We have many English translations of the Bible today, and sometimes it’s confusing when choosing the one that’s the best for you. Two important criteria to consider are reliability and readability. Reliability means how faithfully and accurately a translation represents the original texts. We want to be sure we’re reading what the Bible actually says. We also want a Bible that is easy to read, so we will be more likely to read it.
Let’s compare two beloved translations – the King James Version, which is the most widely printed book in history, and the New American Standard Bible, believed to be the most literal translation.
King James I commissioned this translation in 1604 for use in the Church of England. It was the third translation into English approved by the English Church; the first was the Great Bible of 1535, and the second was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568. Protestant reformers in Switzerland had produced the Geneva Bible in 1560. The KJV was a revision of the Bishops Bible, but the 50 scholars who completed the translation consulted the Geneva Bible heavily.
The Authorized King James Version was completed and published in 1611 and contained the 39 books of the Old Testament, the 27 books of the New Testament, and 14 books of the Apocrypha (a group of books written between 200 BC and AD 400, which are not considered inspired by most Protestant denominations).
Translation of the New American Standard Bible began in the 1950’s by 58 evangelical scholars, and it was first published by the Lockman Foundation in 1971. The translator’s goal was to stay true to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, with a version that was understandable and grammatically correct. The scholars also committed to a translation that gave Jesus the proper place as given to Him by the Word.
The NASB is said to be a revision of the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901; however, the NASB was an original translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, although it used the same principles of translation and wording as the ASV. The NASB is known as being one of the first Bible translations to capitalize personal pronouns related to God (He, Your, etc.).
Readability of the KJV and the NASB
After 400 years, the KJV is still among the most popular translations, beloved for its beautifully poetic language, which some feel makes reading enjoyable. Many people, however, find the archaic English hard to comprehend, especially:
- ancient idioms (like “her hap was to light on” in Ruth 2:3), and
- word meanings which have changed over the centuries (like “conversation” which meant “behavior” in the 1600’s), and
- words that are no longer used at all in modern English (like “chambering,” “concupiscence,” and “outwent”).
Defenders of the KJV point out that the version is at a 5th grade reading level according to the Flesch-Kincaid analysis. However, Flesch-Kincaid only analyzes how many words are in a sentence and how many syllables are in each word. It doesn’t judge:
- whether a word is currently used in common English (like besom), or
- if the spelling is what’s used now (like shew or sayeth), or
- if the word order follows the way we write today (see Colossians 2:23 in the Bible verse comparisons below).
Bible Gateway puts the KJV at 12+ grade reading level and age 17+.
Up until last year, the NASB was at a reading level of grade 11+ and age 16+; the 2020 revision made it a little easier to read and bumped it down to grade 10 level. The NASB has some long sentences extending for two or three verses, making it difficult to follow the train of thought. Some people find the footnotes distracting, while other people like the clarity they bring.
Bible translation differences between KJV VS NASB
Bible translators must make an important decision on whether to translate “word for word” (formal equivalence) or “thought for thought” (dynamic equivalence) from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Dynamic equivalence is easier to understand, but formal equivalence is more accurate.
Translators also decide whether to use gender-inclusive language, like saying “brothers and sisters” when the original text says “brothers,” but the meaning is clearly both genders. Similarly, translators must consider the use of gender-neutral language when translating words like the Hebrew adam or the Greek anthrópos; both can mean a male person (man) but can also mean mankind or person. Usually when the Old Testament is speaking specifically of a man, it uses the Hebrew word ish, and the New Testament uses the Greek word anér.
A third important decision translators make is which manuscripts to translate from. When the Bible was first being translated into English, the main Greek manuscript available was the Textus Receptus, published by a Catholic scholar Erasmus in 1516. The Greek manuscripts available to Erasmus were all recent, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. This meant he was using manuscripts that had been hand-copied, over and over and over again for more than 1000 years.
Later, older Greek manuscripts became available – some dating as far back as the 3rd century. Some of the oldest manuscripts were missing verses found in the newer ones that Erasmus used. Perhaps they had been added in over the centuries by well-meaning scribes.
