One of the newest major Bible translations on the market may be securing its place among the most popular.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was the second most-sold Bible translation for three out of the past four months, according to data compiled by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), coming in behind the New International Version (NIV) and ahead of the English Standard Version (ESV).
The CSB came out in 2017, published by Lifeway’s B&H Publishing Group as a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It was designed to offer a happy medium between readability and biblical accuracy, a translation philosophy referred to as “optimal equivalence.”
“The CSB has that undefinable sense of buzz,” said Mark Ward, editor of Bible Study Magazine and a popular Bible YouTuber. “The consensus seems to be that it managed to nail the balance of English readability and word-for-word accuracy that American Christians are looking for.”
With more churches switching to the CSB—in some cases, buying Bibles in bulk for their pews—and the release of popular editions such as a Tony Evans Study Bible and an award-winning kids Bible, it’s among the fastest-growing translations, climbing from fifth or sixth place on the monthly bestseller lists in prior years to second in May, June, and August of 2023.
It reached 10 percent of the market share within the first five years, and now has reached around 13 percent, said Andy McLean, publisher for Bibles and reference at B&H, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We’re seeing more churches adopt it, more individuals use it for personal Bible study,” said McLean. “They might come through the door because they’re a big fan of Tony Evans … and they see a Tony Evans Bible study Bible in CSB. That’s their introduction and, lo and behold, they come to enjoy it.”
While the ESV remains closely associated with the Reformed movement, the CSB is often perceived as more broadly evangelical and has extended beyond Southern Baptist circles. On a Facebook fan page where CSB enthusiasts share pictures and reviews of their favorite editions, an informal poll last month found that 70 percent belonged to other denominations, including Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Foursquare.
The climb in sales for the CSB is “an interesting and even surprising development especially because it shows that new translations can still break into a very crowded market,” said Peter Gurry, director of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary.
He said among scholars, the CSB has been most popular among Southern Baptists and some Presbyterians, and that it’s often ESV readers he sees making the switch.
“It is slightly more gender inclusive than translations like the ESV and NASB without being perceived as too far in that direction like NIV or CEB sometimes are,” he said, referencing the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and Common English Bible (CEB). “It’s marked as hitting the sweet spot between word-for-word and thought-for-thought.”
Critics of the ESV cite inconsistencies in gendered language, where male terms are used in many places to refer to generic people or mixed groups. The CSB regularly broadens masculine language to “gender-accurate” terms when the original context did not exclude females, such as in letters from Paul that would have been read to the whole congregation (“brothers and sisters”).
Last week, Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) professor Benjamin Gladd posted a screenshot on X (formerly Twitter) showing the CSB’s No. 2 ranking on August’s ECPA bestseller list. He included a mind-blown emoji.
“When I first came to RTS Jackson, everyone read from the ESV. Now, though, it’s common for a handful of my students to read from the CSB,” said Gladd, who teaches New Testament and typically uses NIV or CSB translations.
“I moved away from using the NASB in my lectures on account of its stilted prose,” he said. “I needed a translation that was more fluid when read aloud.”
Within the past year, City Church in the Cleveland area decided to switch from the ESV to a more accessible translation. Church leaders weighed either the CSB or NIV as options, both considered to be at an easier reading level than the ESV. They ultimately chose the NIV in part because it is so common.
“In the classroom and in church, I’m often asked what is the best translation, and I’m thoroughly convicted that the best translation is the one you read,” said Paul Morrison, the church’s theologian in residence and a professor at Emmaus Theological Seminary. “One of the reasons we settled on the NIV over the CSB was actually its prevalence. You can find it not just at any Bible store or bookstore, but also any big-box store—Target, Walmart—so it’s fascinating to see the CSB [also] jump in those ways.”
Multiple churches that have adopted the CSB as their preferred translation expressed wanting to have a more readable version for younger Christians. The ESV prioritizes a commitment to word-for-word translation (“formal equivalence”), and the CSB balances that a bit more with familiar wording and flow for contemporary readers. To compare, James 1:2 in each translation reads:
- Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (NIV)
- Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. (ESV)
- Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials. (CSB)
“Even with the give and take that you have between these wooden word-for-word translations—closer to the NASB—versus those that are moving phrase for phrase or idea for idea—NLT or The Message and some of these more common ones—they’re each achieving a very distinct purpose,” Morrison said, referencing the New Living Translation (NLT).
Surveys have shown that the King James Version is still Americans’ go-to Bible, and sales rankings, based on reports from retailers, don’t necessarily reflect what translations remain the most-read. But they can indicate where evangelicals are going when they need a new Bible for themselves or their churches.
“I’m grateful to observe that Bible-reading Christians really do just want to understand God’s word, that they retain some basic faith in evangelical institutions, and that they are gravitating toward the best work our evangelical scholars and our evangelical publishers can produce,” said Ward, about the current ECPA rankings.
The Bible blogger and vlogger also believes that a current “Bible design renaissance” is prompting more Bible sales.
As a newer translation, CSB Bibles tend to match the aesthetic preferences and styles of contemporary readers—such as colorful illustrations in the She Reads Truth Bible and dozens of options with verse-by-verse or single-column layouts. Last year, a CSB note-taking Bible won a cover design award for the stained glass illustrations on its cover.
“We really do believe we have a beautiful message in the gospel and we need to create beautiful mediums to house that message,” said McLean. “We do think very strategically about not just the cover, but the interior typeface, margin space for notetaking, the way the layout is designed. Every little detail has to go through this scrutiny.