Tag Archives: Bible translations

Notes While Reading the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

I set a goal this year to read through the Bible in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation. I’m far behind schedule but don’t regret my choice.

The CSB, you may recall, is the new version of the now-retired Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). There are many differences between the two, though both aim(ed) to provide a translation that falls somewhere between the formal equivalence (NASB, KJV, ESV) and functional equivalence (NIV, NET, NLT) ends of the translation spectrum.

You can easily find more information online about all such things, including my own advice about Bible translations. Here I’ll simply share a few translation choices that have stood out to me so far in the CSB. Let’s talk about Adam, sex, and cubits.

“ADAM” or “THE MAN”?

The Hebrew word for the name of the first man, “Adam,” simply means “the man” or, in a generic sense, “human beings.” Translators need to use context when deciding how ‘adam should be translated.

This creates special challenges in the early chapters of Genesis. The first occurrence of ‘adam is in Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule…” (I’ll use CSB in this post unless otherwise stated). Here both the theological emphasis on all humanity being created in God’s image and the plural “they” make it clear that a translation such as “man” or “human beings” (CSB footnote) is necessary. “Let us make Adam” would not work.

By the time we get to Genesis 5:3, it is very clear that ‘adam references not merely “human beings” in general nor even a generic “man,” but a specific individual: “Adam was 130 years old when he fathered a son in his likeness… and named him Seth.”

But the Genesis creation narrative flows quite seamlessly from a general description of the creation of humanity in general to a more specific discussion of Adam and Eve as individuals. When should we start thinking of ‘adam as a specific man?

It is always interesting to see when translations make this transition.

The KJV first mentions “Adam” at Genesis 2:19:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

The ESV makes the transition one verse later, at Genesis 2:20:

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

The NASB and the NIV do the same as the ESV, but the NIV tips the reader off as early as  Genesis 2:4 by providing a heading that reads “Adam and Eve.”

The NLT waits until Genesis 3:20 to make the transition, translating a single Hebrew word twice to help the reader along:

Then the manAdam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.

But the CSB waits even longer. “Adam” doesn’t appear until Genesis 4:25:

Adam was intimate with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth…

Which option is best? I give NLT top points for clarity. And it is ingenious to provide Adam’s name in the same verse where Eve is first named! But its double translation implies that two terms are present in Hebrew where there is only one.

Overall, I like the choice of the NASB, NIV, and ESV best. Including both “the man” and “Adam” in the same verse somewhat eases the transition, helping the reader know both terms refer to the same person.

And I like the CSB the least of the options shown above. When “Adam” first appears in Genesis 4:25, the man named “Adam” has not been discussed since Genesis 4:1—twenty-four verses earlier—where we read, “The man was intimate with his wife Eve…” The intervening verses have been about other characters named Cain, Abel, Lamech, and more. Advanced readers will notice that “Adam” who is “intimate with his wife” in 4:25 is “the man” who was “intimate with his wife” in 4:1.  But many beginning Bible readers (and there are increasing numbers in North America) will be left wondering who this “Adam” is that they are hearing about the first time, and why he is mentioned “again” if he has not been named before.

“KNEW,” “MADE LOVE TO,”
or “WAS INTIMATE WITH”?

But if the CSB strikes out with “Adam,” it hits a home run with its translation for the act of sexual intercourse, also mentioned in the verses above.

Translating sexual language brings many potential pitfalls. First, there are our modern preoccupations with sex, ranging from undue sexual embarrassment (especially when reading the Bible aloud in church!) to the anything-goes flaunting of sexual provocation in North American media and fashion.

The ancient biblical conceptions of sexuality also bring translation challenges. When the Old Testament talks about sexual intercourse, it often uses the word yada, often translated “know”/”knowledge.” Here is how Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology begins its discussion of this word:

Yada… appears almost 950 times in the Hebrew Bible. It has a wider sweep than our English word “know, ” including perceiving,learning, understanding, willing, performing, and experiencing. To know is not to be intellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experience reality.

This word yada is used of all sorts of situations, including humanity’s knowledge of God, God’s knowledge of humanity, personal skills, moral awareness, and treaty relationships.

And sex.

Formal modern language about sexual union rarely expresses this concept of knowing another person. “Sexual intercourse” and “coitus” sound too scientific. “Had sex” is too dryly factual and sounds like we are talking about consumer goods. “Consummation” and “sexual relations” come closer, but still do not emphasize knowing above other possible connotations. Informal language such as “make love with” and “go to bed with” also often misses the boat.

Given these ancient and modern challenges, what is a translator to do?

