Search for a mediating translation: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – a conclusion

This series was meant to search out a favorite mediating translation and was not for the purpose of coming to a conclusion to a “best translation”. A “favorite translation” can be very subjective because one person’s criteria as to why one is their favorite translation might be different than another person’s criteria. However, I can conclude that I think both the TNIV and HCSB are very trustworthy translations.

In terms of literalness, the TNIV is slightly more literal than the NAB. The HCSB is most literal of the three translations, but in some places, it can also be more dynamic than the TNIV. For those who prefer more literal renderings from the original language, the HCSB might be the way to go. However, being literal does not mean that it is less readable. Both the TNIV and HCSB do an equally good job in readability, but in the area of comprehension, the HCSB is sometimes better than the TNIV. I will say more about this later. Furthermore, the less wordy HCSB seems to say the same thing in fewer words than the TNIV or NAB.

The TNIV is also definitely the most gender-inclusive translation. Some may equate gender-inclusivity with gender-accuracy; however, the term “gender-accurate” might be seen as presumptuous because it implies that it is more gender accurate. The TNIV has chosen to use this term in its marketing. HCSB is not nearly as gender-inclusive as the TNIV. Gender-inclusive pronouns are used sparingly, as in the ESV, which makes it rather inconsistent; and the NAB is somewhere in between the TNIV and HCSB. Here are the conclusions to each of the three mediating translations.


The TNIV is probably only slightly more colloquial than the HCSB. Colloquialisms are not necessarily a bad thing because it helps the reader of the English language more quickly and easily understand what the writer is trying to express. However, the downside of colloquialisms is that it can become outdated when it’s no longer in popular usage. This forces the translation to continually update its linguistic style. Therefore, I would prefer as little colloquialisms as possible.

It is one of my favorite translations. I regularly use the TNIV in my personal study. The TNIV is the first mediating translation I grab off the shelf when I do exegesis of the text at hand. The biblical scholarship behind the TNIV is excellent. Due to its changes from updated biblical scholarship, it is now more accurate than the NIV. Many passages unrelated to gender-inclusive changes bring greater accuracy. As a result, I preach and teach from the TNIV as much as, or if not more than, any other translation today. In some places in the O.T., the TNIV still has some inverted negatives. The TNIV’s use of “anyone” causes me to feel more impersonal than “one who” or “whoever.” I hope this can change in future revisions. I believe the TNIV’s move toward greater gender-inclusivity is one of the main factors that will enable the scriptures to speak to today’s generation more directly. Since the NIV is still the translation of choice for most evangelicals, the TNIV has a huge potential for growth within evangelical circles. When more evangelicals begin to recognize and accept gender-inclusiveness as being gender-accurate, evangelicals will begin to shift over to the TNIV in droves. However, it is sad to say that this may not happen right away. It may take a few more years so patience will pay off. I guess this is where TNIV will need defenders of gender-inclusivity to help increase knowledge and understanding of the writers’ original intent.


The HCSB has done an amazing job in making it less wordy. It expresses the idea effectively and efficiently while using fewer words. In many places, it is just as literal as the NASB or ESV. At the same time, in some passages it is as dynamic, if not more dynamic, than the TNIV. This simultaneous use of both word-for-word (formal equivalence) and thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) makes it somewhere in between a literal translation and a dynamic (functional) translation. This is what they call optimal equivalence. In my opinion, I think the translators of the HCSB have taken the best approach or philosophy when it comes to bible translation. It stays with the word-for-word approach when the meaning is already clear and understandable; but when the literal approach does not work, it will optimize the meaning by using the thought-for-thought approach. As a result, the HCSB is consistently easy to read and understand—even more so than the TNIV. It has done such a good job that I might even venture to say that it renders a functional or dynamic translation unnecessary.

The biblical scholarship behind the HCSB is very up-to-date. It uses some unique ways of rendering certain passages and terms that I have not seen in other translations. One that stands out in my mind is the rendering of “temple complex” instead of “temple”. The HCSB is not as colloquial as the TNIV but it does have a few colloquial terms (e.g., slacker instead of TNIV’s sluggard). I also like the HCSB’s use of bold print in the New Testament where it quotes Old Testament passages. This helps me to understand the N.T. text in its proper context. I also prefer its contemporary use of digits, weights and measures (e.g., 9,000 instead of nine thousand; feet instead of cubits; gallons instead of baths, etc.). I also like its use of square brackets to denote words not in the original Greek. This adds an element of transparency and clarity for the reader. Even though these extra tools in the HCSB are unnecessary niceties, they are, nevertheless, helpful to the reader. There are some renderings in the HCSB that may also be more accurate than the TNIV; however, vice versa is also true because there are places where either one of the two translations may have the better rendering.

