I've read both the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version for some time now. I frankly can't tell which one I'm reading; they're that close. Many passages are translated with the exact same wording.

What are the differences between the translation ideologies of the two?


3 Answers 3


From the ESV Wikipedia link (emphasis added):

The result is a translation that is more literal than the popular New International Version, but more idiomatic than the New American Standard Bible.

That's probably the main difference. So ESV is going to be more literal, less figurative and free from exaggeration/embellishment in it's translations and is going to "use, contain or denote expressions that are natural to the native speaker" (idiomatic as defined by dictionary.com).

(My opinion) From what I've read from each of them, the NASB seems to be smoother and more easily understood in modern English. However, with the ESV, it's nice sometimes to get a more clear look at the original meanings/translation.

The most updated version of the NASB was 1995* and the most recent version of ESV is a 2011 edition*.

"[...] on occasion the ESV translates 'person' or 'one' where previous translations used 'man' [however] it keeps gender specific language [as-is] in the original [text]."*

*from Wikipedia links provided.

Good question, I learned a bit through this short bit of research :)

  • 1
    +1 Welcome to Christianity.SE and thanks for the answer! Makes me feel a little dumb to not have noticed that in Wikipedia though I did look at those articles... Oct 10, 2011 at 20:38
  • @dancek Thanks and no worries! Thanks for the votes!
    – joshmax
    Oct 11, 2011 at 14:54
  • 1
    @joshmax: can you give an example of what you mean by exaggerations or embellishments found in other translations?
    – iconoclast
    Jan 12, 2016 at 23:47
  • @iconoclast: Looking back, "exaggerations/embellishments" was a bit harsh. What I should have said was that the ESV (and the NAB) both attempt to be literal translations: they don't attempt to interpret the passage for the reader (especially when contrasted with the NLT or The Message). Here is another good comparision of thetwo translations: ESV vs NAB
    – joshmax
    Jan 14, 2016 at 15:41
  • Since it is impossible to translate without interpreting, I suspect what you mean is that you object to the particular interpretations chosen, or you feel that they took interpretive steps that were not 100% warranted by the original text. Is that right?
    – iconoclast
    Jan 16, 2016 at 19:18

The NASB follows more of a formal equivalence model of translation. They try to translate every Greek/Hebrew word with the same English word in each occurrence. They also try to be consistent in how they express grammatical constructions. This is great if you are using the translation to talk about Greek words and grammar because you can pretty much guess what Greek/Hebrew words and constructions are being translated. However, this benefit comes at a cost. You will find the NASB to be a little less clear if you don't know Greek/Hebrew.

The ESV follows a little more of a functional equivalence model. They still try to remain consistent with how they translate words and grammatical constructions. However, the RSV translators (the ESV is an update of the RSV) are a little more willing to translate words differently based upon context.


They are both said to be fairly literal word for word translations, with the NASB having the slight advantage. Both are said to be very accurate. No translation is perfect because translation involves some subjectivity, but both of these are good. The 1970's NASB was said to have more "wooden" language, but that is not true of the updated (1995) NASB. In fact, I think some parts of the updated NASB flow better than in the ESV, but that's my opinion.

Among some other things I like better about the NASB:

The NASB does a better job of footnoting variances among the manuscript text bases.

The NASB italicizes words that had to be added to make sense in English; the ESV does not, so you can't tell those words are additions.

The NASB capitalizes pronouns that refer to the Deity; the ESV does not.

Verses that are included in some of the manuscript bases but not in others (such as part of the Lord's prayer) are included in the main text, inside brackets, in the NASB. In the ESV, they are only shown as a footnote.

I personally like the NASB better, but I don't think you'd go wrong with either of these. They are very similar.

In fact, none of the mainstream translations (excluding those adulterated to fit cult theology, of course) differ in basic Christian doctrine. The KJV, NJKV, HCSB, and NIV (especially the 1984 NIV) are also good translations, so take your pick. The NIV is a thought for thought rather than more literal translation, however.

  • "I like X because of Y, but they're all good translations" - that's what we need to see more of in these translation debates!
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 22, 2015 at 7:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .