Today I decided to share a review of a book that I did not receive for a review. I plan on doing this for some of the books I have grown to love and want to share with all of you guys. So, we’re taking a look at the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible. I have broken this review into sections so that readers can look for the information they want quickly.
This is my first CSB bible, which stands for the Christian Standard Bible. The CSB is a revised version of the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible). The textual basis of the CSB is what you would expect in a modern translation. For the Greek text, the Nestle-Aland 28th, and United Bible Societies 5thedition. For the Hebrew text the CSB uses the Biblia Hebracia Struttgartensia, 5thedition.
Interestingly enough, the CSB claims to use what is called “optimal equivalence” for its translational philosphy, which is basically a way of saying that the text uses both formal (word for word) and dynamic (thought for thought) translations in their text. Where the text can be word-for-word and understandable, they utilize a formal translation, but where there is a more difficult passage (where word-for-word might be more complex) the CSB uses a dynamic translation. I think this is an interesting approach and have found it favorable in some cases.
Compare the ESV and CSB on John 3:16,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)ESV
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.CSB
Here is a chart from the CSB website comparing multiple verses: Chart.
One thing that I was disappointed with in terms of translation was the CSB’s going back to “LORD” instead of retaining Yahweh in the text as they had in the HCSB. While they have an explanation of this change here. I think it is a step backwards when comparing the CSB with the HCSB.
All in all, I like the translation. Sometimes it feels a bit too dynamic for my personal taste, but it is a very fluid translation. In some of the decisions, it seems unnecessary to try to make the text more dynamic, however, the meaning is still retained. I’m certainly not an expert on translation, but it does seem like a fair translation that had a lot of thought put into the text.
Physical appearance and feel:
One of the most appealing parts of this bible is the appearance. The book’s theme is “ancient faith” and they had me sold when I saw a cover that looked like an ancient book. It is a fair size and going by memory it is less hefty than the Reformation Study Bible and about the same size as the ESV study bible. With that said, for me, this bible is comfortable enough to take to church or outside of the home.
For the pages, the color is a nice mild sepia tone, and this bible has thicker paper than the traditional bible. As with most bibles, ghosting is present, and perhaps even more so than your standard thin line bible. It is a personal pet peeve to be able to see the text from the next pages, but I digress. The color of the pages made up for the ghosting in that it was easier on the eyes and added to that “aged” look. The only physical improvement I could think of for CSB, is printing this on some ancient parchment (I’m mostly joking).
In structure and layout, it is your standard two columns with some textual footnotes and the commentary underneath. The font size is easy on the eyes too for both the commentary and text, and while I looked for specifications on what size was used, I had no luck.
At the beginning of each book of the bible, you will find an introduction that gives you enough information to make it through said book with the context. Each introduction has the circumstances of writing, the book’s contribution to the bible, a brief discussion on its structure, and a quotation related to that book by a church father. The bible has a range of both articles and biographies around the church fathers, as well as special notes dedicated to “twisted truths”, that is, heresies that the church addressed at one point or another. There are also quotes from Augustine’s confessions throughout the bible. All of these are fantastic!
For the articles you’ll read texts by Augustine, Irenaeus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom (and more) on a variety of subjects dealing with Christology, Sin, Trinity, the Canon, and more! Biographies include church fathers, but also individuals like Constantine, while the twisted truth section explains (briefly) things like Modalism, Pelagius, Apollinaris, etc.
One thing this bible could have done better is place Origen’s biography more towards the beginning of the Bible rather than in Revelation. I found that the “twisted truth” section, discussing Origen’s questionable doctrines on page 11 (in Genesis, with his commentary underneath it), could be quite confusing for those not familiar with the controversy around Origen. While it is solved by looking up his biography in the table of contents, I felt like the placement was peculiar.
All in all, these additional features help you get more emerged into the environment of the early church while you read through their commentaries on the text.
When you open up the bible you will find the “Compiler’s notes”, where we read that the compiler opted to compile the wider perspectives of the church, including the exegetical approaches from the East and the West. This is reflected fairly well, but it is worth remembering that the commentaries on a given passage do not represent all of the early church, but rather it represents that particular father who was selected for it. That is something that is unique about this bible in that we are used to one tradition flowing through a study bible.
One review I read, pointed out the slight bend towards the Southern Baptist Perspective, and while I have not noticed such in the selection of commentaries, it wouldn’t surprise me. Every study bible will reflect the tradition it comes from in some shape or form.
The church father’s will always stretch us, especially in the west, and the commentary in this study bible is no exception. There have been several instances where I had to stop and ponder the reflection of a given church father, but what is particularly distinctive is how unique they are compared to modern commentators. It is worth saying that you will not tire of seeing Chrysostom’s name in the list of commentary notes, and in fact, you’ll likely want to read more of his work when you see the richness of his thoughts. I would say this regarding most everyone included in this commentary, and I would go so far as to say, what is found in the notes of this bible won’t be found in other study bibles. What I mean is that you can buy a variety of study bibles that will give you similar commentary (and it is beneficial on many levels), but this approach, utilizing the writers of the early church, is widely different and greatly appreciated. In many ways, it forces the Western Christian to step out of individualism and put on perspective, understanding that the faith was not given in the vacuum of the 21stcentury. In essence, it helps us remember that we are a part of a larger, historical, family.
All-in-all, I love this study bible, and quite a bit! While I do have issues with the ghosting on the pages as well as the (understandable) limitations in quotations, this book is a fantastic way to dive into the world of the early church with style. This bible is for those who are interested in church history and who want to take a step back from the modern styles of commentary. I have a feeling that you will feel a sense of community while reading the commentaries of these great individuals in the faith. You will leave articles with deeper reflections on a variety of topics and be eager to see how a church father commented on a particular text of the bible. CSB did a fantastic job with this bible.
You can purchase this book here (note: the brown cover on this link is different from the red cover presented in the images)
*Note the amazon link is an affiliate links meaning that I receive a small commission when these books are purchased through these links.