KJV Bible translation
The King James Version is a word for word translation but is not considered as literal or accurate as the NASB or ESV (English Standard Translation).
The KJV does not use gender-inclusive language if it isn’t in the original languages. As far as gender-neutral language, when translating words like the Hebrew adam or the Greek anthropos, the KJV usually translates as man, even if the context is obviously both men and women.
For the Old Testament, translators used the 1524 Hebrew Rabbinic Bible by Daniel Bomberg and the Latin Vulgate. For the New Testament, they used the Textus Receptus, Theodore Beza’s 1588 Greek translation, and the Latin Vulgate. The Apocrypha books were translated from the Septuigent and the Vulgate.
NASB Bible translation
The NASB is a formal equivalence (word for word) translation, considered the most literal of modern translations. In some places, the translators used more current idioms, but with a footnote as to the literal rendering.
In the 2020 edition, the NASB incorporated gender-inclusive language when that was the clear meaning of the verse; however, they use italics to indicate words added in (brothers and sisters). The 2020 NASB also uses gender-neutral words like person or people when translating the Hebrew adam or the Greek anthropos, when the context makes it clear it is not exclusively speaking of only males (see Micah 6:8 below).
Translators used the older manuscripts for translation: the Biblia Hebraica and the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Old Testament and Eberhard Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece for the New Testament.
Bible verse comparison
KJV: “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”
NASB: “These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
KJV: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
KJV: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
NASB: “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
KJV: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
NASB: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”
KJV: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
NASB: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
KJV: “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.”
NASB: “And if your foot is causing you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life without a foot, than, having your two feet, to be thrown into hell.”
KJV: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
NASB: “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.”
Here is Romans 12:21 in the original 1611 version:
“Be not ouercome of euill, but ouercome euill with good.”
As you can see, significant changes in spelling have occurred in the English language over the centuries!
- The 1629 and 1631 revisions by Cambridge University eliminated printing errors and corrected minor translation issues. They also incorporated a more literal translation of some words and phrases into the text, that previously had been in margin notes.
- Cambridge University (1760) and Oxford University (1769) conducted more revisions – correcting printing errors of scandalous proportions, updating spelling (like sinnes to sins), capitalization (holy Ghost to Holy Ghost), and standardized punctuation. The text of the 1769 edition is what you see in most KJV Bibles of today.
- The Apocrypha books were part of the original King James Version as these books were included in the lectionary for the Book of Common Prayer. As the church in England transitioned to more Puritan influence, the Parliament forbade reading the Apocrypha books in churches in 1644. Shortly after, editions of the KJV without these books were published, and most KJV editions since then don’t have them, although some still do.
- 1972, 1973, 1975: minor text revisions
- 1995: major text revision. Revisions and refinements were made to represent current English usage, for increasing clarity, and for smoother reading. The archaic Thou, Thee, and Thy in prayers to God (mostly in the Psalms) were replaced with modern pronouns. The NASB was also revised to several verses in paragraph from, rather than each verse separated by a space.
- 2000: major text revision. Included “gender accuracy,” replacing “brothers” with “brothers and sisters,” when the context indicated both genders, but using italics to indicate the added “and sisters.” In earlier editions, verses or phrases that were not in the earliest manuscripts were bracketed but left in. The NASB 2020 moved these verses out of the text and down to footnotes.
Traditionalist adults and older teens who enjoy the classical elegance and have familiarized themselves enough with Elizabethan English to understand the text.
As a more literal translation, suitable for older teens and adults interested in serious Bible study, although it can be valuable for daily Bible reading and reading longer passages.
As of April 2021, the KJV is the second most popular Bible translation by sales, according to the Evangelical Publisher’s Association.
The NASB is ranked #10 in sales.
Pros and cons of both
Pros of the KJV include its poetic beauty and classical elegance. Some feel this makes verses easier to memorize. For 300 years, this was the most favored version, and even today, it holds second place in sales.
The cons are the archaic language and spelling which makes it hard to read and difficult to understand.
Because the NASB is such an accurate and literal translation it can be depended on for serious Bible study. This translation is based on the oldest and best Greek manuscripts.
Recent revisions have made the NASB much more readable, but it still does not always follow current idiomatic English and retains some awkward sentence structure.
