Search for an mediating translation: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB

At the end of my last series “Search for a formal translation”, I mentioned that I will be blogging on translations that take an intermediate approach between formal equivalence and functional equivalence. I have decided that this new series will compare the TNIV, HCSB, and the NAB. Intermediate equivalence is not a technically correct term but I will use this term because it best describes my intent to compare translations that stand between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation philosophy.

I have also seriously considered using the International Standard Version (ISV) but this translation is not yet complete so I will hold off from using it for now (but I will refer to it from time to time). I have also considered the Revised English Bible (REB) but it still tends to lean toward a purely dynamic translation philosophy so I will not include this translation. Another factor in not using the REB is that it is not a popular translation in North America. It is more widely read in the U.K. I have never seen it sold on the bookshelves of any bible bookstore, or at least the ones I have been to. I wanted to do a comparison of bibles that are widely read in North America. Perhaps, it was for this reason that my third option defaulted to the NAB. Originally, I did not even intend to have a third option .

The Today’s New International Version (TNIV) has made improvements over its predecessor, the NIV. These improvements are changes based on biblical scholarship in other areas other than gender-inclusive ones. Even though the NIV still seems to greatly over-shadow the TNIV, I believe the TNIV will be better received by evangelicals in the near future. It will take some time for evangelicals to accept the TNIV’s gender-inclusive language and overcome the criticism it has faced for being gender-inclusive. This criticism is unfair but this should be expected because the NIV has such a huge readership of conservative evangelicals. It is always difficult to come out from under the shadows of a behemoth.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is more formal than the TNIV but still falls within the intermediate range of word-for-word and thought-for-thought. I have to admit that my personal preference is the TNIV but I’d have to say that the HCSB is also very reliable. It is a very good translation because its scholarship is very good. Like the NIV, HCSB translators started the translation from scratch. Any translation that starts from scratch deserves recognition for the hard work put into this huge task. The work is enormous and I applaud its translators because they deserve it.

One may wonder why I decided to include the New American Bible (NAB). The market size of the NAB is not large in comparison to the NIV. It is probably a little larger than the NRSV, but not by much. It is read by an overwhelming majority of Roman Catholics, perhaps even 90%, within North America. Interestingly enough, the New Jerusalem Bible is most popular with Catholics outside of North America.

I believe intermediate to functional equivalent translations will always be more popular than formal translations. The ordinary bible reader will prefer reading a translation they can understand with relative ease. Hopefully, after by the end of this series, one may be able to see the differences between the various intermediate translations.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

21 thoughts on “Search for an mediating translation: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB”

  1. Sounds like a great series, Kevin! I’m not familiar with the NAB, so I’m looking forward to your comparisons with the more familiar TNIV and HCSB.

    I would quibble with your characterization of the REB as “a purely dynamic transation”, but accept your reasons for not including it.

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  2. Kevin,

    Looking forward to this! I own an REB, and although I agree that it is not read as much in North America, I don’t think that it is a “purely dynamic translation” either.

    I do think it is more in line with HCSB, and TNIV, but hey I won’t quibble either, the amount of work that you are putting into this is amazing.

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  3. This sounds great Kevin. I`m especially happy to see the NAB in the mix, as it is one of the translations officially approved for public reading in the Episcopal Church. I have a suggestion on one verse I`d like to get your take on when you comapare. It is Matthew 19:9 in the NAB, which reads:

    19:9
    “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

    It seems to have a distinctly Roman Catholic interpretation in it`s rendering, by saying “the marriage is unlawful” as opposed to more traditional renderings along the lines of “except for sexual immorality”.

    Just thought I`d run it by you for consideration.

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  4. Kevin, I enjoyed your last series, and I’m looking forward to this one.

    I’m wondering why you didn’t go with Fee and Straus term “Mediating” rather than “Intermediate.”

