Category Archives: NASB vs. ESV

NASB vs. ESV, Part 4: 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 & Psalm 105:1-15

This post will point out something that both the NASB and the ESV are “guilty” of.  It’s nothing major; just a few style issues that remind us that English translations are . . . translations.

1 Chronicles 16:8-22 and Psalm 105:1-15 consist of David’s song of thanks after the ark of the Lord was brought to Jerusalem.  The Hebrew text is almost identical in both passages; yet both the NASB and the ESV contain variations in the way they translate each passage.  I’m not saying the NASB and the ESV differ in how they translate the passages (of course they do, they’re different versions); I’m saying that the NASB, for example, renders verses from 1 Chronicles and Psalms that are identical in Hebrew with different English translations.  The ESV does the same thing.  Let me illustrate, beginning with the NASB:

NASB

  1. In 1 Chronicles 16:12, the Hebrew word נִפְלְאֹתָיו is translated “wonderful deeds”; whereas in Psalm 105:5, the same word is translated “wonders.”
  2. In 1 Chronicles 16:12 we have “judgments from His mouth,” whereas in Psalm 105:5, the same Hebrew phrase is translated “judgments uttered by His mouth.”
  3. 1 Chronicles 16:17 begins, “He also confirmed it”; whereas in Psalm 105:10, the same Hebrew word is translated “Then He confirmed it.”
  4. The end of 1 Chronicles 16:21 sets up the quote in v. 22 with “And He reproved kings for their sakes, saying,”; whereas in Psalm 105:14, with no difference in the Hebrew, the quote in v. 22 is set up with a simple colon: “And He reproved kings for their sakes:.”

ESV

  1. In 1 Chronicles 16:13, בְּנֵי is translated “sons”; whereas in Psalm 105:6, the same Hebrew word is translated “children.”
  2. In 1 Chronicles 16:17 we have “which he confirmed as a statute to Jacob, as an everlasting covenant to Israel”; whereas in Psalm 105:10, with identical word order in Hebrew, we have “which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.”  So, the English word order is different in both verses although the Hebrew word order is the same in both verses.
  3. In 1 Chronicles 16:18, the English translation has a comma after “Canaan”; whereas in Psalm 105:11 there is no comma after “Canaan.”
  4. 1 Chronicles 16:19 has “and of little account,” whereas Psalm 105:12 translates the same Hebrew word just “of little account” (without the “and”).

So, once again, we have a passage of Scripture that appears in two places in the Bible (1 Chronicles 16:8-22 and Psalm 105:1-15).  There are places in these two passages where the Hebrew is identical, and yet the same version translates certain words and phrases differently in one place than it does in the other.  Why?  The answer is probably this simple: for both the NASB and the ESV, the person who translated 1 Chronicles was not the same person who translated the book of Psalms.  In other words, whoever translated 1 Chronicles for the NASB just had a slightly different translation style than the person who translated the same passage in Psalms.  Two different people with two different translation styles = two different translations of the same Hebrew text.  The same is likely true for the ESV.

In one sense, these differences don’t really matter at all.  They are very small and insignificant, and the different ways of translating the identical Hebrew words and phrases mentioned here don’t affect the meaning of the texts.  It does remind us, though, that translations are just that—translations.  The NASB and the ESV are English translations of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek originals.  This shouldn’t cause us to doubt the reliability of our English translations.  After all, the examples in this post show that a Hebrew text can be translated into English in more than one way while still being reliable (though slightly different) translations.  It’s just interesting to note the variations in style that exist even within a single English translation of Scripture.  So, if you think that identical Hebrew passages ought to be translated identically in English, then neither the NASB nor the ESV get this one exactly right.


NASB vs. ESV, Part 3: Zephaniah 2:14: “Pelican” or “Owl”?

