Formal equivalence comparison #3: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV–John 19

The comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition continues with the Gospel of John, chapter 18. However, I’ve included the NET bible in the table.

John 19:3


They came up to him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! and struck him with their hands.


They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.

and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.

They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face.

v.3: The rendering of “slaps in the face” (NASB) or “striking him on the face” (NRSV) is may unnecessarily be assuming that Jesus was struck or slapped on the face. The ESV/RSV might be more accurate because it simply states that he was only struck with the hand. The ESV does not assume that Jesus was slapped or struck on the face. The underlying Greek in this verse uses ραπισματα (rhapisma, struck, given blows, or slapped). The definition of rhapisma means that one is given a blow, struck with the hand, or struck with the palm or flat part of one’s hand. It may also imply that one is struck with a rod or staff or a scourge. If Jesus was struck with the flat part of the hand, then one may more accurately assume that Jesus was slapped in the face. The NLT1 rendered this as “hit him with their fists.” The NET bible’s rendering used “struck him repeatedly in the face.” In this verse, I prefer the ESV’s rendering.

John 19:6

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, Crucify him, crucify him! Pilate said to them, Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.

When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

When the chief priests and their officers saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said, “You take him and crucify him! Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him!”

John 19:6

v.6a: The NRSV, RSV, ESV revise it to “crucify him” to add clarification that they referred to Jesus. The NASB is most literal with the Greek in rendering “crucify, crucify” without the “him”, as this is not in the Greek. The T/NIV and HCSB also use “crucify, crucify.”

The ESV, NASB and RSV use the word “officers” but the NRSV is more interpretive in stating that it was the (temple) police were present with the chief priests. The HCSB also render it as “temple police.” The Greek word υπηρεται (huperetes, servant) can mean servant, officers, attendants, or an aid or assistant to the minister or king. The wording of “temple police” unnecessarily conjures an image that there were temple authorities (as in jail wardens or bar bouncers) rather than servants or assistants. I cannot imagine the temple calling for the rough and tumble type of temple police. (The only time I’ve seen temple police is with televangelists with undercover guards with earpieces attached). I feel the NASB and ESV’s usage of “officers” is more correct.

John 19:7

he has made himself the Son of God.

he has claimed to be the Son of God.

He made Himself out to be the Son of God

he claimed to be the Son of God!

v.7: The ESV (and HCSB) used: “He made Himself the Son of God.” This seems to be a little tricky. The ESV is most literal. The word “claimed” is not in the Greek but was added by the NRSV and the NET (and T/NIV) to add clarity. To make oneself the Son of God may not make sense. Would someone who is already the Son of God need to make oneself into the Son of God? It seems clear that the Jews meant to say that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This is why the most literal rendering may not always make sense. The NASB took the happy medium by maintaining the word “made/make” but added “made himself out to be the Son of God.” I prefer the NASB’s rendering of this verse because it maintains the word “make.”

John 19:12

If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.

“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor.

“If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar.

“If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar!

v. 12: Why did the NRSV change the word to “emperor”? Most translations use Caesar, as this is in the Greek.

Overall, the NASB is still the most literal. The ESV places second in this but is still clear. Although all three have used additional wording to add clarification, it seems that the NRSV has taken the less literal approach in this verse, which surprised me a bit.

8 thoughts on “Formal equivalence comparison #3: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV–John 19”

  1. I think it was changed likely for the sake of clarity, or because they though it might sound good to our ears. But sometimes simplicity is good too.


  2. “Crucify, crucify!” sounds much better as a crowd chant than “Crucify him, crucify him!” This is an interesting case where the formal equivalence translators have made an unnecessary departure from literalness probably because they are failing to take into account the rhetorical context and tending to flatten everything into propositions.


  3. TC, I think you’re right about ἐποίησεν having the nuance of claim. But I think the NASB managed to get the right meaning without having to use the word “claim,” which is why I give kudos to NASB.

    Hey, youre keeping points here with my selection of the NASB arent you? If I can explain my tally for the NASB, it lost it on 19:3 but did well on 19:6, 12 and got an A+ 19:7…that’s a bonus point just like they give in high school.


  4. Nathan, yes, I think “and [they] gave him a beating” would be correct too.

    The name “Caesar” is so common that I don’t think “emporer” would add any clarity. I think NRSV’s use of “emporer” takes away from the distinctiveness the writer intended.

    …maybe I should add in the HCSB for your sake? 😉


  5. Kevin,

    On 19:3 I like the NET on this one, for it brings out the sense of the imperfect tense quite nicely.

    BDAG has “a blow on the face with someone’s hands.”

    On 19:6 I like the NASB; Adding “him” is unnecessary, since it is quite evident from the context that it’s Jesus.

    On 19:7 I agree that it’s “tricky,” but anyone of these translations can work. I don’t be “claim” is an addition. I believe poiew has that nuance, as is reflected in NET/NRSV.

    On 19:12, with the exception of the NRSV, the others can work for me. Why do you say that the NASB is the most literal here?


  6. Like you, I also much prefer the ESV for 19:3. In the defense of the NASB they put “in the face.” in italics denoting that it is not in the Greek. I don’t see why face or hands is mentioned in translation as there is a simple English equivalent. I would prefer if the Greek ambiguity was retained during translation into my local English:

    and [then] gave him a beating.

    I am also similarly perplexed by the use of police in translating 19:6, what is the thought behind that? I probably prefer the NASB here.

    In 19:7 I prefer the NASB word choice as well.

    I agree that the NRSV change to emperor is confusing as well. Surely Caesar is not that unfamiliar of a term in English…

    Really enjoying the latest comparison. I noticed that your inclusion of the NET in the top four didn’t net itself nearly as many comments as the HCSB did (wink).


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