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I've read that both the NASB and ESV versions are "formal, word-for-word translations". Is there any way to determine which is the most accurate version?

Bonus consideration: Precise translation doesn't do much good if the English is difficult to read. Does one translation balance accuracy and readability better than the other?

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Here's a good article on it: sundrytimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/esv-vs-nasb –  trusktr Dec 4 '11 at 20:32
    
They're both literal translations, but this question is way off-topic for this site. –  Lance Roberts Dec 5 '11 at 5:15
    
as @Lance says - waaay off topic: see the faq and the various discussions on meta –  Jack Douglas Dec 5 '11 at 11:55
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SE sites are not a good format to continue the discussions which rage everywhere else on the net about which translation is "better". If you have very specific questions about a translation issue you could ask here about how that issue relates to the issues in the original text or you could ask over on Christianity.SE about the general history and philosophies involved in these translations and how different Christian traditions have approached them. However as it stands I think this question falls into the realm of Not Constructive or Off Topic. –  Caleb Dec 5 '11 at 12:06
    
@Caleb and trusktr (oh, I just got the meaning of that handle!): I've edited the question quite a bit to bring it into what I consider on-topic territory. What do you think? –  Jon Ericson Mar 1 '13 at 18:30
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marked as duplicate by Jon Ericson Mar 7 '13 at 21:26

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3 Answers

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Which one is better is going to be in large part personal preference. Pick out a few random (or purposefully selected) verses from both the old and new testaments and read them out of both translations comparing which seems easier to understand or less awkward. I find them both to be good translations overall, and personally I prefer to study out of NASB, but there's no clear-cut right answer to which is "better"--kind of depends on your criterion.

NASB is a little closer to "literal" as far as things like word order than ESV, but there are a couple words here and there where I found ESV was actually translated slightly more consistently (the Hebrew words for veil vs curtain in Exodus for example). Some people find NASB awkward to read aloud and wordy--personally, it doesn't bother me, but it is a slightly higher "reading level", so if it seems difficult to understand to you, it might not be your ideal translation.

Another consideration might be selection of bibles to choose from. With NASB, you will have a larger selection of available study-bibles that have useful commentary to help explain non-obvious things in the material. ESV is a bit newer, so the selection of study-bibles is much more narrow at this point (just one I believe), but that one suits your fancy, the breadth to choose from may be irrelevant.

Another nice feature of NASB is the availability of Strongs concordances keyed to that exact translation. As far as I am aware, ESV does not have a Strongs keyed text available.

Another useful way to evaluate the bibles is to read the preface in each and read about their translation philosophies that went into making that bible. One may resonate with you more strongly than the other.

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ESV relegates the doxology in Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer to the footnotes whereas the NASB retains it in the text (howbeit in brackets). That's a major point in favor of the NASB in my book. –  david brainerd Mar 26 at 4:03
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This could take a while. When choosing which english version to use when reading the bible, if you are just looking for "ease of reading" you can pick up any modern bible. If you are looking for the version with the least amout of translation errors, because hebrew and greek cannot be adequately translated into english, you will want the king james version. This version is the closest to the original language, from the oldest version, the "textus receptus" aka "the recieved text". That is the short answer. I would have to go into proving that the TR is the oldest transcript of the bible and not the westcott and hort. This can be easily proven by showing all the times the early church fathers quoted for the TR verses that are said not to be in the WH versions...the niv etc....

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To put it even into simpler terms, if your child was dying of thirst and there was a glass of water on the table with a trace of rat poison in it, would you let your child drink from it? The answer is apparent, you would not, yet we will allow ourselves and families to drink from translations that are known to be corrupted every single day. The ESV is the RSV updated, the NASB is yet another corruption from the same line of text as the ESV / RSV. Like John stated, if you really want to learn then you either need to learn Greek or pick up a KJV bible. –  nitefrog Dec 6 '11 at 4:54
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I believe this article pretty much sums it up: sundrytimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/esv-vs-nasb.

Also, you can read the full version of a wide variety of versions here: http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/

After reading the same passages from both the NASB and ESV, I think I prefer NASB. The ESV version seems to be old english whereas I find the NASB to be more understandable.

Compare the same passage taken from either (proverbs 30:7-8):

NASB:

  7 Two things I asked of You, 
Do not refuse me before I die: 
  8 Keep deception and lies far from me, 
Give me neither poverty nor riches; 
Feed me with the food that is my portion, 

ESV:

  7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
  8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,

So, make your decision by comparing both versions:

NASB: http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/

ESV: http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/English-Standard-Version-ESV-Bible/

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