Lifeway Hopes to Jump-start Bible Reading with New CSB
By Bob Smietana
The Bible might be the most beloved and neglected book in America. Americans love the Bible so much almost everyone—87 percent of households—has a copy.
Many American households (41 percent) own four or more copies, according to a report from the American Bible Society. And a Lifeway Research study found half of Americans believe the Bible alone is the Word of God.
Still, many Americans never get around to reading the Scriptures. Only one in five reads the Bible every day or has read the whole thing. Meanwhile, a third say they never pick it up.
“Here in the U.S., the problem isn’t that people don’t own a Bible,” says Eric Geiger, vice president of Lifeway Christian Resources. “It’s that they don’t read the Bible they have.”
Lifeway leaders hope the launch of the newly revised Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation will help solve that problem. People often cite two major reasons for not reading the Bible. They are either too busy or they’re intimidated because they don’t understand what the Bible means, according to the American Bible Society.
While the CSB can’t give people more time, it can help people understand the Bible better. The translation was designed to be easy to understand yet faithful to the original manuscripts, using the best of modern Bible translation methods.
Modern Bible translations tend to use two major methods. Some, like the English Standard Version (ESV), use a word-for-word approach, known as “formal equivalence,” which stresses being highly literal to the original text. Others, like the Good News Bible, use a thought-for-thought approach, known as “dynamic equivalence,” which stresses readability and comprehension. Some use a combination of the two.
Two-thirds of Protestants who read the Bible at least once a month want a word-for-word translation, compared to one-third of Protestants who prefer a thought-for-thought approach, according to Lifeway Research.
The Christian Standard Bible uses a translation philosophy called “optimal equivalence”—which stresses being both highly literal and highly readable.
“You don’t have to choose between a translation that is faithful to the original languages and one that is readable,” Geiger says. “With the CSB, Bible readers can have both.”
Accurate and trustworthy
Lifeway Research found that Bible readers—in particular Protestants who read the Bible at least once a month—want a translation that is readable while remaining faithful to the original manuscripts. Three-quarters (74 percent) want a Bible that’s accurate, while 57 percent want a Bible that’s trustworthy. A similar number (56 percent) want a Bible that’s easily understood.
The CSB meets all those expectations, says Trevin Wax, Bible publisher for Lifeway Christian Resources.
“Accuracy refers to what the Bible is,” Wax explains. “Trustworthiness can also include other factors. Who stewards it? Are there scholars I respect who devoted time to this Bible? Are there pastors I respect who use it and recommend it?”
Wax says the CSB will work for pastors and ordinary Christians alike. It’s suitable for preaching and for day-to-day study. He also believes the CSB makes discipleship and evangelism easier.
“Because it’s clear and easy to read, I can share it with people who are new to the Word of God as well as those who are already regular Bible readers,” he says.
The CSB is a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts by a team of 100 Bible scholars from 17 denominations.
The revision and oversight committee took advantage of new biblical scholarship as well as input from readers, pastors, and Bible scholars. Christian songwriter and Bible teacher Michael Card served as the stylist, paying special attention to the beauty of the text, including how the CSB would sound when read aloud.
Lifeway President and CEO Thom S. Rainer called the launch of the CSB “one of the most significant projects Lifeway has ever undertaken.
“We know millions of pastors, teachers, and Bible readers have a commitment to God’s Word,” says Rainer. “At Lifeway, we share that commitment.”
The Bible and spiritual growth
Lifeway has ambitious goals for the CSB, says Geiger. He hopes millions of people will read this translation in the years to come—and that the CSB will boost Bible reading overall, no matter what the translation.
That’s important, he says, because reading Scripture leads to spiritual growth. A previous Lifeway Research study found reading the Bible is the number one indicator of spiritual growth.
Those who read the Bible regularly are more likely to confess their sins to God and ask for forgiveness, make a decision to obey God even though it might be costly, and pray for non-Christians, according to Lifeway Research.
“We can’t grow apart from the Scripture,” says Geiger. “We can’t grow without reading God’s Word.”
However, getting people to read the Bible remains a constant challenge, according to Lifeway Research.
Only about a quarter of Americans (22 percent) read the Bible in a systematic way, focusing on a section each day. A quarter (27 percent) read verses suggested by other people, while 19 percent prefer to reread favorite stories or verses.
Three in 10 look up Bible verses on an as-needed basis, while 17 percent flip a Bible open and read whatever page they land on. A third of Americans (35 percent) never read the Bible on their own.
Even among churchgoers, only 39 percent say they read the Bible in a systematic manner every day. That leaves a large portion of churchgoers whose Bible reading is spotty at best. Twelve percent of churchgoers say they never read the Bible on their own.
Lifeway Research also found Americans are split on how much of the Bible they have read. Fifty-three percent have read less than half, including 1 in 10 who has read none of the Bible and 30 percent who’ve read just a few stories or passages. Only 1 in 5 has read the whole thing, while an additional 12 percent have read most of the Bible.
Overall, Americans have a positive view of the Bible. About a third (37 percent) say it’s helpful today, while a similar number call it life-changing (35 percent) or true (35 percent). Half (52 percent) say the Bible is a good source for morals. Few say the Bible is outdated (14 percent), harmful (7 percent), or bigoted (8 percent).
A number of reasons keep Americans from reading the Bible. About a quarter (27 percent) say they don’t prioritize it, while 15 percent don’t have time. Thirteen percent say they’ve read it enough. Fewer say they don’t read books (9 percent), don’t see how it relates to them (9 percent), or don’t have a copy (6 percent).
Overall, Americans seem to like the Bible but don’t have much urgency about reading it.
By skipping out on the Bible, they are missing the chance to know God and grow spiritually, says Geiger. That makes growing the number of Bible readers essential.
“God’s Word is faithful and true—we want to provide a translation that is faithful to the original text while being clear for today’s reader,” Rainer says. “Because the Christian Standard Bible captures the Bible’s original meaning without compromising clarity, I believe it will engage more people in reading and sharing the truth of God’s Word with others.”
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends. Aaron Earls contributed to this story.