Search for a formal translation: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV — a conclusion

After blogging on this series on the three formal equivalent translations, I cannot say there is a clear #1 winner because it all depends on what a person wants in a translation. This may be a post-modern approach but I do respect each person’s preference. All three translations are very good but I do not want to minimize any of their strengths so I cannot prescribe a “best translation”. I believe it is a subjective and personal decision because each person wants something different in a translation.

The NASB is definitely the most literal, the NRSV is the least literal of the three literal translations, and the ESV is somewhere in-between. If one wants the most literal word-for-word precision (in alignment with the Greek) and do not mind the choppiness in reading, plus a conservative theological outlook, then the NASB is best. If you want a fairly high degree of literalness but without the awkward choppiness of the NASB, and a conservative evangelical theological outlook, then the ESV is the best. If you want a fairly literal translation and even greater readability than the ESV, plus gender-neutral language, then the NRSV is best. So here is my individual conclusion to each of the three excellent translations.

NASB
What surprised me is that there have been several times when the NASB has superfluously added a word or two to the text where it does not exist in the original language. But then, the NRSV does this too. The amount of meticulous translation work done on the NASB is incredible. From a detailed perspective, it is definitely the most literal in the majority of cases; and overall, from a broader perspective, it is still the most literal of the three. It is excellent for careful exegetical bible studies. The NASB has a stellar reputation for very good reasons. It is literal yet accurate. The literalness in the NASB is in itself, its own strength, and at the same time, it is also its own weakness. Literalness makes it less readable, but nevertheless, it is still readable to the average person. This is why it has been the formal equivalent translation of choice for conservatives/evangelicals who have a high view of scripture and who do a lot of exegetical bible studies. It has been underestimated by mainline and secular academic settings in the past, and this is too bad. In my opinion, it deserves greater respect than what it has received. In conservative-evangelical seminaries, the NASB is still highly regarded.

ESV
The ESV seems to be the leanest in terms of wordiness—that is, it seems to use fewer words than the NASB and NRSV to say the same thing. Even though it is less wordy, it amazes me that it is also more readable than the NASB. In future revisions, if they could get rid of its inverted negatives, the ESV would be even more readable. The ESV is second in literalness after the NASB. This makes it excellent for indepth exegetical bible studies. Another strength of the ESV is that it is the most up-to-date in scholarship. Like the NRSV when it first came out, ESV translators also made distinctly unique decisions regarding the rendering of certain passages. This is why it is useful to consult different translations (however, it may be difficult to know why the translators rendered certain words the way they did). The ESV is a scholarly translation and will become known as such. I predict that it will gain a greater respectability from mainline/secular academia than the NASB ever did. Since its translators are conservative/evangelical, like the NASB, it will inevitably become the pride of evangelicals.

NRSV
The NRSV is not as literal as the NASB and is slightly less literal than the ESV; but yet, it is very accurate. Accuracy and literalness should not be equated as the same thing. The language of the NRSV is also a strength because it makes it more readable than the NASB, and even the ESV. The NRSV translators made choices to go with slightly different rendering from the traditional ones and that may be due to a more liberal Christian worldview or just a different way of handling the original text. I think the difference in worldview is less of a factor than the way the text is handled. The translators of the NRSV did a lot of work in making improvements over the RSV, even more so than what the ESV translators have done with the RSV, in my opinion. The NRSV is greatly enhanced in its readability over the RSV, and has increased in accuracy too.

In my past, the two translations I usually consult the most are the NASB and NRSV but this should not be seen as a slight to the ESV. I have only done so because I became accustomed to pulling the NASB and NRSV off the shelf first but this should not reflect my opinion of any of the three. I have recently started to consult the ESV much more often because I have discovered its excellence. All three translations are very good, and they are each unique in their own ways. So my search for a formal equivalent translation will continue on sometime into the future.

Formal equivalence comparison #4: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – Acts 2

The comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition continues with Acts chapter 2. This is the last of this comparison series between the NASB, ESV and NRSV.


