Holman Christian Standard Bible

Here’s How HCSB Explains The Bible Translations

In Their Introduction

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Most discussions of Bible translations speak of two opposite approaches: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. Although this terminology is meaningful, Bible transla­tions cannot be neatly sorted into these two categories any more than people can be neatly sorted into two categories according to height or weight. Holman Bible Publishers is con­vinced there is room for another category of translation philosophies that capitalizes on the strengths of the other two.

1.         Formal Equivalence:

Often called "word-for-word" (or "literal") translation, the principle of formal equiva­lence seeks as nearly as possible to preserve the structure of the original language. It seeks to represent each word of the translated text with an exact equivalent word in the transla­tion so that the reader can see word for word what the original human author wrote. The merits of this approach include its consistency with the conviction that the Holy Spirit did inspire the very words of Scripture in the original manuscripts. It also provides the English Bible student some access to the structure of the text in the original language. Formal equivalence can achieve accuracy to the degree that English has an exact equivalent for each word and that the grammatical patterns of the original language can be reproduced in understandable English. However, it can sometimes result in awkward, if not incompre­hensible, English or in a misunderstanding of the author's intent. The literal rendering of ancient idioms is especially difficult.

2. Dynamic or Functional Equivalence:

Often called "thought-for-thought" translation, the principle of dynamic equivalence rejects as misguided the desire to preserve the structure of the original language. It pro­ceeds by distinguishing the meaning of a text from its form and then translating the mean­ing so that it makes the same impact on modern readers that the ancient text made on its original readers. Strengths of this approach include a high degree of clarity and readability, especially in places where the original is difficult to render word for word. It also acknowl­edges that accurate and effective translation requires interpretation. However, the meaning of a text cannot always be neatly separated from its form, nor can it always be precisely determined. A biblical author may have intended multiple meanings. In striving for read­ability, dynamic equivalence also sometimes overlooks some of the less prominent ele­ments of meaning. Furthermore, lack of formal correspondence to the original makes it difficult to verify accuracy and thus can affect the usefulness of the translation for in-depth Bible study.

3.         Optimal Equivalence:

In practice, translations are seldom if ever purely formal or dynamic but favor one theory of Bible translation or the other to varying degrees. Optimal equivalence as a translation philosophy recognizes that form cannot be neatly separated from meaning and should not be changed (for example, nouns to verbs or third person "they" to second person "you") unless comprehension demands it. The primary goal of translation is to convey the sense of the original with as much clarity as the original text and the translation language permit. Optimal equivalence appreciates the goals of formal equivalence but also recognizes its lim­itations.

Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) in the original language to determine its original mean­ing and intention (or purpose). Then relying on the latest and best language tools and experts, the nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents are used to convey as much of the information and intention of the original text with as much clarity and read-  (ability as possible.)-.is on page xii


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This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts contained in the original.         n

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence as its translation philosophy When a literal translation meets these criteria, it is used. When clarity and readability demand an idiomatic translation, the reader can still access the form of the original text by means of a footnote with the abbreviation "Lit."

The gender language policy in Bible translation

Some people today ignore the Bible's teachings on distinctive roles of men and women in family and church and have an agenda to eliminate those distinctions in every arena of life. These people have begun a program to engineer the removal of a perceived male bias in the English language. The targets of this program have been such traditional linguistic practices as the generic use of "man" or "men," as wel'_ as "he," "him," and "his."


A group of Bible scholars, translators, and other evangelical leaders met in 1997 to respond to this issue as it affects Bible translation. This group produced the "Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture" (adopted May 27, 1997 and revised Sept. 9, 1997). The HCSB was produced in accordance with these guidelines.

The goal of the HCSB translators has not been to promote a cultural ideology but to faith­fully translate the Bible. While the HCSB avoids using "man" or "he" unnecessarily, the translation does not restructure sentences to avoid them when they are in the text. For example, HCSB translators have not changed "him" to "you" or to "them," neither have they avoided other masculine words such as "father" or "son" by translating them in generic terms such as "parent" or "child."

History of the Holman Christian Standard Bible


After several years of preliminary development, Holman Bible Publishers, the oldest Bible publisher in America, assembled an international, interdenominational team of 100 schol­ars, editors, stylists, and proofreaders, all of whom were committed to biblical inerrancy. Outside consultants and reviewers contributed valuable suggestions from their areas of expertise. An executive team then edited, polished, and reviewed the final manuscripts.

Traditional features found in the HCSB

In keeping with a long line of Bible publications, the Holman Christian Standard Bible has retained a number of features found in traditional Bibles:

1. Traditional theological vocabulary (such as justification, sanctification, redemption, etc) has been retained in the HCSB, since such terms have no translation equivalent that adequately communicates their exact meaning.

2.         Traditional spellings of names and places found in most Bibles have been used to make the HCSB compatible with most Bible study tools.

3.         Some editions of the HCSB will print the words of Christ in red letters to help readers easily locate the spoken words of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4.         Nouns and personal pronouns that clearly refer to any person of the Trinity are capitalized.

5.         Descriptive headings, printed above each section of Scripture, help readers quickly identify the contents of that section.

6.         Small lower corner brackets:  indicate words supplied for clarity by the translators (but see below, under Substitution of words in sentences, for supplied words that are not bracketed).

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7. Two common forms of punctuation are used in the HCSB to help with clarity and ease of reading: em dashes (a long dash ) are used to indicate sudden breaks in thought or to help clarify long or difficult sentences. Parentheses are used infrequently to indicate words that are parenthetical in the original languages.