Choosing a Bible Translation


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


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


“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–it is impossible to have a translation that perfectly relays the original meaning and for every scenario. 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?

The NIV uses a 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. This site currently focuses on more literal translations that may be used for serious Bible study. 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. I have reviewed one dynamic translation, the NLT, here.

General Comparisons

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

How Literal / Readable?

NASB (2020 revision)

  • “Places the highest priority on consistently adhering to formal equivalence translation, so the literalness of the original manuscripts is not sacrificed.” (reference)
  • Probably a little easier to read than NASB 1995. It could be argued that the NASB 2020 uses more natural grammar than the ESV, while still staying very literal. (reference)
  • Uses more gender-neutral language than the other translations listed here (see notes below)
  • Reading level: USA 10th grade (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 and word-for-word accuracy. This makes the translation excellent for Bible study, but harder to follow in general reading.
  • Where word-for-word literalness is unacceptable for the English reader, a footnote indicates the more literal rendering.
  • Reading level: USA 11th grade / ages 16+ (reference)

ESV (2001 – 2016 revisions; other editions for specific groups exist)

  • “Prioritizes transparency to the form and structure of the original documents” blending literalness with readability.
  • An “essentially literal” translation (preface).
  • Many feel the ESV is easier to read than NASB 1995.
  • Reading level: USA 10th grade / ages 15+ (reference)

NKJV (1982)

  • “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)
  • Not as natural to read as the ESV or NASB 2020 since it tries to retain the word order “flavor” of the KJV
  • Said to not be as literal as KJV / NASB / ESV
  • Reading level: USA 7th – 8th grade / ages 12+ (reference) (Note: this is based on number of words in a sentence and number of syllables in a word rather than structure of the grammar.)

KJV (1611-1769)

  • First published in 1611; newer editions made changes in printing/spelling with other mostly minor changes
  • “Blending transparency to the form and structure of the Bible documents… with elegant 17th-century English”
  • The KJV is no longer easy to read for many of today’s readers due to its outdated English. It is deemed less literal as NASB 1995, but is still very literal.
  • Reading level: USA 12th grade / ages 17+ (reference)

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 (2020): (reference)

  • Revision of NASB 1995
  • Old Testament: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) for the books available. Also the LXX, DSS, the Targums, and other ancient versions when pertinent.
  • New Testament: 28th edition of Eberhard Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece supplemented by the new textual criticism system that uses all the available Gr mss. known as the ECM2.
  • “Underlying the New American Standard Bible is the evangelical commitment of the translators, all of whom believe that the original writing of the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.”
  • Most of the bracketed texts have been moved to footnotes (where the text was not found in what the translators considered to be the most reliable manuscripts)

NASB (1995): (reference)

  • 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)
  • Retains verses from the Textus Receptus that are often considered to not have been in the original, placed in brackets

ESV: (reference)

  • Started with the 1971 RSV
  • OT based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983)
  • 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)


  • 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).


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

Capitalizes personal pronouns for God:

  • NASB 2020: Yes
  • NASB 1995: Yes
  • ESV: No
  • NKJV: Yes
  • KJV: Only some printings

Incorporates italicized words to show words not in the Greek text:

  • NASB 2020: Yes
  • NASB 1995: Yes
  • ESV: No
  • NKJV: Yes
  • KJV: Yes

Use of Gender:

Explanation: Greek uses the masculine form of pronouns (He, Him, etc.) when the meaning could be either masculine or feminine. (For example, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”) Since modern readers would not necessarily recognize this, some translations neutralize the gender, e.g. “If anyone is in Christ”. This could be done in varying degrees, and requires a certain amount of interpretation to determine when the gender is truly masculine.

  • NASB 2020: Uses gender-neutral words even if the manuscript text is masculine but could refer to either gender. (reference). Uses italics to show which words are added when using gender-inclusive language (e.g. brothers and sisters).
    • “if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation”
  • NASB 1995: Uses gender-neutral words where there is not a masculine word in Greek
    • “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature”
  • ESV: Generally uses gender-neutral words where there is not a masculine word in the manuscript, but retains “man” and “men” where it is found in the manuscript, and also in cases such as for “mankind”, “brothers”, and “sons” where there is a legal background. (reference)
    • “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”
  • KJV: Masculine is used when gender is undefined
    • “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”

Advantages / Strengths

NASB (2020)

  • Excellent for serious Bible study
  • 2020 revision is more readable than 1995
  • Uses gender-neutral language where appropriate (may be viewed as a positive or negative)
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as a positive or negative)

NASB (1995)

  • Excellent for serious Bible study
  • 1995 revision is more readable than 1977 (Note that the 1977 version uses “Thee” and “Thou” to distinguish God.)
  • Uses the masculine forms instead of gender-neutral language
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as a positive or negative)


  • Literal while retaining better readability than the NASB 1995
  • Good for general reading
  • Uses a mixture of masculine vs. gender-neutral language
  • Does not use the older/poetic English forms (may be viewed as positive or negative)


  • 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.


  • 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 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. – 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 and 2020 Revisions, New American Standard Bible, copyright 1995, 2020 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.

Last edited: 2/11/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *