“Why I Switched to the CSB”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
English-speaking Christians are blessed with a plethora of good translations of the Bible. Of course, translation is an art, not a science. There are no perfect translations, nor will there ever be.
However, practically every translation that we’re likely to encounter is more faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek texts we have than the Septuagint is to its Hebrew originals. If the Holy Spirit thought the Septuagint was good enough to incorporate into the New Testament, whatever we’ve got is good enough to get us to heaven!
Because we are so spoiled for choice, though, those of us who care about the Bible are likely to move from translation to translation, looking for one that is maybe a little bit more perfect than the rest. In my time as a preacher/Bible reviewer, I’ve preached and taught from at least 10 different translations, and at various times, I’ve used three translations (NASB, NKJV, and ESV) for my primary text.
A couple of months ago, though, I decided to try out a fourth translation for my every-day Bible—the Christian Standard Bible, or CSB. When I switched from NASB to ESV a few years ago, the CSB was a strong second-place finisher, and my occasional use of it ever since gradually swayed me to adopt it. Several factors played into this decision:
VOLUME QUALITY. My copy of the CSB is bound in edge-lined goatskin that Holman sent me as a promo copy in 2017 when they rolled the translation out. It’s true that I love edge-lined Bibles, and once you’ve gotten used to one, it’s tough to go back to paste-down.
However, it’s really the quality of the setting of the CSB that influenced me here. My CSB was set by 2K, a Danish shop that is world-famous for its Bible designs, and the quality shows. It’s better designed than the ESV I was using before. My CSB is prettier, easier to read, and has cross-references that are easier to use. As far as I’m concerned, anything that makes reading and studying the word more pleasant is well worth adopting!
STYLISTIC QUALITY. I love the English language and rejoice in good writing. As a result, I struggle to love translations that prioritize faithfulness to the words of the Greek (and sometimes even to Greek grammar) over making clear sense in English. Brethren often are fond of these translations (I think because they appear to remove human judgment from translation, though in truth they do not), but they often pose obstacles to our understanding. These obstacles can be surmounted in verse-by-verse study (as when the preacher reads a verse and then pauses to explain what it means in normal English), but they often make Bible reading difficult, especially for new Christians who don’t speak fluent NASB.
By contrast, the style of the CSB is accessible and lively. Instead of talking like Bible characters, speakers in the CSB sound like real people. For instance, in Luke 6:46 in the CSB, Jesus says, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and don’t do the things I say?”
The CSB also is full of aptly phrased renderings. Consider the difference between Ruth 2:12 in the NASB (“May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”) and the CSB (“May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”). The NASB undeniably sounds more Hebraic, with idioms like “your wages be full”, but it’s the CSB that sounds like good English. That’s important!
TEXTUAL FAITHFULNESS. It is, of course, possible for translators to take accessibility too far. Unlike most brethren, I’ve used the NLT extensively (I read the whole thing cover-to-cover a few years back), and though I like it for reading, I feel like the translators take too many liberties, especially in the New Testament, for the translation to be suitable for close study. When I’m reading from the NLT, there are a dozen places in the book of Romans alone where I stop and say, “Man; they sure booted that one!”
The translators of the CSB are much more careful. So far, at least, I feel that the translation sacrifices little in the way of nuance and faithfulness in exchange for great gains in style and clarity. Of course, there are CSB renderings that I don’t like, but there are renderings in every translation I don’t like. To this point, they are infelicities I can live with.
I also like the balance that the CSB has struck on gender equality. The translators generally render the Greek adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” (unless the context makes it clear that only males are under discussion), and they replace “how blessed is the man” in Psalm 1:1 with “how blessed is the one”. However, the pronoun throughout Psalm 1 is “he”, and the translators preserve the singular “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 (compare “human beings” in the NIV). It remains to be seen whether the upcoming 2020 revision of the NASB will fare as well.
I certainly don’t insist that every Christian out there needs to switch to the CSB Right This Minute. It almost certainly is true that the Bible you’re using right now is get-you-to-heaven good (though if you struggle to adhere to a Bible-reading program, consider that your choice of translation and setting may be at fault). However, for those who are looking for another Bible or simply are curious, the CSB is well worth checking out.