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 more 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.

Advertisements

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.

61 thoughts on “Search for a formal translation: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV — a conclusion”

  1. Kevin, I’m in essential agreement with your conclusions on all three formal translations.

    The NASB was my first choice Bible for reading, studying and preaching. I was willing to overlook its awkwardness at times and inconsistencies.

    I never was a big user of the NRSV, but my Greek instructor loved it. But it’s the Bible of many academics.

    I had a difficult time accepting the ESV because of the anti-rhetoric against the TNIV, and then I thought it didn’t do enough with the RSV.

    But then I decided to give it a fair reading, and I must agree with you than I find it an excellent translation, but it will never become my primary Bible.

    Like

  2. I think your series has helped finally convince me that there is no right translation. Depending on what I’m looking at I usually go to one of a handful of translations to see alternative renderings. Lately it seems I’ve been doing a lot of comparison with the ESV, TNIV, HCSB, and most recently now the REB.

    So, what is your next series going to be?

    Like

  3. TC, I have a renewed respect for the NRSV. Both the ESV and NRSV are excellent because of their mixture of both readability and accuracy—something the NASB cannot claim. With the ESV, it sort of fills a void that the NASB cannot fill because it stands in between the NASB and HCSB-TNIV.

    I would have to say that, for me, the ESV has the potential for me to become a primary FE bible for a lot of people. Here’s why. If I was stranded on a deserted island and could choose only one FE translation translation to read for the rest of my lonesome life, and without a chance for a DE to read, I think I might go with the ESV. But with so many options available, I don’t think so.

    Like

  4. Nathan, I think my next series will be on the TNIV and HCSB. I might add in a third but I’m not sure what that might be.

    Do you have any suggestions for that third?

    Like

  5. If I’m stranded on an island, I’ll go with the NET, because of the numerous notes.

    Nathan, I know Elshaddai loves the REB, but I’ve never used it. I’ll have to check it out one day.

    Like

  6. TC, I’ll consider that idea of the NLTse.
    …and just make sure it’s the First edition NET or you’ll be stuck with the Reader’s edition without any notes.

    Like

  7. Kevin, you may consider ESV trustworthy, but I don’t think I will because of the evidence I have seen of wordings deliberately distorted to fit the translators’ theological presuppositions.

    As an example, see 2 Timothy 2:2, where ESV breaks its regular translation principles to render “men” rather than “people”, the only justification being a presupposition, in fact falsified by 1:5 and 3:14,15, that women can never be qualified to teach others. Yes, other translations have “men” here, but they use the word consistently in a generic sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kevin, I really appreciate these comparisons. I’m currently reading the TNIV Books of the Bible and (coincidentally) wondering how it compares to the HCSB, so the next series is perfect! 😛 What about the REB if you add a third?

    Which interlinear do you use?

    Like

  9. Thanks for doing this series, Kevin – it’s been interesting to see the differences. For a formal translation, I’m probably too ingrained with the NASB to ever consider the ESV or NRSV as a permanent change.

    I had started a TNIV/HCSB/NET/ISV “median translation comparison” post at one point in time, but never got around to doing anything with it.

    Another interesting bible translation comparison would be a “literary excellence” series, featuring the KJV, REB and New Jerusalem Bible (NJB). Throw in the older New English Bible and original Jerusalem Bible for reference.

    ElShaddai

    Like

  10. Peter, I agree. The ESV seems to be inconsistent in the way it renders anthropos for “people”. I checked only 1-2 Timothy, I found where it does render “people” is: 1 Tim. 2:1,2,4; 4:10; 6:5,9; 2 Tim.3:2,13. And where it renders “man” is: 1 Tim.2:5; 5:24; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:2,17. It uses “people” (63%) more often than “man/men” (38%).

    Despite this inconsistency, I would still consider it an excellent translation and trustworthy. Does a translation have to get it all right for it to be considered trustworthy?

    Like

  11. Peter said,

    Kevin, you may consider ESV trustworthy, but I don’t think I will because of the evidence I have seen of wordings deliberately distorted to fit the translators’ theological presuppositions.

    Peter, Do you know of any perfect translation? All translations have their shortcomings.

    While the ESV is not my primary text, I still find it an excellent translation.

