In 2017, Priscilla Papers reviewed the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), which is a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). The review concluded:
The CSB makes some improvements over its ancestor, the HCSB . . . in its translation of gender language. In contrast, the various texts which tend to form and bolster a person’s view of women in Christian leadership tend strongly toward complementarian views.1
Holman Bible Publishers, affiliated with Lifeway Christian Resources and with the Southern Baptist Convention, published the HCSB and, in 2017, the CSB. The CSB was itself revised in 2020. This article is a review of that 2020 revision.
I will focus on certain aspects of the 2020 CSB relevant to the nature and mission of Priscilla Papers. A fuller review could address various other considerations, such as its manuscript base, translation philosophy, and English style. Specifically, this review will point out a significant weakness as well as a surprising strength of the 2020 CSB.
A Significant Weakness
As stated above: In the CSB, “various texts which tend to form and bolster a person’s view of women in Christian leadership tend strongly toward complementarian views.” That 2017 review quoted twelve test-cases from the CSB; each of these remains unchanged in the 2020 revision.2 These twelve, and others as well, tend to facilitate complementarian interpretation. Consider these five examples:
The CSB describes Andronicus and Junia as “noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles”3 instead of “outstanding among the apostles” in Rom 16:7.
The CSB inverts the meaning of 1 Cor 11:16 by translating “such” with its opposite, “other”: “If anyone wants to argue about this, we have no other custom, nor do the churches of God.”
The CSB combines 1 Cor 14:33b and 34 into one sentence: “As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches. . . .”
The CSB has a subheading between Eph 5:21 and 22, separating all Christians’ mutual submission in verse 21 from wives’ marital submission in verse 22.
The CSB uses “have authority” in 1 Tim 2:12. Compare this with more accurate translations such as “usurp authority” (KJV), “rule” (YLT), “instigate conflict” (ISV), “assume authority” (NIV), and “control” (CEB).
To be clear, the CSB translates a few texts in ways that, in my opinion, leave the door open to egalitarian interpretations better than certain other translations do. In 1 Cor 14, for example, I consider it essential to translate Paul’s instructions to tongue speakers, prophets, and “the women” in the same way, so that English readers may discern the passage’s structure and see that Paul’s basic instruction to each of these groups is the same. I appreciate, therefore, that the CSB has “silent” in vv. 28, 30, and 34. Though I would prefer “quiet” over “silent,” my point is that these three occurrences of the same Greek word should remain the same in translation. Contrast the NIV, in which the tongue speakers are to “keep quiet,” the prophets “should stop,” but “women” (better translated, “the women”) are given the significantly stronger instruction to “remain silent.”
Translation vs. Interpretation
Nevertheless, the CSB does tend to facilitate complementarian views. In certain places, in fact, its 2020 revision misses opportunities to update their translation in the direction of scholarly consensus. I am not referring to interpretations on which complementarian and egalitarian interpreters continue to disagree. Instead, I am referring to matters of translation (as opposed to interpretation or theology) where a variety of scholars have moved toward a consensus.
A key example is the insertion of “a symbol of” into 1 Cor 11:10, where the HCSB, 2017 CSB, and 2020 CSB all read, “This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head. . . .”
The KJV’s treatment of 1 Cor 11:10 provides an excellent example of the distinction between translation and interpretation. It reads, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head. . . .” The 1611 KJV also linked the word “power” to a note in the margin: “This is a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband.” The KJV translators had an interpretation—the same one that many complementarians have today—but they did not insert their interpretation into the biblical text itself.
Egalitarian champions, such as F. F. Bruce a generation ago and Katharine Bushnell a century ago, have long argued against the addition of “a symbol/sign of.”4 Such champions are still among us,5 but I am referring to the acceptance of this view by a growing variety of scholars.6 Is there unanimity among scholars? No. But is there consensus significant to influence translation in the direction of what the text unquestionably says? Yes!
The CSB gives no indication, either in its text (by italics or brackets, for example) or in a footnote, that “a symbol of” is an addition, though it has indeed been added without support from any Greek (or Latin, Syriac, Coptic, etc.) manuscript.
Brackets or Italics?
Translations that include “a symbol/sign of” in brackets or italics include the ASV, all editions of the NASB, the Lexham English Bible, and the Legacy Standard Bible. A commentator who does the same is Paul Gardner, who holds a complementarian view of 1 Cor 11. His translation adds “a symbol of,” but it does so in brackets.7 The brackets, of course, indicate to the reader that the words have been added—something the CSB does not do.
The CSB does not shy away from footnotes; it has ten in this very chapter. Some notes indicate something has been added for clarity. The first of these, for example, is at Gen 1:30, where a note reads, “I have given added for clarity.” The note informs the reader that “I have given” is not in Hebrew but has been provided in English for the sake of clarity. Though my opinion is that adding “a symbol of” obscures rather than clarifies, the CSB translators presumably disagree. Therefore, a footnote such as “a symbol of added for clarity” would clearly have been appropriate.
More than merely appropriate, such a note seems essential, for the CSB declares a firm commitment to pursue “both linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English.”8 Adding words that affect interpretation, when the Greek text is intelligible as it stands, is not consistent with “linguistic precision.”
A Surprising Strength
We move now away from particular texts to translation choices about the gendered language which occurs thousands of times throughout the Bible. I am referring to questions such as:
How to translate certain words, especially pronouns, since Hebrew has two genders (masc. and fem.), and Greek has three (masc., fem., neut.), but English does not use grammatical gender like these biblical languages do.
How to translate family terms such as “father,” “brother,” and “son,” when used inclusively or metaphorically.
