Bible Translations, III: The American Standard Version and Its Offshoots

Previously we examined the King James and the New King James versions. Let us now look at the next series of Bible versions, the American Standard Version (ASV), and its offshoots, the New American Standard Bible and its later Update (NASB/NASU), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

ASV: Overview

The ASV was first printed in 1901, as an “Americanized” version of the defunct English Revised Version (RV) of 1881. The ERV was based on the KJV and edited with the older texts that had been found since 1611. The only real difference between the ASV and the RV is the difference between the American English and the British English of the early twentieth century and the revisions of the American committee.

ASV: Strengths

The ASV is the best combination of a reliable text plus a literal translation. The Greek texts used are the oldest available, and while the translation is not as literal as the KJV, it is far more literal than its offshoots (it should be noted that the literal translation is always noted). The ASV is probably the best translation to use in all semantical arguments. The ASV is not copyrighted, and therefore can be freely quoted without fear of violating any copyright laws.

ASV: Weaknesses

While the ASV faithfully represents the Hebrew and Greek texts, it does so at the expense of English idiom. It sounds more like “translationese” than anything modern Americans would understand. Even for its time, the language was archaic, and English has further changed in this century. The use of “Jehovah” for the Divine Name is inaccurate and has led to much confusion. It is also no longer widely published, but is easier to find in computer Bible programs. Paper versions are hard to locate, and thus are rarely used by Christians today.

ASV: Conclusion

The ASV best literally represents the Hebrew and Greek into somewhat understandable English. Nevertheless, it is growing more rare since is no longer widely published, and thus hard to find.

NASB/NASU: Overview

In the 1960s, the Lockman Foundation determined that it was time for the original ASV to be revised, due to new findings of Old Testament texts and changes in modern language and understanding. A further revision was developed in the past decade, now known as the New American Standard Update (NASU), changing only a few things in the translation. I will consider these two versions as one in the rest of the discussion; the only significant difference, and the one which shows that the Update is a better translation, is in Matthew 16:19:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (NASB)

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (NASU)

The Greek text agrees better with the future perfect translation of “bound/loosed” as “shall have been bound/loosed,” showing more clearly that it is the work of God, not Peter, to create the church of Christ.

NASB/NASU: Strengths

The strengths of these versions parallel those of the ASV: good textual foundations and a literal translation. Furthermore, the NASB/NASU is still published today (although the NASU is being published more than the NASB), and easily purchased for use.

NASB/NASU: Weaknesses

The NASB/NASU departs more from the literal translation than the ASV did; this is my major source of contention with these versions. Again, the literal translation is in the notes, but many times the translation did not need further explanation.

NASB/NASU: Conclusion

In general, I recommend the use of the NASU over the rest of the versions, due to the best combination of textual foundation, literal translation, and availability. The NASB is also extremely good; its translation of Matthew 16:19 and the fact that the NASU is being published more are the only reasons why I do not consider it better.

RSV/NRSV: Overview

In 1952, it was determined by the National Council of Churches of Christ that the ASV could use revision; thus, we see the Revised Standard Version (RSV). By 1989, the emergence of better OT texts, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls, prompted a further revision, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

RSV/NRSV: Strengths

The RSV/NRSV are very similar to the NASB/NASU, except for the copyright holder (Lockman Foundation versus the National Council of Churches of Christ) and that the RSV was designed to keep the language style of the KJV.

RSV/NRSV: Weaknesses

The language of the RSV may be difficult for some; also, the divergence from the literal text in many places also plagues these versions.

RSV/NRSV: Conclusion

The RSV/NRSV are also very solid translations, and are very similar to the NASB/NASU. They also can be used for semantical arguments and general use.

We have now examined the literal-type translations of the Bible. A new movement, however, has led to the creation of many “interpretive” versions of the Bible, wherein the focus is on the meaning, not the letter, of the text. We shall examine these translations next.


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