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 Moreover, I would prefer using “who” instead of the outdated “whom.”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

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

7 thoughts on “Formal equivalence comparison #2: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – John 18”

  1. Kevin,

    I Like the NRSV on John 18:4.

    On v. 28, I’ll go with the NASB.

    On v. 36, I’ll take the NRSV. ἐντεῦθεν is an adv. in reference to a source (BDAG), so “from here” is good.

    On v. 37 I’ll go with the ESV. I do not see “purpose” as an extra word. Rather I see it as a suitable translation of the idiomatic εἰς τοῦτο, “for this,” “for this reason,” “for this purpose.”

    I find the TNIV just as formal in these verses and even smoother in reader.

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  2. TC, thanks for your input. In looking back after writing this post, I would have to agree with you on (v.36b) that “from here” (NRSV) at the end of v.36b is better. But for v.36a, I still like NASB and ESV.

    I like HCSB’s rendering (v.37) of “I was born for this”. It is simple and literal and yet accurate and doesn’t need to use “this reason” or “this purpose.” And it seems to make it’s point more directly than the NASB or NRSV. The TNIV is very different because it puts it in the positive sense: “my kingdom is from another place” so it renders it quite differently from the Greek. I definitely agree that the TNIV is a smoother read but not necessarily always as formal as these translations.

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  3. On 36a either “of” or “from” would work as a translate of “ek.” I guess smoothness would be the decider.

    Looking at the Greek word order and the HCSB, I’ll have to agree with. Word order: “I for this was born and for this I came into the world.” In the Greek the emphasis is on “I.”

    Point taken on TNIV’s v.36, rendering the Greek as a positive.

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  4. The thing that sticks out most in my mind is the substitution for Praetorium. I prefer to have the historical terms used as opposed to trying to change the them to a more modern equivalent as I think the effort fails (one horrid example is the KJV penny for denarius).

    Another thing I wanted to mention that you touched on is this: For a more formal sounding English, “Whom do you seek?” is very appropriate and reads nicely. However current usage where I live it would be spoken as “Who are you looking for?” The route the NRSV chooses fails on both ends in my opinion, even if it is grammatically superior. Who says whom, honestly?

    I don’t really feel strongly about any of the other examples, though I am happy to see your inclusion of the HCSB in the relevant places. Looking forward to your next comparison.

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    1. “Who are you looking for?” and “Whom are you looking for?” are meaning completely different. Though people misuse every day, Bible should not allow any room for misinterpretation.

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  5. v.36a: TC, you’re right, “of” or “from” is correct. εκ του κοσμου means “out of the world” or “from the world.” But for me the decider is not necessarily smoothness but theological. I prefer “of this world” because it connotes the idea that God’s kingdom is not of the same essence as this world (flesh and blood), but it can reside in this world (heavenly realm). To me, “from this world” connotes that God’s kingdom is not of the same essence (flesh and blood), nor is it in this world (heavenly realm). It conveys the idea that God’s kingdom is so far separated from this world. But that’s just me.

    Jesus was born into this world so he is not so far completely removed. He lived, and still lives in this world, and even created the world (John 1:10).

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  6. Nathan, you should take a look at the NLT’s substitution of the measure and weights. It uses miles, feet and pounds too. Personally, I would prefer that modern equivalent of weights and measures be footnoted instead.

    I also think a simple “Who are you looking for?” is best. Even the HCSB didn’t use it when they could have. They came close though. I tried to include some mention of the HCSB too because it is a really good translation and borders on close to being formal. I would say it’s more formal than the TNIV.

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