    My primary text is the TNIV,and it too has it problems. Here’s one that I find interesting in the TNIV:

    προφήτης-a prophet

    προφῆτις-a prophetess

    But the TNIV doesn’t make a distinction.

    Like

  12. I just noticed this final report and so decided to edit my post and move it here.

    This was a very interesting experiment, and I would love to see it taken even further at some point in the near future, as these, IMHO are three of the very best translations available. I wonder though sometimes, if we have collectively, become overtly critical of every minute detail of a translation due to the fact that today we have so many choices of excellent ones (spoiled brats are we!).

    One thing we MUST remember is that the textual footnotes of a translation are every bit as important as the words chosen by the translators to use in the actual text.

    I also think something important for a main translation is having study materials (i.e. lexicons) keyed to it, which is my problem with my two favorites, the NRSV and ESV.

    All this being said, I think you got it right, in a nutshell Kevin. I greatly appreciate your efforts.

    I also would like to say, I think Peter is correct to a great extent about the obvious theological views of the ESV translators showing up in their choice of renderings. I`ve noticed this to be much more glaring in the ESV than the NRSV. I like the translation overall, and it is my second choice behind the NRSV(perhaps because they are a nice balance when read side by side?), though I still use the old RSV a lot too.

    Lastly, I would like to pose a question to you of much more erudition than myself. It is concerning a verse in Mark 13:14, in which it says “the abomination of desolation standing where HE ought not to be”, while other translations state “where IT ought not to be”.

    13:14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

    Is this an example of the conservative bias in the ESV that Peter and I are speaking of? Or is there a legitimate argument for translating he for it from the Greek? This is beyond me, as Strong`s and the like do not define articles such as these, and I`m no Greek scholar.

    Like

  13. Thanks for posting the interlinear titles Kevin. I need to invest in a new one, I had an old KVJ one, but it is boxed up somewhere from my last move I suppose (perhaps if I could locate it, it would`ve saved me from asking that question about the verse in Mark, as I am assuming neither IT nor HE are in the Greek). I need a newer one anyway, and one keyed to one of these two translations will be perfect.

    Like

  14. Kevin, I just ordered this book. Do you have any experience with it? It gets very high ratings from customers on Amazon. What I like about this one is that it has a full concordance in addition to the interlinear, plus it has Strong`s numbers above every word. Pardon the sidebar, just thought I`d share since you mentioned interlinears.

    Word Study Greek-English New Testament: with complete concordance (Hardcover)
    by Paul McReynolds (Editor)

    Like

  15. Oh btw, it also contains the NRSV in the margins.

    Word Study Greek-English New Testament: with complete concordance (Hardcover)
    by Paul McReynolds (Editor)

    Like

  16. L.Wells, when you said: “I would like to pose a question to you of much more erudition than myself.” I didn’t think you were talking to me. If you were then (blush blush). I am in no way a person of erudition. I am no Greek scholar myself either but I just try to work hard at it.

    I took a look at Mark 13:14 (οπου ου δει, where not ought) and this is what I think. Since δει is in the active present singular 3rd person, it could be translated as “where HE ought not” or “where IT ought not” (but I may be wrong). There is some ambiguity in Greek too. I don’t think this is a case of conservative bias—just a decision that could go either way. I found that T/NIV, HCSB, NASB also use “it.”

    I don’t have any experience with Word Study Greek-English New Testament by McReynolds but maybe someone else out there does. From what I gather from the Amazon reviews, it sounds really good because it has Strong’s numbers and a full concordance. I don’t think you can go wrong it.

    Like

  17. Kevin,

    Bravo! Excellent series. I also use the ESV (as my secondary (comparing, and occasionally reading, & taking to church) bible, my primary bible is the HCSB. I do find it to be literal enough, and yet very readable.

    Heck, I just bought another ESV this week, could not resist the pocket reference single column bible that just came out.

    If you are planning to do another series my vote would be:
    HCSB/TNIV/NET

    That would make for a great series. They are all about in the same category, and they are all great translations in their own right.

