Mediating translation comparison #1: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – Romans 4

This series is devoted to comparing translations that fall into the intermediate range of word-for-word and thought-for-thought. The comparison between mediating translations will begin with Romans, ch. 4. I have unexpectedly found that I liked the flow of the International Standard Version (ISV) so I have included it in this chapter comparison as a fourth option. (An online version of the New American Bible (NAB) can be found online at The ISV can be downloaded at

Romans 4:1

What then shall we say that Abraham, the forefather of us Jews, discovered in this matter?

What then can we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?

What then can we say that Abraham found, our ancestor according to the flesh?

What, then, are we to say about Abraham, our human ancestor?

v.1: the TNIV renders κατα σαρκα (kata sarka, according to the flesh) as “of us Jews.” This is not a literal translations but it is suppose to add clarification that Paul is referring to the physical descendants of Abraham. Even though a Jew may not necessarily have to descend from a blood line of physical descendants in order to be Jewish (since one may also be an adopted Jew), the original Greek text is speaking primarily of direct physical descendants by blood. I would rather it be translated as such. [ edited & moved here: Regarding v.1, I feel the TNIV flows best but I prefer the HCSB’s rendering because it is more accurate. The NAB is also accurate but it sounds a very awkward. ]

v.1: the ISV( and RSV) disregarded the significance of the word ευρηκεναι (ehurēkenai), which means to find, obtain or discover. Both the NRSV and ESV also render this verse very well but translate ehurēkenai as “gained.” “What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” (NRSV).

Romans 4:7-8

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Blessed are those whose sin the Lord will never count against them.

How happy
those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered!

How happy the man whom the Lord will never charge with sin!

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record.”

How blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered!

How blessed is the person whose sins the Lord will never charge against him!

v.7-8: the HCSB takes a different approach. It provides a translation of: “How happy those” (HCSB) rather than “Blessed are those” (TNIV). It is still correct but it doesn’t follow the traditional and familiar rendering of “blessed.” “To be blessed” can have a broad meaning. For instance, to be happy is also to be blessed, but one who is blessed is not necessarily happy. One can be blessed but simultaneously feel unhappy and content. I think I prefer the traditional rendering of “Blessed are those.”

Romans 4:16

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

This is why the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace, to guarantee it to all the descendants–not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of Abraham’s faith. He is the father of us all

For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us,

Therefore, the promise is based on faith, so that it may be a matter of grace and may be guaranteed for all of Abraham’s descendants—not only for those who were given the law, but also for those who share the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

v.16: the TNIV renders κατα χαριν (kata karin/charis) as “by grace”. The HCSB: “according to grace;” the NAB: “a gift”, and NJB: “as a free gift”. Whether χάρις (charis) is translated as grace or as gift, it is still are correct. Protestants, however, are so used to the term grace that sometimes we forget what it really means. In the end, it may boil down to one’s theology because the protestant view sees justification by grace as being accounted as righteous, or imputed as righteous by those who believe. The believer takes a more active part in believing, thus, its rendering lends itself better to a protestant understanding of justification. The Roman Catholic view sees justification as one made righteous by an infusion of grace by God and doesn’t necessarily depend on the active faith of the believer, thus, “free gift” lends itself better to a Catholic understanding of justification. The ISV uses “a matter of grace” which connotes the idea of concerning or pertaining to grace. It’s still technically correct but I prefer the rendering of “by grace” (TNIV) or “according to grace” (HCSB).

The TNIV, as is the ISV, is more apt to add words that are non-existent in the original Greek to clarify who the pronoun is referring to. The first mention of “Abraham” was added here in v.16 in order to add clarity to the pronoun “his”. I prefer the HCSB’s rendering of this verse.

Romans 4:19

Without weakening in his faith
, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

He considered his own body to be already dead (since he was about 100 years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, without weakening in the faith.