The KJV famously simply opts for “knew.” Formally, this is a perfect translation choice, retaining links to other places where yada is found. And functionally, it points the reader directly to a primary significance that the ancient Hebrews saw in the sexual act. That said, it leaves some modern readers clueless as to what Adam actually did. (Did he take Eve on a date? Exchange family histories with her? Ask her about her favorite flavor of ice cream?) Now, this has its advantages in church Bible readings, when children are present, right? But nobody today uses “knew” in this way unless they are deliberately parroting the KJV.

That is what the NKJV does, and so do others like the NRSV and the ESV. It works, but it needs some explanation from time to time.

The NASB uses “had relations with.” That’s closer to modern usage, though usually today one would specify that it is sexual relations under discussion. And again, the modern idiom “relations” does not quite emphasize the idea of knowing in a way that matches the Hebrew yada.

The NIV lets modern usage lead the way, so it says Adam “made love to” his wife. This translation mercifully lets readers know what actually happened. But it totally misses the boat with its connotation of loving another person rather than knowing them. It carries too much baggage from medieval notions of romance and modern chick flicks.

The CSB, it seems to me, gets it about as good as modern English can: “Adam was intimate with his wife.” First, this clearly conveys what actually happened between Adam and his wife. Dictionaries define this phrase as “to have sexual relations with” or have “sex” or “sexual intercourse” with someone. Second, the word “intimate” very accurately expresses the sort of experiential knowledge conveyed by the Hebrew yada. And third, the phrase is an idiom, which appears to be how the term yada functioned when used to refer to sexual activity.

Well, done, CSB!

“CUBITS” or “INCHES”?

Today while reading through Exodus in the CSB, I was surprised to read this:

They are to make an ark of acacia wood, forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. (Exodus 25:10)

What surprised me was the appearance of “inches,” along with other modern units such as “feet,” “yards,” and “pounds.”

Metric units would be so much better, right? Actually, what I was expecting was “cubits,” as I grew up reading about in the KJV:

And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.

A cubit was the length from a man’s elbow to his fingertips—about 18 inches. So, when you do the conversions, the CSB lengths remain accurate.

But every other translation I’ve commonly used retains the ancient Hebrew units. This includes the NKJV, the NASB, the ESV, and—surprisingly—even the NIV. I say surprisingly because usually the NIV is seen as more quick than the CSB to prioritize modern language over the formal patterns of the original text. (We saw a hint of this above with the NIV’s “made love to” vs. the CSB’s still-modern-but-less-widely-used “was intimate with.”) Generally, if no significant meaning will be lost by using modern terminology, the NIV will use it. So why didn’t they here?

Roughly twenty of the approximately fifty English translations on www.Biblegateway.com use modern units.  I am somewhat surprised that so many do. Most recent translations opt for English units. But there are some exceptions: for example, the Lexham English Bible, International Standard Version, and even the Amplified Bible still retain Hebrew units. (None offer metric units. And the ESVUK retains biblical units in sensible British fashion.)

I don’t know what I think about this choice. I have been familiar long enough with cubits to have little trouble picturing the size of objects measured with this unit. But other ancient units (shekel, hin, etc.) still leave me searching for footnotes. So I appreciate the assistance that using modern units gives to readers.

On the other hand, an ark that is “twenty-seven inches wide” (not 24″ or 36″) sounds less natural than one that is “one and a half cubits wide.” The same is true of:

  • an altar that is “7 ½ feet” long and wide (not 8 feet) versus one that is “five cubits” long and wide (Ex. 27:1), or
  • hangings that are “22 ½ feet” long (not 20 feet or 25 feet) versus “15 cubits” long (Ex. 27:14).

It is clear that God used measurements that were ordinary sizes in the culture of ancient Israel, but using modern unit conversions doesn’t convey this.

A second potential concern is that some biblical measurements have symbolic meaning that can be lost in conversion. That said, I am not aware of any such symbolism in the measurements of the tabernacle, apart from ratios of length which are not lost in conversion. The dimensions of the Most Holy Place form a cube in feet just as well as in cubits, thus preserving the link to the cube-shaped New Jerusalem in Revelation. And in Revelation, where the units measuring the New Jerusalem do indeed have symbolic significance (being multiples of 12), the CSB does use the biblical units, excluding modern units to footnotes:

He measured the city with the rod at 12,000 stadia. Its length, width, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall, 144 cubits according to human measurement, which the angel used. (Rev. 21:16-17)

I would need to examine this further to see how well the CSB handles this balance. But what I see so far suggests that in their handling of units of measurement the CSB translators have achieved the “optimal equivalence” they aimed for between faithfulness to the original text and readability for the modern ear.


