NASB vs. NRSV Round 5: Epistles & Revelation

(...although we don't actually cover Revelation)

This is the final round of comparisons between the NASB and the NRSV. The fourth round was posted over a month ago, and the info below has been sitting around in the comments of a much earlier post for a while now. You'll remember that this started after I made comments about the literalness of the NASB. This Lamp reader, Larry, challenged that assertion in favor of the NRSV, one of the translations he favors. This extended series of comparisons examined 50 verses from throughout the Bible, randomly selected. Although the NASB took an early lead (as I predicted), I should remind readers that literalness does not equal accuracy. Every verse/chapter/pericope must be evaluated separately. Regardless, here is the fifth round and final results of this series.

Reference Rick's Evaluation Larry's Evaluation
Rom 10:21
The versions are very similar and functionally the same in these verses. I give the NASB a slight edge because ten is translated in the NASB in the phrase “all the day long” as opposed to the NRSV’s “all day long.” Also I believe “stretched out” is a better rendering of exepetasa than “held out.” This is a fascinating verse to consider, because it is one of many verses that quote the Septuagint. To the credit of both the NASB95 and NRSV, they have translated the Hebrew independently of the Greek (although the NRSV is the superior translation of Is 65:2).

Now this passage presents a particular problem because it does not even correctly quote the Septuagint we now have. Thus, the footnote in the NASB95 is rather misleading, and because of this reason, I call this for the NRSV.

1 Cor 3:10
At first I was surprised that the NRSV would use “skillful” over the NASB’s “wise” for sophos. But in looking at the BDAG, the first definition for the word is “pert. to knowing how to do someth. in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced.” The second meaning is “pert. to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.” Thus either rendering is correct based on how the translators determined context. At this writing, I’m not sure which rendering I favor. “Wise” is certainly more traditional and also found in the KJV, but that doesn’t mean it’s more correct than “skillful.” The last sentence in this verse is interesting because at first glance, one might suppose that the NRSV’s each builder is an attempt to use inclusive language over the NASB’s each man. But that is not the case. The actual word in the Greek is hekastos which is more correctly translated “each person.” Knowing that the 1995 update of the NASB cleaned up some of the masculine oriented language in these types of verses, I’m surprised to see the NASB’s rendering. There is not a separate word for “man” in this verse, just as there is no separate word for the NRSV’s “builder.” Yet the NASB introduces masculine specificity where it is not represented in the text. The KJV uses “another” and even the ESV renders the word “someone else” (as does the NIV). Based on this, I’m giving the verse to the NRSV. I agree with Rick. NRSV.
2 Cor 3:4
Neither verse translate de. I don’t really fault the NRSV for inserting “is” although the lack of it in the NASB brings that version closer to word for word literalness. The use of “that” by the NRSV is totally unnecessary. When I teach writing classes, I tell my students that if they can eliminate the word “that” in a sentence and it still makes sense to do so. This verse goes to the NASB. I don't understand Rick's analysis here. The NASB95 is ambiguous in English (it could be interpreted as "confidence such as this have we ..." or "[wow], such confidence!" ) while the NRSV refers clearly to the pepoithesin just expressed, namely: Paul doesn't need (no stinkin' badges) any credentials other than testimony expressed by the existence of the Corinthian church. Certainly, a translation cannot be regarded as literal if it has a meaning different than the original or unnecessarily introduces an ambiguity. I call this for the NRSV.
Col 2:13
The NRSV includes the kai which the NASB removes for readability purposes. But the NRSV inserts “God” where it does not actually appear in the text. This is offset by the translational note, however. Although this is contextually correct, it does not accurately reflect the text. I don’t personally have a preference for “transgressions” vs. “trespasses” for paraptoma. I’m calling this one a tie. Since our ground rules were to count textual notes in our analysis, I can't count the extra "God" against the NRSV. For the reasons observed by Rick, I thus weigh the factors towards the NRSV.
Col 3:13
The NASB does a better job of keeping the particples in place, which the NRSV has altered to become simple imperatives. "bearing" in the NASB captures the participle anechomenoi much better than "Bear" in the NRSV just the same as "forgiving" is a closer equivalent to charizomenoi than "forgive."

The NASB fails to capture the conditional ean which the NRSV does represent with "if."

However, the last phrase in the original, houtos kai humeis is literally represented in the NASB's "so also should you" as opposed to the NRSV's "so you also must forgive."

Thus, overwhelmingly, this verse goes to the NASB.

I agree, the NASB95 is more literal here.
1 Tim 6:6
This verse is part of the same sentence as the previous verse (following NA27). The NRSV translators chose to create a break and make a new sentence as opposed to the NASB which follows the structure set in the NA27.

Should I even point out that the NRSV begins the verse using a pronoun that lacks an antecedent?

The phrase oudeis anthropon would literally be "no one of humans." Neither version chooses to translate this phrase literally. The NASB chooses "no man" while the NRSV chooses "no one," each opting to ignore half the phrase. Of course, neither translation can be faulted as an actual literal translation would prove awkward in English.

All that to say, I'm calling this verse a tie (in spite of the NRSV's questionable grammar). The NASB follows the sentence structure better, but the NRSV includes the conditional.

I'm not sure I understand your point about the NRSV's "he" lacking an antecedent -- certainly it is present in the preceding verses. However, I'll go along with your calling it a tie.
I was referring to the NRSV's starting the sentence with it, a pronoun, actually referring to the he that comes after it--which by defintion can hardly be an antecedent to the pronoun. This is hardly good prose, but it didn't affect my scoring for that verse. That's not ungrammatical, just awkward -- the "it" matches with the "who" clause. The NASB95 uses this sentence structure in its translation of Daniel 2:21, for example.

However, the NRSV is not very faithful here to the Greek.

Heb 10:9
There's not much to functionally distinguish between the versions in this verse. However, based on the theological context of the larger passage, I like the NRSV's use of "abolishes" for anairei than the NASB's "takes away."

So, I give this verse to the NRSV.

I disagree, and call this for the NASB95 -- largely because of the footnote which more accurately reflects the tense.
Heb 10:19
I have never liked the NRSV's use of "friends" for adelphoi. In my opinion "friends" loses the familial aspect of the word in Greek. I don't know why the translators did this sometimes because in other places such as Rom 1:13, "brothers and sisters" is used which is a perfectly valid translation.

I don't think "holy place" vs. "sanctuary" is an issue for hagion since both mean the same thing. Literally the verse reads "the entrance into the holies," but neither version translates it this way.


I also count this as a tie -- "sanctuary" is closer to the Greek, but so is brethren.
James 2:8
I'm giving this to the NASB for the following reasons: (1) the NASB follows the word order more closely than the NRSV, (2) the NASB translates Ei mentoi whereas the NRSV does not, and (3) the NASB provides an alternate translation and the NRSV does not. I agree, this goes to the NASB95.
James 2:9
Umm... tie. This is very close -- the difference is between "commit" and "are committing". Normally, I would say that "are committing" is closer, but the later translation of "are convicted" rather than "are in the state of conviction" (which doesn't sound very good in English) presents a problem. Both egarzesthe and elenchomenoi are present tense in the Greek, but I am not sure how to translate this into English using only present tense verbs. The Vulgate captures this with si autem personas accipitis, peccatum operamini, redarguti a lege quasi transgressores but in English something has to give. Given that, I think the NASB95 and NRSV are both approximately close, so I agree this is a tie.
Final Comments:

Too bad we didn't have any verses from Revelation.

My comments will be very brief. The fact that the NASB is more literal than the NRSV is certainly no surprise to me. I like the literalness of the NASB for personal study, but it is no longer a translation I would use for public reading. This is not so of the NRSV, which in my opinion is the most readable of all Tyndale tradition translations. Claims are made that the ESV is more readable than the NASB, but I don't buy it, simply because the ESV is not a consistent translation regarding issues like readability.

