Formal equivalence comparison #2: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – John 18

The comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition continues with the Gospel of John, chapter 18.

John 18:4

ESV:
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, Whom do you seek?

NRSV:
Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”

NASB:
So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”

RSV:
Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”

v. 4: The NRSV’s contemporary usage of “looking for” instead of “seek” is better. The NASB sounds more awkward in its rendering of: “all the things that were coming upon Him.” The ESV’s “all that would happen to him” or the NRSV’s “all that was to happen to him” flows better. Moreover, I would prefer using “who” instead of the outdated “whom.”

John 18:28

ESV:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

NRSV:
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.

NASB:
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.

RSV:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Ca’iaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover.

In v.28a, the NASB is the most literal because the Greek uses . The ESV adds “house of Caiaphas” from simply “Caiaphas.” The NRSV makes it sound contemporary by revising it to “Pilate’s headquarters.” The NASB’s literalness forfeits some of the clarity used in: “governor’s headquarters” or “Pilate’s headquater’s.” These headquarters would include the governor’s residence, military barracks, and outdoor court of judgment.

v. 28b: Entering the house of a gentile, where the law was never kept, would make a Jewish person ritually unclean, and therefore, unable to eat the passover meal. The NRSV also added “ritual defilement” instead of simply “defiled”. This understanding helps the reader to differentiate it from being physically dirtied. The T/NIV also chose to clarify this in using “ceremonial uncleanness.” But if one likes more clarity with the additional words, one must give up some literalness. In this passage, the NASB is most literal, and the NRSV is more dynamic, and the ESV is in-between.

John 18:36

ESV:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

NRSV:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

NASB:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

RSV:
Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”

In v.36, I prefer the NASB and ESV usage of “of this world.” The usage of “from this world” in the NRSV conjures the image that Jesus’ kingdom was completely from another entity world, as if it was from outer space or another planet. I do not believe that the kingdom of God is so completely separate from our immediate world because the kingdom of God is here on this earth today, but it is not of the same essence or form. The rendering of “of this world” still implies that the kingdom of God is here on earth but leaves room for an understanding that it is not in the world’s physical realm or form, or under our political governance and control. The T/NIV and HCSB also uses “of this world.” In v.36b, when Jesus repeats where his kingdom is from, he actually says in the Greek “My kingdom is not from here.” The NASB came closest to word-for-word literalness saying: “is not of this realm.” The HCSB comes closer in saying: “My kingdom does not have its origin here.”

John 18:37

ESV:
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

NRSV:
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

NASB:
Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

RSV:
Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”

v. 37: For the sake of interpretive clarity, all three translations—NASB, ESV and NRSV—inserted a word or two into the passage that is not in the Greek. The ESV added “purpose”. The NRSV added “belongs to.” The NASB added “correctly.” The NET bible follows the ESV and NRSV in adding a few words for clarity:

“…For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

How does one define accuracy? Accuracy should never be used to describe a bible translation. If one defines accuracy by factoring in clarity, then the NRSV or ESV is most accurate. However, if one defines accuracy by the factor of word-for-word literalness, then the NASB is most accurate. Accuracy is subjective and determined by how you define it so we should not speak of accuracy when describing certain bible translations.

For my purpose of selecting the most formal equivalent (literal) translation based on this passage, the NASB wins this round.

Formal equivalence comparison #1: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – Isaiah 53:5

This comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition will begin with the passage of Isaiah 53:5.

The Hebrew word for שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”) is traditionally rendered as peace. The ESV uses the word peace, the NASB uses well-being, and the NRSV use whole. However, all three are also correct. It might also be translated as completeness, soundness, welfare, or health. Peace is the traditional rendering of the word shalom. The KJV used peace, as well as, T/NIV and HCSB. Chastisement for our peace (ESV), or results in peace, is different from chastisement of our peace. Chastisement that makes one whole (NRSV) is also different from chastening for our well-being (NASB). Whether the original intent of the writer in using shalom to refer to peace, or to wholeness, or to wellbeing, may be indeterminable.

ESV:
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed

RSV:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.

NASB:
But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

NRSV:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed

I think the NRSV incorrectly chose to use punishment instead of chastisement (ESV, RSV) or chastening (NASB). The lexicon defines the Hebrew word muwcar as discipline, chastening, nurture, correction, instruction, rebuker. The word for punishment is not muwcar but avon or chattah. Although punishment and chastisement are related, they seem to have slightly different connotations. Punishment has a stronger and firmer feel of discipline than chastisement. When God chooses to discipline his children because he loves them; that is chastisement to me, and not so much punishment. The words discipline and correction might also be possibilities but they may not necessarily convey the idea of a more pain-filled chastisement that the despised, rejected, and suffering one experienced. The choice of words seems to be debatable, but personally, I prefer chastisement (ESV) or chastening (NASB).