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  5. Excellent choice with adding the NAB! I think I’ll pick up a copy to follow along with. For RC bibles I prefer the NJB, it’s one of my favorite translations. The NAB makes much more sense to compare with the other two however. Can’t wait.

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  6. I think the addition of the NAB will help make this a little unusual, since it introduces a much greater theological diversity among the bodies commissioning the translations. I’ll be very interested to see whether it ends up making any difference.

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  7. I would like to correct some statements that you make here.

    You write:

    Another factor in not using the REB is that it is not a popular translation in North America. It is more widely read in the U.K. I have never seen it sold on the bookshelves of any bible bookstore, or at least the ones I have been to.

    Well, it is true that the REB is not as popular as the other translations you list, but where I live, I see it all the time. It is of course a British translation, but Oxford tells me they sell more copies in the US than in the UK (of course, the US has a larger and more affluent population than the UK).

    The market size of the NAB is not large in comparison to the NIV. It is probably a little larger than the NRSV, but not by much.

    If by “market size” you mean the number of sales, then you are mistaken. The NRSV (which, by the way, is the official Bible of the lectionary in Canada) considerably outsells the NAB.

    It is read by an overwhelming majority of Roman Catholics, perhaps even 90%, within North America.

    Well, far more than 10% of the Catholics in North America read the Bible in Spanish, French, or other non-English languages. 39% of US Catholics are Hispanic. More than 90% of Mexican Catholics are Hispanic. Only 45% of Canadian Catholics are Anglophone.

    I live in a minor diocese, but according to its web page, it offers mass in 12 languages.

    But even if you meant to limit yourself to Anglophone Catholics, your statement is probably untrue. As I already mentioned above, the NRSV is the official Bible of the lectionary in Canada. In addition, the Douay-Rheims and RSV-Catholic Edition enjoy wide use. The US Catechism quotes exclusively from the NRSV.

    Interestingly enough, the New Jerusalem Bible is most popular with Catholics outside of North America.

    Again, I assume you meant to limit yourself to Anglophone Catholics. Since the NJB is not, to the best of my knowledge, approved in any jurisdiction for lectionary reading, I very much doubt the truth of this assertion. There are lectionaries based on the Jerusalem Bible (not the New Jerusalem Bible) however.

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  8. ElShaddai and Robert, I’ll discuss the REB too. I won’t completely leave it out.

    L. Wells, thanks for the tip on Matt.19:9. I may look at that.

    TC, that’s great advice to use “mediating” rather than “intermediate”. Why not stick with established terminology? I think I will use mediating. Thanks.

    Nathan, I also like how the NJB read, and I really like the edition with all the excellent reference notes. And they’re interesting because they provide perspective too.

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  9. Iyov, as usual, I appreciate your corrections. I had no idea that Oxford sold more REBs in the US than in the UK. As for the NAB outselling the NRSV, I read something on the internet about this but don’t remember where I saw it. My source could be wrong.

    Regarding my 90% figure, you got me there. Yes, I did mean to refer to Anglophone Catholics but since Canada makes up only a small percentage of North American population, the NAB is still the most widely read English bible in N.A.

    Even though the NJB is not approved by the Vatican, many Roman Catholics read it for personal use. My sources do say that it is the most popular English-language bible in the world outside the US but I am assuming that this would include personal use.

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  10. The standard Missal and Daily Office for the UK use the RSV-CE. What translation is the most read, I cannot say — I do not know how that could even be measured. I do not even know how to measure the sales among Catholics, since the figures I see are simply total sales (and thus include sales to non-Catholics like you and me.)

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  11. While watching some of the programming on EWTN, a couple of the priests discussed versions of the Bible. While they commented on various versions, they mentioned the RSV edition approved by the Catholic church, but it wasn’t their favorite. As far as “officially sanctioned” versions, I would guess the NAB is the one that fits that criteria, so it is a good choice to review. There are many Catholics, however, that I have heard comment on more “dynamic” renderings in the NAB than they like.

