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.


Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Adams said...

A couple of details are worth noting:

1) The NASB does include a margin note indicating that the literal texts reads "12,000 stadia" and "144 cubits." However, this is quite inadequate. Margin notes are easy to overlook. Virtually every other translation leaves the numbers in stadia and cubits, while giving the modern equivalent in the margin notes.

2) While the NASB does seem to consistently convert "stadia" into miles, the NASB does not consistently convert "cubits" into yards. Furthermore, the NASB uses other archaic terms such as denarius/denarii. Only a Dispensationalist would be happy with such inconsistency.

Folken Family said...

Nice post as I never noted it before.

I personally like to have the modern day equivalent. I think most people do.

I don't believe the actual numbers change the interpretation unless you want to argue that the numbers don't reflect actual measurements.

If you deny they represent actual measurements, then the point of giving the measurement in the first place is lost. I guess you could guess at the meaning of the number 12.

I have heard that 12 can mean God's rule, Christ reign, completeness, fullness, perfection, God's work, Grace, etc.....but who really knows if that is the case..

ElamCreekFarms said...

There is nothing "dispensational" about it. You are using the term "dispensational" in an improper context.

A "dispensation" is "a system of principles, promises, and rules divinely ordained and administered", "a God-revealed body of information given for man's obedience during a certain period of time", "a set of instructions for man to follow"

GamecockBible said...

I have primarily used the NASB for over 20 years because I want a more literal, word for word translation. However, the last couple of years as I have done more Old Testament study and in depth study of Revelation, I am finding this same situation that the NASB does seem to have a bias toward premillennialism, translating Hebrew words in ways that are not the most exact. Last summer I taught a church class on Revelation and noticed the same thing you mention here, about the distances in Revelation being converted to English terms, which misses the whole symbolic nature of the number twelve. Dispensationalists seem to hate the idea of Revelation being symbolic, rather than literal, although the Apocalypse itself tells us at the beginning it is symbolic.

M.A. Moreno said...

It's worth noting that the NRSV does the same thing, and few people would accuse that translation of having a dispensationalist bias. I do prefer the ESV rendering, though.

Unknown said...

I see there's a recent comment here.... I appreciate your observations and am using articles such as this to make decisions on my Bible reading. Having gotten back into religion a few years back, after many years of being pretty blasé about it (thank God for bringing a woman into my life who makes me feel both very blessed & loved), I have spent time with the NIV & NET, before recently deciding to look closely at the ESV & NASB. Thanks....