In v.5b, the NASB chose to use scourging instead of bruises (NRSV), and stripes (ESV). The T/NIV and HCSB both used wounds. I prefer wounds or scourging because we do not know exactly what kind of wounds were inflicted, i.e, stripes or bruises? If we read Christ into this Isaiah passage, stripes from the whipping would seem to make sense. But do we want to read Christ into Isaiah? Did the NRSV intentionally use bruises in order to avoid conjuring the image that the suffering one necessarily received stripes? I think it might be a stretch that one could also view bruises as the same as stripes from whipping. I would prefer to leave it more generic with wounds or scourging. But I will tend toward prefering scourging (NASB) because it may also imply a generic form of whipping.

In v.5a, the use of pierced may also be reading Christ into this Isaiah passage because it conjures the image that Jesus Christ was pierced by the Roman soldier at the cross. The ESV and N/RSV may have intentionally, and even unnecessarily, steered away from reading Christ into this passage. The NASB’s rendering of pierced (as also T/NIV and HCSB) but the ESV and NRSV went the safe route with wounded. However, pierced may also be just as accurate as wounded. Another possibility is to be wounded (fatally). Again, the original intent of the writer is indeterminable. I prefer the ESV and NRSV’s rendering of wounded.

In this verse of Isaiah 53:5, there is no clear winner and cannot be based on only one verse. The comparison will continue.

Search for a formal translation: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV

In the future, I will be blogging on formal equivalent translations doing a comparison of how it renders specific scriptural passages. The NASB, ESV, and NRSV are all very good, and currently, I refer to all three in by comparisons. There are many evangelicals who swear by the accuracy of the NASB and will not use any other. Although formal translations do not necessarily mean accuracy, they are useful because they more closely match the underlying Greek. Some bible readers from mainline churches like to read the NRSV just because it is largely a product of translators from mainline churches. Bible readers from the Reformed tradition have a tendency to favor the ESV. It is the newest translation of the three, but newer does not necessarily mean better.

The ESV is a direct revision of the RSV and is an update of the old ASV. Since the ESV has been revised and translated by evangelical scholars, it has gained a larger following of evangelicals and is now one of the top-selling modern translations. The NRSV is also an updated version of the RSV. In my study, I’ve noticed that scholars on the NRSV seems to have done more work than the translators of the ESV. The NASB, like the RSV, is also a direct revision of the old ASV. Translators of the NASB have done an excellent job and notably so. I think the NASB updated and the NRSV do not sound as awkward as the ESV and RSV because they have done more fine tuning work.

Surprisingly, as a newer translation, the ESV still sounds awkward in some places. It is obvious that ESV translators have not done as much work on it as the NRSV or NASB. But with literal translations, it is almost impossible to avoid sounding wooden. Despite some awkward places, it is still readable and a very trustworthy translation. Its updated scholarship is important but it should not be seen as a measuring stick of the translation’s quality. It should only be considered as one of the factors. The overall quality of the translation work is most important.

Besides the ESV, NRSV, and NASB, there are not many other formal equivalent translations that are as readable and use today’s language. Literal translations may not be as popular as dynamic or intermediate translations because most bible readers may prefer a more dynamic translation for regular devotional reading. For this, I personally prefer an intermediate translation like the TNIV (HCSB is good too) and also a dynamic translation like the NLT. But for in-depth study, I still feel comfortable having a formal translation at hand. Formal translations will always be around and I, as many bible lovers and readers, am on a search for what I think is the best one. We may never be able to find one, but at least, we might be able to find a favorite one.

The ESV Literary Study Bible

The Literary Study Bible (LSB) was most recently published and released by Crossway on September 14, 2007. It is based on the English Standard Version (ESV). As far as I know, the LSB seems to be in a class of its own and should get high marks for originality because it is aimed for those who appreciate literature for its own sake. The ESV-LSB may be the type of study bible that readers of literature have been looking for. Its commentary takes a literary perspective from a divinely-inspired literary approach, and will feel like a breath of fresh air for those who may not have a deeper bible-reading background. This way of reading scripture makes the bible not only a useful book for instruction but also allows us to enjoy it as aesthetic literature. As far as I know, it has never been seen in a study bible before. Finally, someone from an evangelical background recognizes that it is okay to appreciate the bible as a literary work. It is really neat to see a study bible speak of scripture using terms like genre, literary subject matter, archetypes, motifs, style, rhetoric, imagery, metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion, irony, wordplay, hyperbole, personification, paradox, pun, artistic form, design, contrast, coherence, and symmetry.

