Volume 44 - Issue 2

A Review of the Christian Standard Bible

By Mark L. Strauss


The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is a 2017 revision and replacement of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), first published in 2004. The Translation Oversight Committee was co-chaired by Thomas Schreiner and David Allen. The CSB follows the same basic translation philosophy as the HCSB, a mediating approach between formal and functional equivalence, similar to versions like the NIV, the NET Bible and the CEB. The CSB removes a number of the HCSB’s idiosyncracies, such as the use of “Yahweh” for the tetragrammaton (YHWH). Most significantly, the CSB departs from its predecessor by positively embracing “gender-accurate” language, for example, by translating the Greek ἀδελφοί as “brothers and sisters” when the referent includes both men and women. In general, the CSB is a significant improvement over the HCSB in terms to both accuracy and style.

1. Introduction

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB), published in 2017, is a major revision and replacement of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was first published as a full Bible in 2004 and revised in 2009.1 This paper is a brief review of the CSB, especially as it compares to its predecessor and with special attention to its use of gender-inclusive language.

1.1. The Origin of the HCSB

The HCSB originally arose from a project initiated by Arthur Farstad, who had served as the general editor for the New King James Version. Farstad favored the Greek Majority Text (the Byzantine text type) and had published a Greek edition of it with coeditor Zane Hodges in 1982. His goal was to produce a modern English version based on the Majority Text. Together with Edwin Blum, a faculty member at Dallas Theological Seminary, Farstad produced some portions of a translation of the New Testament.

In 1998, Farstad and Blum were approached by representatives of Holman Bible Publishers and LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). For years the SBC had used the NIV in their curriculum. Yet they were now seeking an alternative because of the high cost of NIV royalties and the NIV’s move toward gender-inclusive language. Farstad and Blum agreed to produce the version. Sadly, Farstad died just a few months into the project. While Farstad had envisioned a Majority Text version, without his influence on the project this was now shifted to the Critical Text—bringing it in line with all other modern versions except the New King James Version, which is based on the Textus Receptus.

The HCSB was produced by an interdenominational team of 100 scholars and proofreaders. It was published by Holman Bible publishers, an imprint of Broadman & Holman, the publishing wing of the SBC. The New Testament was published in 1999 and the full Bible in 2004. A second edition appeared in 2009.

The HCSB is generally more literal than the NIV but less so than most formal equivalent versions. According to its Introduction, the HCSB strives for neither formal nor functional equivalence, but “optimal equivalence”:

Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) in the original language to determine its original meaning and intention (or purpose). Then relying on the latest and best language tools and experts, the nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents are used to convey as much of the information and intention of the original text with as much clarity and readability as possible. This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts contained in the original.2

This description of using the “nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents” to convey the “intention of the original text with as much clarity and readability as possible” sounds a great deal like the goal of functional equivalence: striving to reproduce the meaning of the text as accurately and clearly as possible. Yet the statement is also a bit muddled. What is meant, for example, by a “maximum transfer” of “the words … contained in the original”? It is not the words (which are in Greek and Hebrew) but the meaning of those words, phrases and clauses that must be transferred.

Though following the Greek Critical Text, the HCSB was unique among modern versions in supplying many alternative readings from the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text in its footnotes (cf. NKJV). We will cover these issues in more detail as we compare the CSB to the HCSB.

Some notable distinctions of the HCSB include the following:

  • The use of the “Yahweh” for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) in select cases
  • The rendering “Messiah” for Greek χριστός when the latter is used in a titular sense
  • The rendering “instruction” instead of “law” for the Hebrew Torah
  • Increased use of “slave” over “servant”
  • Elimination of archaisms like “Behold” and the exclamation “O”
  • The rendering “beer” for the traditional “strong drink”
  • The rendering of John 3:16 as “For God loved the world in this way [οὕτως]: He gave His One and Only Son” instead of, “For God so loved the world…”

1.2. Revising the HCSB: The Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

Though well-publicized and well-received in many circles, the HCSB never achieved a significant market share of Bible sales. In June 2016 B&H publishing announced a revision of the translation, dropping the name “Holman” and renaming it the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). The Translation Oversight Committee was co-chaired by Tom Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and David Allen, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Preaching, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The remaining eight members included Dorian G. Coover-Cox of Dallas Theological Seminary, Iain M. Duguid of Westminster Theological Seminary, Andrew Das of Elmhurst College, Darian R. Lockett of Talbot School of Theology, Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University, Brian Rosner of Ridley in Melbourne, Michael Card (the English stylist), and Trevin Wax (the Bible Publisher with Holman). Of the 10 members, three specialize in OT, five mostly in NT (with theology and preaching emphases), with one stylist and the publisher. Denominationally, there are three from the Southern Baptist Convention, two Presbyterians, two Lutherans, one Anglican, and two non-denominational. All are from the conservative branches of these denominations. There are no members from Wesleyan, Methodist, Nazarene or Pentecostal traditions. There are nine men; one woman. Nine are white, one is Asian (Indian).

2. Translation Philosophy

The CSB, like its predecessor, claims to follow neither formal equivalence nor functional equivalence, but rather “optimal equivalence,” meaning (according to its preface), “the CSB places equal value on fidelity to the original and readability for a modern audience, resulting in a translation that achieves both goals.” The web site for the CSB says essentially the same thing. The version “captures the Bible’s original meaning without compromising readability.”3

Like the HCSB, the CSB stands approximately in the middle of the translation spectrum between formal equivalent and functional equivalent. It is significantly less formal than versions like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the English Standard Version (ESV). And it is less idiomatic than “natural language” functional equivalent versions like the New Living Translation (NLT), the New Century Version (NCV), God’s Word (GW), the Contemporary English Versions (CEV) and the Good News Translation (GNT). It is most similar in this regard to mediating versions like the New International Version (NIV), the Common English Bible (CEB), the New English Translation (NET), the New American Bible (NAB) and the Revised English Bible (REB). Below is my analysis of the translation spectrum.

Continuum of Versions

Formal Mediating Functional
American Standard Version (ASV)
Youngs Literal
Revised Version (RV)
King James Version (KJV)
New King James Version (NKJV)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Revised Standard Version (RSV)
English Standard Version (ESV)
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
(Holman) Christian Standard (HCSB; CSB)
New English Translation (NET)
New American Bible (NAB)
New International Version (NIV)
Common English Bible (CEB)
New English Bible (NEB)
Revised English Bible (REB)
Jerusalem Bible (JB)
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
Good News Translation (GNT; TEV)
New Living Translation (NLT)
New Century Version (NCV)
God’s Word (GW)
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Living Bible (LB)
Phillip’s Modern English (PME)
The Message (M)

Much of my writing has focused on defending meaning-based Bible translation. While encouraging and affirming the use of versions from across the translation spectrum, the most accurate versions are those that reproduce the meaning of the texts and so give priority to function over form.4

Because the (H)CSB recognizes the priority of meaning over form, I would give it high marks for accuracy. In 2008 I gave a paper at ETS critiquing the English Standard Version, called “Why the English Standard Version should not become the Standard English Version.”5 In that paper I pointed to hundreds of examples where the ESV’s “essentially literal” (formal-equivalent) methodology resulted in inaccurate or obscure translations. After the presentation Edwin Blum, general editor of the HCSB, found me and was delighted to report that in every case where the ESV had missed the mark, the HCSB had gotten it “right.”

This is especially the case with idiomatic language. By seeking to reproduce the form of the original, formal equivalent versions often remain obscure, awkward and inaccurate. Consider the following passages comparing various idioms in formal equivalent versions (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, NKJV) with the NIV, the HCSB and the CSB.6

Joshua 10:6

RSV Do not relax your hand from your servants.
NIV Do not abandon your servants.
HCSB Don’t abandon your servants.
CSB Don’t give up on your servants.

2 Samuel 18:25

NRSV The king said, “If he is alone, there are tidings in his mouth.”
NIV The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.”
(H)CSB The king said, “If he’s alone, he bears good news.”

Amos 4:6

NKJV Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities.
NIV I gave you empty stomachs in every city.
(H)CSB I gave you absolutely nothing to eat in all your cities.

Matthew 23:32

ESV Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.
NIV Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
HCSB Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ sins!
CSB Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors’ sins!

Mark 1:2 (pars. Matt 11:10; Luke 7:27)

RSV Behold, I send my messenger before thy face.
NIV I will send my messenger ahead of you.
HCSB Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You.
CSB See, I am sending My messenger ahead of you.

Acts 9:28 (cf. Acts 1:21)

NRSV So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem.
NIV So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem.
(H)CSB Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 6:15

ESV what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
NIV what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
(H)CSB what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

The mediating versions get the idioms right not by following the literal form, but by exegeting the text to determine the meaning, and then seeking the closest natural equivalent in the receptor language. To be “literal” is not to be accurate.7

The differences between the HCSB and the CSB are minor. Four passages have no change; there is one gender-language change (from “fathers” to “ancestors,” Matt 23:42), one change in idiom (Josh 10:6) and a small stylistic change (Mark 1:2).

While these examples illustrate the strength of the HCSB as a meaning-based version, at times I found the HCSB to be rather idiosyncratic and quirky. We will discuss some of these examples below. For the most part, the CSB retains the strength of the HCSB while removing its idiosyncrasies.

3. Significant Changes in the CSB

3.1. The Divine Name Yahweh

The tetragrammaton appears 6828 times in Hebrew Bible.8 Almost all English translations render the divine name as “Lord” (small caps). This was the pattern of the KJV and in some way mimics the LXX, which rendered the divine name as κύριος. HCSB broke with this tradition, in many cases introducing “Yahweh.” In such cases, a footnote reads:

Or The Lord; it is the personal name of God in Hebrew; “Yah” is the shortened form. Yahweh is used in places where the personal name of God is discussed (Ps 68:4) or in places of His self-identification. (Isa 42:8).9

The HCSB touted this in advertisements depicting a serious-looking student of the Word announcing in large letters, “The name is Yahweh.” The small print announced:

The Name is Yahweh

God gave us his personal name, which is why you’ll see it in the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Accuracy, one of the reasons you’ll love reading any of the HCSB digital or print editions.10

The problem with this claim is that only a small percentage of the instances of the tetragrammaton are actually translated as “Yahweh.” According to Michael Marlowe, the first edition of the HCSB used the divine name only seventy-five times and the 2009 edition increased this to 476.11 My Logos electronic 2009 version shows 654 instances and Accordance electronic version 656 times, still less than 10% of the total. The introduction explains this. While normally rendering YHWH (Yahweh) as “Lord,”

the HCSB OT uses Yahweh, the personal name of God in Hebrew, when a biblical text emphasizes Yahweh as a name: “His name is Yahweh” (Ps 68:4). Yahweh is also used in places of His self-identification as in “I am Yahweh” (Is 42:8). Yahweh is used more often in the HCSB than in most Bible translations because the word LORD in English is a title of God and does not accurately convey to modern readers the emphasis on God’s personal name in the original Hebrew.

The problem, of course, is deciding which instances should be rendered Yahweh and which Lord. Obviously, even the HCSB editors had trouble deciding, as evidenced by the variations in the different editions.

Because of these complications, the CSB returns to the traditional use of “Lord” for the tetragrammaton. Tom Schreiner gives four reasons for this change: (1) the inconsistency of usage in the HCSB; (2) fully consistent translation of יהוה as “Yahweh” would overwhelm readers; (3) the unfamiliarity of Yahweh trips up readers; (4) the pattern of the New Testament, like the LXX, is to use the title κύριος (“Lord”) rather than a personal name “Yahweh.”12

3.2. Capitalization of Divine Pronouns

The HCSB followed the traditional practice of capitalizing pronouns for God. By contrast, the CSB uses lower case, following standard English grammar. Consider John 14:15–16, which refers to all three members of the Trinity:

John 14:15–17

HCSB If you love Me, you will keep My commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you.
CSB If you love me, you will keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.

Capitalizing pronouns referring to God is often viewed as a sign of reverence, yet the practice is a fairly recent one, arising first in the 19th century. None of the earliest English versions capitalized pronouns, including Wycliffe (1382), Tyndale (1530s), the Geneva Bible (1599) nor the King James Version (1611). Nor did well-known nineteenth-century versions like Darby (1867), Douay-Rheims (1899), and the American Standard Version (ASV; 1901). One of the first versions to do so was Young’s Literal Translation (1862, 1898). Among the main contemporary versions, only the NASB (1971, 1995), NKJV (1982) and HCSB (1999) capitalize pronouns. Almost all other versions do not (NIV, NLT, NRSV, ESV, CEB, NET, NAB, REB, NCV, GW, GNT, etc.)

In my opinion, the CSB is an improvement over the HCSB in this regard since there are good reasons not to capitalize such pronouns:13

  1. Most English style books advise that all pronouns should be kept lower case, including those for God.
  2. The original Greek and Hebrew did not have capital letters.
  3. Capitalizing pronouns with reference to Jesus can miscommunicate the meaning of the text. For example, when the scribes and the Pharisees say to Jesus, “We want a sign from You” (Matt 12:38 NASB), the capitalized “You” suggests that the Pharisees think Jesus is divine. But, of course, they do not. Whenever an individual in the Gospels speaks about Jesus, or to him, capitalized pronouns can misrepresent the meaning of the text. Although the goal of emphasizing Christ’s deity is a noble one in theory, in practice it can distort the meaning of the text.
  4. Difficulties also arise in messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 22:1 in the NKJV reads, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” There are two problems. The first is inconsistency, since pronouns in various other passages are not capitalized in the HCSB (see Pss 16:10; 41:9), even though they are identified as messianic prophecies in the New Testament (Acts 2:27; John 13:18). The second problem, however, is that many of these prophecies are fulfilled typologically rather than uniquely in Christ. In other words, the original referent in the Old Testament might be David or righteous sufferers in general. Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of these prophecies in that he is the last and greatest in the line of Davidic kings, and the last and greatest of righteous sufferers. But capitalizing pronouns might wrongly suggest that the original human referents (like David) are themselves divine.

It seems best, therefore, to follow the now standard practice of leaving all pronouns in the lower case.

3.3. Messiah/Christ

Deciding whether to translate or transliterate Greek χριστός is a challenge. Do you stay with the transliteration “Christ” or seek to bring out the titular sense by rendering the title by its Hebrew equivalent, מָשִׁיחַ (“Messiah”). While the 1984 NIV used “Christ” throughout,14 the 2011 revision introduced “Messiah” whenever the term carried a titular sense (66 times). The HCSB similarly followed this pattern, introducing “Messiah” for χριστός 112 times in the NT,15 while retaining “Christ” 419 times.

The CSB retains this policy, but reduces the number significantly, using “Messiah” only 55 times for χριστός. Most of these are expected:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)

What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he? (Matt 22:42)

In other cases, CSB returned to “Christ” even in some cases where a titular sense seems to be present:

Matthew 1:16

HCSB Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.
CSB Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.

Matthew 1:17

HCSB And from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations.
CSB And from the exile to Babylon until the Christ, fourteen generations.

Matthew 2:4

HCSB So he… asked them where the Messiah would be born.
CSB So he … asked them where the Christ would be born.

Luke 4:41

HCSB But He … would not allow them to speak, because they knew He was the Messiah.
CSB But he … would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

Luke 20:41

HCSB Then He said to them, “How can they say that the Messiah is the Son of David?”
CSB Then he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is the son of David?”

These examples are puzzling, and I’m curious why “Messiah” was changed back to “Christ” in what appear to be titular contexts.

3.4. More Servants, Fewer Slaves

Biblical terms related to servants and slaves are notoriously difficult to translate. This is in part due to the differences between slavery in the ancient world and race-based slavery in the Americas. It is also due to the wide semantic range of terms related to slavery. In the NIV, for example, the Hebrew עֶבֶד (800x) is translated most commonly as “servant” (520x), but also in a variety of other ways: “slave” (Gen 9:25), “official” (Gen 20:8), “attendant” (1 Sam 8:14), “subject” (1 Sam 17:9), “officer” (1 Sam 18:5), “envoy” (2 Sam 10:4), “subordinate” (1 Kings 11:11), “vassal” (2 Kings 17:3), “man” (Gen 14:15), “court” (1 Kings 3:15), and “retinue” (1 Kings 10:13). Similarly, in the NT Greek δοῦλος (126x) is rendered in the NIV as “servant” 98x and “slave” 34x. Further complicating the issue is the semantic range of the English term “servant.” Does servant mean someone who is a paid employee? Or can a servant be one who is owned by a master (i.e., a slave)? The latter is certainly the intention in many passages.

