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This is a brief introduction to Bible translation basics, with other articles readdressing some areas in greater detail. Understanding how the Bible came down to us, how Bible translations are made, the different translation philosophies, and the textual issues that exist are essential for all serious students of the Bible.
John Wycliffe (1330?—84) was a Catholic priest and renowned Oxford theologian. He is credited with producing the first complete English Bible. Of course, this was a handwritten edition and produced from the Latin Vulgate and not the original language of Hebrew and Greek. William Tyndale (1494–1536) produced the first printed edition of the New Testament from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Our modern English translations begin with the 1901 American Standard Version.
Those who wish to read the Bible likely only have access to translations, as it was originally written in ancient Hebrew, some Aramaic, and Greek. As of 2010, there are 6,900 languages spoken in the world today, with 2,100 still needing the Bible translated into their language. (Wycliffe Translators) The English-speaking world has over 100 different translations, while others have just one. In fact, the Bible has even been translated into Klingon, the made-up language of the television show Star Trek. If we are one of the fortunate ones who have a choice, we certainly want to choose the Bible that is literal, accurate, clear, natural, and easy to understand.
The question that begs to be asked is, ‘why the need for so many English translations?’ There are several reasons, but as is true with many things in life, it can be taken to the extreme. The primary reason is that the English language changes over time. We no longer speak the way of the King James Version or the American Standard Version. Another reason is that other methods of translating have come on the scene in the 1950s, which has caused a plethora of new translations: the easy-to-read dynamic equivalents and paraphrases. Another basic reason that even literal translation will differ in minute ways is because of textual, literary, and grammatical problems that translators must make choices over.
The Words and Their Meaning
After the translation committee has established, which critical [master] text they are going to work from, they must still work the evidence of each word that has significant variants. Once it has been determined what the original language word is, its meaning must be established. The Hebrew Old Testament has hundreds of words that have not been found outside of the Old Testament itself. Let us look at an example.
1 Samuel 13:21 King James Version (KJV)
21 Yet they had a file [Heb., pim] for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
What was a pim? It would not be uncovered until 1907 when archaeology discovered the first pim weight stone at the ancient city of Gezer. The translation, like the above King James Version, struggled in their translation of the word “pim.” Today, translators know that the pim was a weight measure of about 7.82 grams, or as the English Standard Version has it, “two-thirds of a shekel,” a common Hebrew unit of weight that the Philistines charged for sharpening the Israelites plowshares and mattocks.
Weight inscribed with the word pym Z. Radovan/www.BibleLandPictures.com
1 Samuel 13:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 The charge was a pim [Heb,. pim] for the plowshares and for the mattocks, for the three-pronged fork, for the axes, and for fixing the oxgoad.
The Greek New Testament does not face the same challenges, as there are a mere handful of words that does not appear outside of the New Testament literature. We can look at one example though from Jesus’ model prayer.
Matthew 6:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Give us this day our daily [Gr., epiousion] bread,
Here, “epiousion” is defined in the lexicon as either “daily” bread or “bread for tomorrow.” The policy of almost all modern translations is to use both words if a given Hebrew or Greek word can be taken in two different ways. Generally, they select one for the translation, the other will be placed in a footnote as “or.”
The Punctuation in Translation
For centuries, there was no punctuation in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Bible. Punctuation marks started to be introduced by copyists and translators in accordance with their interpretation of context and their understanding of Bible doctrine. One verse captures the seriousness of the modern translator, making the choice of punctuation, i.e., Luke 23:43. Depending on where the translation places the comma, you have a completely different outcome.
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Alternatively,
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.”
With number (1), you have Jesus telling the criminal that sided with him eventually, “today you will be with me in paradise.” With number (2), you have Jesus telling the criminal today, “you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, number (2) tells us that the criminal was being told this day, the day he and Jesus were speaking, that he would be with Jesus in paradise. This would mean that the criminal would die with the guarantee of an immediate future resurrection. Moreover, if the criminal were resurrected that day, it would conflict with the fact Jesus was not resurrected that day. Jesus remained in the tomb for parts of three days.
The Grammar in Translation
The grammar of Hebrew and Greek can present multiple problems. The initial problem is which words should be transliterated. The Hebrew word ʼadam′ means “Adam” or “man.” When should it be translated “Adam,” and when should it be translated “man.”