Pastors who use KJV
A study in 2016 showed that the KJV Bible was most used by Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Mormons.
- Andrew Wommack, conservative TV evangelist, faith healer, founder of Charis Bible College.
- Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church and founder of the New Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement.
- Gloria Copeland, minister and wife of televangelist Kenneth Copeland, author, and weekly teacher on faith healing.
- Douglas Wilson, Reformed and evangelical theologian, pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, faculty member at New Saint Andrews College.
- Gail Riplinger, teacher from pulpit in Independent Baptist churches, author of New Age Bible Versions.
- Shelton Smith, pastor in Independent Baptist churched and editor of Sword of the Lord newspaper.
Pastors who use NASB
- Dr. Charles Stanley, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Atlanta and president of In Touch Ministries
- Joseph Stowell, President, Moody Bible Institute
- Dr. Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Kay Arthur, Co-Founder, Precept Ministries International
- Dr. R.C. Sproul, Presbyterian Church in America Pastor, founder of Ligonier Ministries
Study Bibles to Choose
Best KJV Study Bibles
- Nelson KJV Study Bible, 2nd edition, contains study notes, doctrinal essays, one of the most extensive cross-references available, definitions in center column of page that words appear, an index of Paul’s letters, and book introductions.
- The Holman King James Version Study Bible is great for visual learners with loads of colorful maps and illustrations, detailed study notes, cross-referencing, and explanation of King James words.
- Life in the Spirit Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson, contains Themefinder icons telling which theme a given passage addresses, study notes, 77 articles on life in the Spirit, word studies, charts, and maps.
Best NASB Study Bible
- The MacArthur Study Bible, edited by reformed pastor John MacArthur, explains the historical context of passages. It includes thousands of study notes, charts, maps, outlines and articles from Dr. MacArthur, a 125e-page concordance, an overview of theology, and an index to key Bible doctrines.
- The NASB Study Bible by Zondervan Press contains 20,000+ notes to provide valuable commentary and an extensive concordance. It has a center-column reference system with 100,000+ references. In-text maps help with viewing the geography of the text one is currently reading. An extensive NASB concordance
- The NASB New Inductive Study Bible by Precept Ministries International encourages studying the Bible for yourself instead of relying on the interpretation of commentaries. It guides readers in an inductive method of Bible study, with Bible marking which lead back to the source, allowing God’s Word to be the commentary. Study tools and questions help with understanding and applying Scripture.
Other Bible Translations
- NIV (New International Version), number 1 on the bestselling list, was first
published in 1978 and translated by 100+ international scholars from 13 denominations. The NIV was a fresh translation, rather than a revision of a former translation. It is a “thought for thought” translation and also uses gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language. The NIV is considered second best for readability after the NLT, with an age 12+ reading level.
Here is Romans 12:1 in the NIV (compare with KJV and NASB above):
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”
- NLT (New Living Translation) as number 3 on the bestselling list, is a translation/revision of the 1971 Living Bible paraphrase and considered the most easily readable translation. It is a “dynamic equivalence” (thought for thought) translation completed by over 90 scholars from many evangelical denominations. It uses gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language.
Here is Romans 12:1 in the NLT:
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
- ESV (English Standard Version) as number 4 on the bestselling list is an “essentially literal” or word for word translation and a revision of the 1971 Revised Standard Version (RSV). It is considered second only to the New American Standard Version for accuracy in translating. The ESV is at a 10th grade reading level, and like most literal translations, the sentence structure can be slightly awkward.
Here is Romans 12:1 in the ESV:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Which Bible translation shall I choose?
Both the KJV and the NASB are reliable in faithfully and accurately representing the original texts. Most people find the NASB more readable, reflecting the natural idiom and spelling of today’s English and easily comprehended.
Select a translation you love, can read easily, is accurate in translation, and that you will read daily!
Before buying a print edition, you may want to try reading and comparing the KJV and the NASB (and other translations) online at the Bible Hub website. They have all the translations mentioned above and many more, with parallel readings for whole chapters as well as individual verses. You can also use the “interlinear” link to check out how close a verse adheres to the Greek or Hebrew in various translations.