Remarks on Bible Translations

Section 1

My favorite translation for most purposes is the 1901 ASV (American Standard Version). It’s out of copyright, so noone’s gonna sue ya if you use it. It was a product of a well-respected translation committee, so it’s very much acceptable for academic citation. It relies on a superior textual basis to the KJV/NKJV/YLT. It consistently transliterates the tetragrammaton instead of obscuring it with “LORD” in small caps, as most translations do. It’s fairly literal, surprisingly faithful to the original text (e.g., keeping all of Marks “kai” (“and”)s; the ESV and NASB keep most, the NRSV and most other modern translations keep hardly any) and keeps some of the KJV’s linguistic variety (e.g., pronouns), which is often quite helpful in exposing some of the subtlety of the Greek text (e.g., Matthew 20:20-28). The best online edition of the 1901 ASV (including the notes) is on BibleGateway. The CCEL and BibleHub versions are partially defective (e.g., their Revelation 19:16 wrongly has “KINGS of KINGS”, rather than, as is proper, “KING OF KINGS”). I generally prefer the principles of the American translators to those of the English Revised Version (though the English principles are better in some places, e.g., Exodus 20:13). The most obvious problem with the ASV is that its insistence on KJV English to reduce backwards incompatibility is often more a liability than an asset to comprehensibility by modern-day Americans.

As for the WEB (World English Bible; a public-domain translation loosely based on the ASV), it is the product of one man with an excessively simple website layout, and so is not suitable for academic citation. I like some of the translation changes it makes (it makes the language far more modern and comprehensible, transliterates Gehenna instead of translating it as hell, changes the transliteration of the tetragrammaton from Jehovah to Yahweh, etc.), but it tends to blunt the force of the original ASV, removing some linguistic dynamism (e.g., all of Mark’s “kai”s are removed, as is the KJV/ASV’s versatility with pronouns), and unnecessarily adds some inconsistent translation, as well (e.g., Matthew 2:11 v. Mark 15:19). Overall, I prefer the ASV.

The earlier YLT is also a very good translation on its principles, though it’s also subject to some obviously unnecessary inconsistent translation (e.g., Red Sea/Sea of Suph) and I’m not a fan of its textual basis.

Section 2

My favorite modern translations are the ESV and the NRSV, which are both basically the same translation (both are direct revisions of the 1952 RSV, itself a less literal revision of the ASV), the former with a conservative (often literal and OT-in-light of the NT) and the latter with a liberal (often figurative or gender-neutral) bent. I find it often a good idea to read the ASV, NRSV, and ESV on BibleGateway side-by-side. The NRSV is a de facto academic translation and is one of the few post-1983 complete translations of the Bible accepted by the Roman Catholic Church for private study. Neither is by any means a bad translation, with the NRSV’s greater theological liberalism in translation often leading to greater accuracy. The NASB is generally (by no means always) more literal than these, but it sometimes descends into paraphrase or unnecessarily inserts words into the text without any notification whatsoever (e.g., Mark 6:10), making it less advisable to use than the ASV.

Section 3

I do not have sufficient experience with the HCSB (a fairly unique translation; transliterates the tetragrammaton selectively, a bad decision however you look at it, but makes some refreshing and beneficial breaks from tradition in its translation), NET (said by its defenders to cut down time on explanation of the text by a third due to it often inserting commentary in place of the Bible’s wording), or NABRE (which I found surprisingly theologically liberal, not always in a bad way; i.e., it’s often refreshing) to make remarks on them, but they all have their defenders. Read them all side-by-side at this link.

The most used translation in these United States, the NIV, suffers too much from theological bias (especially against works, which it tends to translate inconsistently to suit sola fide doctrine) and unnecessary departures from literal wording to be advisable, though on occasion (e.g., Galatians 1:19) it ends up having the most accurate rendering of any translation.