Every translation philosophy has trade-offs. I enjoy reading multiple translations to help me better ponder and understand God’s words.

Have you read from the CSB? Do you have any most- or least-favorite translation choices from the CSB? Share them in the comments below. And keep reading…


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“Let Him” Or “If He”? Translating Divorce in Deuteronomy

I learned today that the King James Version has a misleading translation of an important OT passage about divorce. The translation is not only misleading, but misleading in a direction that will concern you if you are concerned about today’s easy divorce culture.

The poor translation is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in a law addressing a sticky question about a particular kind of remarriage. Here is the relevant passage, as translated in the KJV, with a few key terms in BOLD ALL CAPS:

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then LET HIM write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she MAY go and be another man’s wife. 3 And IF the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, MAY NOT take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord…” (KJV, emphasis added)

First, notice that the KJV divides this passage into three sentences. Second, notice that the first sentence reads as if it is a command all by itself: if a husband finds certain conditions in his wife, then “let him write her a bill of divorcement.” “Let him” could be understood as either a “must” or a “may,” but either way, the syntax turns the clause into a command. According to the KJV, it would, at minimum, be wrong to discourage a man in this situation from divorcing his wife. And depending on how you read “let him,” you might even be responsible to insist that he follows through with divorce.

The English Standard Version, in contrast, clarifies (1) that the passage is one single flow of thought, and (2) that there is only one command, which comes at the end:

1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, IF then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and s her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and IF she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, MAY NOT take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.” (ESV, emphasis added)

Both translations correctly convey that divorce was permitted. And both correctly convey the prohibition against remarrying a spouse whom you had formerly divorced, if they had been married to someone else meantime.

But you have to read a translation besides the KJV to realize that divorce was never commanded, or even directly affirmed, under the Law of Moses. (The NKJV gets it right, and even the NIV has a long run-on sentence to guide readers to the solitary command at the end.)

I learned of this translation problem from Andrew Cornes, since I am currently reading his helpful book Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principle and Pastoral Practice.  He says “the Authorized Translation [KJV] is seriously misleading here” (p. 131). [Edit: It appears we can thank Jerome in AD 383 for this translation error. See here.]

And when we clear up this mistranslation, what can we observe?  Cornes again:

Nowhere, in all the legal material, is there any law which directly makes provision for divorce. Nowhere in the first five books, or indeed the whole Old Testament, do we find anything approaching the formula: ‘If a woman does… then a man may send her away.’ Divorce law as such simply does not exist… This is not to say that no laws deal with divorce. But significantly all the laws which touch on this area (and there are not very many) are formulated either to restrict divorce or to restrict remarriage. (p. 130, bold added)

Divorce and remarriage are not easy topics to handle, whether as translators, Bible interpreters, or counselors. This brief post is certainly not intended to provide a final word on the topic, especially for those for whom divorce is no theoretical matter. I invite your prayers as I read this book, and hopefully others on the same topic, this year.

Do you have a response that will help us learn together? Share it in the comments below!


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The RAT: A New Bible Translation for Anabaptists

Anabaptists have not yet come to a consensus on the thorny problem of Bible translations. Now there is another option they will need to consider. A new translation is underway that may be of special interest to some readers of this blog. In this post I am sharing excerpts from translation efforts so far.

The translation team would appreciate your feedback. You don’t have to know Hebrew or Greek to help. As you read over these excerpts, simply compare them with your favorite translation. (Links to the ESV translation have also been provided–just hover over the references at the end of each passage and the ESV text will appear.)

Two kinds of feedback are most welcome: (1) Improvements on the passages shared here. (2) Suggestions for translating your other favorite Bible passages.

Without further ado, here are some excerpts from the new RAT:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the city that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not buy from any store in the country’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may buy the produce of the bulk food stores in the country, but God said, ‘You shall not buy the products of the store that is in the midst of the city (lo, Macy’s in Manhattan), neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you buy of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw in the window display that the products were good quality, and that they were a delight to the eyes, and that the store was to be desired to make one cool, she took of its products and bought, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he bought. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed Spandex together and made themselves loincloths. (See Gen. 3:1-7)

And when they were in the subway, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (See Gen. 4:8)

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the city of Sodom was prosperous, like New York City, the banking capital of America… So Lot chose for himself all the city of Sodom, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. (See Genesis 13:10-11)

 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into Waterloo County, then you shall select farms to be farms of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. (See Num. 35:9-11)

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess farmers greater and mightier than you, croplands great and growing up to heaven.” (See Deut. 9:1)

“Cursed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.” (See Deut. 28:3)

And no portion was given to the Levites in the cities, but only farms to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. (See Joshua 14:4)

