NASB Less Literal

by May 25, 2012KJV, NTScholarship4 comments

Comparing Bible translations is a very complex matter. One small example:

The New American Standard Bible is generally (and, I think, rightly) considered to be the most “literal” of major English Bible translations. (“Literal” is a notoriously tricky word that I won’t try to define here.)

But check out the following verse in major Bible translations:

ESV  Col 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

KJV  Col 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

NIV  Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

HCSB  Col 3:5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.

NASB Col 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

One of these things is not like the other! My Koine Greek isn’t good enough to know how Paul might have distinguished “amounts to” from “is,” but the two are not quite the same.

The Greek has the most common linking verb: “ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρία.” The most common gloss (one way to define “literal”) for this word is “is.” The NASB, I think most would agree, isn’t as literal here as even the NIV.

“Amounts to” probably does capture the meaning of the phrase, but not the “literal” translation.

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  1. Parallax Perspective

    The NASB translators do footnote their translation saying, “lit., is.”

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      Good point—I was in BibleWorks and so failed to check for that.

  2. Parallax Perspective

    Interesting that NASB doesn’t follow suit in its translations of Luke 12:1 and Eph 3:13. The construction “ἥτις ἐστὶν” seems to carry a stronger force than “amounts to.”

  3. Mark L Ward Jr

    A perfect example of why it’s so hard to compare translations. Different people/teams translate different portions of Scripture; it’s quite a task to ensure that minutia like this is caught and made consistent. I’m not even saying they ought to have done so, only that generalizations like “the NASB is the most literal Bible translation” will have exceptions in the particulars!

    And nothing I’ve said is a criticism, just an observation.


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