Resource Review: The CSB Study Bible

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Resource Review: The CSB Study Bible

One of the most valuable resources I have discovered for biblical study is the CSB Study Bible published by Holman Bible Publishers. Originally published in 2018, the CSB Study Bible employs the text of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). The CSB is a contemporary Bible translation that aims to achieve what the translation committee identified as “optimal equivalence” (more on this in the next section). In brief, the CSB Study Bible is an incredibly beautiful study resource filled with an array of notes, articles, introductory sections, and other resources that will help Christians to understand and apply the Word of God in their lives and lead others to do so, as well.

The Christian Standard Bible Translation

Before getting into the features of the CSB Study Bible, a quick note about the CSB translation and the “optimal equivalence” goal of the translators. The text of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew & Aramaic (the Old Testament) and Koine Greek (the New Testament). As a result, English translations of the Bible are produced by translating the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts from their original language into English. When it comes to Bible translations, there are two ends of the translation spectrum. “Formal equivalence” is the translation philosophy which essentially seeks to translate into English, as accurately as possible, the exact, literal meaning of the words of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. This is the approach commonly known as a “word-for-word” translation philosophy. On the other end of the spectrum, the translation philosophy known as “dynamic equivalence” seeks to translate the original text into English using what is popularly defined as a “thought-for-thought” approach rather than the “word-for-word” approach employed in formal equivalence. The optimal equivalence approach used by the CSB translation committee seeks to employ the “best of both worlds” by striking a balance between the two previously mentioned philosophical approaches.

To illustrate what is meant by this, lets consider the example of biblical references to specific forms of money in the days of Jesus. As a specific example, in Matthew 20:2, Jesus referenced a unit of currency in his telling of the parable of the vineyard workers. “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matt. 20:2 ESV). A denarius is a form of Roman currency that represented a day’s wages for a typical laborer of that era. The term comes from the Greek word δηναρίου (“denariou”).[i] In the English Standard Version (a biblical translation that employs the formal equivalence, or “word-for-word,” translation approach described above), the term is transliterated in its literal form – “denarius.” However, in the New Living Translation (which employs the dynamic equivalence, or “thought-for-thought,” translation philosophy), the term is translated as “the normal daily wage” (Matt. 20:2 NLT). You can see the difference.

In this instance, the CSB translates the term as “denarius” (Matt. 20:2 CSB), erring to the side of formal equivalence in this specific case. In other cases, the CSB leans more in the direction of dynamic equivalence when the translators believe that approach provides greater clarity in English. This balanced approach results in the “optimal equivalence” philosophy of the CSB translators.

Biographical Sketch of the Editors and Study Note & Article Authors

The editors and study resource authors of the CSB Study Bible are eminently qualified scholars in Old Testament, New Testament, Theology, and other related theological disciplines. The General Editors of the study bible are Dr. Edwin A. Blum and Dr. Trevin Wax. Dr. Blum is Executive Editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible and holds two Doctor of Theology degrees (Th.D. and D.Th.) from Dallas Theological Seminary and the University of Basel, respectively. Dr. Trevin Wax is Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway Christian Resources and a visiting professor at Wheaton College. Dr. Wax holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

An array of seminaries and academic institutions are represented in the authorship of the study notes for each book of the Bible, as well as the book and section introductions, articles, and supplemental resources contained throughout. Seminaries and academic institutions represented in the scholarship include Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas at Arlington, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention), and my own seminary of study, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, among others. Authors include pastors, full-time faculty members, professional and scholarly editors, and seminary and university administrators – including a seminary president.

Terminal academic degrees represented in the study note and resource authorship include the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Theology (Th.D.), and Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degrees. The overwhelming majority of study notes and resource authors hold the Ph.D. degree in Biblical Studies, Theology, or a closely related discipline. Accordingly, the authors of the notes and resources contained in the CSB Study Bible are competent and well-credentialed in the assigned area of expertise.

The CSB Study Bible Features & Summary of Contents

The CSB Study Bible contains a number of features which makes it an extraordinarily helpful tool for Christians seeking a greater understanding of the Scriptures. Features of the CSB Study Bible which make it particularly helpful include the binding quality and physical features, the Bible’s design and general layout, the quality of its study resources and helps, and the doctrinal position of the CSB Study Bible’s study note and resource authors.

Binding Quality and Physical Features

Among my favorite features of Bibles produced by Holman Bible Publishers is the general quality of binding. The CSB Study Bible is offered in a variety of cover materials ranging from hardback to “LeatherTouch,” a simulated leather material, to premium goatskin leather. I personally own copies of this study bible in both the LeatherTouch and premium goatskin leather and have found tremendous quality in both. An additional feature important for Bible readers is the quality of the page binding itself. The CSB Study Bible employs a smyth-sown binding. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of page binding, it means that the pages are actually sewn together with a binding thread prior to being glued. In practical terms, this means that the pages will not fall out after a few years of regular “wear-and-tear” use. In my experience, the pages in Bibles bound using the more economical “glue only” approaches have a tendency to fall out after a short period of time. Since they are sown, the pages in a CSB Study Bible will likely remain securely in place for years to come and thus present a high-quality physical copy of the Holy Scriptures which will hold up for the long haul.