    Like

  18. TC, I think the TNIV may still accurate in its rendering of “prophet.” This may be due to the subjective interpretation of the translator, and not due to inaccuracy. I found that the TNIV and NRSV did not use the word “prophetess” in the NT at all. The ESV and HCSB two times; and NASB three times. The word “prophet” is masculine. With greek nouns, whether a dative plural noun ends with –ις or –ιν, depending on the declensions, it still means “prophet”. If I am right about this (and I might not be, in which case, I’d detract what I say), it doesn’t matter whether it is προφήτης (Lk.3:4) or προφῆτις (Lk.2:36) or προφητιν (Rev.2:20), it all means “prophet”…so maybe the TNIV is right?

    Like

  19. ElShaddai, maybe you should be doing that series on “literary excellence”?

    Thanks for ALL for your suggestions for an optional 3rd translation for my next series on TNIV vs HCSB: Robert G.(NET), Randy T.(ISV), Valerie(REB), TC(NLTse).

    Like

  20. Thank you for the interlinear links!

    Isn’t there a difference between perfect (error-free) and deliberately distorted? I just wish that I knew enough to tell the difference — which is why I’m so very grateful for the effort you’re putting into this. Thank you.

    Like

  21. Oh! May I change my vote to ISV? I’ve been wondering why no one talks about that one. 🙂 (okay, now I’ll just lurk *blush*)

    Like

  22. Kevin, this is a case where προφῆτις is only used in reference to females and not males. This form is nominative singular not dative anything. While προφήτης refers to males.

    We not speaking of diakonos that refers to both males and females.

    I think you should consult a lexicon on this one. Maybe you can tell me something I don’t know.

    Like

  23. Thanks for your help Kevin. As best I can recall, there was one other major translation that translated “he” instead of “it”. If I`m not mistaken it was the ASV……of course my 40 year ld memory could be a failing. Nevertheless, you answered my question, there simply seems to be leeway in the Greek is how a layman like myself might word it.

    I`m enjoying, and learning from everyone`s posts. Many thanks to all who contribute.

    Like

  24. Kevin, if you are doing a comparison of the TNIV and HCSB next I would strongly recommend NLTse for a third. I’ve actually been debating the best fourth translation, but are you only going to choose three next time?

    I’ll reserve further recommendation based on whether or not you are going to do a four-way layout again or not.

    Like

  25. Valerie, I’m excited to see you are reading The Books of the Bible as well. I try to promote it as much as possible because I love it so much. I am hoping and praying they make a nicer copy of it in a more traditional leather bound copy.

    Like

  26. Nathan, I’m trying to keep this third translation near the intermediate range between FE and DE. The NLTse is a DE. This might make the comparison more difficult to do…but I don’t know yet. What’s your 4th recommendation?

    Like

  27. TC, I was wrong about προφῆτις. I just checked my lexicon this morning and you are absolutely right. This is the feminine form for prophet. It’s interesting why the NRSV and TNIV would want to use “prophet” for προφῆτις. If the translators believe that the all-inclusive “prophet” is alright for προφῆτις, then why not “man” for aner? Seems like a double-standard sometimes, doesn’t it?

    Like

  28. It seems to me that all the gender inclusive translations are a little inconsistent about things like this prophet/prophetess issue. The ESV sometimes translates Adelphoi as brothers, sometimes brothers and sisters or something along those “inclusive” lines (shrug).

    However, I do believe these are much more accurate than the translations which insist upon applying the male gender even when both genders are obviously implied.

    One of the tough things for me for some time was the NRSV`s rendering “mortal” instead of the traditional “son of man” when speaking to, for example, Ezekiel. But a look to Strong`s and The NIV Exhaustive Concordance (man I wish they made one of these keyed to NRSV)seems to more than justify such a rendering IMHO.

    This is why the textual footnotes are just as important as the textual body.

    BTW, I posted a couple of comments under the God and gender post, let me know what you think.

    Like

  29. Kevin, that’s exactly my point. The TNIV is my primary text, but I think it’s off on this one.

    Even Dr. Don Carson, who is pro-TNIV, thought that it has done too much with the gender issue.

    Like

  30. Kevin, I think you’d like a comparison with the REB to the TNIV and HCSB.

    However I’ve been considering comparing CEV, ISV, and GNB as I’ve not seen any of them used in comparison before. I also have really enjoyed the NJB but almost no one has heard of it.

