|Bible Research > English Versions > 20th Century > NASB|
New Testament, 1963. Reuben A. Olson et al., New American Standard Bible: New Testament. Pilot ed. La Habra, California: [Foundation Press] Produced and published by the Lockman Foundation, 1963.
Bible, 1971. Reuben A. Olson et al., New American Standard Bible. La Habra, California: Foundation Press Publications, publisher for the Lockman Foundation, 1971.
Updated edition, 1995. New American Standard Bible. Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications, 1995.
As its name implies, the New American Standard Bible is a revision of the American Standard Version (1901). It was produced by a company of conservative scholars who wished to provide a literal and conservative revision of the ASV, as an alternative to the Revised Standard Version (1952), which had proven to be unacceptable to conservative churches. Although the NASB revisers were influenced by the RSV’s interpretation in many places,1 overall the NASB is a good deal more literal than the RSV, and thus it preserves the highly literal character that had made the American Standard Version so useful as a translation for close study. Also unlike the RSV, the NASB deliberately interprets the Old Testament from a Christian standpoint, in harmony with the New Testament.
The publication of the New American Standard Bible began with the Gospel of John in 1960, followed by the four Gospels in 1962, the New Testament in 1963, and the entire Bible in 1971. The Greek edition used by the NASB revisers was the 23rd edition of the Nestle text.
The NASB was widely accepted by conservative churches in the years following its publication, but it was often criticized for its awkward and unnatural English. This was mostly a consequence of the version’s adherence to the idioms of the original languages, whether or not they were natural in English.
To some extent the words of Charles Spurgeon regarding the English Revised Version (the British counterpart of the ASV) might also be said of the NASB — “Strong in Greek, but weak in English.” For this reason, many people used the NASB only for reference when doing close study, while using other more “readable” versions for other purposes. The version became a byword for conservative literalism among liberal critics, who often compared the NASB unfavorably with the RSV. 2
For many years the names of the NASB translators and editors were withheld by the publisher. But in 1995 this information was finally disclosed. Below is the list of names posted on the publisher’s website in 2002.
Kenneth Lee Barker
David L. Cooper
Richard W. Cramer
Edward R. Dalglish
Charles Lee Feinberg
Edward F. Harrison
F. B Huey, Jr.
David W. Kerr
William L. Lane
Henry R. Moeller
Reuben A. Olson
J. Barton Payne
Robert N. Schaper
Ralph L. Smith
Merrill C. Tenney
Robert L. Thomas
Lowell C. Wendt
William C. Williams
Herbert M. Wolf
In 1992 the Lockman Foundation commissioned a limited revision of the NASB which was intended to improve its English style by allowing a somewhat less literal approach. The revision was published as the “NASB Updated Edition” in 1995. The revisers were:
Timothy L. Deahl
Buist M. Fanning
W. Hall Harris
J. Carl Laney
David K. Lowery
H. Bruce Stokes
Although the Updated Edition is slightly less literal than the original, The NASB continues to be one of the most literal versions commonly used in churches today, and the publisher continues to advertise it as such. The following statement found on the publisher’s website, 3 expresses the view (shared by many conservatives) that a proper respect for the Word of God should include a respect for and an interest in the smallest verbal details of the text, and a careful awareness of the difference between a translation and an interpretation of the Bible.
“...Ultimately, what separates the New American Standard Bible from the various available versions is that the NASB is a literal word-for-word translation from the original languages. In contrast, the others stress either a loose, personalized paraphrase, or a free-style, thought-for-thought translation known as a dynamic equivalent. Both of these place the highest priority on ease of reading and a lower priority on word-for-word preciseness. While such versions may produce smooth English, the literalness of the Word of God is sacrificed. This has never been an option for the New American Standard Bible.”
The claim made here is somewhat overstated. The NASB is not really in a class by itself, because the New King James Version is about equally literal. And it is not quite fair to say that all of the less literal versions “stress” a paraphrastic method.
We observe that the NASB is often less literal than the old American Standard Version of 1901. For example, In Isaiah 1:4 the ASV translated נָזֹרוּ אָחוֹר “they are estranged and gone backward,” but the NASB has the rather weak and paraphrastic rendering “they have turned away from him.” The ASV’s more exact rendering is preferable here not only because it gives a better idea of the meaning of the word, but also because it exhibits the meaningful semantic connection of נָזֹרוּ (niphal of זוּר) with its cognate זָרִים (participle of זוּר) “strangers” in verse 7. It is not merely a play on words, but an instance of the poetic justice that the prophets so often describe, that those who are estranged from God will be afflicted by those who are strangers (i.e. foreigners) to themselves.