Design and General Layout

Continuing the legacy of its predecessor published by Holman, the HCSB Study Bible, the CSB Study Bible is arguably the most colorful study bible ever printed. If you enjoy an array of full-color photographs, beautiful colored inks and fonts, and shading helpful for the organization of various study notes and resources, the CSB Study Bible will certainly appeal to you. Every feature of this Bible is beautifully laid out and constructed.

Pages containing the biblical text are constructed in a dual fashion. The upper portion of the page contains the biblical text in a two-column format (a feature that I personally enjoy) with cross-references to other biblical passages presented in the center margin. The lower half of the page contains the study notes for the text above presented in a three-column format. While the study note font is smaller than the biblical text font, the notes are readable, well-designed, and color-coded. The verse reference for each note is colored in a bold orange font. Key words from the biblical text directly referenced in each study note are in bold font within the study note itself. The entire study notes section found in the lower portion of each page is shaded in a pale orange coloring, which gently sets it apart from the biblical text found on the upper portion of the page.

Quality of Resources and Helps

The CSB Study Bible contains an extraordinary number of useful resources. The study bible includes 16,124 individual study notes on various biblical verses and passages, 94 full-color photographs related to biblical locations and geography, 61 individual timelines associated with particular books, 55 maps related to biblical locations and geography, 44 paintings of biblical items, 34 articles examining various topics, 21 illustrations of biblical concepts, and 19 reference charts.

The articles contained in the CSB Study Bible address various topics, including how to read the Bible, reading the Bible for transformation, the origin, transmission, and canonization of the Old Testament books, introductions to major biblical sections (such as the Pentateuch, the historical books, the books of poetry and wisdom, the prophets, and the Gospels and Acts), church discipline, the resurrection, messianic expectations, and other biblical and theological concepts. The articles are relatively brief given the topics at hand, but generally pack a considerable amount of detail and information into a concise space. While the individual articles reflect a consistent formatting, they also reflect the individual writing styles and personalities of their authors, making each individual article both informative and interesting to read.

In addition to the considerable volume of study notes found throughout the CSB Study Bible, there are 368 word studies found throughout the study bible analyzing Hebrew and Greek words particularly important to understanding related biblical texts. These word studies are found in the notes section but are set apart by three distinguishing features: 1.) they are found in the center column of the three-column study note presentation, 2.) in an unshaded box presented in the center of the shaded study notes section, 3.) with a bold-text header identifying the key word being examined. The Greek or Hebrew term in view is highlighted in bold orange font, followed by a pronunciation of the word or words in the original language, the word employed by the CSB translation for the Greek or Hebrew term, the number of uses in either the Old Testament (Hebrew) or New Testament (Greek), and the focus passage in view. Following these information items, an in-depth analysis of the characteristics, features, and any unique attributes of the word are presented, rounding out the individual word study.

The CSB Study Bible also contains a number of resources in the “Additional Features” section. These resources and helps include a table of weights and measures, a concordance of the Christian Standard Bible, Bible Reading Plans, a Three-Year Bible Reading Plan, a “Daily Bread: The Word of God in a Year” reading plan, a fifty-two-week scripture memory plan, and concluding art credits. As a pastor encouraging Christians to read their Bibles on a regular and systematic basis, I find the variety of Bible reading plans in this section very helpful for both examples to present Christians with and guides Christians can employ when they first begin a journey to read the Bible through on a disciplined, consistent basis.

Doctrinal Position

The doctrinal position of the CSB Study Bible is concisely summarized by General Editor Dr. Trevin Wax in the “Introduction to the CSB Study Bible” found at the beginning of the study bible. Here, Dr. Wax notes several important points alluding to the doctrinal position of the CSB Study Bible:

  1. The CSB Study Bible is the result of the work of over 100 biblical and theological scholars embodying a life-commitment to living and teaching Scriptural truth.
  2. The contributors to the CSB Study Bible represent a diverse array of denominations and backgrounds.
  3. The contributors have sought a balanced approach to controversial issues.
  4. Each study note and essay have been reviewed by a team of theological editors.

In my personal view, I would summarize the doctrinal position of the CSB Study Bible as theologically conservative, with a high view of Scripture and a commitment to the inerrancy of the Word of God. While LifeWay Christian Resources, the parent company of Holman Bible Publishers, is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist views are certainly represented in the study notes, articles, and resources, I would agree with Dr. Wax’s assertion that the contributors to the study resources reflect a balanced approach in their work. Importantly, this empowers the reader of the study notes, articles, and resources to review the major positions on various issues related to the translation, interpretation, and application of the biblical text and to prayerfully form their own convictions, views, and judgments in light of the Scriptural teaching itself and the scholarly insights shared regarding the biblical text. In my view, this is the ideal goal of a well-constructed study bible, and the CSB Study Bible excels in meeting this objective.

Critical Evaluation & Conclusion

In summary, the CSB Study Bible is an extraordinarily helpful resource. The study bible packs an amazing array of resources and helps into a relatively concise volume and does so with stunning beauty and a well-designed, visually-pleasing, and user-friendly layout. While many of the articles are brief given the scope of the topics they address, and there are some other study bibles available with a greater volume of study notes and helps, few come anywhere near the successful balance the CSB Study Bible achieves between the quality of study notes and resources provided and the relative brevity necessary to produce a volume of manageable size. This achievement makes this work an exceedingly valuable addition to the library of any Christian seeking to read and grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.

“Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15 (CSB)

[i] Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger, eds. The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014).

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