    Appreciate your hard work and your take on these translations.

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  12. It is a bit strange, because the Catholics I have met who are passionate about reading Scripture all prefer a translation other than the NAB. The NRSV is a popular choice with many academics; the RSV-CE is popular with conservatives, the D-R is popular with traditionalists; many like the JB or NJB; and quite a few like translations without imprimatur, such as the NIV (there is even a St. Joseph’s edition of the NIV Psalms!), the Inclusive Bible, NLT, KJV, NJPS, NASB, etc. But the only people I’ve met who read the Bible frequently and like the NAB are Protestants. (Of course, the NAB had Protestants on the translation team, and was intended to be an ecumenical translation under UBS/Vatican guidelines.)

    Of course, this is just my own experience, and may not be representative.

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  13. I feel enlightened! Already some great info and the series has barely begun.

    My only exposure to the NAB was when I picked one up off the shelf at the bookstore, read a few passages that sounded pedestrian and then put it back on the shelf. The NJB did not have the same immediate impression.

    I also have enjoyed what few bits I’ve read of my RC-GNB, though I’ve only had it a month.

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  14. I’d always gotten the impression that the NAB was the “Catholic NIV” – a median translation with pedestrian language that was accessible to a wide base of readers, but that didn’t stand out to any real regard. It will be interesting to see if reality bears out my presuppositions.

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  15. I agree Elshaddai, I`ve always felt the NAB was the RC equivalent of the NIV (though I have seen it reviewed as a very literal translation). I have a copy, but I`ve never really used it much except for comparisons. My copy is The Catholic Study Bible and it has some very good articles and book overviews, so actually I use it for those moreso than the translation. So, I too am anxious to see how it really stacks up.

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  16. Well, I am a Catholic who leads a couple Bible studies a week with young adults, so maybe my perspective will be helpful.

    1) The NAB is the official Bible for the Mass readings in the US. (In Canada, the NRSV was recently officially approved by Rome for use in the Mass.) Most Catholics who come to the Bible studies I facilitate use the NAB. It is the easiest one to get for Catholics, since it can be found in most Christian and secular bookstores. I, however, do not use the NAB for study or devotional reading. The translation is all over the board. The Old Testament was completed in the early 70’s. It does not include inclusive language, its verse numbering of the Psalms is strange, and they re-arrange sections in the prophets in order to improve its readability. The New Testament was revised in 1986/7 and is more literal than the OT, but it uses inclusive language, though not as much as the NRSV. Then, they revised the Psalms in ’91, but they are generally agreed to be quite bad and they used both vertical and horizontal inclusive language.

    Someone mentioned that the NAB is somewhat like the NIV in its theory, which I would generally agree with. However, one of the problems is that the NAB is copyrighted by the USCCB (American Bishops) and they charge a decent amount for its use. Thus, you will see many Catholic writers using other translations in their works. BTW: They are currently doing a revision of the Old Testament. Put simply, the NAB is a mess!

    2)The RSV is popular for conservative Catholics. Ignatius Press recently did an update to the RSV-CE, by getting rid of the thees and thous and with minor word changes. They are currenly working on a new Ignatius Study Bible, which will use the RSV-CE second edition. The NRSV I think is becoming more popular for many Catholic’s, like myself. Although there are some renderings that cause us to pause, we recognize that the scholarship is good and the support materials are available, like word studies and concordances. (The NAB has none of these.)

    3) The Douay-Rheims is used primarily by taditionalists. Many of them you could compare with the KJV only people.

    4) The NJB is known for its quality notes and cross-refences. It is also one of the few Catholic bibles that comes in a single-column format! It is less literal than both the RSV/NRSV and the NAB, but it is recognized as being much more literary. Many of us who are somewhat neutral on the inclusive language debate find that the NJB does a really good job. I also believe that a revision of the NJB is in the works.

