The Holman Christian Standard Bible Translation Philosophy

by LifeWay Staff

Most discussions about Bible translation philosophies surround opposite approaches: formal equivalence (word for word or literal) and dynamic equivalence (thought for thought). Holman Bible Publishers believes another category exists - one that capitalizes on the strengths of the other two. The Holman Christian Standard Bible uses the optimal equivalence philosophy.

Following is a comparison of the three translation philosophies.

Formal equivalence

Often called word-for-word or literal translation, formal equivalence seeks to preserve the structure of the original language. It seeks to represent each word of the translated text with an equivalent word so the reader can see what the original author wrote. This approach supports the conviction that the Holy Spirit inspired the very words of Scripture in the original manuscripts. It also provides the English Bible student access to the structure of the text in the original language. Formal equivalence is accurate to the degree that English has an exact equivalent for each word and grammatical pattern of the original language. However, it can result in awkward, sometimes incomprehensible, English. Literal translations of ancient idioms are especially difficult.


  • New American Standard Bible
  • Revised Standard Version
  • English Standard Version

Dynamic or functional equivalence

Often called thought-for-thought translation, dynamic equivalence emphasizes the meaning of the text rather than the form. It distinguishes the meaning of a text, then translates it so it impacts modern readers as the ancient text impacted early readers. Strengths of this approach include clarity and readability, especially where the original text is difficult to render word for word. The dynamic equivalence model acknowledges that interpretation is needed for effective, readable translation. However, the meaning of a text cannot always be precisely rendered through this method. For example, a biblical author may have intended multiple meanings. Striving for readability, dynamic equivalence might overlook less prominent elements of meaning. This type of translation can sacrifice complete accuracy and affect the usefulness of it for in-depth, academic study


  • Today's English Version
  • New Living Translation
  • Contemporary English Version

Optimal equivalence

Translations are seldom purely formal or dynamic, but do favor one theory or the other. Optimal equivalence recognizes that the form should not be changed unless comprehension demands it. The primary goal of optimal equivalence translations is to convey a sense of the original text with as much clarity as possible.

Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the ancient text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) to determine its original meaning and intention. Then biblical experts, using the best language tools available, translate the semantic and linguistic equivalents into a readable text as best as possible. This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts of the original.

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence. A literal translation is used when possible, but when clarity and readability demand idiomatic translation, the reader can access the original text through footnotes.

Payment Options: LifeWay Account, MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express

LifeWay Accounts are for churches, ministries, and businesses only. Organizations having a not for profit status may also enjoy savings by not having to pay sales tax on qualifying products.

Your trusted source of Christian resources since 1891

LifeWay Christian Resources, Religious Goods, Nashville, TN