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Looking At the Bible Versions- NASB (1971/1995)

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) an English translation of the Bible. The most recent edition of the NASB text was published in 1995, with the original having been published in 1971. As its name implies, the NASB is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. The New American Standard Bible is widely regarded as the most literally translated of 20th-century English Bible translations. According to the NASBs preface, the translators had a “Fourfold Aim” in this work:
1. These publications shall be true to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
2. They shall be grammatically correct.
3. They shall be understandable.
4. They shall give the Lord Jesus Christ His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him; therefore, no work will ever be personalized.

Seeing the need for a literal, modern translation of the English Bible, the translators tried to produce a comtemporary English Bible while maintaining a word-for-word translation style. In cases where word-for-word literalness was determined to be unacceptable for modern readers, changes were made in the direction of more current idioms. In such instances, the more literal renderings were indicated in footnotes.

SOME STRENGTHS OF THE NASB

According to Al Maxey, “The translators worked for ten years before they felt this translation of the original Greek and Hebrew was ready for publication. These scholars, among whom were members of the churches of Christ, have been called extremely conservative theologically. It was their expressed goal to “give the Lord Jesus His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him.” They were committed to emphasizing in this work the “full deity of Jesus Christ.” The majority of these translators held doctoral degrees in biblical languages and literature, and had devoted their lives to the study of the biblical text.”

#1 — Literalness. One must appreciate the attempt of the NASB to be a literal word-for-word translation. Some have even claimed it is “unequaled in its faithfulness to the Greek and Hebrew texts.” Others have labeled this tendency “severely literalistic” (Bruce M. Metzger, Theology Today, April, 1976). As a result of the effort to translate the original as literally as possible, the NASB is almost completely free from “paraphrasing tendencies” (Dr. Jack P. Lewis). The NASB has kept the original word order of the Greek and Hebrew wherever possible, as they believed this was “a means the writer used to accent and emphasize what he deemed most important.” Even conjunctions occurring in the original language texts have been retained, although they may be unnecessary in English, “because the Holy Spirit led men to write that way.” The NASB translators write, “Words are faithfully rendered in the NASB even to conjunctions such as “and in the belief that these, too, helped mirror the writers style and manner of expression. These are often ignored in free translation.” Warren Wilcox writes, “The NASB renders the Greek verb tenses the most accurately of any modern translation!” He further writes that it is to be commended for being “at its very center and heart, true to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.” Because of its literalness, a Bible student should have a NASB to consult when trying to determine the meaning of any given passage.

#2 — Dignified. Some translations feel more like a fiction novel rather than the word of God because the translation uses simplistic or colloquial language. “It is a dignified translation; it is not colloquial; it does not use slang words; it does not use things that you would be ashamed or embarrassed to use in a worship service or devotional reading” (Warren Wilcox, Versions of the Bible: Their Strengths and Weaknesses).

#3 — Researched. “It has made extensive use of all the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available, in order to try and arrive at the best original text for its translation. It has also made full use of all recent archaeological discoveries, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like the RSV, thirteen changes have been made to the text of Isaiah alone based upon evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls.” (Al Maxey, A Critical Analysis)

SOME WEAKNESSES OF THE NASB

#1 — Premillennial Preference. Some feel that the NASB reflects a premillennial preference in some passages of Scripture. For example: Isaiah 2:2 and Micah 4:1 read, “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.” The word “as” is not actually in the text; it is the word “on” (which the NASB admits in a footnote in both places). Some have regarded this as reflecting a premillenial bias.

#2 — Calvinist Preference. There are a few places where the NASB interprets rather than translates, giving a Calvinistic slant to the text. 1 Peter 1:1-2 is an obvious example. The 1971 NASB reads, “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” Notice it is implied that the Spirit enables someone to obey Christ. This is clearly Calvinism, suggesting that someone cannot choose God because humans are totally depraved, but God must choose you. The 1995 NASB fixed this a little bit, but the implication remains: “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” In a translation that claims not to interpret the scripture, even the NASB slips into doing such. Not even the NIV, which has many Calvinistic slants, attempts to rework this sentence like the NASB.

#3 — Not Always Word-For-Word. Like many translations and versions of the Bible, the NASB has fallen into the trap of seeking to interpret, rather than translate certain passages. I Corinthians 7:36-38 is an example of this. They have added the word “daughter” to the word “virgin,” thus stating their belief that the passage is referring to a father and daughter relationship. To their credit, they have placed the word “daughter” in italics, indicating that this word is not in the original text, but that it has been added by the translators. Another example of interpreting instead of translating is found in I Corinthians 2:13 ….. “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” Again, the NASB uses italics to show words which have been added to the text. Although their understandings of these passages may well be correct, they are nevertheless interpretations, and not simple, uncommented upon translations. These weaknesses make the following statement from the Lockman Foundation (the possessors of the NASB copyright) humorous: “At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable.” I believe this is an overstatement because we have seen that the NASB is not always a word-for-word translation.

#4 — Wordy. The NASB has the tendency to use many words to communicate a passage and does not favor being succinct. Sometimes the wordiness is a result of trying to keep the Greek words in their original order. Rather than reword the sentence to make it concise, the NASB keeps the word order found in the manuscripts, making some sentence awkward. One of thousands of possible examples can be found in Matthew 24:8: “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” The word “merely” is in italics in the NASB because it is not in the original language. Why add this word? It is not needed to understand the text. Reread that sentence without the word “merely” and it makes just as much sense. So why did the translators feel the need to interfere with their “word-for-word” translation? These additions tend to detract from the impact of a powerful, short statement from Jesus or the apostolic writers. This is a minor weakness, but a common problem throughout the NASB.

Conclusion

Personally, I never was a fan of the NASB, particularly because of its wordiness. However, the 1995 did fix a lot of my personal complaints about the NASB. The 1971 NASB still contained “thees” and “thous” in reference to God, which is simply not language used today. The 1995 update also did a lot of work to take out some of the biases and slants that were found in the 1971 release. The NASB is a reliable translation that is commendable overall. It is certainly a version that should be in a Bible students home for reference and comparison to other versions. While the NASB is not my personal “cup of tea,” it may be exactly what you need to further your studies and increase your understanding of Gods Word.