In addition to being less literal, the NASB is often less concordant or consistent in its renderings. We notice the variety of renderings introduced by the NASB in Jeremiah 23 and 33.
הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם־יְהוָה וַהֲקִמֹתִי לְדָוִד צֶמַח צַדִּיק וּמָלַךְ מֶלֶךְ וְהִשְׂכִּיל וְעָשָׂה מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ׃ בְּיָמָיו תִּוָּשַׁע יְהוּדָה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח וְזֶה־שְּׁמוֹ אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרְאוֹ יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ׃
23:5 Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.
23:5 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וּבָעֵת הַהִיא אַצְמִיחַ לְדָוִד צֶמַח צְדָקָה וְעָשָׂה מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ׃ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם תִּוָּשַׁע יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִַם תִּשְׁכּוֹן לָבֶטַח וְזֶה אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָא־לָהּ יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ׃
33:15 In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name whereby she shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.
33:15 ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 ‘In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: The Lord is our righteousness.’
The difference in format here, with 23:5-6 presented as poetry and 33:15-16 as prose in the NASB, is due to the fact that the revisers used Kittel’s edition of the Hebrew text, which does the same. But in the Hebrew text there are a number of identical words and phrases in these two passages that are rendered differently in the NASB. We see לְדָוִד rendered “for David” in the first passage, and “of David” in the second. The word וְעָשָׂה is “and he will … do” in the first, but “and he shall execute” in the second. The word בָּאָרֶץ is “in the land” in the first, and “on the earth” in the second. There is a strange inconsistency in the use of “shall” and “will” (only partly rectified in the 1995 revision). The word לָבֶטַח is “securely” in the first, and “in safety” in the second. And finally, יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ is “The Lord our righteousness” in the first, and “The Lord is our righteousness” in the second. In the ASV all the renderings were concordant; it seems that the NASB revisers have deliberately made them different. Yet strangely enough, the phrases צֶמַח צַדִּיק (ASV “righteous Branch”) and צֶמַח צְדָקָה (ASV “Branch of righteousness”) are both rendered “righteous Branch” in the NASB. So we see an erosion of accuracy here, and a complete disregard for the principle of concordant rendering. With the ASV the English reader will be able to see where the passages are the same and where they differ in the Hebrew, but not with the NASB.
The variety in rendering of יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ is most significant here. In 23:6 it is given as the name of the “Branch,” the future king. This is understood by Christians to be Christ, and the rendering “The Lord/Jehovah our righteousness” (KJV, ASV, NKJV, REB) has been understood to be an expression of his divinity, the name of God being applied to Christ. 4 Other Bible versions prevent this interpretation of the name by supplying an “is” to render the phrase “the Lord is our righteousness,” both here and in 33:16 (JPS, RSV, NEB, ESV). Obviously the NASB retains the ASV rendering for the sake of the traditional interpretation in 23:6, but uses “The Lord is our righteousness” in 33:16 because there it is applied not to Christ but Jerusalem (i.e. the people of God). The idea is that יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ is a watchword with the sense “The Lord produces our righteousness” or something similar. However, if it can mean that in 33:16, it can also mean that in 23:6. The literal rendering “The Lord our righteousness” is fine, but one should translate it the same way in both places, so that the student can see the interpretive issue here.
In the New Testament also we find some paraphrastic renderings, and some of these appear to have been borrowed from the Revised Standard Version. For example, in Matthew 3:7 ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ is rendered “coming for baptism,” as in the RSV. The ASV here had a more literal rendering, “coming to his baptism.” The preposition ἐπὶ does not really imply that the Pharisees and Sadducees came with the intent to be baptised; it may only mean that they came to observe it, as an interesting public spectacle. The Greek text might be interpreted either way, and the ASV’s literal translation might also be interpreted either way. But the rendering in the RSV and NASB prevents one legitimate interpretation. We notice also that there is no footnote indicating the literal rendering or the other interpretation of the phrase. If the naive reader assumes that the NASB is always a “a literal word-for-word translation,” as the publisher claims, or that “the more literal rendering has been indicated in the margin” wherever the version does not abide by the literal method, as the Preface explains, he will perhaps think it is safe to say that here John is refusing to baptise persons who wished to be baptised, on prejudicial grounds, because they are associated with parties that have not generally brought forth “fruit in keeping with repentance” (verse 8). But in fact the text does not warrant such a conclusion. This illustrates the danger of unnecessary interpretation in translation. The NASB translators could have avoided this more carefully in some places, if they had not been under the influence of the RSV.