In its advertisements, the HCSB touted its use of “slave” over “servant.” A full-page ad read in large letters “Are we servants or slaves?” with a reflective man staring at the camera. The smaller print on the ad reads:

Slaves had no rights, but some servants did. So when readers see Christians called to be Christ’s slaves in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the radical nature of discipleship is clearer. Accuracy, one of the reasons you’ll love reading any of the HCSB digital or print editions.16

Of course, the situation is far more complicated than this. Ownership of persons (i.e., slavery) was pervasive throughout the Ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world. Yet these “slaves” could have vastly different social statuses and privileges, from the short and brutal life of a galley slave to a status of a household manager overseeing a master’s business, property and other slaves. So to say that “slaves had no rights” is not entirely accurate. Slaves could certainly have status, and this status varied greatly. The translation “slave” can sound overly demeaning or degrading in some contexts.

The CSB significantly reduces the use of “slave(s).” While the HCSB used the term 317 times, the CSB uses it only 189 times. Consider the following examples:

Matthew 24:45

HCSB Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household?
CSB Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household?

John 13:16

HCSB I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.
CSB Truly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.

Romans 1:1

HCSB Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle…
CSB Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle…

While acknowledging the value of a term like “slave” that connotes ownership (after all, as Christians we are “bought at a price”; cf. 1 Cor 6:20), Schreiner notes that the use of slave received mixed reviews by scholars, pastors, and everyday readers. He gives three reasons for CSB’s increased use of “servant”: (1) recognition that “slave” in contemporary English has connotations of race-based slavery; (2) the use of “servant” for δοῦλος in the New Testament aligns with the Old Testament use of עֶבֶד with reference to followers of God like Moses; (3) there is New Testament precedent, as in Hebrews 3:5 (citing Num 12:7), where a term meaning “servant” (ὁ θεράπων) is used to translate the Hebrew עֶבֶד.17

This third argument seems a bit stretched. The writer in Hebrews is simply following the Septuagint of Numbers 12:7, which already rendered עֶבֶד as θεράπων. In this context θεράπων was especially appropriate for Moses, since the term commonly refers to “one who renders devoted service, esp. as an attendant in a cultic setting.”18 It might be better to say that עֶבֶד has a very wide semantic range that goes well beyond the senses generally given to the English gloss “slave” and that δοῦλος can reflect this wider usage. The primary emphasis of δοῦλος in certain contexts can be devotion and service rather than ownership.

3.5. Gender Language

The gender language policy of the HCSB was intentionally conservative. The Introduction to the HCSB warns against conceding to cultural agendas and affirms the use of masculine terms:

Some people today ignore the Bible’s teachings on distinctive roles of men and women in family and church and have an agenda to eliminate those distinctions in every arena of life. These people have begun a program to engineer the removal of a perceived male bias in the English language. The targets of this program have been such traditional linguistic practices as the generic use of “man” or “men,” as well as “he,” “him,” and “his.”19

The HCSB adopted the Colorado Springs Guidelines, also called the Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture, produced at the Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture on May 27, 1997 and revised September 9, 1997.20 Though not averse to inclusive language, the HCSB affirms the retention of masculine terms:

The goal of the translators has not been to promote a cultural ideology but to faithfully translate the Bible. While the Holman CSB avoids using “man” or “he” unnecessarily, the translation does not restructure sentences to avoid them when they are in the text. For example, the translators have not changed “him” to “you” or to “them,” neither have they avoided other masculine words such as “father” or “son” by translating them in generic terms such as “parent” or “child.”21

The CSB discussion begins with the same affirmation: “The goal of the translators of the Christian Standard Bible has not been to promote a cultural ideology but to translate the Bible faithfully.” But it then moves toward a more gender-inclusive approach. No mention is made of the Colorado Springs Guidelines, and the Introduction affirms:

Recognizing modern usage of English, the CSB regularly translates the plural of the Greek word ἄνθρωπος (“man”) as “people” instead of “men,” and occasionally the singular as “one,” “someone,” or “everyone,” when the supporting pronouns in the original languages validate such a translation. While the CSB avoids using “he” or “him” unnecessarily, the translation does not restructure sentences to avoid them when they are in the text.22

This shift in gender-language policy is evident from the first line of the Introduction to the CSB. Whereas the HCSB Introduction begins, “The Bible is God’s revelation to man,” the CSB reads, “The Bible is God’s revelation to humanity.”

The most striking gender-language change in the CSB is its rendering of the Greek plural ἀδελφοί as “brothers and sisters.” While the HCSB consistently translated ἀδελφοί as “brothers,” the CSB uses “brothers and sisters” 151 times. This change should not in fact be a controversial one. Back in the early stages of the gender-language debate, opponents of gender inclusive language conceded that ἀδελφοί frequently meant “siblings.”

