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Bible Version Comparison (NASB, ESV, NKJV, KJV)

Purpose:

To compare (what I believe to be) the best modern-language literal English Bible versions. This is not meant to be a thorough comparison and is an on-going, collaborative study. (Please post comments of your own findings below.)

  • The purpose is not to cast doubt on the accuracy of the sacred Word, nor to promote a change from the use of the KJV.
  • Each of these versions is reliable and will not lead to wrong doctrine when the text is properly evaluated in context and in relation to the whole of the Scriptures. 
  • If I have centered on faults, it is for the sake of the preservation of truth and the evaluation of weaknesses, not to degrade the translation.
Note: I have not studied the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) but it sounds like it is worthy of study. I would like to do that sometime, and may add it to this list of versions for comparison.
 

With a view to:

  • Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the translations
  • Pointing out verses that are not translated accurately
  • Guiding the version choice of those who would like to read a modern-English translation

Background:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16 KJV). The original manuscripts were God-breathed and thus were free from error, but we don't have the originals, and many of us can't read Greek. Thus, we have a choice of which translation to read.

No Bible version is perfect. The King James Version is an excellent translation that has stood the test of time, but there is value in comparing translations to get a better understanding of a verse. These pages are intended to help individuals who want to know more about these translations and which one is most suitable for them.

What about the NIV?

I have not included the NIV in this study because I do not agree with its basic translation philosophy, which includes dynamic equivalence. Dynamic equivalence is not a word-for-word translation, but rather "attempts to convey the thought expressed in a source text (if necessary, at the expense of literalness, original word order, the source text's grammatical voice, etc.)" (Source) Therefore, there is more interpretation done by the translators in dynamic equivalence, and less left up to the reader to understand for himself what the true meaning of the passage is. However, the NIV is a MUCH better representation of the original than the CEV or "The Message" that call themselves Bibles but are really paraphrases, not translations.


General Comparisons

See also: Comparison of Word Choice  |  Comparison of Readability  |  Manuscript Differences

 

How Literal? And general overview

(Listed from MORE LITERAL to EASIER TO READ, Zondervan, quote reference)

NASB (1995 revision) 

  • "seeks the highest possible level of transparency to the original documents that can be achieved while still retaining comprehensibility in English."
  • Special care was given to the rendering of tenses. 
  • Where word-for-word literalness is unacceptable for the English reader, a footnote indicates the more literal rendering.

ESV

  • "Prioritizes transparency to the form and structure of the original documents" blending literalness with readability. 
  • An "essentially literal" translation (preface).

NKJV

  • "Prioritizing transparency to the same source documents as the original KJV but with updated English... The purpose was to refresh and modernize the original KJV without losing its distinctive flavor." 
  • A "Complete equivalence" translation. (introduction)

KJV (Zondervan said the KJV is more literal than the NKJV but placed here due to old-style English and for comparison)

  • "Blending transparency to the form and structure of the Bible documents... with elegant 17th-century English"

 

Starting Version, Manuscripts used, Committee Conviction:

The topic of which manuscripts are the most accurate is complex and controversial. Reportedly, the variations in manuscripts are relatively small and do not affect the foundational doctrines of Scripture. I do not believe that the manuscripts used should necessarily have a great impact on which translation is chosen, although it may be helpful to know the major differences, some of which I have included here. Some study Bibles such as Penfold's KJV Newberry Bible list the variations in the footnotes, which is helpful to some. For me, it has been helpful in seeing that the variations are not significant in most cases.

More resources on this topic may be cited at a later time.

NASB:

  • Started with the 1901 ASV
  • NT based on mostly the 26th edition of Eberhard Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece. (Principles of Translation)
  • "produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture as originally penned... were inspired by God" (foreword)

ESV:

  • Started with the 1971 RSV
  • NT based on 1993 ed. of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected edition) by UBS and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.) edited by Nestle and Aland. Footnotes indicate significant alternative readings
  • The translation team "shares a common commitment to the truth of God's Word and to historic Christian orthodoxy" (preface)

NKJV:

  • Started with the KJV;
  • NT based on the Traditional Textus Receptus; readings with weak support are indicated in footnotes. (introduction)
  • "All participating scholars signed a document of subscription to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs of the Bible" (introduction).

