Feb 2008

Midlands Bible College and Divinity School tutor Andy Cheung, who is currently working on a PhD at the University of Birmingham on Bible translation, published some brief thoughts on the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The General Editor of the HCSB, Dr Edwin Blum, came across the comments and contacted Andy Cheung. Dr Blum very kindly agreed to be interviewed by Andy Cheung on behalf of the college concerning the HCSB, which can be found below. This was an insightful and intriguing interview which we are sure you will find helpful.

Andy Cheung: Tell us something about your background and how you got started working on the HCSB.

Dr Ed Blum:   I taught at Dallas Seminary for 17 years and I have a doctorate in New Testament and then I went to the University of Basel in Switzerland and did a doctorate in theology. I then moved to California and then Hawaii where I taught evening classes while working in business. After that I moved back to Dallas, Texas and began working with Art Farstad on a Bible translation. He was working on a modern translation and we did Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and began to do Acts and Romans. At that point, the people funding it decided they didn't want to finance a whole translation so we had to find new funding and at that time Broadman and Holman came in. They wanted to buy the rights to the NASB (New American Standard Bible) to reduce their royalty costs but were not successful. They also tried to acquire the NET (New English Translation) and ISV (International Standard Version) before coming to us to make use of our translation. We agreed but Art died soon after. B&H then asked me to become the general editor.

What was your role as General Editor in the making of the HCSB?

I have responsibility for the overall work - we eventually had over 100 people working on it. We had three teams in Dallas, and two teams in Nashville. For the Old Testament, we portioned out all the books to various scholars, so for example an Aramaic expert would get Ezra and Nehemiah. The Old Testament was divided into four sections and we had a Hebrew editor for each section (for example we had an editor for the Pentateuch). We also had smaller committees of people with Hebrew and Greek background and we also had committees of people with literary ability: English stylists and so on. We would go through the books as much as we had time. The first book we finished was John and we went through that book 21 times. Typically, the first scholar would go through it, then the General Editor would review it and then it would go to a smaller committee and then we had a final committee and I was the chairman for that. The final committee would have three to five people in it. There would be Hebrew and Greek people, a couple of stylists and myself. The final product was then sent out to outside reviewers and they would return it to us before we went through it again. We really would have liked to have had more time. We didn't start working with Broadman and Holman until April 1998 (Art died in September 98) and we went to print in April 2004 so we did it for less than six years. By way of comparison, the NKJV took seven years to revise and they only changed 7%.

Are we expecting many changes in the 2009 update of the HCSB?

Not a whole lot. For example, the TNIV changed about 7%. There can be a problem if you make large changes - it's better to make incremental changes. You can always work on things: language changes. British English is a little more formal but in the US, we don't use the word "shall" very often so instead of "thou shalt not steal" it's better to say "do not steal." The NIV has "shall" 467 times and the TNIV has it 480 times. The HCSB has it zero.

The NIV does have an Anglicised version though and it's possible those numbers might be different since we regularly use "shall" in the UK.

Well then it might be more! Here's another word that is not used very much in [American] culture, "upon." NIV uses it 351 times; TNIV 97 times. The HCSB uses it four times.

How much feedback does the HCSB gets from the general public or scholars and to what extent to their comments get taken on board?

You get people who write in or call in and generally if they call in they are complaining about something! The ones who are most vocal, of course, are the 'King James Only' people. When our translation first came out we got a few people who were concerned about our gender policy. But if you take a look at the NIV you will see that it's more masculine than it needs to be. There are hundreds of places where the NIV uses "he" or "man" in places where the original text doesn't require it. In Revelation 21:7 it says, "he will be My son" but there are about five modern translations that say, "they will be my children." Is that good translation?

The question about the translation of Christos as Christ or Messiah has been criticised most often. The average American tends to think of "Jesus Christ" as a name rather than a confession of faith (Jesus is the Messiah). In the NT, the term Christos is sometimes a title. In other places "Jesus Christ" functions like a name. The clearest place for the translation of Christos as Messiah rather than Christ is Matt. 16:16. We were trying to teach this point. Several people have raised this and I'm doing some rethinking about it.

Have you had much feedback on the "Optimal Equivalence" method of translation described in the introduction?

To be honest with you, most people don't read introductions! I've had about ten people write in and ask what textual basis we're using and well of course there is discussion of the text in the introduction. I've been at the Evangelical Theological Society and had someone say to me, "you're translating the Majority Text aren't you?" Well we're not!

[The HCSB uses Nestle-Aland 27th Edition and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia 5th Edition]

There was a 2007 ETS paper by Karen Jobes on Bible translations in which she mentions among other things the matter of verbosity. It turns out NIV has 726,133 words, ESV has 757,439 words, NASB has 782,815 words. Do you have any comments on that?

She does not give the figure for the HCSB which is 719, 089! The HCSB is the leanest of all the major versions.

Was that a translation goal?

No, our goal was to be accurate!

Does it surprise you, or annoy you, that's the HCSB doesn't get more attention?

Well it is interesting. I tend to read a lot of theological journals and when somebody reviews a new translation they very seldom really review it in detail. For example I've not seen anybody really discuss the matter of the translation of doulos and slave. Here's another example: it's been known for a long time that torah does not mean "law." It really means "instruction" or "teaching" but yet almost all the major translations have in Psalm 1:2, "his delight is in the law of the LORD" but the Jewish translations all use "instruction" or "teaching" so I think we're much more accurate on that.

[HCSB has, "his delight is in the Lords instruction"].

Apart from the HCSB, what other Bible translations do you like to use?

Well, I often check the New Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible and I tend to check NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) and the NET Bible. I know the guys who did the NET Bible and read their notes.

One of the things that is really noticeable about the NET Bible are those notes - there are so many of them. Will the HCSB start including more notes in future?

We have lots of bullet points where we try to explain some of the words or terms. Some people like that feature and some don't but the reason we did them was because he wanted to cut down the number of notes!

Finally, I understand that there's some kind of partnership to produce and distribute a new Chinese Bible modeled on the HCSB. Can you tell us anything about that?

Well from what I understand, there was a group doing mission work in China. About 15 years ago they started doing work on a Chinese translation. They looked at a number of English Bibles and chose the HCSB as a model translation. They call their translation the Chinese Standard Bible and it is distributed by the Asia Bible Society and HBOI (Holman Bible Outreach International). They have the book of John and Romans in bilingual editions (CSB/HCSB). The NT is almost finished and they are working on the OT. Copies are given to Chinese tourists as they visit countries like Thailand, New Zealand.

Many thanks, Dr Blum.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School.

The Talks with Scholars series is a regular feature at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Visit the interview page for more engaging dicussion and conversation with world class academics.