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  17. Kevin:
    I believe good, literal or essentially literal translations (NASB, ESV, NKJV) can best be characterized as “precise”. The mediating translations, such as the NIV, HCSB and ISV are best characterized as “accurate” or “reliable”. I consider academic paraphrases such as the “The Message”, TLB, NLT, NCV, TNIV, NET, GW, etc. both imprecise and unreliable, as a whole. They certainly have a place, but I do not feel comfortable with them. The NIV is a tremendous translation in that it is usually quite literal and when academic paraphrase is used, it is almost always judicious and appropriate. Unfortunately, I no longer trust those who hold publication rights to the NIV / TNIV(Zondervan)or those who control the translations (the Committee on Bible Translation) after the TNIV fiasco. If these two parties can not be counted on to keep their word, why should they be trusted with God’s word?

    The HCSB is, for the most part, an excellent alternative to the NIV. The HCSB’s only major flaw is its almost obsessive propensity to give primacy to alternate renderings and relegate traditional renderings to the footnotes (Isaiah 53:10, Malachi 2:16, Psalm 1:1, etc.). A minor flaw of the HCSB is that its translators sometimes chose to place contemporary words in traditional phrases (1 Samuel 10:27, John 11:39). This creates a discordant reading and diminishes from the elegance of the text. The translators of the NIV almost never engaged in this practice and often mirrored the elegant phraseology of the KJV; hence, the NIV’s modern elegance. Nevertheless, the HCSB is a fine translation, with many outstanding features (quite literal, yet natural English, extensive translation footnotes, many inserted words bracketed, difficult terms bulleted and defined, traditional terminology retained, pronouns referring to deity capitalized, etc). It certainly holds the possibility of being the most accurate mediating translation (with some modifications to the 2nd edition). The ISV (now 86% complete) also holds the promise of being the KJV / NIV of a new generation, if the HCSB translators choose not to revise their first edition.

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  18. Anonymous,
    Did you intend to place the NIV in with the “mediating translations” and the TNIV in with the “academic paraphrases”? If so, what is your reasoning?

    I’m sorry you “do not feel comfortable with” some of the paraphrases you listed. Before you toss out several good translations, consider that some Christian scholars far wiser than many were involved in some of these works. To suggest their work is “imprecise and unreliable” seems less than charitable.

    As for the TNIV, don’t believe all the hysteria. IMHO, the only “fiasco” associated with it was from the anti-TNIV crowd. I don’t believe they did the Church any favors in attacking a legitimate work.

    I should add that I have only recently jumped off of the anti-TNIV bus.

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  19. Anonymous – can you please define what you mean by “academic paraphrase”? I’ve not heard that term before and find it difficult to evaluate your comments without the right context.

    By Zondervan/CBT “not keeping their word”, I assume you mean their inital signing of the Colorado Springs Guidelines, then their subsequent withdrawal and publication of the TNIV. Is that correct?

    Finally, it would be helpful if you chose not to cloak yourself behind an “anonymous” name. There is accountability that goes along with issuing criticism and we, as co-participants in this conversation, ought to know at least a name to go with your point of view.

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  20. Anonymous, I would agree with you that when at their optimal best, literal translations (NASB, ESV) may be characterized as precise, accurate and reliable, and mediating translations (TNIV, HCSB) as accurate and reliable but not literal. However, I would be careful though when using the word “precise” because a literal translation may also be imprecise. They should not be confused. Also, even though functional translations (NLT, GW, NCV) may be largely un-literal, they can still be considered accurate to a degree; however, this is debatable. I personally do not read paraphrases like the Message or Living Bible and would not encourage serious readers to study from it. Thanks for your intuitive observations about the HCSB. I agree, it is an excellent translation. I have found that it has a different feel from the T/NIV because it is unique and not a revision of another translation.

    Stan I agree. We should not be reactionary when it comes to gender-neutral translations. The TNIV has been unfairly treated. Critics have not gone after the NLT, GW, or NCV, etc. like they have with the TNIV.

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