The original version of the Colorado Springs Guidelines actually rejected the translation “brothers and sisters” for ἀδελφοί. Guideline B.1 originally read, “‘Brother’ (adelphos) and ‘brothers’ (adelphoi) should not be changed to ‘brother(s) and sister(s).’”23 However, Dan Wallace, New Testament professor at Dallas Seminary, sent the formulators of the Guidelines examples from secular Greek where ἀδελφοί clearly meant “brothers and sisters.” For example, a passage from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (713, 20–23; AD 97) reads, “My father died leaving me and my ἀδελφοί Diodorus and Theis as his heirs.” While Diodorus is a man’s name, Theis is a woman’s name. The Greek term is thus fully inclusive in this context, meaning “brother and sister” or “siblings.” Guideline B.1 was subsequently revised as follows: “the plural adelphoi can be translated ‘brothers and sisters’ where the context makes clear that the author is referring to both men and women.”

This concession is no doubt the reason for a footnote in the English Standard Version at the first use of ἀδελφοί in NT books. While the ESV text continues to render ἀδελφοί as “brothers,” the footnote adds: “Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters.”

Significantly, the CSB renders ἀδελφοί as “brothers and sisters” but includes no footnotes, acknowledging that in these contexts ἀδελφοί means “brothers and sisters.” Compare the HCSB and the CSB in the following passages:

Matthew 23:8

HCSB You have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.
CSB You have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters.

John 21:23

HCSB So this report spread to the brothers that this disciple would not die.
CSB So this rumor spread to the brothers and sisters that this disciple would not die.

Acts 1:15

HCSB During these days Peter stood up among the brothers
CSB In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters

Romans 1:13

HCSB Now I want you to know, brothers, that I often planned to come to you.
CSB Now I don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters.

1 Corinthians 1:26

HCSB Brothers, consider your calling.
CSB Brothers and sisters, consider your calling.

Hebrews 2:17

HCSB Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way.
CSB Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way.

The rendering of ἀδελφοί is not the only significant gender language change in the CSB. While the HCSB uses the terms “man” or “men” 3097 times, the CSB uses them only 2551 times, a reduction of 546. Consider the following examples:

Matthew 12:12

HCSB A man is worth far more than a sheep.
CSB A person is worth far more than a sheep.

Romans 3:28

HCSB For we conclude that a man is justified by faith.
CSB For we conclude that a person is justified by faith.

Romans 4:8

HCSB How joyful is the man
CSB Blessed is the person

This last example is particularly striking, since “man” here is ἀνήρ not ἄνθρωπος. Six times in James, the CSB translates ἀνήρ using a generic term, while HCSB used “man” (see the table below).

Table 1: ἀνήρ in James

James 1:8 An indecisive man [ἀνήρ] is unstable in all his ways. person … being double-minded and unstable in all his ways.
James 1:12 A man [ἀνήρ] who endures trials is blessed, Blessed is the one who endures trials,
James 1:20 for man’s anger [ὀργὴ ἀνδρός] does not accomplish God’s righteousness. for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
James 1:23 … he is like a man [ἀνήρ] looking at his own face in a mirror. … he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror.…
James 2:2 For example, a man [ἀνήρ] comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes… For if someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes.
James 3:2 If anyone does not stumble…he is a mature man [ἀνήρ] who is also able to control his whole body. If anyone does not stumble … he is mature, able also to control the whole body.

These examples not only show the gender-inclusive policy of the CSB, but also its handling of resumptive masculine pronouns. While translating generic uses of ἀνήρ and ἄνθρωπος as “person” or with other generic terms, the CSB consistently retains the masculine resumptive pronouns “he,” “him” or “his” that follow. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:11 reads “For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him?” While ἄνθρωπος is rendered “person” instead of man, the masculine is retained for the presumptive pronouns “his” and “him.” The CSB website explains the reason for this. While using inclusive terms for nouns,

At the same time, the translators chose not to make third person masculine pronouns inclusive by rendering them as plurals (they, them), because they believed it was important to retain the individual and personal sense of these expressions.24

Of course translation always involves compromise and no language can reproduce the meaning exactly. While retaining masculine singular pronouns maintains agreement with reference to number (singular), it loses agreement with reference to gender (masculine for generic). Another solution, adopted in many cases by the 2011 NIV, is to use singular “they,” a form that is now pervasive in common English.25 First Corinthians 2:11 NIV reads, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” While plural in form, “their” and “them” are singular in meaning. Both solutions—masculine singular pronouns or singular “they”—have one grammatical anomaly.

In any case, these gender language changes in the CSB are particularly significant in light of recent controversies. As one who was significantly involved in the gender-language debates of the 1990s and 2000s,26 it struck me as more than a little ironic that a version with such strong Southern Baptist connections would openly adopt gender-accurate language. This irony was not lost on the secular media. Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible.”27 The subtitle read, “America’s largest Protestant denomination has produced a revised translation that incorporates many features it had long condemned.” The article pointed out that the Southern Baptists, who previously led the charge against gender inclusive language, were now embracing it in their flagship Bible translation.

The CSB now translates the term anthropos, a Greek word for “man,” in a gender-neutral form 151 times, rendering it “human,” “people,” and “ones.” The previous edition had done this on occasion; the new revision adds almost 100 more instances. “Men of Israel” becomes “fellow Israelites;” when discussing Jesus’s incarnation the “likeness of men” becomes “likeness of humanity.” The CSB translates the term adelphoi, a Greek word for “brother” in a gender-neutral form 106 times, often adding “sister.” “Brotherly love” is translated “love as brothers and sisters.”

Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher for Holman Bibles, defended the translation in e-mail correspondence with the authors of the article. He rejected the notion that the translation is “gender-neutral,” calling it “gender-accurate” instead. “It uses male pronouns for God, for pastors, and in places where it’s obviously male—and it uses male and female, where that’s what the author intended,” Wax said.28 A similar response came from Denny Burk, who on his blog rejected any change in direction, claiming that the CSB, like the HCSB, followed the Colorado Springs Guidelines.29

While the adoption of gender-accurate language in the CSB is certainly moderate, to say that it follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines is not accurate. The Guidelines arose in a climate of hostility toward gender-inclusive language and their tone is clearly negative and prohibitive. The CSB positively adopts such language both in its introduction and its text. For example, the Colorado Springs Guidelines explicitly reject the translation “brother or sister” for the singular ἀδελφός. Guideline B.1. reads, “‘Brother’ (adelphos) should not be changed to ‘brother or sister.’” Yet the CSB did exactly that 24 times.30 Consider the following examples:

Matthew 5:22

HCSB But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
CSB But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Romans 14:10

HCSB But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother?
CSB But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?

I also had to chuckle when I saw both Trevin Wax and Denny Burk using the language of “gender accuracy.” This is the terminology we were using with reference to the NIVI and the TNIV twenty years ago.31 As translators we were never striving for gender “neutrality,” but rather for gender accuracy. (The subtitle to my 1997 book Distorting Scripture? was The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy.) But in the cacophony of chaos and opposition provoked by the culture wars and anti-feminism of the day, it seemed no one was listening.

When the Atlantic Monthly article came out I e-mailed the link to my colleagues on the NIV translation committee (the CBT—Committee on Bible Translation) with a note saying, “Don’t you feel vindicated?” One of them responded with great poignancy:

Although the Southern Baptists have vindicated our T/NIV translations, for some reasons this makes me sad. All the vitriol, all the slander, all the stress CBT endured for years … we knew we were right. I think they owe us a public apology for all the damage they did.

Well, I doubt an apology is going to happen, but hopefully lessons have been learned. When issues like this arise we need to take a deep breath and think carefully through the issues—not rush out to sign petitions and censure colleagues. I have a friend whose salvation was publicly questioned because of his stand on this issue. Another lost his teaching position at an evangelical seminary. We should be better than this.

I want to commend Tom Schreiner, David Allen and the CSB Translation Oversight Committee for having the courage to follow their convictions in this regard (and to consistently follow their translation philosophy). I’m sure they have taken a few hits because of it.

While adopting a great deal of gender-accurate language, the CSB (like most versions) is not altogether consistent. Here are a few examples I came across where an inclusive term might have been expected:

The crowds … gave glory to God, who had given such authority to men. (Matt 9:8)

The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. (Matt 17:22)

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt 19:26)

The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? (Rom 9:20)

And [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. (Rom 1:23)

Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father… (Gal 1:1)

3.6. Traditional Language

Although the gender language changes are perhaps the most significant in the revision of the HCSB, there are many others. In a good number of cases, the CSB reversed innovations made by the HCSB and returned to traditional language. Here are a few examples.

(1) Beatitudes. The HCSB broke with traditional Beatitude word order to retain more natural English grammar. The CSB returns to the traditional Beatitude formula:

Matthew 5:3

HCSB The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
CSB Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Romans 4:8

HCSB How joyful is the man the Lord will never charge with sin!
CSB Blessed is the person the Lord will never charge with sin.

(2) Leprosy. The HCSB removed the word “leprosy” because the skin diseases in Leviticus 13–14 are clearly not Hansen’s disease, translating the Hebrew and Greek words traditionally rendered “leper” and “leprosy” (λέπρος; λέπρα; צָרַעַת) as “skin disease” or “serious skin disease.” The CSB retains “serious skin disease” in the OT for צָרַעַת, but returns to “leprosy” in the NT (11x) for λέπρος and λέπρα. The reason for this distinction between the OT and the NT is not clear, though it might be because the English “leper” and “leprosy” are derived from the Greek terms.

(3) Tongues. The HCSB tended to use the term “languages” instead of “tongues” because the latter was considered archaic. Since some considered the HCSB’s use of “language” here to indicate an anti-Charismatic agenda, and since “tongues” can refer either to human languages or ecstatic utterance, the CSB committee returned to the traditional “tongues.”

Acts 2:4 (cf. 2:11; 10:46; 19:6)

HCSB Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages.
CSB Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:30

HCSB Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in other languages?
CSB Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in other tongues?

Tom Schreiner explains the reason for this change:

The translators, representing a variety of denominations, did not intend by the use of “languages” to exclude charismatic views of ecstatic speech. The decision was made without reference to convictions about gifts of the Spirit, questions of cessationism versus continuationism, or any other theological concern. However, in the years after HCSB debuted, many readers assumed that the HCSB had intentionally excluded Charismatic viewpoints.

Because “tongues” is an appropriate translation and is the word used in every other major English Bible translation, the CSB Translation Oversight Committee elected to adopt the traditional rendering and avoid any appearance of theological bias.32

A return to traditional language is also evident in the baptism narrative. While the HCSB translated the divine voice from heaven as “You are My beloved Son. I take delight in You!” (Luke 3:22), the CSB has the more traditional rendering, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”

(4) Quirky translations. As noted above, the HCSB is marked by a number of what I would call odd or “quirky” translation choices. The CSB seems to remove most of these, returning to more traditional renderings. Here are a few examples from Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 2:1

HCSB Wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem.
CSB Wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem.