Acts 2:22-23

ESV:
v.22: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—
v.23: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

NRSV:
v.22: “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—
v.23: this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

NASB:
v.22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
v.23: this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

NET:
v.22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know –
v.23: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.

v.22: the NRSV’s gender-inclusive rendering of ἀνήρ (anhr) has curiously become “You that are Israelites.” This is a rather loose handling of gender-inclusive language. This is not literal, nor accurate. I prefer the rendering of “people of Israel” of the TNIV and NLT.

v.23: it is interesting to see the contrast between the NASB’s use of “predetermined plan” and the ESV and NRSV’s use of “definite plan.” Is there a difference between “predetermined” and “definite”? I think so. Merriam-Webster defines the word “definite” as: “having distinct or certain limits” or “clearly expressed as to leave no doubt about the meaning.” In today’s modern English, “definite” does not accurately express the intent of the writer. The rendering here should express the idea of a pre-determined plan. The word “destined” would be better than “definite.” “Predestined” may cause readers to presume the doctrine of double predestination. The TNIV uses “deliberate” and the NLT “prearranged.” I prefer the NASB’s rendering of “predetermined.”


Acts 2:25

ESV:
For David says concerning him, I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

NRSV:
For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

NASB:
“For David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.’

NET:
‘I saw the Lord always in front of me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.

v.25: the NASB’s rendering of “in my presence” is overly interpretive and is not characteristic of its hallmark of literalness. “Before me” (ESV, NRSV) or “in front of me” (NET) is more accurate.

Acts 2:29

ESV:
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David…

NRSV:
Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David…

NASB:
“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David…

NKJV:
“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David…

v.29: The NRSV’s rendering of “fellow Israelites” is inaccurate. This is a case where the NRSV has mishandled its gender-inclusive language in its rendering of ανδρες αδελφοι (andros adelphoi). The NASB’s “brethren” is also more acceptable than “fellow Israelites.” But for gender-inclusivity, TNIV’s “brothers and sisters” is better. It is interesting to note that the NKJV used “men and brethren.” The NKJV can sometimes be gender-inclusive in some places and perhaps this may be an attempt to translate ανδρες αδελφοι (andros adelphoi, men brothers) to include men and women in its rendering of brethren. Many will say that Peter is referring to male brethren, as opposed to female brethren because the Greek word andros traditionally means male. In our gender-inclusive bible-reading community, we have accepted ἀνήρ to mean both men and women. It is interesting to note that the NLT used “brothers and sisters” in v.22 but used “brothers” in v.29. I’m not sure why this is so.


Acts 2:40-41

ESV:
v.40: And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation.

v.41: So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

NRSV:
v.40: And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

v.41: So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

NASB:
v.40: And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”

v.41: So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

NET:
v.40: With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!”

v.41: So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

v.40: The NRSV’s rendering of “arguments” is supposed to add clarification but it has a different meaning from “words” (ESV, NASB). But do we know for certain that it was with arguments that Peter was speaking, or could it have been just plain speech? Can one testify with just words or plain speech without making an argument? It seems to me that “argument” might be overly interpretive. The gospel does not necessarily have to present a rationalistic argument in order to testify or bring witness to the living Christ. The gospel is powerful because it is Holy Spirit who brings witness to Christ—not necessarily a rationalistic argument as our philosophical humanistic culture would suggest. This might be difficult concept for us today since it is popular to believe in a rationalistic Christian worldview.


v.41: The NRSV uses “welcomed his message” rather than “received his word” (ESV, NASB), or “accepted his message (T/NIV, NET). The original intent was to express a welcoming response to the word of God. “Received his word” does not necessarily express a willingness to receive the word or message. “Accepted his message” might be slightly better; and “gladly received his word” (NKJV) is interpretive but better still. “Believed what Peter said” (NLT) is overly interpretive because it connotes that it was a matter of receiving by believing. I prefer the NRSV’s rendering of “welcomed his message” may be closer to the original intent but even the use of “message” is interpretive because the Greek uses λογον (logon). We can safely assume that the word is inclusive of a message. I would prefer “welcomed his word” because this is literal yet accurately expresses the intent of the writer.