In 1 Peter 3:7, the 1995 revision of the NASB says “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life,” etc. This is not more literal than the RSV’s “live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life.” As interpretations, both are acceptable, but they do not convey the decidedly abstract and philosophical manner of speaking used by Peter. A more literal translation of the same verse would be “cohabiting according to knowledge as with a weaker vessel, the female, granting honor [to them] also as fellow-heirs of the grace of life” (συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ, ἀπονέμοντες τιμὴν ὡς καὶ συγκληρονόμοις χάριτος ζωῆς). The terms used here suggest a connection with the thought of 1 Thessalonians 4:4, “to know, each of you, to possess his vessel with holiness and honor” (εἰδέναι ἕκαστον ὑμῶν τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ), which also refers to marital relations. Consequently, some commentators have understood Peter’s sentence as an interpretation or development of Paul’s. But the NASB’s rather loose translation obscures the verbal connections that might suggest this to a reader of the English version also. Obviously a more literal translation that contains such phrases as “according to knowledge” and “weaker vessel” (KJV and ASV) will be more difficult for some readers to understand, and that is why the RSV and NASB revisers have eliminated these; but the easiness is gained at a price, because here the special advantages of a literal translation for more competent students have been lost.
In some places the NASB uses non-literal interpretive renderings which were not found in other versions. For example, in 2 Peter 1:10 the ASV of 1901 gave a literal translation of διὸ μᾶλλον, ἀδελφοί, σπουδάσατε βεβαίαν ὑμῶν τὴν κλῆσιν καὶ ἐκλογὴν ποιεῖσθαι with “wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure”; but in the NASB we have “therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you.” This revised rendering is evidently designed to prevent the inference that the calling and election of the believer are uncertain in the eyes of God until the believer himself “makes it sure” by acquiring and developing the qualities mentioned in verses 5-7. This inference would be theologically unsound, because it would conflict with the teaching of St. Paul concerning election, and so the NASB revisers have explicitly harmonized the verse with Paul’s doctrine by an interpretation which makes it into a statement about subjective self-assurance. The interpretation worked into the NASB version here is a traditional Protestant one, 5 and widely accepted; but even those teachers who accept it might prefer the ASV’s more literal rendering here, to observe a more scrupulous separation of translation and interpretation. The Bible student must sooner or later learn that when the Scripture writers are urging their readers to godliness they do not always feel a need to say that it is really the grace of God working in them which produces holiness. Sometimes the pursuit of holiness is described or urged from a human perspective instead, and there are good practical reasons for doing this in hortative passages. And so we find expressions here and there which, taken in isolation, might possibly be construed in a Pelagian or Arminian sense by immature and desultory readers. A theological expositor can prevent such false inferences by bringing the appropriate doctrinal points and passages to the attention of his hearers, but the translator should feel no obligation to remove the need for exposition.
Examples of this tendency are however less frequent in the NASB than in most other versions. It is usually less interpretive, and in general it is a reliable basis for careful study of the text. We only mention these problems to indicate that the version has some flaws, which make it somewhat less useful than the ASV for careful study.
1. For the influence of the RSV upon the NASB see especially William L. Lane, “The New American Standard Bible—New Testament,” Gordon Review 9 (Spring 1966).
2. See, for example, Robert G. Bratcher’s criticism in “The New American Standard Bible—New Testament,” Eternity 15 (June 1964). Bratcher was the translator for the American Bible Society’s paraphrastic Good News Bible.
3. http://www.gospelcom.net/lockman/trans/nasbcmp.htm, accessed 24 October 2002.
4. See the commentaries of John Calvin and Matthew Henry at both passages, and compare their interpretation with that of Keil and others.
5. The interpretation is found in Calvin’s commentary: “The meaning then is, labour that you may have it really proved that you have not been called nor elected in vain … purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence ….” But Calvin (like most Reformed translators after him) refrains from interpretive paraphrase in his Latin translation: studete firmam vestram vocationem at electionem facere.
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