    Like

  31. Nathan, the REB is beginning to sound like a good choice even though it’s not very well known in North America.

    I think you should do that CEV, ISV, and GNB comparison.

    Like

  32. Have you ever compared the NAB with anything?

    The REB is one I`ve had some interest in for a while. Just never got around to picking up a copy to check it out, so I`d love to see that one compared.

    Like

  33. “Kevin, I think you’d like a comparison with the REB to the TNIV and HCSB.”

    Actually this lineup sounds very promising.

    Like

  34. No, I’ve never done a comparison with the NAB, NJB, ISV, or REB before. These are all less common translations in my circle of influence.

    Like

  35. I do have copies of the NAB and NJB, but honestly have never spent much time with them. I still like the REB, HCSB, and TNIV comparison as proposed by Nathan.

    Like

  36. ElShaddai, maybe you should be doing that series on “literary excellence”?

    I think I will… just need to select some appropriate verses and find a copy of the NJB to use.

    Like

  37. Oooooh! That sounds exciting ElSh. If you need a copy of the NJB, I picked mine up from Amazon for cheap and it has been nice enough to recommend. It’s nothing fancy for the price but if you want to buy a cheap copy for comparisons that is all that I use mine for at the moment. Hmm, it looks like the paperback is only $5 used as well, anyways…

    link

    Like

  38. I just found this…due to the ESV website linking to it. Very well done series. I also appreciate the comments about the NASB, even though somewhat more “wooden” in reading due to its literalness, still being readable. I have long thought this to be true, but it seems for many blogs I’ve read, once that statement is made about readability, it’s the end of any discussion about the NASB being usable.

    I would like someone to comment on the choice of translation in the ESV on Malachi 2:16. It deviates from the “traditional” rendering of God saying “I hate divorce.” Any thoughts?

    I also feel the NRSV is a good overall translation, but it’s association with the National Council of Churches has kept some from examining it, as well as the extremes in terminology they have chosen to go gender-neutral.

    Thanks for the good work done here. I would also suggest the NLTse as the third, as so many seem to be using it today.

    Like

  39. Robert, I remember encountering that verse in the ESV a while back, and did some comparisons. It`s been a good while so I`m having trouble remembering much without going back and checking it out again. I do remember though, that it is a pretty obscure verse to translate, and the ESV`s rendering is probably as valid as the traditional ones. Also, the ESV`s rendering in the 2001 edition was changed at some point in one of the revisions, because the 2007 version I have seemed a little “looser” with the translation of that verse than the 2001 edition.

    I will try and take another look at it and see if I can be more specific with my information. My 40 year old brain tends to misfire when I try to go from memory. LOL

    But you would be better served probably if Kevin or one of the other regular contributors here checked it out, as they are far more qualified than I for such a task.

    Like

  40. The ESV website says now in its FAQ, that another publisher (other than Crossway) is preparing a version of the ESV with the apocrypha. I`ve been hoping for a long time this would happen. Does anyone here know anything more about this, such as who this other publisher might be, or when it will come to pass? The statement is vague, in that it just says “another publisher”, and that it should be announced in mid to late 2008. Just thought someone here might have a bit more info.

    Like

  41. Thanks Robert for your comment and question, and Nathan for finding the link. It’s kind of neat to see the ESV blog’s link to this post.

    Robert, like L. Wells said, this is a very difficult verse to translate. The entire verse is difficult. This verse really stumps me. I have found that the various translations all render this quite differently. It seems the ESV (2007) is more interpretive than the ESV (2001). The ESV takes a different approach from the traditional way in translating this verse. “For the man who hates and divorces…(ESV 2001) now becomes “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her…” (ESV 2007). The NRSV, NASB, NET, TNIV say: “For I hate divorce.” The HCSB says: “he hates. Anyways, this is just the tip of the iceburg on the differences.

    Check out ESV’s blog post here . There is a link to a really good 25-page PDF article by C. John Collins, ESV Old Testament Chair. You might also want to see the translation note on the NET bible.

