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 Moreover, I would prefer using “who” instead of the outdated “whom.”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.

John 4:13-16 Did Jesus tell the woman at the well that living water is mainly for men?

In John 4:13-16, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus tells her that whoever drinks the water he gives will never thirst, and that a spring of water will well up or spring up into eternal life. In this passage, Jesus is clearly including the woman too. However, if the reader took Jesus at his word, one would receive a very different message, depending on the translation.

If we read from the NIV, NASB, HCSB, and ESV, it sounds like Jesus is offering the living water primarily to men (“him”). The woman proceeds to ask Jesus if she could be included in his offering of living water. Then Jesus tells her to fetch her husband and return, which almost sounds like her husband should be the primary receiver of this living water before she gets to have some.

However, if we read from the TNIV, NRSV, and NLT, it sounds quite different. It sounds like Jesus is offering the living water to anyone and he is not making it gender exclusive. Having first tasted or experienced this living water, Jesus then tells her to fetch her husband so that he may also taste this living water that she has already tasted first hand.

For those who do not read the bible and reads it for the first time, one might become a little confused by the repetitive use of the masculine gender pronouns of “him” and “he.” Sure the reader may eventually catch on that “he” and “him” is referring to both men and women; but if I was a new bible reader today, it would be much more understandable to read from a gender-neutral translation. Since we are no longer living in a bible-literate society, people will initially tend to understand the masculine pronouns as referring to men only. Experienced bible-readers may be able to get past the use of masculine gender pronouns in our traditional translations like the NIV, NASB, ESV, and HCSB; but translations like the TNIV or NLT would make it easier for the unseasoned bible-readers to understand.
_______________________________

but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (NIV)

But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again–ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.” “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.” (HCSB)

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” (NASB)

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman said to him, Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water. Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here. (ESV)

but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (TNIV)

but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” he woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” (NRSV)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. (NLT)

(The print above titled Living Water was done by artist Simon Dewey available at Christ-centered Art).

The TNIV: still timeless truth in today’s language?

I was informed about a new blog that calls itself the TNIV Truth. The blogger, who we now know is Wayne Leman, is hoping that the truth about the TNIV gets out there because there has been a lot of criticism about the translation. Like him and others, I also feel that the TNIV has taken overly heavy criticism from other “brothers and sisters.” Why can’t we all get along? I do feel bad about the onslaught of critique toward the TNIV. Its translators are accused of embarking on a liberal social agenda of feminizing the bible, which I am sure does not exist. Both the TNIV and NLT translation teams are still conservative. The names on the translation teams and where they are associated are evangelical. It is difficult to accuse the TNIV of having a left-leaning social agenda. It still renders some definitions of terms in a traditional way. Here is an example where the TNIV has continued using a traditional translation. The TNIV’s use arsenokoitai (Greek: “lying with men”) is rendered in a traditional non-gender neutral way. Note: the Greek use of arsenokoitai in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 is can be translated as “lying with men” (from Scott-Liddell lexicon); but if we use a gender-neutral approach, one could translate this as “lying with men and women”. Both the TNIV and NLT have kept the use of the term “homosexuality” rather than using it in a gender-neutral term like “sodomite” (RE: 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10). If we assume a gender-neutral approach, then the NRSV’s translation of “sodomite” might also be the gender-accurate translation because it is not necessarily a male-on-male act of sodomy. This is only one example where the TNIV and NLT have continued using a traditional approach in translation.

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.