In community on a desert island

Posted: 30th April 2009 by ElShaddai Edwards in Faith & Theology, Uncategorized

As part of the ongoing thread on “best uses for different Bible versions“, Dave S. posted his various preferences (NASB, ESV, HCSB, NLT), then followed up with the following anecdote:

I told my friend about my “favorite four” post above. He said, “That sounds good but which one would you choose if you could have just one; you know, the deserted island thing?” I hate the deserted island question. It’s not based in reality but I played along and said “It depends.” “Depends on what?”, he queried. “Are there any other people stranded on the island with me or am I alone?” “What does that matter?”, he said with a puzzled look. So I explained… “If I was alone, I’d pick the HCSB. If I was with someone else, I’d pick the ESV because it would get read out loud.” “No other reasons?”, he asked. I said, “Sure, but that pretty well sums it up. They’re both good for multipurpose use.” He shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders and said “Hmmmm” So I added, “And since I live in a world with other people around me, where the bible is read out loud, I tend to use the ESV most.” to which he replied “I’m ok with that I guess.” We smiled and we left it at that.

It’s a brilliant conclusion and one worth remembering for those of us who live with stacks of different Bible translations by our computers. Like it or not, the vast majority of us live in community with other people and I’m not meaning the blogosphere. For me, it happens to be a “NIV community”, though I prefer the TNIV or HCSB as similar translations. My “desert island” translation is the NEB or REB, but it’s hard to find common ground with other people when using an idiosyncratic text that I may not even understand completely.

I have concerns about the long-term viability of both the TNIV and HCSB, as most recently illustrated here, so I am still faced with a dilemna of choice, assuming that I do not adopt the NIV as my primary text. It seems that, from a marketing perspective in the early 21st century, the mainstream evangelical translations will be the ESV, NIV and NLT – so which community do you identify with?

  1. My community is about 99.9% NIV. But I don’t know if that same community would be with me on a desert island. If they were KJV only people I’d be the first one voted off or used for food. If they were non-Christians the ESV would sound not a whole lot different than the KJV other than the thees and thous.

    I bring my NRSV with me to Bible study because that’s where all my notes are and I can follow along just fine if anyone reads out loud. I myself don’t read out loud so I suppose I can choose whatever translation I want. For the next year it’s NLT but after that it will be either HCSB or NLT. Although I’d also be fine with my NRSV with all the notes and highlighting.

  2. CD-Host says:

    I guess I identify with the NRSV community, scholarship. Though I agree with you on the REB over the NRSV. I spent the most time in the NIV community.

  3. Lets remember the magestarium here that only the Popes and Bishops can interpret the Bible. Don’t trust what the computer has to say about it.

  4. John says:

    I use the HCSB most of the time. I find it as acurate as the NASB but more readable than the TNIV. I flopped between HCSB and TNIV for awhile, but finally settled for the HCSB. While it’s true the TNIV may fade due to bad press and lack of marketing, the HCSB will be around for a long time mainly due to use by the SBC in educational materials. I have found no group or church that mainly uses the HCSB, but I can follow along just fine. I have never used a translation just because someone or some group plugs it; I just want want a translation faithful to the original text (I have no original languages skills), written in good English, is not a slave to previous translations, and will be around for the forseeable future..

    • I just want want a translation faithful to the original text (I have no original languages skills), written in good English, is not a slave to previous translations, and will be around for the forseeable future.

      I’m not affiliated with the SBC and haven’t been a fan of denomination-specific translations, but I’ve been using the HCSB for many of the same reasons. I’ve found it to be a very NIV-friendly translation while still being a little more theologically formal.

    • CD-Host says:

      is not a slave to previous translations

      You have to go further off the beaten path for “not a slave”. Every bible meant for liturgical use is written with the English language bible translation tradition heavily in mind. The NEB is pretty interesting in that regard in breaking with it. But to really get out of it is harder. I’d say Gaus for the NT and I haven’t found an OT I like yet that stays outside the tradition, I’ve heard good things about Fox.

  5. Communities change…Languages change…

    To be stuck with a version just because it’s what most people seem to be using seems silly to me. Since we have an incredible version such as the HCSB why not help our communities make it into the 21st century with a translation every bit as literal and accurate as the NASB or ESV and every bit as readable as the NIV or the NLT? EVERY time I study for exegesis papers, sermons, Bible studies, personal devotions I try and get into the Greek and compare with the ESV, NIV and HCSB. So far, I’ve seen the HCSB outshining the others 98% of the time (I can only remember one time wondering if that was the way I would translate something and agreed with the NASB in that case).

    I often work with international students who have a hard enough time understanding the Bible much less the English of the Bible. The HCSB is by far more helpful to them in understanding the English and the flow of thought. If our communities were all using KJV would we want them to move on? How do you think the NIV became the most popular translation? In 10 years, the HCSB will surpass the NIV as the translation of choice for English speakers.

    I’ve written some reasons why on my blog at Let me know what you think.

    • Thanks for the comments, Nathan. I agree that the HCSB has struck a remarkable balance between the more formal/literal language of the NASB and the readability of the NIV – I would be happy to see it replace the NIV in my church!

      I was sorry to see your note about the HCSB update being delayed until 2010 – did you get a sense that it was marketing/publishing reasons or to accommodate additional textual revision?

      Note: For those interested in Nathan’s specific comments on the HCSB, check this post out.

  6. Oh, and the HCSB is no more the “Southern Baptist translation” as the King James version mirrored the thinking of King James himself. The committee that translated was from 80+ different denominational backgrounds. Open your eyes people 🙂

    • CD-Host says:

      You may want to reconsider phrases like “open your eyes people” which give an impression that you believe the other people writing here are ignorant. That being said, Gal 6:16 gives a good example of where the HCSB is employing a SB bias. They tend to be very convention in their translations except on the issue of dispensationalism.

      All told the HCSB is a good quality evangelical translation, roughly on par with the TNIV and NLT. They all have their pluses and minuses. I think they do a very good job with Paul and a poor job with the old testament. The biggest problem is the study bibles for the HCSB are not very good.