    Like

  42. L. Wells, I wish ESV could provide more information. I think the addition of an ESV apocrypha will be really good for the ESV translation itself. It might even move it one notch higher in making it a more sought out bible for academic purposes and for reading purposes. It won’t be the first evangelical translation to do so because the NLT has one. The evangelical bible reading community may not be big users but there is a large-segment in the non-evangelical community that does read the apocrypha. Personally, I like some of it, especially Sirach. I have found the history in the Maccabbees interesting.

    Like

  43. Thanks for the links Kevin, I will have to read the 25 page article later, but the NET translation note was very good.

    Concerning the ESV with deuterocanonicals, I think it would be a very good thing for a more moderate to conservative Episcopalian like myself. I`ve come to love the NRSV more and more, but I use the ESV right beside it often times. The ESV could seriously challenge the NRSV as my main Bible if only it were available with these books (preferably in something like the HarperCollins Study Bible).

    In a way I`m a little bit surprised this hasn`t already been done, seeing how J.I. Packer (an evangelical yes, but also an ordained Anglican) served as the general editor of the translation. And the Anglican Church, including we Episcopalians use some of these books.

    Anyway, if you hear anything more about it, I`d appreciate it very much if you posted it here. And of course, I will do the same.

    Like

  44. RE: ESV w/ deuterocanonicals

    There has been some speculation and discussion about this. My guess is that the UK publisher Collins is putting together an ESV version with the deut. books from the RSV. I don’t remember all of the details, but the only discussion I’ve seen about it was at the Bible Design and Binding blog.

    Like

  45. Out of curiosity, because I think it is a good translation (but not one I like to read for hours at a time), though I believe it relies a little too heavily on the Masoretic Text and Textus Receptus, what are some of you guys opinions of the NKJV? How does it really stack up, aside from it`s great popularity? And would you classify it as a formal translation?

    My apologies if this has been covered before, as I am new here.

    Like

  46. I think the NKJV is probably one of the only translations I will never use, along with paraphrases. I’d rather use the KJV itself or one of it’s revisions that used the critical texts (RSV, NRSV, ESV, or NASB). I don’t own a NKJV and never plan to, so someone else will have to give you specifics if you want them. I would classify as a more formal translation, but due to it’s textual basis I can’t justify using it for study.

    Like

  47. I wouldn’t be so quick to right off the NKJV. I tend to agree with the conclusion from this site: http://bible-researcher.com/esv.html

    “So, for close study the ESV is less suitable than the NASB or NKJV. These latter versions, despite their difficulties and obscurities, continue to be the most useful for detailed and careful study.”

    If your fall on the TR side of the textual debate, then the NKJV is the “cheese”, if not the NASB has to be a strong favorite in my opinion.

    Like

  48. Hi BStaggs, thanks for your input. I’m glad you still use the NKJV and NASB because they’re great reliable formal translations. I’ve come to prefer the ESV, and the NRSV even more now, just because I find them just a little more readable than the other two.

    Like

  49. Very late comment on an excellent extended blog!
    I had just finished studying selected passages from Hebrew and Greek as rendered by KJV ERV ASV RSV NASB1977 NASB1995 NRSV ESV2001 ESV2007 ESV2011 NIV1984 NIV2011, when I came across your site – and was VERY delighted to see that we agree on the conclusion! the battle ( for such it has ever been) to retain certain versions is now lost – not that all of the losers were poor soldiers, but the accelerating culture changes are simply irreversible. On the other hand, I cannot see any realistic prospect of either NASB or NRSV being seriously, if at all, revised – because of a shrinking constituency for either. Crossways, however, are a dynamic bunch, and are committed to a high view of Scripture and the necessity of as accurate a translation as fallen creatures can produce; and I have high hopes for continued improvements in ESV!
    Once again, well done – and many thanks!

    Like

  50. Hi Alex, thanks for reading my blog. I do consult with ESV more these days. I think you’re right about Crossway. They can really improve this translation if they work on it. Lots of potential.

    Like

    1. Did you know that a revision of the NASB is underway, and is planned for release in 2017? It would be good to examine, and comment upon, it pre-release, but we do not have that opportunity! Already, the stocks of existing NASB’s are dwindling or exhausted. Further study this year has convinced me that it really is the best English version available, and would be superb if properly revised. But I have not yet examined in any great detail either the World English Bible or Jay Green’s/Sovereign Grace’s Literal Version : both seem to merit examination.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s