The New King James Bible (NKJB) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are both widely popular versions – in the top ten for sales – but both are also accurate word-for-word translations. This article will compare and contrast these two Bible versions regarding their history, readability, differences in translation, and more!
Origins of NKJV and NASB Bible translations
NKJV: The New King James Version is a revision of the King James Version (KJV). The KJV was first translated in 1611 and revised several times in the next two centuries. However, hardly any changes were made after 1769, despite the English language experiencing significant changes. Although the KJV is dearly loved, the archaic language makes it difficult to read. So, in 1975, a team of 130 translators set to work on updating the vocabulary and grammar without losing the beautiful poetic style. Words like “thee” and “thou” were changed to “you.” Verbs like “sayest,” “believeth,” and “liketh” were updated to “say,” “believe,” and “like.” Words that are no longer used in English – like “chambering,” “concupiscence,” and “outwent” were replaced by modern English words with the same meaning. Although the King James Version did not capitalize pronouns (“he,” “you,” etc.) for God, the NKJV followed the NASB in doing so. The NKJV was first published in 1982.
NASB: The New American Standard Version was among the first “modern” translations of Scripture. Although the title implies it was a revision of the ASV (American Standard Version), it actually was a new translation from the Hebrew and Greek texts. However, it did follow the ASV principles of wording and translation. The NASB was among the first English translations to capitalize pronouns like “He” or “You” when referring to God. The NASB translation was first published in 1971 after almost two decades of labor by 58 evangelical translators. The scholars wanted the NASB to translate as literally as possible from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, while using correct English grammar and ensuring it was readable and easily understood.
Readability of the NKJV and the NASB
NKJV: Technically, the NKJV is at a grade 8 reading level. However, the Flesch-Kincaid analysis looks at the number of words in a sentence and number of syllables in a word. It doesn’t analyze if the word order is in current, standard use. The NKJV is clearly easier to read than the KJV, but its sentence structure is sometimes choppy or awkward, and it kept some archaic words like “brethren” and “beseech.” Nevertheless, it retains the poetic cadence of the KJV, which makes it pleasurable to read.
NASB: The most recent revision of the NASB (2020) is at a grade 10 reading level (earlier editions were grade 11). The NASB is a little hard to read because some sentences (especially in the Pauline Epistles) continue for two or three verses, making it difficult to follow. Some readers love the footnotes that give alternate translations or other notes, but others find them distracting.
Bible translation differences between NKJV versus NASB
Bible translators face three key issues: which ancient manuscripts to translate from, whether to use gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language, and whether to translate precisely what is said – word for word – or to translate the main idea.
The Textus Receptus is a Greek New Testament published by Erasmus, a Catholic scholar, in 1516. He used hand-copied Greek manuscripts dating back to the 12th century. Since then, other Greek manuscripts have been discovered that are much older – as far back as the 3rd century. As much as 900 years older than the Textus Receptus, these manuscripts are used in most recent translations as they are considered more accurate (the more something is hand-copied, the more the risk of mistakes).
When comparing the texts used in the Textus Receptus to the oldest versions, scholars found verses missing. For instance, the last part of Mark 16 is missing in two older manuscripts but not others. Were they added in later by well-meaning scribes? Or were they accidentally left out in some of the earliest manuscripts? Most Bible translations kept Mark 16: 9-20, since over a thousand Greek manuscripts included the whole chapter. But several other verses are missing in many modern translations if they aren’t found in the oldest manuscripts.
The NKJV primarily uses the Textus Receptus – the only manuscript used in the original King James Version – but the translators compared it with other manuscripts and noted differences in the footnotes (or center page in some print editions). The NKJV includes the entire end of Mark 16 with this footnote: “They are lacking in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other manuscripts of Mark contain them.” The NKJV kept Matthew 17:21 (and other questionable verses) with a footnote: “NU omits v. 21.” (NU is the Netsle-Aland Greek New Testament /United Bible Society).
The NASB uses the oldest manuscripts, specifically the Biblia Hebraica and the Dead Sea Scrolls, to translate the Old Testament and Eberhard Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece for the New Testament, but the translators also consulted other manuscripts. The NASB puts Mark 16:9-19 in brackets, with the footnote: “Later mss add vv 9-20.” Mark 16:20 is in brackets and italics with the footnote: “A few late mss and ancient versions contain this paragraph, usually after v 8; a few have it at the end of the ch.” The NASB completely omits one verse – Matthew 17:21 – with a footnote: “Late mss add (traditionally v 21): But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” The NASB includes Matthew 18:11 in brackets with the note: “most ancient MSS do not contain this verse.” The NASB includes all other questionable verses with a footnote (like the NKJV).
Gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language?