From an evangelical perspective, I recognize the value of this study bible as something a post-modern reader of modern literature would appreciate. As a conservative evangelical, I was taught at a young age that the bible is primarily useful for moral and religious instruction, this study bible will come as a breath of fresh air for me personally. I believe that the ESV Literary Study Bible will be one that literature fans will enjoy reading in future decades. Although I am not a regular ESV reader, it may actually help pique more interest in me to start reading from the ESV translation as part of my staple diet. What makes the LSB unique, in my opinion, is that it recognizes the bible as divinely-inspired while also recognizing the bible as literature. Certainly the literary approach to reading the bible is only one way, but it is not the only way. Traditionally, theology has been using the critical-historical approach, which has been limited to scholars sitting in the ivory towers of theological schools and seminaries. Most Christians have recognized the bible as a religious instructional book but not many Christians also recognize it as literature. In the preface, the editors try to debunk some of the fallacies associated with this approach by explaining that to read the bible as literature does not mean that the bible should be seen as written by common or unholy inspiration. This should not be so, according to the editors of the LSB. The editors also apologetically defend that the literary approach to bible reading should not be associated primarily with liberal theology. The editors are Dr. Leland Ryken, who is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, who is a pastor and author. Their theology is evangelical through-and-through.

What is this literary approach? The preface (available online at http://www.esvliterarystudybible.org/) tries to explain to the reader what this literary approach. A person who has studied literature or English would more likely have an appreciation for the Literary Study Bible. The literary approach to reading literature has actually been in use in some academic disciplines for a while now. It has only recently been used by contemporary theology in the last decade or so. From an academic perspective, the literary approach is a new approach to studying theology and so it seems fitting for today’s post-modern bible readers who want to read and understand the scriptures from a literary perspective. In seminary, I took a class that approached the bible as literature but it was done from a liberal humanistic approach that did not recognize its divine inspiration. This study bible, however, does recognize the bible as being written from divine inspiration. The market for a literary study bible might be limited, and this might be a determining factor in its future sales. There are already so many study bibles out there already but the LSB is quite unique. It is different from regular study bibles, e.g., T/NIV Study Bible, NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Thompson-Chain Reference. Good job Drs. Ryken and Crossway for producing a ground-breaking work. My post is intended only as a commentary on the ESV-LSB. For an excellent and detailed review of the LSB, see The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and also see Adrian Warnock’s comment.

TNIV vs. ESV: Who is winning so far?

I have tried not to get too involved with the battle of the bibles but here I am again with another post on it. I love my bibles so I can’t help it; it’s almost like a sport but with a religious twist to it. The TNIV bible sales are picking up and I think that it has the potential to become as popular as the NLT. Thus far, the TNIV is on its way to becoming more popular than the ESV. I went to a couple of bible bookstores in town and browsed their shelves. In the first bookstore, there were at least 20 copies on the shelf. In the second bookstore, there were at least the same number. This says a lot about how the sales of the TNIV are going. Just from my observation of the shelves of the local bible bookstores, I can safely predict that bible sales of the TNIV are going to increase steadily in the next few years. What about the ESV? Well, it’a dramatic difference with the ESV. One store had only 3 copies of the ESV. A second store in town also had about 3 copies. It was really pathetic to see only 3 copies of the ESV in each store. Even the HCSB, God’s Word, and the Message bibles had more copies than the ESV. If this doesn’t say something about the bible sales of the ESV, I don’t know what else it can mean. It has now been a few years since the ESV has arrived onto the bible scene but it has not made a big impact in bible sales–at least where I live. Last month, I spoke to the regional representative from the Canadian Bible Society (Canadian counterpart to American Bible Society) and asked him how the sales of the ESV were going in this region. He told me that it was not going very well at all, and it seems to be the same story in other areas of the country too-at least in this part of Canada. And I haven’t even mentioned the big box bookstores yet. They seem to carry more of the TNIV than the ESV.

Take a look at the uncanny similarities from Romans 8:2-5:

ESV:
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

RSV
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

I don’t see how the ESV has differentiated itself enough from the RSV. What value has the ESV brought that makes it better than the RSV? There are some value-added improvements but they are not substantial enough for it to be considered a large enough improvement over the RSV. If the future 2nd edition of the ESV does not contain more improvements over the first edition, it will not have a chance against the TNIV. It is not differentiated enough from the RSV for people to feel justified to make a purchase. If the ESV translators had made more of an effort to improve or change the way it reads from the RSV, it might be a different story today. Sure there is not a huge difference between the TNIV and the NIV but at least the TNIV translators have made more changes in the area of gender-neutral language, plus some textual improvements over the NIV. These changes have given the TNIV more value over the NIV. In the end, when it all comes down. It is marketing that makes or breaks a bible (or even a book for that matter), but the quality also has a large part in its success too. In the world of business marketing, what differentiates one product from the other is in the value it provides for the reader. Perhaps, in the future, the publisher of the ESV should push for bigger improvements. So who is winning so far? You tell me.