This third installment in a series comparing the New American Standard (NASB) translation of the Bible and the English Standard Version (ESV) evaluates Zephaniah 2:14, and has to do with bird types.  Sounds exciting, right?  Obviously this textual issue is not quite as important as some others represented by differences between translations, but it is significant in its own right, and I’ll discuss that significance after an evaluation of the textual issue.

The NASB translates Zeph 2:14 this way:

Flocks will lie down in her midst, all beasts which range in herds; both the pelican and the hedgehog will lodge in the tops of her pillars; birds will sing in the window, desolation will be on the threshold; for He has laid bare the cedar work.

The ESV translates the same verse as follows:

Herds shall lie down in her midst, all kinds of beasts; even the owl and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; a voice shall hoot in the window; devastation will be on the threshold; for her cedar work will be laid bare.

So, was Zephaniah prophecying about a “pelican” that will “sing” (NASB) or an “owl” that will “hoot” (ESV)?  The word translated “pelican” and “owl” is קָאַת.  The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon has “a bird, usually pelican” for the meaning of this word, which probably explains why the NASB translators rendered the word this way.  Holladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon (which is based on the Koehler Baumgartner lexicon) has “some unclean species of bird, species of owl, e.g., (European) little owl” as the meaning of קָאַת, which probably explains why the ESV translator’s rendered the word the way they did.

The United Bible Society’s Fauna and Flora of the Bible contains an article on the meaning of קָאַת that helps explain the confusion over the proper translation of this word.  The authors of this work say the following:

The Hb [Hebrew] qa’ath [קָאַת] is one of the numerous unclean birds in Lv 11 and Dt 14 whose identification is doubtful.  Many scholars nowadays [this book was published in 1972 and again in 1980] translate “pelican,” most of them however noting that the meaning of the word is uncertain.  One reason for this is that the pelican frequents rivers and lakes rather than ruins, as it is said to in Is 34 and Zeph 2.

The only sure thing we can say about the Hb word is that it stands for an unclean bird, which dwells in ruins, and that the word may be derived from a root “to throw out,” consequently “a vomiter,” which is taken by commentators to allude to the pelican’s alleged habit of throwing up food for its young from its crop. . . .

Driver in HDB suggests the scops owl, otus scops, which is common in olive groves and about ruins in Palestine.  qa’ath may then be an onomatopoeic word to represent hooting. (p. 65)

Because the word קָאַת is rarely used, it’s hard to determine its precise meaning.  The NASB may have some warrant for translating it “pelican” since the word may be derived from a word root that means “to throw out.”  But then again, the ESV may have warrant for translating the word “owl” since the owl was also an unclean bird, and one that is commonly found among ruins in the Middle East, such as is mentioned in Zeph 2.  It seems that unless more documents are discovered that would help scholars determine the precise meaning of the word, we’ll have to be content not knowing whether Zephaniah was talking about pelicans or owls.  In other words, we simply don’t know whether the NASB or the ESV has the correct translation in this case.

Should this concern us?  This translation problem reminds me of a classic quote from F. F. Bruce’s book, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?.  Though Bruce is speaking specifically to the issue of textual criticism and whether or not we have access to what the New Testament authors actually wrote, I believe his statement here can basically be said to be true of translational difficulties as well.  Bruce writes,

The variant readings about which any doubt remain among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice. (pp. 14-15)

I believe this statement is true in our case.  Whether קָאַת should be translated “pelican” or “owl” really doesn’t change the truth that is being expressed in this verse and in the surrounding context.  The text is speaking about the destruction of Israel as punishment for their sin.  The land will be devastated, and unclean animals will fill it.  This will all be attributed to the judgment of God on behalf of Israel’s rebellion.

It’s true that some passages of Scripture contain translational difficulties that are more significant than the one in Zeph 2:14, but even in those cases where major doctrines are concerned, those doctrines are taught in multiple places throughout the Scriptures.  This means that even if it is unclear how one passage should be translated, there are usually plenty of other passages that do not contain such difficulties and that do give clear teaching on the very same doctrines.

