Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Leaving the NASB Behind

I grew up using the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It was the translation of the Bible that I read in grade school, junior high, high school, college, after college, and in seminary. In 2004, I switched to a different translation, but I still tend to think in the language of the NASB.

The NASB is a fine translation in many respects. It is very literal. While some complain that it is a bit wooden and stodgy, I never felt this way. Whenever I look up a passage in the NASB, I feel that I am returning to an old friend.

One of the reasons that I left the NASB behind is that there is a noticeable Dispensational bias in certain passages. Some of the editorial decisions in the translation of the book of Revelation are particularly alarming, in that they camouflage the actual text from the reader.

Compare the following translations of Revelation 21:16-17.

"And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements" (Revelation 21:16-17, NASB).

"The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement" (Revelation 21:16-17, ESV).

You will notice that the numbers differ between the NASB and the ESV. The NASB has "1500 miles" and "72 yards," whereas the ESV uses "12,000 stadia" and "144 cubits." Of course, the original Greek text speaks of stadia and cubits, not miles and yards.

The NASB has made an editorial decision to convert stadia into miles and cubits into yards. This was likely done to help the reader understand the dimensions, as we are more familiar with miles and yards.

However, notice what is sacrificed. In an effort to understand the dimensions, we lose contact with the actual numbers that God placed in the text. "12,000" and "144" are significant numbers in the Bible and in the book of Revelation.

The number "12,000" appears once in Numbers 31:5 and twelve times in Revelation 7:5-8. Additionally the number "12" is significant, appearing over one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. It is the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles.

The number "144" would immediately call to mind Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-3, which speaks of the 144,000 martyrs. Also, 144 is the product of twelve times twelve, which is again another allusion to the Biblically significant number "12."

Christians debate the exact significance and interpretation of these numbers, and my intention in this post is not to argue for any specific meaning to the numbers. Unfortunately, the NASB robs the reader from making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of the Scriptures.

So, why does the NASB convert the numbers in Revelation 21:16-17 into modern equivalents, while consigning the original text to a margin note? The NASB translators made an editorial decision that the reader is better off with the modern equivalents than with the original text.

In doing so, they have camouflaged the original numbers from the average reader. The average reader is robbed of making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of Scripture. Only a Dispensationalist would be comfortable with such a situation.

Ultimately, this corresponds with what many have observed is a Dispensational bias of the NASB translators. You can Google "NASB Dispensational Bias" for more examples. This is one of the reasons why I no longer use the NASB for reading or study.