The people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. By command of the Lord they gave him the farm that he asked, in Elkhart County. And he rebuilt the farm and settled in it. (See Josh. 19:49-50)

And David lived in the Shenandoah valley and called it the farm of David. And David plowed the farm all around from Harrisonburg northward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. (See 2 Sam. 5:9-10)

“To his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Holmes County, the farmland where I have chosen to put my name.” (See 1 Kings 11:36)

“I will deliver you and this farm out of the hand of the urban developers, and I will defend this farm for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” (See 2 Kings 20:6)

Jehoshaphat lived near Gap. And he went out again among the people… and brought them back to the LORD, the God of their fathers. He appointed judges in the land in all the farming communities of Pennsylvania, farm by farm. (See 2 Chron. 19:4-5)

I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the farm, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its fences have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Intercourse, to the farm of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” (See Neh. 2:3-6)

There is a river whose streams make glad the woodland of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. (See Ps. 46:4)

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the farmland of our God!
His holy plain, beautiful in flatness,
is the joy of all the earth,
Kansas, in the west,
the farmland of the great King.
Upon her grasslands God
has made himself known as a farmer. (See Ps. 48:1-3)

Some wandered in urban alleys,
finding no way to a farm to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a farm to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man! (See Ps. 107:4-8)

But seek the judgment of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord against it, for in its judgment you will find your welfare. (See Jer. 29:7)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the city to be tempted by the devil. (See Matt. 4:1)

“You are the light of the world. A farm set in a valley cannot be hidden.” (See Matt. 5:14)

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his row house apartment, another to his college class. (See Matt. 22:4-5)

“For unto you is born this day on the farm of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (See Luke 2:11)

“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten getaway cabins.’” (See Luke 19:17)

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the countryside until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and convinced them to join him in leaving the city for a safer rural environment. (See Acts 17:16-17)

“I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this wilderness who are my people.” (See Acts 18:10)

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Chicago... And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him to rural places like Chambersburg, Lansing, Elnora, Hartwell, Guys Mills, Carbon Hill, and Mountain View, reasoning daily in the halls of the Bible schools. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of America heard the word of the Lord, both Anabaptists and everyone else. (See Acts 19:1, 8-10)

But I say, walk on a nature trail, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (See Gal. 5:16)

Put on the whole hunter’s outfit, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (See Eph. 6:11)

And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the city? (See Heb. 3:17)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love our farming lifestyle, not neglecting to meet together to discuss pesticides and soil run-off, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another to increase our yield per acre, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (See Heb. 10:24-25)

He was looking forward to the farm that has drainage tiles, whose designer and builder is God. (See Heb. 11:10)

For here we have no lasting farm, but we seek the farm that is to come. (See Heb. 13:14)

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with Carhartts, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (See 1 Pet. 5:5)

And I saw the holy farmland, new Lancaster County, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (See Rev. 21:2)

I could share more excerpts from this fine new translation, but hopefully that is enough for you to get a feel for how it sounds. As you can tell, it tends toward the functional equivalence end of the translation philosophy spectrum, rather than being strictly word-for-word.

In the traditional Anabaptist spirit of the brotherhood principle, the translation committee welcomes your help with their work. Feel free to critique the above excerpts, or suggest more in the comments below.

And oh! I almost forgot to tell you: “RAT” stands for “Rural Anabaptist Translation.” Proving that rats live in grain bins, too, and not only subway tunnels.

ratreading
Reverend Rat reading from his new favorite translation. Photo Credit: janjaromirhorak via Compfight cc


Disclaimer: Perhaps it would be the part of wisdom for me to clarify that the above post is a work of satire. [Update: See my post “Christians and Satire: What Does the Bible Say?” if you have questions about this style of writing.] As with all good pieces of satire, it is intended to be both entertaining and educational. (If you find it neither—or even if you do—please feel free to write a parallel post proposing a CAT–a “City Anabaptist Translation.” I will enjoy the entertainment.)

The educational bit in this piece is simple: It is an attempt to remind us that rural does not always equal good and city does not always equal bad in the text of the sacred writings—despite our cultural tendency to conveniently miss much of the evidence challenging our rural values.

It is possible that this satire transgresses one or two rules of good exegesis or logic. I hope, God willing, to sometime write a post that gives better evidence. It would answer this question: “Can (Anabaptist) Faith Survive in the City?” That is a serious question that deserves serious answers. Meanwhile, you may wish to read my three posts answering the following question: “Why Should You Care about the City?” Each post discusses one answer:

  1. Because God cares about cities.
  2. The city needs you.
  3. You need the city.

Well, it’s time to sign off. Gotta go feed them calves. Wonder where they’re at?


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