Since it is being continually revised each year, it can only get better. I predict that the HCSB will eventually make inroads to establish itself as one of two premier mediating translations in the evangelical world. I also use the HCSB in my preaching. I have confidence that it accurately speaks the word of God into the lives of its listeners and readers.


Roman Catholics who read the NAB will be much more familiar with it than me. The NAB is a translation that I was not very familiar with when I started this series. It was a third option that I wanted to throw in to make the comparison more interesting. After doing this series, I still have to say that I am still not as familiar with it as I would like to be. The NAB is also an accurate translation but not as accurate as the TNIV or HCSB. I cannot make any conclusive statements about its Old Testament because both Old and New Testaments seem to have two different approaches to translation philosophy. The first edition of the NAB was later revised and was known as the Revised NAB, and then later it was amended again so it was known as the Amended Revised NAB. The latest revision of the NAB’s N.T. is now more gender-inclusive. It is slightly less literal than the TNIV; but in terms of gender-inclusivity, it stands in between the TNIV and HCSB. The NAB’s unique renderings also bring a fresh perspective to viewing certain passages. It lends itself better to Roman Catholic theology. I guess this is why it is used by Roman Catholics, particularly Roman Catholics in the United States. In the U.S., some parishes prefer the use of the RSV over the NAB in their lectionary readings due to occasionally awkward and inaccurate renderings.

The next series will likely be on dynamic or functional translations. It will likely come in the Fall of 2008.

9 thoughts on “Search for a mediating translation: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – a conclusion

  1. I am currently attending a Southern Baptist Church, and I haven’t seen one person carrying a HCSB, yet. The NIV and NASB seem to be the bibles of choice for these Southern Baptists.

    Personally, I tried the HCSB out for a period, but I couldn’t get past the gender issue. I am curious to see what changes will be made in the 2009 revision.


  2. I agree that the HCSB and TNIV will probably make inroads over time. I’ve found most people are ignorant to the existence of many of the new translations/revisions and that it will likely take years if not decades to transition from the NIV/KJV majority.


  3. TC, that’s a good example.

    Romans 8:3-4 in the TNIV is better than the HCSB. TNIV’s rendering reads better because it is crisp and clear: “likeness of sinful humanity.”

    Whereas, HCSB’s rendering of “in flesh like ours under sin’s domain” is wordier than TNIV’s, and therefore, also harder to understand.


  4. Kevin, I have to agree with you on this one. But as you said the TNIV would proved to be a smoother read in some places where the HCSB wasn’t.

    Here’s an example for Romans 8:3,4:

    3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (TNIV)

    Now the HCSB:

    What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, 4 in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

    The transition from v.3 to v. 4 in particular.


  5. Thanks Stan. I can only give credit for this disease to other biblical bloggers who spread it to me. It’ll spread to others too.

    In 1 Sam.3:19, the way the REB is expressed seems easiest for me to understand. But the HCSB appears to be more accurate because it maintains the idea that it was the Lord who fulfilled or made true his words, not Samuel himself.


  6. Kevin,
    You just can’t stop comparing, can you?

    Thanks for doing this work. I have really benefited from looking at various translations’ take on several passages. I have also benefited from the purchase of my NAB which I now read from time to time.

    I, too, look forward to your next series.

    To continue comparing versions, since thanks to you I can’t stop either, on 1 Sam. 3:19 I offer the following:

    NAB Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

    NLTse As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable.

    REB As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him, and none of his words went unfulfilled.


  7. Keith, thanks for your word of encouragement; and welcome to New Epistles.

    TC, I found certain passages of the HCSB briefer and also more readable than TNIV. Here’s one example from 1 Sam. 3:19:

    The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. (TNIV)

    Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false. (HCSB)

    But with this being said, I would also have to say that vice versa can also be true for TNIV in different passages, depending on which ones you pick.


  8. Great work on this series. I’m looking forward to the dynamic equivalent series in the fall!


  9. Kevin, thanks for the summary on the Mediating translations.

    I really appreciate the tone of it all. You treated in version with respect. But I really can’t imagine the HCSB being more readable than the TNIV. Well, I haven’t spent a lot of time with the HCSB. So I don’t know!


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