KJV: 

  • Revision of the Bishops' Bible of 1568 (preface to NASB)
  • Based on the Textus Receptus (introduction to NKJV)

 

Capitalizes personal pronouns for God:

  • NASB: Yes
  • ESV: No
  • NKJV: Yes
  • KJV: Only some printings

 

Incorporates italicised words to show implied words:

  • NASB: Yes
  • ESV: No
  • NKJV: Yes
  • KJV: Yes

 

Advantages / Strengths

NASB

  • Excellent for serious Bible study
  • 1995 revision is more readable than 1977 (Note that the 1977 version uses "Thee" and "Thou" to distinguish God.)
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as a positive or negative)

ESV

  • Literal while retaining better readability than the NASB
  • Good for general reading
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as positive or negative)

NKJV

  • Retains wording and source text similar to the KJV (may be viewed as positive or negative)
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as positive or negative)
  • Updates KJV words that are no longer in use today or have changed in meaning.

KJV

  • Well-known and trusted
  • Easy to memorize
  • Excellent literary qualities
  • Older English enables reader to distinguish between singular and plural pronouns
    • "Thee," "Thou" and "Thy" are singular whereas "Ye" and "You" are plural 

 


Bible Word Study Resources

Parallel with 5 versions including those on this site

Parallel (multiple)interlinear (with NT morphology)(with NASB), and many study helps (but does not have NKJV)

Parallel Online Bible Option 1

Parallel Online Bible Option 2 with italics formatting

Interlinear KJV or NASB Bible with NT Morphological Tags

BlueLetterBible.org Online Bible search and study tool

OliveTree Bible search; NASB with Strong's numbers and definition window

English Bible History

Bible Gateway Translation Forum (seeks to help explain the reasons translators chose certain words.)

 

Free Bible Software (that you install) that offers these Bible versions:

BerBible - Offers free KJV, ESV, NASB, NKJV, NET Bibles. Simple, fast and light.

E-Sword.net - Free, powerful Bible software with many downloadable resources. Must pay for NKJV, NASB. Many private modules available as well.

  • E-Sword has a "compare" function that allows you to compare a chosen set of translations.
  • I especially value the following for Bible/word study: KJV+, NASB+($), GNT-TR+/GNT-BYZ+, GNT-WH+ (includes Nestle27/UBS4 in footnotes), RMAC, Vine NT($), ISBE, Strong, KJC (counts not totally accurate), NASEC($), Gill, RWP, K&D
  • See this information sheet illustrating some E-Sword Greek study tools in use.

The Word - Free, powerful software that is also popular. I have not used it but it looks excellent. Extra portable.  Bibles may be a little more expensive.

  • I note that The Word has the text used in NASB / ESV (basically) with Strong's numbers and Morphological codes, whereas E-sword only has Westcott-Hort (with morphological tags) with the underlying texts to the ESV/NASB in the footnotes.

 

Bible Resources for iphone, ipod, and/or ipad

Please see this link for more information about mobile apps.

Pocket Sword - by CrossWire, ESword for ipod, iphone, ipad.

  • Free Bibles: Includes KJV with Strong's numbers & NT morphology; can install for free (offline): ASV, ESV, Darby, ISV, NET, WEB / WH-NA, TR, LXX, HEB+, LAT / RV09 among others
  • Free Commentaries: Robertson's Word Pictures, Matthew Henry, Scofield, Keil & Delitzsch on the OT, Jamieson Fausset Brown, Darby translation notes, Adam Clark's Commentary, Barnes, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, among others.
  • Devotionals: Morning & Evening by C.H. Spurgeon
  • Dictionaries: Easton, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Nave's topical Bible, Webster's 1913

 

You Version - Includes free offline ESV, HCSB, NIV, NKJV, NET, RVR60, LBLH & more

  • Allows online listening to various translations
  • Notes feature

 

List of other Mobile Bible programs

 

 

Other Resources

Listing of outdated words in the KJV and their modern definitions

 


Citations are from the following versions (click link for more details):

NASB:1995 Revision, New American Standard Bible, copyright 1995 by Lockman Foundation

ESV: English Standard Version, copyright 2001 Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

KJV: King James Version (Authorized Version), 1611, public domain. Quotations may be from the 1769 edition (E-Sword) or 1987 printing (Bible Gateway)- there is little variation between them.

NKJV: New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.