The Greek word adelphos usually means a male sibling or siblings, but it can also mean a person or people from the same city. In the New Testament, adelphos frequently refers to fellow Christians – both men and women. Translators need to decide between a precise translation of “brothers” or adding “brothers and sisters” when speaking of the body of Christ.
A similar issue is translating the Hebrew word adam and the Greek word anthrópos. These words often mean a man (or men), but other times, the meaning is generic – meaning a person or people of either gender. Usually, but not always, the Hebrew word ish and the Greek word anér are used when the meaning is specifically male.
The NKJV does not add “and sisters” (to brethren) to make verses gender-inclusive. The NKJV always translates adam and anthrópos as “man,” even when the meaning is clearly man or women (or men and women together).
In places where “brothers” obviously includes women, the 2000 and 2020 revisions of the NASB translate it “brothers and sisters” (with “and sisters” in italics). The 2020 NASB uses gender-neutral words like person or people for the Hebrew adam or the Greek anthrópos when the context indicates the verse refers to a person of either gender or people of both genders.
Word for word or thought for thought?
A “literal” Bible translation means that each verse is translated “word for word” – the exact words and phrases from the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. A “dynamic equivalence” Bible translation means they translate the main idea – or “thought for thought.” The dynamic equivalence Bible translations are easier to read but not as accurate. The NKJV and NASB translations are on the “literal” or “word-for-word” side of the spectrum.
The NKJV is technically a “word-for-word” translation, but just barely. The English Standard Version, KJV, and NASB are all more literal.
The NASB is considered the most literal and accurate of all modern Bible translations.
Bible verse comparison
NKJV: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to 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.”
NKJV: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
NASB: “He has told you, mortal one, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
NKJV: “And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.”
NASB: “So all creatures that moved on the earth perished: birds, livestock, animals, and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind;”
NKJV: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
NASB: “The plans of the heart belong to a person, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
1 John 4:16
NKJV: “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
NASB: We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.
NKJV: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.”
NASB: HE HAS TRUSTED IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE TAKES PLEASURE IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
NKJV: “But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these:”
NASB: “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
NKJV: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
NASB: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.
NKJV: Many minor revisions have been made since the original 1982 publication, but the copyright hasn’t changed since 1990.
NASB: Minor revisions were made in 1972, 1973, and 1975.
In 1995, a significant text revision updated English language usage (removing archaic words like “Thee” and “Thou”) and made the verses less choppy and more understandable. Several verses were written in paragraph form in this revision, rather than separating every verse with a space.
In 2000, a second major text revision added gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language: “brothers and sisters” instead of just “brothers” – when all the body of Christ is meant, and using words like “mankind” or “mortal one” instead of “man” when the meaning is clearly generic (for instance, in the flood, both men and women died). See the above sample verses.
In 2020, the NASB moved Matthew 17:21 out of the text and down into the footnotes.
NKJV: suitable for high school students and adults for daily devotions and reading through the Bible. Adults who love the KJV poetic beauty but want a clearer understanding will enjoy this version. Suitable for in-depth Bible study.
NASB: suitable for high school students and adults for daily devotions and reading through the Bible. As the most literal translation, it is excellent for in-depth Bible study.
The NKJV ranks #6 in sales, according to “Bible Translations Bestsellers, February 2022,” compiled by the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association).
The NASB ranks #9 in sales as of February 2022.
Pros and Cons of Both
The NKJV is well-loved by traditionalists who love the rhythm and beauty of the King James Version but want a better understanding. As a more literal translation, it is less likely to have the translators’ opinions and theology skew how verses were translated. The NKJV retains all the verses found in the KJV.
The NKJV only used the Textus Receptus for translating, which has lost some integrity after being copied and recopied by hand for over 1200+ years. However, the translators did consult the older manuscripts and mentioned any differences in the footnotes. The NKJV still uses a few archaic words and phrases and awkward sentence structure that may make it slightly harder to understand.
The NASB ranks #1 as the most literal translation, making it great for Bible study, and it is translated from the oldest and superior Greek manuscripts. The NASB’s use of gender-neutral words based on context usually makes it more accurate (for instance, “all mankind” rather than “every man” died in the flood – see Genesis 7:21 above).
The NASB’s use of gender-inclusive language is a mixed bag. Some Christians believe saying “brothers and sisters” reflects the intent of the Bible writers, and others feel like it’s adding to Scripture. Many believers are appalled that the NASB dropped Matthew 17:21 out of the text in 2020 and that it casts doubt on the second half of Mark 16, especially verse 20.
The NASB is relatively readable, but it does have some exceptionally long sentences in the Pauline Epistles and some awkward sentence structure.
Pastors who use NKJV
The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the NKJV for the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament) because they prefer the Textus Receptus as the source for translation.
