Why did our church choose the NASB95 for our text of choice? Why this translation above, let’s say, the KJV? Is it the language? Is KJV considered a bad translation? Or is the KJV more tied to Catholicism? I use an ESV myself since I understand it better. Thanks in advance!
We are very blessed to live in a day when there are many good translations of the Bible in our language. This is one wonderful fruit of the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church spent centuries hiding the Word of God from the common people by only reading God’s Word in Latin. In fact, many of the priests did not even understand what they were reading at the time. Fathers in the faith like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther fought to have the Bible translated into the “vulgar tongue” so the common people could understand.
The KJV is not tied to Roman Catholicism. In fact, it was commissioned by a Protestant king for the Church of England back in 1604. It wasn’t even until the 1960s(!) that the Roman Catholic Church formally began incorporating the vernacular tongue (i.e., the language of common speech) in its worship, rather than just using Latin.
I generally recommend people choose from one of the following good translations:
- New American Standard Bible (1995)
- New King James Version (NKJV)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- King James Version (KJV)
There are some other translations that could probably be added to that list, but keeping the options limited is helpful. As a church, it is wise to pick one main translation to work from just to cut down on unnecessary confusion. It’s kind of like choosing what time to meet for worship. There are many good times for a Sunday worship service, but in the interest of everyone showing up at the same time, our elders have settled on 10am. (The analogy even works on the level of there being some pretty unwise times to meet for worship, just like there are some unwise translations to use for understanding God’s Word.)
In general, each of the translations listed above are very faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible, and that’s what we’re going for, since those were the languages of the original Spirit-inspired authors of the Bible.1 But no translation is perfect, and even these good ones have their strengths and weaknesses.
One reason we use the NASB95 over the KJV is indeed the language. The KJV is arguably more beautiful in its language than any other English translation, but it can also be difficult to understand because of its unfamiliar grammar and vocabulary. In the interest of our reading and preaching of Scripture being understandable, we don’t think it would be wise to use the KJV as our primary translation.
The NASB95 is very readable and understandable, though it tends to be fairly stilted in its translation, especially in parts of Scripture that are supposed to be poetic. Much of the original languages’ artistry is lost in translation due to the narrow focus of getting the exact words themselves as accurate as possible. This is a minor criticism, as it is linguistically impossible to capture many of the poetic nuances of Hebrew in English. A more significant criticism would be that an overly wooden translation tends to remove inspired color and vulgarity from the text of Scripture. For example, Pastor Bayly pointed out in a sermon this past summer that the KJV’s “him who pisseth against the wall” is probably a more accurate translation of the Hebrew in 2 Kings 9:8 than the NASB’s “male person.”
The ESV is also a good English translation, and most people consider it more readable than the NASB. However, you should be aware it shows weaknesses akin to many modern translations. In particular, it tends toward being ashamed of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. As one example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the ESV translates two Greek words meaning “effeminate” and “men who have sex with men” simply as “men who practice homosexuality.” According to the ESV’s own translation philosophy, there’s very little excuse for combining two separate Greek words in a list of sins into one general concept, especially when doing so simply removes one of the sins—in this case, that of effeminacy. There are legitimate reasons to make certain grammatical departures from the Greek text when translating, but when such a change happens precisely where the world around us hates Christian witness, we should start asking questions. That being said, the ESV has not gone nearly as far as other modern translations like the New International Version (NIV), which thoroughly embraced gender-neutral language more than a decade ago.
The NASB has been widely accepted as one of the most accurate and faithful English translations since its initial release in 1971. It’s been revised a few times over the years, and sadly, the publishers’ latest revision in 2020 mimicked trends away from faithfulness to the more culturally offensive parts of Scripture. This is why we use the NASB’s previous revision from 1995.
- Here’s what our official doctrinal standards have to say about Bible translations, in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.8): “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.” ↩︎