It is unclear where “unexpectedly” came from. The Greek is ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα.

Matthew 5:22

HCSB But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ [μωρέ] will be subject to hellfire.
CSB But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.

Evidently the formal similarity (and etymological connection) of the Greek μωρός to the English term “moron” resulted in this translation. But of course it is an anachronistic fallacy to say that the English “moron” is a literal rendering of μωρός.

Matthew 6:27

HCSB Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying?
CSB Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?

This is a difficult idiom (προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα) and it is unclear whether it is referring to time or space (length). But it is very odd to say that you can’t even do a small thing like adding a “cubit” to your height (18 inches—not a small thing at all!).

Matthew 10:17

HCSB People will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues.
CSB They will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues.

The Greek συνέδριον is often rendered “Sanhedrin” when it refers to the Jewish high council in Jerusalem. But the plural (συνέδρια) normally refers to local councils or courts and so is usually translated “councils” rather than transliterated as “sanhedrins.”

Matthew 13:52

HCSB “Therefore,” He said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.”
CSB “Therefore,” he said to them, “every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom treasures new and old.”

Since the HCSB elsewhere translates γραμματεύς as “scribe,” one would expect the same thing here.

Matthew 15:30

HCSB And large crowds came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, those unable to speak, and many others.
CSB And large crowds came to him, including the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak, and many others.

“Deformed” does not seem very sensitive to those with disabilities.

Matthew 16:18

HCSB I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.
CSB I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

It is surprising that the HCSB, which generally retains the metaphors of Scripture, does not retain the image of a gate.

Matthew 17:2

HCSB He was transformed in front of them.
CSB He was transfigured in front of them.

This CSB returns to the traditional technical term for the transfiguration.

Matthew 17:4

HCSB Lord, it’s good for us to be here! If You want, I will make three tabernacles here.
CSB Lord, it’s good for us to be here. I will set up three shelters here.

While Greek σκηνή (hut, tent, shelter, tabernacle) can be used of the OT tabernacle, it is unlikely that Peter is hoping to build three copies of the Old Testament portable temple. The sense here is almost certainly a hut or shelter.

While in most cases, the CSB returns to traditional or less innovative language, in other cases the editors move away from traditional terms, especially when these terms have become archaic or obscure. For example, the HCSB retained the traditional language of “propitiation” for ἱλαστήριον (Rom 3:25), ἱλάσκομαι (Heb 2:17), and ἱλασμός (1 John 2:2; 4:10), no doubt because of the historical debate between “expiation” (cf. RSV) and “propitiation.” The CSB translators likely recognized that few of their readers would know the difference and so rendered the ἱλάσ– word group as “atoning sacrifice” (cf. NIV and NLT).

1 John 2:2

HCSB He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
CSB He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

Occasionally it seemed to me the CSB’s revision was not an improvement. Here are a few examples where a case could be made for retaining the HCSB reading (again from Matthew’s Gospel):

Matthew 12:10

HCSB There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand.
CSB There he saw a man who had a shriveled hand.

The reference to a “shriveled” hand almost certainly indicates paralysis. The HCSB makes this clear.

Matthew 19:28

HCSB Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age…”
CSB Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in the renewal of all things…”

The CSB’s “renewal of all things” is formally close to the Greek ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ (“in the regeneration”), but is quite obscure for modern readers. “Messianic Age” makes it clear that the reference is to the eschaton.

Matthew 9:20 (cf. 14:36; 23:5)

HCSB Just then, a woman … approached from behind and touched the tassel on His robe.
CSB Just then, a woman … approached from behind and touched the end of his robe.

As a rabbi Jesus likely had tassels on his robe (Num. 15:37–41; Deut. 22:12). The Greek κρασπέδα is rendered “tassels” in Matthew 23:5 with reference to the robes of the Pharisees and probably means the same thing here and in 14:36.

Matthew 24:1

HCSB As Jesus left and was going out of the temple complex
CSB As Jesus left and was going out of the temple

Jesus is clearly leaving the temple mount, not the temple building proper.

3.7. Textual Issues

As noted above, while Arthur Farstad favored the Majority Text (the Byzantine text type), the editorial decision was eventually made for the HCSB to follow the Critical Text. For the most part, however, in its footnotes the HCSB reserved judgment on textual issues, simply citing “Other mss say…” or “Other mss omit….” In general, the CSB follows this policy, though it introduces a subtle difference with the phrase “Some [instead of ‘Other’] mss read…” for less likely variants.

In more notorious passages, the CSB more explicitly renders judgment. For example, in the Johannine Comma (“three witnesses” passage) in 1 John 5:7–8, the HCSB has a footnote that reads:

Other mss (Vg and a few late Gk mss) read testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One. 8And there are three who bear witness on earth:

By contrast, the CSB reads:

A few late Gk mss and some late Vg mss add testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three who bear witness on earth:

Similarly, in the HCSB the longer ending of Mark has only a small bracket “[…]” marking it off from the rest of the text and a footnote at the end of verse 20 that reads “Other mss omit bracketed text.” The headings continue as usual with sections marked, “Appearances of the Risen Lord (16:9–13),” “The Great Commission (16:14–18)” and “The Ascension (16:19–20).”