Genesis 1:26a Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 And God went on to say, “Let us make man [ʼadam] in our image, after our likeness.
“Let us make man [ʼadam] in our image, after our likeness.
Genesis 3:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
17 And to Adam [ʼadam] he said,
By looking at both the ancient translations, as well as the modern ones, we see a major disagreement. At Genesis 2:7 the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan uses “Adam.” The Greek Septuagint does not use Adam until 2:16, and the Latin Vulgate, at 2:19. Moving to modern translations, we find the New American Standard Bible at 2:20, the New International Version at 2:21; the New English Bible at 3:21; and the New Revised Standard Version at 5:1. Other difficult choices are with the Greek word Christos, which means “Christ,” or “anointed one.” Additionally, Should the Greek verb baptizo, be transliterated as “baptize,” or translated as “immerse?” Moreover, should the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades be transliterated, as it is confusing when it is translated as “hell,” as “death,” “grave,” as well as other renderings? Should Gehenna, Tartarus, and others be transliterated as opposed to translating them?
Another translation issue of late is the gender-inclusive issue. The question before a translation committee is whether the masculine-oriented Bible should stay that way. What these gender-inclusive translators fail to understand is this: to deviate, in any way, from the pattern, or likeness of how God brought his Word into existence, merely opens the Bible up to a book that reflects the age and time of its readers. If we allow the Bible to be altered because the progressive woman’s movement feels offended by masculine language, it will not be long before the Bible gives way to the homosexual communities being offended by God’s Words in the book of Romans; so modern translations will then tame that language, so as to not cause offense. I am certain that we thought that we would never see the day of two men, or two women being married by priests, but that day has been upon us for some time now. In fact, the American government is debating whether to change the definition of marriage. Therefore, it is suggested that the liberal readers not take the warning here as radicalism, but more like reality.
The Most Important Choice
The most important decision a Christian can make is, ‘which translation should be my study Bible?’ If we are to make an informed choice on which translation, is best, we need to consider the following questions: What are the different types of translations available to us, and how is each to be best used? Of the different types, what are the strong points and weaknesses? Thus, if there are weaknesses, why should you be cautious? For the purpose of this article, we are only considering the English language translation. In addition, while we could demonstrate with both Hebrew and Greek, to keep it simple we will only use Greek in the examples. In addition, we will use the actual Greek font, but this will not affect those who do not know Greek. The different types of translations cover a wide-range of styles, but there are three basic categories.
One can look at these three different styles of translations as different stages in the Bible translation process. The interlinear stage is not a Bible translation. The interlinear stage is a very rough stage of sorts in that it does not have a smooth, clear, natural flow, nor is it in an easy-to-understand format. However, the interlinear is a tool and not meant to be smooth, as you will see below. The literal translation is a much smoother and clearer translation when compared with an interlinear and should be our choice of a study Bible. The dynamic equivalent is much smoother and easy to read, with the paraphrase being very conversational-informal (every day). However, one has to ask, at what point are we moving beyond the Word of God, and into a smooth, clear, easy-to-understand translation that has hidden or obscured the original language text.
The interlinear Study Tool: This study tool could be known as a hyper-literal translation. The interlinear follows the original language without any concern for English grammar and syntax. Beneath the Hebrew or Greek words of the original language text, depending upon which testament you are working with, the lexical English equivalent is placed. The Greek New Testament, 2004 (UBS4); The Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 2004 (NA27); The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, 2008-2010 (LGNTI); The Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Old Testament, 2004 (LHB).
The Literal Translation: The literal translation is commonly called the word-for-word translation. Unlike the interlinear, the literal translation follows the original language with concern for English grammar and syntax. The literal translation seeks to render the original language words and style into a corresponding English word and style. Again, they seek to retain the original syntax, sentence structure, and the style of each Bible writer as far as possible. For example, we have the King James Version, 1611 (KJV); American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV); Revised Standard Version, 1952 (RSV); New American Standard Bible, 1995 (NASB); English Standard Version, 2001 (ESV); and the Updated American Standard Version, 2018 (UASV).