He did not weaken in faith
when he considered his own body as (already) dead (for he was almost a hundred years old) and the dead womb of Sarah.

His faith did not weaken
when he thought about his own body (which was already as good as dead now that he was about a hundred years old) or about Sarah’s inability to have children,

v.19: The HCSB’s placement of “without weakening in the faith” at the end of the sentence makes it sound awkward. The TNIV’s “Without weakening in his faith” also sounds awkward. Furthermore, “he faced the fact” is too colloquial, and maybe even, inaccurate. κατανοέω (katanoeō), which means to perceive, discern, understand or consider, sounds a long way off from “faced the fact” (TNIV). I don’t doubt that Abraham did face the fact that he was old but I think to understand or consider is more accurate. The NAB flows and sounds better than either the TNIV or HCSB even though it is most literal here in this verse. However, I feel that the ISV flows best here. However, ISV’s rendering of “Sarah’s inability to have children” doesn’t sit well with me because it did not translate Sarah’s “dead womb.”

I feel that the NRSV, a formal rendering, trumps them all in this verse. “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (NRSV).

Romans 4:25

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

who was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification.

He was sentenced to death because of our sins and raised to life to justify us.

v.25: the TNIV, ISV, and NJB added “to death” and “to life” in order to add clarity. If one doesn’t read the whole passage or the rest of the bible to understand the context, one might not know that Jesus was delivered over to death and raised to life. Is this necessary? I don’t know. It’s debatable. In certain circumstances this may be useful, but in others, it is unnecessary.

21 thoughts on “Mediating translation comparison #1: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – Romans 4

  1. Robert that’s a good one. For the next one, I’ll pick a passage from the HCSB with that in mind. Thanks.

    TC and Nathan, I’m glad I included the ISV in this one. Maybe I should continue with the ISV as the 4th option.


  2. Okay, I know I’m getting the cart before the horse (pardon the antiquated figure of speech), but Kevin, will you be dealing with the “Messiah” vs. “Christ” issue in the HCSB? Also the “Yahweh” vs. “Lord God?” Just curious.


  3. After I posted I ended up spending another hour on the ISV website and I am even more excited than before. Looks promising.

    Also I had a look at what they have in print already but I can’t believe the prices they want for a draft copy. Sheesh.


  4. Kevin and Nathan, I went and looked up several texts in the ISV for the first times, and I can’t wait to see the whole thing.

    I practically bursting with excitement!


  5. Yes Nathan, I think the ISV will be a very good translation. I read somewhere on the ISV website that they’re aiming for 2008? When it comes out in print I think people will be looking for it.


  6. Hi Greg, welcome to this blog, and thanks for your comments.

    L. Wells, today, I’m feeling kind of happy so that means I feel blessed but it’s not the only reason why I’m feeling blessed.

    Anonymous, sometimes there’s a grey area as to what qualifies as a mediating translation. Some might almost consider HCSB bordering on the side of a formal translation because in many places, it is quite formal. Just to the left of it, I would put the NRSV; and of the formal translations I would say that it is the most readable, which may be why you noticed that I liked the NRSV.


  7. Hmm, these all seem pretty close to me. I prefer blessed and that is one of the reasons why I don’t use the HCSB for anything but comparison. I have the ISV on esword and am looking forward to having the full bible in print. I wonder how long that will be?


  8. Examples in the NRSV:
    Romans 4:1 – “according to the flesh?”

    Romans 4:7-8 – “Blessed are those…” and “blessed is the one…”

    Romans 4:16 – “…the promise may rest on grace…”

    Romans 4:19 – “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

    Romans 4:25 – “who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”


  9. I know this is a comparison of mediating translations, but it is interesting to note that most of your preferences in these verses are found in the NRSV, which is considered a more formal translation.


  10. On the blessed vs. happy debate, for me it`s blessed, hands down. I don`t like “happy”, as for me it is far too limiting of a term, which I believe is what most of you are saying.

    Robert, I agree that there should be as few words added to the text as possible, and when they are added I like to see them in italics or bracketed. Ironically, the translations that seem to make the most effort to italicize and bracket are not in my top three translations.


  11. I’ve been digging this blog recently- and I’m all about “blessed” instead of “happy.” But I see problems on both sides. For one, in the U.S., the term “happy” can often lead to meaning riches or some other material-based idea. The other hand, who uses the term “blessed” in normal speech? But even though it is antiquated, I kinda feel that can be its strength- it may, at first, not carry any meaning, but once you look into it blessed has a very broad range of meanings.


  12. I like it too but my personal preference is still “according to the flesh.”

    Well, the reason why I went for the ISV at 4:1 is because we’re choosing from mediating translations, so they are not hold to the standards of the essential literal translations.

    The HCSB’s “according to the flesh” would fit the essential literal and not the mediating.

    Well, that’s the approach I took.


  13. Robert, it’s not an easy answer. My view on this is that if a translation is meant to be literal, then additional words should be avoided. But if it is meant to be functional or dynamic, then the reader should be aware that some of the words are not necessarily stated in the original Greek. Most bible readers are not aware of this though.


  14. TC, on v.1, you also liked ISV’s rendering of “human ancestor.” It is brief and succinct using only one word “human”. It’s a clever way to take care of the issue of blood lineage. I like it too but my personal preference is still “according to the flesh.”


  15. I agree, Kevin, in your use of the term accurate. But, I suppose terminology means different things to different people. Just how much “explanation” needs to be added to the text to make it understandable to the reader? And when a translator starts doing that, how much of their own biases end up in the translation? Not easy questions to answer.

    My opinion (note I am stating this as my preference, not that of anyone else’s), is to keep such changes to a minimum. The beauty of Scripture is to let the reader study to reach his/her own conclusions, not always that which the translator thinks I should reach. So “according to the flesh” to me is preferable as well.


  16. Kevin, good stuff!

    On Rom 4:1 I’ll either go with the TNIV or the ISV, because of the mediating approach.

    On 4:7-8 I don’t know which to go with. But if we look at the nuances of “happy,” then the traditional might be the way to go. It’s tough for me here.

    On 4:16 I like the TNIV sense of kata charin, “by grace.”

    On 4:19 I’ll go with the NAB. HCSB has departed from the Greek word order, resorting more to an English emphasis at the end of the verse.

    Either the TNIV, NAB, ISV might work for me. They have a sort of a parallelism going on that I like.


  17. Kevin,

    The HCSB is my primary choice for reading, and I am still not use to the term “How Happy”, instead of “Bless[ed]”. I hope they change this in the 2009 edition.


  18. Hi Brad, thanks visiting this blog and for your comment. They are all reliable translations but I feel they all have some inaccuracies in places. When I said that I preferred the HCSB’s rendering here, I was only referring to this particular verse—v.1. (Perhaps I should re-locate this sentence up to the first paragraph to prevent confusion). Regarding v.1, the TNIV is not literal but it is still accurate, but I would say only borderline accurate. When Paul here is speaking about being Abraham’s physical descendants, he was speaking of blood lineage. I have no doubt that TNIV’s rendering “of us Jews” assumes blood lineage but I feel that “according to the flesh” or even “according to blood lineage” would more accurately convey that line of thought. For instance, one does not necessarily have to be born a Jew. One may be adopted into the Jewish faith and customs, e.g., “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16, TNIV). This is why I think the HCSB is more accurate on this verse.


  19. You wrote: “I feel the TNIV flows best but I prefer the HCSB’s rendering because it is more accurate. The NAB is also accurate but it sounds a very awkward.”

    The TNIV, HCSB, and NASB are all EQUALLY ACCURATE — faithfully communicating some aspect of the original idea. What you might be intending to say is that you like the other translations best because they are more PRECISE.(But as you implied, too much precision can at times be a hindrance to communication.)


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