TNIV and ESV: new bible translations–Part 2

The ESV translation is a very good translation that has not yet been noticed by many in the mainstream bible-reading community. Much of the text is very similar to the RSV, and many parts of it have even remained RSV word-for-word. (Try doing a parallel scripture search and you’ll see the striking similarities). The ESV translators (ESV blog) have made many corrections and improvements over the RSV due to more current scholarship and discoveries; the same goes for the TNIV (TNIV blog). I think many will like the ESV’s dual benefits of literalness and its readabilty, fluidity and beauty of the English language. It is much more readable than the literal New American Standard (NASB). Those who use the NASB for indepth study may find they will really like the ESV for its readability. The ESV is also more literal than the TNIV, which is a more of an idea-for-idea (dynamic) translation Its word-for-word literalness brings it closer to the original Hebrew/Greek than the TNIV, and yet it reads more smoothly than the NASB. So now that the ESV has come around, it just might become a favorite translation for many. Its readership is slowly becoming more familiar with the evangelical crowd but I don’t see many displayed yet on the shelves of Christian bookstores. It seems like it is gradually becoming the standard amongst many Reformed readers and churches. And the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church almost switched over entirely to the ESV but decided to stick with the NIV. Mainliners who read the RSV might also find an easy transition over to the ESV since it uses the RSV as sort of a platform. I predict that in the long-term, there is a bright future for both the ESV and TNIV. Both versions are the work of solid evangelical scholars; and both versions have been endorsed by many well-known figures. For December 2006, the ESV ranks in the #5 position, and the TNIV is #7 . For the current top 10 rankings, check out the CBA website. And for more in-depth discussion of various translations, check out the Better Bibles blog. You will find other blogs talking about their favorite translation. Blogger Adrian Warnock is a huge fan of the ESV and has extended discussions about it on his blog archives in 2005.

The case, for and against, bible’s use of gender-inclusive language: TNIV vs. ESV

In evangelical circles, the debate between the Today’s NIV (TNIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) is being fought by its translators and supporters. The ESV and the TNIV are the latest new translations created by Good News/Crossway and the Int’l Bible Society. Though the ESV is a literal translation, it does use some gender-inclusive language throughout but is not nearly as gender-inclusive as the TNIV. The ESV translators wanted to remain faithful to the intended meaning of the original biblical languages. Dr. Wayne Grudem, editor and a translator of the ESV, said on an interview with James Dobson (Focus on the Family), that the TNIV changed 3,600 male references into gender-inclusive references. On the other side of the debate, the supporters of the TNIV believe that references to he in the original Greek language was actually intended to refer to both genders. This could very well be true. It is reasonable to assume that during the time of New Testament writers, a male-dominated patriarchal society neglected to address women directly, even though they may have truly intended to be referring to both men and women. It would be hard pressed to think that the apostle Paul did not intend to speak to women. The TNIV’s rationale for using gender-inclusive language is to correct this imbalance so that scripture speaks to the originally intended audience, which would include both men and women. Today’s postmodern generation expects to be treated equally and respectfully. Either way, both rationales are legitimate. Both sides make a very good case either for, or against, their philosophy of translation. We should look past the differences to see that both sides are doing our bible reading community a favor. I am not polarizing the issue of gender-inclusivity; in fact, I am trying to depolarize it by recognizing the benefits of both philosophies regarding gender-inclusivity. One side is preserving and protecting the traditional meaning of the Holy Scriptures, and the other side, is making sure that the Holy Scriptures speak with relevance and is properly directed to an ignored sector of the writer’s intended audience.

On both sides of the debate, all translators do want to be true to scripture, whether to the originally intended meaning (i.e., ESV, NIV, NASB), or to the originally intended audience (i.e., TNIV, NRSV). While both sides fight it out, I will sit at home, and try to enjoy all my bible translations, the ESV, NIV, TNIV and NRSV. It is no secret that there is also the financial motivation to grab a bigger market share, which is why they are battling it out. Zondervan, now owned by HarperCollins, is a huge company that has deep pockets and can do hugely powerful marketing campaigns; they publish numerous other bible versions other than the TNIV/NIV. GoodNews/Crossway, on the other hand, is much smaller; the ESV seems to be the only translation they publish.