For the last few months, the binding on my ten year old ESV has been slowly giving up maps and index pages one by one, signalling that it was nearing the end of its life. I’ve been a loyal reader of the ESV since its inception in 2001. The recent controversy over its latest revision strategy had me questioning my loyalty, and considering at least looking into other translations, but a sixteen year habit is hard to break.
On my desk amongst the many books I acquired at TGC has been a shiny new copy of the updated Christian Standard Bible inviting me to take and read. When I recently started the book of Hebrews in my morning devotions, I decided to accept the invitation. Yesterday, my morning reading brought one of the distinguishing features of the CSB into sharp relief, in way that moved me to worshipful tears of thanks.
The introduction of the print version of the CSB uses the helpful term “optimal equivalence” to represent its general translation strategy. It also provides a short summary of its approach to gendered language. A more complete explanation of this approach is on their website. I had read the introduction on the plane ride back from TGC, but not the lengthier explanation. Consequently, when I came to yesterday’s reading in Hebrews 2 and 3, I was both generally expectant about how the CSB would tackle the passage, but startled at the impact as I read.
Two of the most commonly used Greek words in the New Testament to connote Christian family relationships are “adelphos” and “adelphoi” . Together, they’re used over 500 times throughout the New Testament, and five times in Hebrews 2 and 3 alone. For centuries, these words have been translated as “brothers” or “brethren”, to represent the English usage that was most common at the time. As with other words like “man” or “mankind”, various strategies have been employed to communicate that these terms are representative of people as a whole – men and women, brothers and sisters. In many Bible translations, the terms have been translated “as is”, with the onus on the reader to presume that the terms are inclusive of women. Some translations, including the ESV, place the traditional language of “brothers” in the text, and add a footnote that indicates they can be read/interpreted as “brothers and sisters”.
In the CSB, in accordance with their translation philosophy, they put the more inclusive translation of “adelphos/adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters” into the text directly, with no footnotes.
Consequently, as I read Hebrews 2 and 3 yesterday, this is what I read (see ironic footnote below):
“That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brothers and sisters.” Heb. 2:11-12a
“Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17
“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Heb. 3:1
“Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Heb. 3:12
The CSB translation of Hebrews 2 and 3 reveals with beautiful clarity the way Jesus’ redemptive work has always been for, and on behalf of women, as much as it has been for men.
Jesus is not ashamed to call us sisters. (Heb. 2:11-12a)
In his humanity, Jesus had to be like us, his sisters, to become our merciful and faithful high priest. (Heb. 2:17)
Women share in the heavenly calling. (Heb. 3:1)
Women share in that calling’s warnings, and its accountabilities. (Heb. 3:12-13)
In the CSB, women are not footnotes in God’s redemptive plan; we’re an integral part of it. Our union with Christ makes us His sisters, and thus sisters to all those, men and women, who are united to Him as well.
It’s not hard to see the positive impact this translation strategy could have on Bible teaching and discipleship, especially in this era of ever-cycling conversation and controversy over complementarianism, transgenderism, the Mike Pence rule, and how to best encourage and steward womens’ voices toward speaking God’s truth in the age of the Internet(2).
That’s why I’ve decided embrace the CSB as the translation I’ll use to study for myself, and for sharing with others, especially with other women. It’s deepened my understanding of the implications of my identity in Christ, not just as a person, but as a woman, and as a sister.
That’s worthy of more than footnoting – it’s worthy of celebration, and worship.
(Footnote – the current online CSB is, well, not nearly as much of a blessing as the translation itself. Rather than be confusing and link to another translation, I’ve just noted the verses as they are in the CSB.)
(2) Added Thursday, April 27, in light of today’s…..spirited….conversation about women in informal ministry, ecclesiology, authority, and orthodoxy.