Dynamic Equivalent Dishonesty
There has become a pattern for those who favor a dynamic equivalent translation, to use an interlinear Bible, which is not a translation, and refers to it as a word for word translation, because they know that this phrase is tied to translations like the KJV, ASV, RSV, ESV, and NASB. Below is an example from Duvall and Hays in the third edition of Grasping God’s Word (GGW).
Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and Daniel J. Hays is a great book, so please take what is said with a grain of salt. However, what is quoted below is very dishonest, wrong, misleading, and shows the length one will go to, to biasedly express their preference in translation philosophy. Within the table below are the egregious words from GGW.
Approaches to Translating God’s Word
The process of translating is more complicated than it appears. Some people think that all you have to do when making a translation is to define each word and string together all the individual word meanings. This assumes that the source language (in this case, Greek or Hebrew) and the receptor language (such as English) are exactly alike. If life could only be so easy! In fact, no two languages are exactly alike. For example, look at a verse chosen at random–from the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy (Matt. 17:18). The word-for-word English rendition is written below a transliteration of the Greek:
Should we conclude that the English line is the most accurate translation of Matthew 17:18 because it attempts a literal rendering of the verse, keeping also the word order? Is a translation better if it tries to match each word in the source language with a corresponding word in a receptor language? Could you even read an entire Bible “translated” in this way?
Because these authors favor the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy, they misrepresent the literal translation philosophy here, to the extent of dishonesty. They give the reader, an interlinear rendering of Matthew 17:18, and then refer or infer that it is a literal translation, which by association would include the ASV, RSV, NASB, ESV, and the UASV. Again, an interlinear is not a Bible translation; it is a Bible study tool for persons who do not read Hebrew or Greek. The lexical rendering is placed under the Greek, while not considering grammar and syntax, i.e., they are the words in isolation. Now, to demonstrate that J. Scott Duvall and Daniel J. Hays are being disingenuous at best, let us look at the literal translations, to see if they read anything like the interlinear that Duvall and Hays used; or rather, do the literal translations consider grammar and syntax when they bring the Greek over into their English translation.
18 And Jesus rebuked him; and the demon went out of him: and the boy was cured from that hour.
|18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.||
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him and the boy was healed from that hour.
18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
|18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.||
18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and from that moment the boy was healed.
As can be clearly seen from the above four literal translations (ASV, NASB, UASV, and the RSV) and the essentially literal ESV and the optimally literal CSB, they are nothing like the interlinear that Duvall and Hays tried to pawn off on us as a word-for-word translation, i.e., a literal translation. The reader can decide for himself if this is misleading or dishonest.
The Dynamic or Functional Equivalent: This goes beyond God’s Word. This method of translation is fine for those few verses that would be misunderstood or even meaningless if it were left literal. For example, 1 Peter 3:3 reads, “Do not let your adorning [kosmos, literally “world”] be external, the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.” It would be nonsensical if it were left literally to read, “Do not let your world be external, the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.”
The DE or thought-for-thought translation philosophy (dynamic equivalent) seeks to render the biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into an English informal (conversational) equivalent. For example, to mention just a few, we have Today’s English Version, 1976 (TEV, GNB); Contemporary English Version, 1995 (CEV); New Living Translation (second edition), 2004 (NLT).
Paraphrase translations are the furthest removed from the interlinear stage. The translators of these Bibles, if we dare to call them such, render the original language into the target language as freely as they feel it needs to be, with the target audience being their most important concern. For example, we have The Living Bible, 1971 (TLB) and The Message Bible, 2002 (MSG).
The Moderate Translation: Like anything in life, there is a tendency to strike a balance between two polarizing worlds, such as the literal translation and the dynamic equivalent. These versions of the Bible endeavor to express the words and the meaning and essence of the original-language expressions while making the text easier to read. For example, we have the New English Translation, 1996 (NET); Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2003 (HCSB); and the New International Version, 2011 (NIV). However, this gesture is a slippery slope for two reasons (1) there is no need to drop below a literal translation level, to do so is to dilute the Word of God. (2) In addition, a step toward the dynamic equivalent is usually followed by another step before long. For example, the 1984 New International Version was an attempt at the middle ground, but the 2011 edition of the NIV went another step toward the dynamic equivalent camp.
MORE ON THE 1995 NASB – 2020 NASB TRANSLATION DRAMA
I will not assume, but I will make some educated inferences about the Lockman Foundation and the NASB. First, let me preface it with I respect the NASB and every translator that has worked on it from the beginning.
I certainly have no problem with updating a translation because I am doing that right now with the Updated American Standard Version (UASV), which I am happy to announce was complete and published in 2022. We, too (Christian Publishing House), are updating the ASV, which means removing the archaic language but not removing the literal renderings that may slow a reader down. as we feel (1) slowing the reader down encourages deeper Bible study (2) it is more accurate to keep the literal rendering and place the interpretive rendering in the footnote. Now, this is not to imply that some literal renderings do not need to be placed in the footnote and the word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as the literal word or phrase in the main text. But for us, that is very few cases. It WAS very few cases with the NASB1995, too. In fact, it was the case since 1960 for the NASB.
You see, the Lockman Foundation and the NASB have enjoyed and rode the wave of being referred to as the most literal and accurate translations. Google this question, “What is the most accurate Bible translation,” and you will quickly and decisively find article after article listing the NASB first and foremost accurate Bible translation.
They proudly rode that horse and bragged and boasted as such. They argued for decades that literal translation philosophy was superior. And when they spoke about literal translation, they meant it. The NASB translation philosophy was nothing like the 1952 Revised Standard Version, the 2001 English Standard Version, and the 2017 Christian Standard Bible, all who claim to be literal in some sense. The ESV is essentially literal, which in my mind, means essentially the Word of God. The CSB is an Optimal Equivalent translation, no real hardcore claim to literalness, but tries to get their foot in that market too.
Now, I could sit here and type out and argue why literal translation is so important, but I would simply be echoing the words of NASB translators have been using for decades but are now trying to nuance so they can move into a new market with the ESV and the CSB. Yes, I am going to offer my opinion now.
I think the Lockman Foundation has done a great service to the Bible reading world but I think its primary goal has always been to try and market to as many audiences as possible, which sounds altruistic, but not really. It has tried to cling to the Westcott and Hort and Nestle-Aland world with its modern-day translation and at the same time retain the Textus Receptus King James Version readers by keeping known textual errors in the main text. I would assume every NT translator knows what the original readers were, but the publisher sought to capture two markets.
Now, that approach was suitable for decades because the King James Version still rules the Bible sales world. But as each decade passed, especially when the NIV really started to take over the market in the 1980s, Christians were starting to step away from the King James Version but stepped over the body of the NASB for an NIV. It is somewhat like the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. You never saw Harley commercials because there was only one real motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson. Then, after decades, the market moved, and Harley was slow to see the need to pick up its marketing.
After the NIV, a hundred dynamics came on the scene and take small percentages of the market, but when added together, they were good sales. Then, in 2001 the ESV came out trying to straddle the market and did a great job presenting the idea that you can have the best of both worlds. Many books were written by their translators that spoke of the importance of literal translation philosophy. They seldom used the qualifier “essentially” literal because they wanted to capture both worlds slowly. And they did just that. Now the 2017 CSB has done the same and taken a portion of the market. This new philosophy of having your cake and eating it too is trying to have two good things that do not normally go together simultaneously, namely, literal translation cake and interpretive translation icing.
Well, the writing was on the wall, just as the conservative historical-grammatical principles of Bible interpretation gave way to the liberal-moderate historical-critical method of interpretation, so to the literal translation philosophy is giving way to the interpretive dynamic equivalent translation philosophy.
So, the NASB has now dipped its toe into the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy of the shallow end of the pool, how long will it be before they are swimming in the deep end. in the late 1890s, R. A. Torrey and others came together in a battle against higher criticism, and for a time, they held liberal Christianity at bay. However, today we only have about ten truly conservative seminaries in America out of thousands. And five of those ten are playing the middle ground as the NIV does in translation.
In 1901, literal translations ruled the day and continued to do so until the 1980s. Today, dynamic equivalent translations have the largest market share, and then you have the having your cake and eating it too translations (ESV, CSB, LEB, and the NASB), trying to cover their bases.
The Lexham English Bible is right there with the ESV but more literal. The CSB is more literal than the NIV but not close to the ESV and the LEB.