This concludes this comparison series on a search for a formal equivalent translation (NASB, ESV and NRSV). I will provide a conclusion in my next post.

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

ESV:

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

NRSV:

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

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

NET:
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

ESV:
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.

NRSV:
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.”

NASB:
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.”

NET:
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

ESV:
he has made himself the Son of God.

NRSV:
he has claimed to be the Son of God.

NASB:
He made Himself out to be the Son of God

NET:
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

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

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

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

NET:
“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.

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.

ASV (1901): symbolic of America’s historic spirit of independence

What is so American about the American Standard Version (ASV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB)? The ASV was originally called the “Standard American Edition of the Revised Version” (1881). The American revisers of the Revised Version modified the name by dumping “English” and adding “American” into its name–hence, we now have American Standard Version. I may be pushing it a little far but I think of the American Standard Version as a kind of symbolic representation of America’s historic spirit of independence from England. Here is a little of its history.

The idea of translating the Revised Version or English Revised Version (ERV) (1881) was initiated by a group of Anglican-Episcopal clergy who wanted a modern translation to replace the old KJV. They decided they’d had enough of the old archaic King James English so after calling a General Assembly in Canterbury, England on May 6, 1870, they began their work on the English Revised Version. The British revisers invited Americans to join them in this joint-effort with the formation of an American committee in 1871. Both British and American committees exchanged their revisions across the rough waters of the Atlantic and worked to harmonize their differences. The British told the American members that any remaining differences would be inserted into the back of an appendix for a stipulated time of 14 years. Americans would not be allowed to make revisions to the English Revised Version (1881-85) for 14 years. The British imposed this one-sided decision on the Americans. The American revisers had their hands tied by the publisher University Presses of England (see Preface). After the English Committee finished their work on the Old Testament in 1885, there was no intention, on behalf of the British, to ever amalgamate the readings in the appendix with future English editions. It sure doesn’t sound very fair, does it? A new reason for a belated-Boston Tea Party?! But the American revisers refused to have their revisional differences remain relegated in the “dungeons” of a never-looked-at appendix. After waiting 14 years, American revisers finally got their chance to release the American Standard Version. They had been working on it even before its actual release date in 1901. What may have begun as a united English-American project was to be declared separate from its British counterparts. The ASV is a result of American’s dissatisfaction toward the British committee who left them high and dry. They used and abused the hard work of American biblical scholars on the American committee. They took what was good, and dumped the leftovers into an appendix that was never intended to be used again. (See history of the RV by Michael Marlowe at http://www.bible-researcher.com).

When the ASV first came out in 1901, it was considered the most accurate bible translation in terms of formal-equivalence. Today, many more Greek manuscripts have become available since 1901. When the ASV was being translated, there were 1500 Greek NT manuscripts available to the translators, but today, there are four times as many available. Nevertheless, it is a translation to be honored because it became the foundation of several major translations: the RSV and the NASB; plus the Recovery Version, and the Amplified Version (which is so modified that it no longer reads anything like the ASV). It is interesting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses previously used the ASV between 1944-1963 but it was later bumped by their New World Translation. The reason they approved of the ASV was because it used “Jehovah” throughout rather than “LORD” as the name of God, e.g., “And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen.2:7). I do think it sounds kind of neat with “Jehovah God”. It was definitely a radical approach back then. Whether it’s right or wrong to do so is a debatable issue.

I have never personally seen a physical copy of the ASV (1901). To find an authentic historic copy of it is rare so I did some research and was surprised to learn that brand new copies of it are still available for sale today. There is only one publisher that publishes it: Star Bible located in Texas. So if you are nostalgic enough, you can get yourself a copy of the ASV, 1901 edition. I called them up and they told me they have been printing the ASV since 1990. They sell the ASV in genuine leather, bonded leather, and hardcover ($69.96, $59.95, $24.95).