The Christian Standard Bible hit with a vibrant ad campaign early in 2017, and a Study Bible version along with it. How does it stand under the hype? As this study Bible is my first exposure to this translation, my review has two parts: the translation itself, and this edition of it.
The CSB Translation
I am more than impressed. I often see Bible publishers promoting their translations as both “readable” and “accurate,” and sometimes I wonder whether they understand those terms the same way I do. Of course, some translations legitimately succeed in both areas, and the CSB is one of them.
The CSB has the courage to mess with a beloved verse to make it more clear:
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Yet every piece of the sentence is there. This is no paraphrase. This is a translation, and one that translates the Bible into the kind of English normal people speak normally in 2017.
If you’d like more examples of the CSB’s accuracy and readability, especially side-by-side with the ESV, see Jeff Medders’s helpful article, “Why We are Moving to the CSB at Redeemer Church.” Though Medders falls prey at times to the myth of literal Bible translations, much of his analysis hits the mark. I can’t unilaterally decide to switch to the CSB in my church and collegiate ministry, but I am eager to lobby for consideration of such a switch.
So I’m very thankful for this translation. You may be seeing more of it on this blog. But what about the CSB Study Bible itself?
The CSB Study Bible
Unfortunately, I am less than impressed. But there’s still much to celebrate. The CSB Study Bible has everything you’d expect in a study Bible: study notes, occasional articles, charts, maps, sketches, book overviews, and lots of cross references. And amid the standard fare, a few things stand out.
- The book overviews are concise (almost always two facing pages) and focused on the most useful background information.
- The maps in the back of the Bible are re-printed next to the relevant text. For example, the first map in the back, showing Abraham’s route of migration, is also printed right next to the text of Genesis 12.
- While many of the articles have material that could be found in just about any study Bible (such as genre introductions or manuscript traditions), quite a few seem fresh and unique (for example: “Messianic Expectations,” “The Bible and Civil Rights, and “Opportunities and Challenges in Global Missions”).
What could be better:
- I haven’t been able to read all 16,124 study notes, but those I have read (from a selection of testaments and genres) seem to largely lack careful observation of the text. They focus on interpretation, but without the observation, the interpretation goes unsupported.
- In addition, the study notes tend to assume a certain theological spin, and without communicating any awareness of doing so. For example, on Psalm 87:5-7: “Despite the inclusion of Gentile nations, the Lord would appoint Israel to a special position of leadership in the eschatological kingdom because of her birthright (Is 60; 62:1-5).” Assuming such a view on the future of Israel and the “eschatological kingdom,” without having the space to sufficiently prove it, unfortunately trains readers to narrow their perspective and marginalize dissenters. This tone could have been much improved with a simple, “Despite the inclusion of Gentile nations, many see here a divine appointment of Israel to a special position…” With only 3 more words (which I’m sure could be trimmed even further), greater charity could be extended on less certain matters.
- Word studies. This volume has 368 of them, scattered throughout the text, interrupting what could have been a fine study session. These “word studies” consist of a paragraph listing many (or sometimes all) of the different ways a certain Hebrew or Greek word could be translated. Unfortunately, the word studies do almost nothing to aid the reader’s study of the text at hand (the text on the top of that page) and therefore distract the reader from observing, interpreting, or applying these passages in context. Please be careful when you use tools like study Bibles, and don’t let them take you away from the inspired text!
I’ve added the CSB Study Bible to my Study Bible Buying Guide (which you can find anytime on the Resource page). It ranks in the top half of study Bibles I’ve reviewed and would be a fine choice to assist your OIA study of scripture. You can find it on Amazon.
I’m eagerly awaiting a reader’s version of the CSB, as I think this translation will lend itself to ravenous consumption.
Disclaimer 1:1: Amazon links are affiliate links, so if you click them to look at stuff, you’ll send a small commission our way at no extra cost to yourself. And the Hebrew word for “look” is navat, which “may involve just physical vision or include internal processes like approval, trust, or remembrance” (CSB Study Bible, p.1430). I’ll let you look back at the first sentence of this disclaimer and decide which way to best understand the word.
Disclaimer 1:2: The publisher sent me a free copy of the CSB Study Bible in exchange for an honest review.