So, why should we care whether or not Zeph 2:14 speaks of “pelicans” or “owls”?  At least two reasons come to mind.  First, for those of us who believe that every word in Scripture is “inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16), even words denoting types of birds should be given at least some attention.  Second, this textual issue is instructive because it demonstrates a truth that we need to be reminded of every now and then; and that is that, although most modern translations can be trusted the majority of the time, no translation is perfect.  The Scriptures are perfect, but no translation of Scripture is perfect.  We live in a fallen world, and this fallenness even affects Bible translators and their ability to render meanings of words properly.  Again, these problems don’t exist in most passages of Scripture, and most translational difficulties don’t affect major doctrines or Christian practices, but in the case of Zeph 2:14 (and a few other texts) we might just have to wait until the New Creation to know once and for all whether it’s “pelicans” or “owls.”


NASB vs. ESV, Part 2: 2 Peter 3:10

I’ve continued to compare the New American Standard translation of the Bible with the English Standard Version.  This second installment in a series of posts involves a textual variant in 2 Peter 3:10.  I believe the ESV gets it right here.

The NASB translates 2 Peter 3:10 as follows: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works *will be burned up*.”

The ESV translates the same passage this way: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it *will be exposed*.”

The difference of translation is due to a textual variant.  The NASB goes with κατακαήσεται, the reading attested in the majority of manuscripts.  The ESV translates εὑρεθήσεται, a reading that has fewer number of manuscripts for support.  Why would the ESV go with a translation based on a reading with fewer manuscripts supporting it? Because of the principle in textual criticism that manuscripts are not merely to be counted, but weighed.  This means that just because a reading has a greater number of manuscripts supporting it does not mean that the reading is original.  A reading might have fewer manuscripts supporting it, but might still be the best choice for the original reading if, for instance, the manuscripts that do support it are older, and if the reading can best explain the origin of the other readings.  This is the case with εὑρεθήσεται in 2 Peter 3:10.  As Bruce Metzger states in his A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, “The oldest reading, and the one which best explains the origin of the others that have been preserved is εὑρεθήσεται” (p. 636; Metzger isn’t entirely convinced that this is the original reading, as the evidence is not conclusive; but he does seem to admit that it’s the best reading.).  In a footnote on this verse, the NASB editors recognize that this reading is supported by older manuscripts: “Two early mss read discovered.”

The ESV’s translation also seems to accord better with the rest of the Bible’s teaching regarding how God will deal with the earth on the last day.  Romans 8:19-22 teaches that it is this earth–the one now under the curse of sin–that will one day “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21).  The earth being “exposed” rather than “burned up” avoids the idea of the earth’s annihilation, but retains a sense of final judgment.

On the issues of textual criticism and the theological issues surrounding 2 Peter 3:10, see Albert Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10.” Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 405-13.

In conclusion, I believe this is an instance in which the ESV, and not the NASB, provides the best translation.


NASB vs. ESV: The Final Showdown

I’ve been reluctant to switch to the ESV probably just because I’ve been a NASB guy ever since I was a royal ambassador.  But, since there’s probably no changing the fact that the ESV will be the next dominant translation among evangelicals, I’ve been considering making the change.  As part of the process of deliberation, I’ve decided to keep a running tally between the two translations, comparing them both to the original Hebrew and Greek text where they differ to see which one I think gets it right on any particular passage.  In the end I’ll probably switch to the ESV anyway, but it still might prove to be a useful study for those who, like me, are finding it hard to part with their tried and true NASBs.

To the first comparison then:

On Romans 8:10, the NASB translates pneuma “spirit” (lowercase), as in “spirit of man”; whereas the ESV translates it “Spirit” (uppercase), as in “the Holy Spirit.”  According to Thomas R. Schreiner’s commentary on Romans, the ESV has it right.  He seems correct, which means that so far the score is . . .

NASB 0 – ESV 1

To be continued . . .


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