Whether to use “man” with meanings such as “humankind” and “people.”
These kinds of translation decisions, though each instance may seem negligible, have significant effect when encountered cumulatively.9 An example I have often given is the large number of times that “man” occurs in the NT of various English Bibles where “man” is not in the Greek text (see Table 1). My agenda in doing so has typically been to reveal the highest numbers: the KJV (1140 instances) and the 1984 NIV (922 instances). But there is a more optimistic way to look at these numbers. Arranged chronologically, and only considering Bibles that are widely used and not known for a commitment to gender-accurate translation tactics, a downward trend appears:
The table below shows a downward trend in the number of times that “man/men” has been inserted into English translations. To be sure, the work of translation sometimes involves adding words, and by comparison two Bibles known for their gender-accurate translation approach are the NRSV, which adds “man/men” to the NT 320 times, and the CEB which adds it 232 times. The table, therefore, shows that—in this particular way—widely used complementarian translations are moving toward egalitarian translations.
Perhaps the most prominent change made in the 2020 revision of the CSB is the reduction of occurrences of the word “father/s.” Of course, “father” still, rightly, occurs in the many places that it actually means “father.” But in about 220 places it has been changed to “ancestors” or something similar. Below are three examples:
Gen 47:3b: “They said to Pharaoh, ‘Your servants, both we and our fathers/ancestors, are shepherds.’”
Here, at Gen 47:3, the 2017 CSB has Joseph’s brothers referring to their “fathers” as shepherds, and the 2020 revision has changed “fathers” to “ancestors.” Women were indeed shepherds at that time; consider Rachel, Joseph’s mother, who was a shepherd (see Gen 29:9).
Mal 2:10: “Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers/ancestors?”
This example from Malachi is an example both of the change from “fathers” to “ancestors” and also, early in the verse, of the CSB’s continued use of “Father” to refer to God.
Luke 1:72–73: “He has dealt mercifully with our fathers/ancestors and remembered his holy covenant—the oath that he swore to our father Abraham. . . .”
This example, which records the inspired words of Zechariah, shows the 2020 CSB changing from “fathers” to “ancestors” when referring to ancestors in general, but retaining “father” when referring specifically to Abraham.
Other Family Terms
Though such changes to “father/ancestor” terminology are the main improvements in the direction of gender-accuracy, two others are worth noting. At Gen 31:43, the word “son/s” has twice been replaced with the more accurate “children.” And in three instances, the word “nanny/ies” has been changed to “mother” (Ruth 4:16) or “nursing mother/s” (Num 11:12, Isa 60:4).
What prompted me to write a review of the 2017 CSB (see endnote 1) was that it, unlike its predecessor the HCSB, used “brother/s and sister/s” instead of simply “brother/s” about 175 times. This gender-accurate practice continues in the 2020 revision, though in a small number of places it has changed “brothers and sisters” back to “brothers.” This happens, for example, twice in Acts 15 (vv. 7 and 13), presumably because of the translators’ view that James was speaking only to men when he addressed “Paul and Barnabas and some others” and “the apostles and elders” in Jerusalem (see 15:2, 6, 12).
Two types of translation issues tend to divide complementarians and egalitarians. The first is the handling of texts that speak specifically of women. In these cases, the 2020 CSB will, with some exceptions, not be valued by egalitarians. The second is the pervasive use of masculine language throughout the Bible, which is arguably more prominent in certain English translations than in the original languages. In this area, the updated CSB will be appreciated by some egalitarians.
In the end, I would certainly recommend the CSB over the ESV, both in regard to gender-accuracy and to overall quality. I would not, however, recommend the CSB over other Bibles that have a commitment to gender-accurate translation—most notably the CEB. Nevertheless, the CSB, both in 2017 and again in 2020, has taken surprising steps in the right direction.
1. Jeff Miller, “Book Review: Christian Standard Bible,” 31/3 (Summer 2017) 30.
2. Gen 1:26–27, 2:18; Ps 68:11; Rom 16:1, 7; 1 Cor 11:10, 14:33–36; 1 Tim 2:11–12, 3:1–2, 3:11–12; Eph 2:15b, 5:21–24.
3. Scripture quotations marked CSB have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
4. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, NCB (Eerdmans, 1980) 106; Katharine C. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women (CBE, 2003) 99–101.
5. See, for example, Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Eerdmans, 2014) 567n92; Craig Keener, 1–2 Corinthians (Cambridge University Press, 2005) 94; Philip B. Payne, “Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” Priscilla Papers 20/3 (Summer 2006) 13; Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker Academic, 2016) 35–36.
6. See, for example, the commentaries by Raymond Collins (Liturgical, 1999), Joseph Fitzmyer (Yale University Press, 2008), David Garland (Baker Academic, 2003), Robert Scott Nash (Smyth & Helwys, 2009), Andrew Spurgeon (Fortress, 2011), and Anthony Thiselton (Eerdmans, 2000).
7. Paul Gardner, 1 Corinthians, ZECGNT (Zondervan, 2018) 492.
9. See Jeffrey D. Miller, “A Defense of Gender-Accurate Bible Translation,” ch. 23 in Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural, and Practical Perspectives, 3rd ed., ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland (IVP Academic, 2021).
10. These numbers include a few occurrences of “husband/s,” since the Greek term for “man” and “husband,” which occurs 216 times in the NA28/UBS5 Greek text, is the same. The numbers result from subtracting 216 from the number of English occurrences. KJV, for example, has 1356 occurrences of “man/men” and “husband,” and the table gives 1140 (1356 minus 216). The point is to show a trend, not to argue for a Bible void of the word “man.”