The CSB more clearly marks the longer ending off as a later addition. A line across the text clearly delineates what follows as a separate section and a bracketed heading reads, “[Some of the earliest mss conclude with 16:8.]” The heading that follows is labeled, “THE LONGER ENDING OF MARK: APPEARANCES OF THE RISEN LORD (16:9–13),” and a footnote adds:

16:8 Other mss include vv. 9–20 as a longer ending. The following shorter ending is found in some mss between v. 8 and v. 9 and in one ms after v. 8 (each of which omits vv. 9–20): And all that had been commanded to them they quickly reported to those around Peter. After these things, Jesus himself sent out through them from east to west, the holy and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.

This is much closer to the NIV, which similarly separates the longer ending from the rest of the text with a bar and a bracketed heading.

4. Conclusion

The examples above confirm that the CSB is a significant improvement over its predecessor, retaining its strengths while eliminating many of its weaknesses. In terms of strengths, the CSB continues the HCSB’s translation philosophy, which represents a nice balance between formal and functional equivalence (though the term “optimal equivalence” is more a marketing strategy than a reality). This mediating approach helps to maintain readability and clarity without sacrificing important formal features, such as metaphors and word-plays.

As far as improvements over the HCSB, by removing many idiosyncrasies of its predecessor and returning to more traditional language with reference to the divine name YHWH, slaves and servants, beatitudes, tongues, etc., the CSB will likely gain wider acceptance in the Christian community. Its more precise text-critical notes are also an improvement, bringing it more in-line with the consensus of evangelical scholarship with reference to NT Textual Criticism. Finally, its more positive stance towards gender-inclusive language not only improves its accuracy, but also enables modern readers to hear more clearly the inclusive message of the gospel—the good news that in Christ “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 CSB).

[1] This is a revised version of a paper given at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Denver, CO, 14 November 2018).

[2] “Introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible,” Bible Researcher,

[3] “About the Christian Standard Bible,”

[4] See Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth. A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007); Mark L. Strauss, “Form, Function and the Literal Meaning Fallacy in English Bible Translation,” BT 56 (2005), 153–68.

[5] Available at

[6] These examples are adapted from Mark L. Strauss, “Bible Translation and the Myth of ‘Literal Accuracy,’” RevExp 108 (2011): 169–94.

[7] See Strauss, “Myth of ‘Literal Accuracy,’” 176–77.

[8] From a search of Biblia Hebraica in Accordance Bible Software.

[9] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

[10] The ad is included in Michael Marlowe, “The Holman Christian Standard Bible,” Bible Researcher, August 2011,

[11] Marlowe, “The Holman Christian Standard Bible.”

[12] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Q&A: Translation Decisions for the Christian Standard Bible,” January 2017,, p. 2.

[13] Most of this material is from Fee and Strauss, How to Choose a Translation, 127–28.

[14] The only appearances of “Messiah” in the 1984 NIV are those instances where John transliterates the Hebrew term as Μεσσίας (John 1:41; 4:25).

[15] “Messiah” also appears four times in the HCSB where χριστός is absent, when the HCSB supplies a noun for the Greek pronoun (Matt 22:45; Mark 12:37; Luke 20:44; Eph 2:17).

[16] The ad was accessed at “Christian Standard Bible 2017,” Baptist Board, It always struck me as a bit odd and ironic, considering the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, that the advertisements for the HCSB would extol the intentional proliferation of the word “slave.”

[17] Schreiner, “Q&A: Translation Decisions for the Christian Standard Bible,” 4.

[18] BDAG 453.

[19] “Introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible.”

[20] “Colorado Springs Guidelines,” Bible Researcher, 9 September 1997, For critique of these guidelines, see my “Linguistic and Hermeneutical Fallacies in the Guidelines Established at the ‘Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture,’” JETS 41 (1998) 239–62.

[21] “Introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible.”

[22] “Introduction to the Christian Standard Bible,” Christian Standard Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).

[23] Colorado Springs Guidelines: Statement by Participants in the Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture,” Bible Researcher, 27 May 1997,

[24] Schreiner, “Q&A: Translation Decisions for the Christian Standard Bible,” 3.

[25] See Jeff Guo, “Sorry, Grammar Nerds. The Singular ‘They’ Has Been Declared Word of the Year,” Washington Post, 8 January, 2016,

[26] See Mark L. Strauss, Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998); Mark L. Strauss, “Current Issues in the Gender-Language Debate: A brief response to Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem,” in The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World. Essays in Honor of Ronald F. Youngblood, ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 115–42.

[27] Jonathan Merritt and Garet Robinson, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible,” The Atlantic, 11 June 2017,

[28] Merritt and Robinson, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible.”

[29] Denny Burk, “Have Southern Baptists Embraced Gender-Inclusive Bible Translation? Not by a Longshot,”, 11 June 2017,

[30] Matt 5:22–24; 18:21, 35; Rom 14:10, 13, 15, 21; 1 Cor 5:11; 8:11, 13; 1 Thess 4:6; 2 Thess 3:6; Heb 8:11; 1 John 2:9–11; 3:10, 15; 4:20.

[31] NIVI refers to the gender-inclusive British edition of the NIV, published in 1995, which sparked the gender language controversy of the late 1990s. For details, see Strauss, Distorting Scripture? 20–22. TNIV is Today’s New International Version, the short-lived gender-inclusive edition of the NIV introduced when the 1984 NIV was frozen in terms of further revision (TNIV NT, 2002; whole Bible, 2005; canceled in 2011).

[32] Schreiner, “Q&A: Translation Decisions for the Christian Standard Bible,” 1.

Mark L. Strauss

Mark Strauss is University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary.

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