to get caught up in the “battle” over which translation is better. I like them for different reasons, and I like them both more than any other translation. The availability of multiple Bibles (nevermind multiple translations) is a luxury many Christians in the world don’t have, so I’m just counting my blessings and enjoying my time in the Word!

12 comments on “Why I’m Reading My HCSB More Lately

  1. Darren says:

    While I’m not Southern Baptist, I have been a huge fan of the HCSB for some time. I’m kinda backward from you, John; I’ve only changed from the HCSB this year to read the ESV. I enjoy both, but I still have a special affinity for the Holman.
    Incidently, one of my favorite things about the Holman IS the use of the word “slave.” I didn’t know about their pushiness involving it; I’ve just always liked the perspective.
    Well written, as usual sir. Keep up the good work!

    • John Gardner says:

      I understand the arguments both ways on the translation philosophies of the ESV and HCSB on the word doulos, but I just don’t feel competent to weigh in on it myself. Either way, I think readers need to understand what 1st century slavery in the Roman world looked like. I’m less concerned with which English word gets used. Like so many Greek words, there just isn’t a perfect fit that conveys the concept without seeking out further context.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. James says:

    Interesting. I am working through the ESV now and am considering going through the HCSB next. Appreciate your perspective.

  3. Jess Lee says:

    Personally I’m a KJV girl. grew up reading it, and am super familiar with it, and personally find it easier to read than any version I have used so far (but i think that comes from using that version so long.) i like esv and have a pocket edition in it. Thank you for letting us know the pros and cons that you see… it helps to see new perspective on things and get shaken up so we don’t become stagnant in our christian walk and start just goin’ through the motions. its good to be challenged . works spiritual mucles we didn’t know we had. 🙂

    • John Gardner says:

      I love the KJV as well, and am fascinated by its history. I think it is one of the greatest achievements in history, and is very beautiful to read. The reason the ESV reads so well is that the translation team was intentionally trying to re-create the way the KJV flows so well, just using language that isn’t outdated.

      Last year I wrote a little about the KJV and two documentaries that came out to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the 1611 Bible. If you’re interested to see them I’m happy to let you borrow them!

  4. Nelima says:

    Hello! This is my first comment, though I’ve dropped by your blog before.
    I’m following the Read the Bible for Life Daily Audio Bible which is in the HCSB. I too have been struck by the “audacity” the translators had in departing from traditional renderings. I’ve appreciated some instances more than others 🙂
    The only thing I find puzzling is why they didn’t consistently use “Yahweh” in the OT (you alluded to “Messiah” sometimes substituting “Christ”). I don’t suppose you have any ideas?

    • John Gardner says:

      The HCSB translation team has stated that they used “Yahweh” in instances that “emphasize the significance of God’s name”, which I suppose is a similar philosophy to choosing to translate Χριστός as “Messiah” when it is used “in a Jewish context”. I don’t think it’s so much an inconsistency as a conscious choice of emphasis. Also, I have heard that in early printings the HCSB used “Yahweh” much less frequently than in the “revised” version that I have, though I can’t verify that.

      Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment as often as you like when you drop by!

  5. Annie says:

    I agree with you that the more poetic sections of the NCSB are not as appealing as in other versions. This is a true shame, as I enjoy the fluidity and the beauty of the language. Thanks for your explanation of why “Yahweh” is used in some sections and not others. Our pastor just said it was the ‘true’ name of the Lord, but that didn’t help me much. I had previously heard “Yahweh” in relation to Native American beliefs, specifically the Cherokee. So I was somewhat surprised to hear it in regards to the Holy Bible. Do you have any knowledge of how and why “Yahweh” would be used by the Cherokee? It was not used in a Christian belief system that was adopted by some Cherokee tribes later on, but as I read it, it was in relation to the true, native Cherokee beliefs. Any insight into this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your good commentary on the Holman version.

  6. James Cone says:

    Not only is the version great, the Study Bible is excellent. You can’t go wrong with this Study Bible! All of its features are simply fantastic! I only wish they would have translated from the Received Text, maybe then there would be less criticism. But then someone would say its not as accurate as it could have been! What they did in revising the Beatitudes leaves one feeling like Jesus is speaking those words for the first time! If you desire a closer walk with Jesus and desire to grow in the Word, this Study Bible is God sent! Forever in His Name. God Bless, James Cone.

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