The UASV will remain literal in the sense of the 1901 ASV and the 1960-1995 NASB. We will not play both sides of the field with Textus Receptus corruption, nor will we play the same side of the field with translation philosophy. There is no committee, and there is no publisher that can change things because Edward D. Andrews is the committee and the publisher.
Our primary purpose is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place.—Truth Matters! Our primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator.—Translating Truth!
Translating God’s Word from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, that is, the original languages is a task unlike any other and should never be taken lightly. It carries with it the heaviest responsibility: the translator renders God’s thoughts into a modern language. The Updated American Standard Version (UASV) is a literal translation. What does that mean?
A literal translation is undoubtedly more than a word-for-word rendering of the original language of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The corresponding English words need to be translated according to English grammar and syntax. Still, the translation at the same time must be faithful to the original word or as much as possible, for the author may have used word order to emphasize or convey some meaning. In most cases, the translator simply renders the original-language word with the same corresponding English term each time it occurs. The translator has used his good judgment to select words in the English translation from the lexicon within the context of the original-language text. The translator remains faithful to this literal translation philosophy unless it has been determined that the rendering will be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The translator is not tasked with making the text easy to read but rather with making it as accurately faithful to the original as possible.
Removing the Outdated
- Passages with the Old English “thee’s” and “thou’s” etc. have been replaced with modern English.
- Many words and phrases that were extremely ambiguous or easily misunderstood since the 1901 ASV have been updated according to the best lexicons.
- Verses with difficult word order or vocabulary have been translated into correct English grammar and syntax, for easier reading. However, if the word order of the original conveyed meaning, it was kept.
- The last 110+ years have seen the discovery of far more manuscripts, especially the papyri, with many manuscripts dating within 100 years of the originals.
- While making more accurate translation choices, we have stayed true to the literal translation philosophy of the ASV, while other literal translations abandon the philosophy far too often.
- The translator seeks to render the Scriptures accurately, without losing what the Bible author penned by changing what the author wrote, by distorting or embellishing through imposing what the translator believes the author meant into the original text.
- Accuracy in Bible translation is being faithful to what the original author wrote (the words that he used), as opposed to going beyond into the meaning, trying to determine what the author meant by his words. The latter is the reader’s job.
- The translator uses the most reliable, accurate critical texts (e.g., WH, NA, UBS, BHS) and the original language texts, versions, and other sources that will help him determine the original reading.
Why the Need for Updated Translations?
- New manuscript discoveries
- Changes in the language
- A better understanding of the original languages
- Improved insight into Bible translation
Why We Do Not Capitalize Personal Pronouns Referring to God
Choosing to capitalize personal pronouns in Scripture creates unnecessary difficulties at times. Note what the Pharisees say when speaking to Jesus (in the NASB), “We wish to see a sign from You.” Thus, the meaning here would be that the Pharisees regarded Jesus as a deity when that is not the case. Some feel that it is honoring God to capitalize the personal pronouns. However, God has honor and authority purely because he is God. The Scriptures are filled with ways we are actually called to honor and worship God; we do not need to create others to show our reverence for God. We are not dishonoring God if personal pronouns referring to him are not capitalized. For those that decide to capitalize all personal pronouns referring to God, it is simply a matter of preference or style, not because the Scriptures obligate them to do so. Suppose we want to show respect, reverence, honor, and praise to God. In that case, it isn’t through capitalizing personal pronouns that refer to him, but rather by personal Bible study, obedience to the Word of God, our service, church attendance, and carrying out the great commission to make disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) When we look at the ancient manuscripts, there is no effort made to differentiate the personal pronouns that refer to God. Sir Frederic Kenyon, in his book Textual Criticism of the New Testament, says, “Capital letters, which are occasionally used in business documents to mark the beginning of a clause, do not occur in literary papyri . . .” Some might not even be aware that the translators of the highly valued King James Version always capitalized personal pronouns referring to God. It is a bit ironic that those translations that capitalize the personal pronouns referring to God out of reverence and respect remove the Father’s personal name some 7,000 times in the Old Testament.
 Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London; New York: Macmillan and Co., 1901), 22.
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 376.
 Duvall, J. Scott; Hays, J. Daniel (2012-05-01). Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Kindle Locations 494-507). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.