I will say this, however: our little exercise here has renewed my appreciation for the NRSV. I have not used it much in the last few years, but it is not deserving of the neglect I've given it. Although I prefer the NASB for a literal Tyndale translation, and a version like the TNIV or even NLT for public reading, the NRSV has its place somewhere in between.

Thank you, Larry, for suggesting this comparison.

I would be interested in comparing some other translations. Next on my plate is the NLT vs. CEV comparison with Lingamish, but after that perhaps we could do an NRSV vs. ESV comparison. Now that would be interesting.

(a) It was interesting to me that when we chose verses at random, small textual issues dominated those that gain the most headlines: gender, "Christianized" readings of the Hebrew, etc.

(b) I was disappointed with the great differences in the philosophy of how the Hebrew and Greek were translated. In general, the Hebrew received less attention. Roughly speaking, the Hebrew Scriptures are about three times the length of the Greek (ignoring the Deuterocanonicals for a moment), and it appears to me that translation teams do not proportionally divide their efforts.

(c) The difference in literalness between the two translations is not that great. By Rick's count, the NASB95 was more literal only half of the time, while the NRSV tied or was more literal the other half of the time. My count was similar -- with the NASB95 being more literal 42% of the time, with the remainder having a tie or the NRSV being more literal.

(d) While this exercise increased my respect for the NASB95, I still think the results are close enough for other factors to be considered in choosing a literal translation: availability of desired editions (e.g., wide margin editions [where the NASB95 has the advantage], academic study editions [where the NRSV has the advantage]), ecumenical focus [NRSV], conservative interpretation [NASB95], availability of deuterocanonicals [NRSV].

(e) Given that the NASB95 and NRSV are relatively literal translations, it is a pity that there aren't more diglots or other original language resources available. To the best of my knowledge, there is no joint edition with the Hebrew. The Deuterocanon has the Parallel Apocryhpa (with the Greek and NRSV), and there are some interlinear editions of the New Testament with the NASB or NRSV as well the convenient, but out of print, Precise Parallel New Testament with the NASB, NRSV, Greek, and five other English translations.

(f) I think our method for evaluation was far better than the typical bible comparisons found on the web where only certain "hot button" verses are compared. While the latter allow charges of heresy and bias to be thrown around, I think the method we used gives a better picture overall.

I understand that Rick and David Ker will begin a comparison of the CEV and NLT. I don't spend a lot of time with these versions, so I'm looking forward to seeing their insights.

Cumulative Scores:

Torah: 1 (NRSV) - 6 (NASB95) - 3 (tie)
Nevi'im: 4 (NRSV) - 4 (NASB95) - 2 (tie)
Kethuvim: 1 (NRSV) - 4 (NASB95) - 5 (tie)
Gospels & Acts: 1 (NRSV) - 7 (NASB) - 2 (tie)
Epistles & Rev: 2 (NRSV) - 4 (NASB) - 4 (tie)
Total: 9 (NRSV) - 25 (NASB95) - 16 (tie)

Torah: 2 (NRSV) - 4 (NASB95) - 4 (tie)
Nevi'im 5 (NRSV) - 3 (NASB85) - 2 (tie)
Kethuvim: 2 (NRSV) - 5 (NASB) - 3 (tie)
Gospels & Acts: 1 (NRSV) - 6 (NASB) - 3 (tie)
Epistles & Rev: 4 (NRSV) - 3 (NASB) - 3 (tie)
Total: 14 (NRSV) - 21 (NASB95) - 15 (tie)

Completing the Boxed Set:

NASB vs. NRSV Round 1: Torah
NASB vs. NRSV Round 2: Nevi'im
NASB vs. NRSV Round 3: Kethuvim
NASB vs. NRSV Round 4: Gospels & Acts
Comments where these discussions were taking place