Likewise, many fundamentalist churches only use the KJV or NKJV because they prefer the Textus Receptus, and they don’t like verses being taken out or questioned.
Many Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers will use only the NKJV or KJV (they prefer the NKJV because of readability) because they don’t like Bible verses being taken out or questioned, especially Mark 16:17-18.
Some leading pastors who promote the NKJV include:
- Philip De Courcy, Pastor, Kindred Community Church, Anaheim Hills, California; teacher on daily media program, Know the Truth.
- Dr. Jack W. Hayford, Pastor, The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California and Founder/former President, The King’s University in Los Angeles and Dallas.
- David Jeremiah, Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church (Southern Baptist), El Cajon, California; Founder, Turning Point Radio and TV Ministries.
- John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Los Angeles, prolific author, and teacher on the internationally syndicated radio and TV program Grace to You.
Pastors who use NASB
- Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Dr. Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Dr. R.C. Sproul, Presbyterian Church in America Pastor, founder of Ligonier Ministries
- Dr. Charles Stanley, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Atlanta; President of In Touch Ministries
- Joseph Stowell, President, Moody Bible Institute
Study Bibles to Choose
A study Bible can be valuable for personal Bible reading and study because it includes information to help understand and apply the Scriptures. Most study Bibles include study notes, dictionaries, articles by well-known pastors and teachers, maps, charts, timelines, and tables.
NKJV Study Bibles
- Dr. David Jeremiah’s NKJV Jeremiah Study Bible comes with articles on important aspects of Christian doctrine and faith, cross-references, study notes, and a topical index.
- John MacArthur’s MacArthur Study Bible comes with thousands of articles and study notes explaining the historical context of the verses and other helpful information for understanding the passages. It also has outlines, charts, a theology overview with an index to essential Bible doctrines, and a 125-page concordance.
- The NKJV Study Bible (Thomas Nelson Press) features articles covering topics related to the passages, Bible culture notes, word studies, study notes on thousands of verses, outlines, timelines, charts, and maps.
NASB Study Bibles
- The MacArthur Study Bible also comes in an edition for the New American Standard Bible, featuring the same information as in the edition for the NKJV.
- Zondervan Press’ NASB Study Bible features an excellent commentary with over 20,000 notes and an extensive NASB concordance. It contains a reference system with more than 100,000 references in the center column of each page of Scripture. Maps are placed throughout the Bible text, so you can see a visual representation of the locations of places you are reading about.
- Precept Ministries International encourages people to study the Bible for themselves with the NASB New Inductive Study Bible. Instead of commentaries, it teaches how to do one’s own inductive Bible study by providing tools to mindfully absorb what the text says, interpret it by allowing God’s Word to be the commentary, and applying the concepts to life. It also provides articles on Bible languages, cultures, and history, a helpful concordance, color maps, timelines and graphics, a harmony of the Gospels, a one-year Bible reading plan, and a three-year Bible study plan.
Other Bible translations
- The New International Version (NIV) continues as number 1 on the best-selling list. Over 100 translators from 13 denominations worldwide produced a completely new translation (instead of revising an older translation) that was first published in 1978. It is a “dynamic equivalence” translation; it translates the main idea rather than word-for-word. The NIV uses gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language. It’s considered the second easiest English translation to read (the NLT is the easiest), with a reading level appropriate for age 12 and up. You can compare Romans 12:1 in the NIV with the other three versions 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.”
- The New Living Translation (NLT) is now #2 on the best-selling list. A revision of the Living Bible paraphrase, it is supposedly a new translation, although some feel it is closer to a paraphrase. Like the NIV, it is a “dynamic equivalence” translation – the work of 90 evangelical translators and the easiest-to-read translation. It has gender-inclusive and gender-neutral language. Here is Romans 12:1 in this translation:
“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.”
- The English Standard Version (ESV) is #4 on the bestselling list. It is a “literal” or “word for word” translation, ranking just behind the NASB in literal translation. This makes it an excellent tool for in-depth Bible study. The ESV is a revision of the 1972 Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the target audience is older teens and adults. 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 should I choose?
The NASB and the NKJV are both literal, word-for-word translations from the ancient manuscripts in the original languages, and they are both reasonably easy to read for high schoolers and adults. When selecting a translation, you want one as literal as possible for a clear understanding of what is being said. However, you also want a version that you can understand and find pleasurable to read – because the most important thing is to be in God’s Word every day, reading through the Bible as well as engaging in in-depth Bible study.
You might want to try reading the NASB, NKJV, and other versions online at the Bible Hub website (https://biblehub.com). You can compare verses and chapters between different translations and get a feel for the version that is the right fit for you. Remember, your most tremendous strides in the Christian faith will depend on how regularly you’re in God’s Word and doing what it says.