The NASB is supposed to be a very literal translation except where needed and my husband noticed that in john 4:1 it translates the name of Jesus as "Lord"; the ESV doesn't do this and neither do most translations. Does anyone happen to know why the more literal translation acts less literally here?

‭John 4:1 NASB1995‬ Therefore when the Lord(iēsous, G2424)knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John

John 4:1 ESV Now when Jesus(iēsous, G2424) learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and bbaptizing more disciples than John

3 Answers 3


Both the ESV and the NASB do a good job of reasonably literally translating their respective Greek texts.

The problem in John 4:1 is that the Greek text is disputed and highly uncertain, even among the Byzantine texts and among those associated with the Textus Receptus. Manuscripts are almost equally divided between the reading "Jesus" and "Lord". [For details of the which MSS support which reading see the huge amount of data on this verse in UBS4 and UBS5.]

Bruce Metzger in his "Textual Commentary on the GNT" offers these remarks about John 4:1 -

As between Ἰησοῦς and Κύριος the Committee preferred the former. Had Κύριος been present in the original text, it is unlikely that a scribe would have displaced it with Ἰησοῦς, which occurs twice in the following clauses. On the other hand, in accord with the increasing use of Κύριος in reference to Jesus, in order to relieve the clumsy style, more than one copyist may have smoothed the passage by changing the first instance of Ἰησοῦς to Κύριος.

It has been conjectured that originally the verb ἔγνω was without an expressed subject, and that subsequently some copyists inserted Ἰησοῦς and others Κύριος.

I note that there is no MSS evidence for this final conjecture.

For John 4:1, it is obvious that the NASB translators preferred Κύριος over the UBS5 text of Ἰησοῦς.

Other versions that use "Lord" include: KJV, NKJV, Amplified, ASV, ERV, LSV, MSB, Webster, WEB, YLT. Most others stick to the USB5 text and have "Jesus".


I can't speak for the NASB translators, but my guess is that they chose a different textual tradition. Both Ἰησοῦς and κύριος are represented in copies of the original. Ἰησοῦς is more difficult to explain how it got there, so is the more likely. But, κύριος is more broadly represented, and so is also the more likely. You have to pick a path. In any case, from a Hermeneutics perspective, one shouldn't press the technical difference since the semantic and rhetorical point of either word is to simply, clearly identify the participant.

In other words, Ἰησοῦς is represented in:

א D Θ 086 f1 205 565 1009 1010 1195 1241 1365 ita itaur itb itc itd ite itff2 itj itl itr1 vg syrc syrp syrh copbo copfay arm Diatessarona Diatessaronn Epiphanius Chrysostom Augustine3/4 NR Nv

and κύριος is represented in:

p66 p75 A B C E F G H K L Wsupp Δ Π Ψ 083 0141 f13 28 33 157 180 579 597 700 892 1006 1071 1079 1216 1230 1242 1243 1253 1292 1342 1344 1424 1505 1546 1646 2148 2174 Byz itf itq syrs syrh(mg) copsa copbo(ms) (eth) geo slav Augustine1/4 Nonnus Cyril ς WH CEI ND Riv Dio NM

  • 2
    My copy of the Nestle-Aland text does indeed use KURIOS. Apr 16 at 21:01
  • 1
    +1 -- Thanks for your contribution and welcome to the site. Apr 17 at 1:03

Well, after the darkness, light - indeed! So, let there be some light thrown on to this rather dark patch.

There are two main textual sources for translations from the Greek. Literal, and older translations such as the A.V. use the Textus Receptus. But from 1881 the Greek text of Westcott & Hort was based almost exclusively on Codex B and Aleph texts, an Egyptian revision current from A.D. 200 to 450, then abandoned between 500 to 1881. They revived this long-abandoned text, which has been stamped as genuine for 130 years now. This is what most modern translations use.

One might suppose that this accounts for differences in translations of John 1:4 where the NASB says "...the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was..." but other modern translations say "...Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was...". One would suppose wrongly.

Both pedigrees of texts are in agreement that κύριος comes first in verse 1, followed by Ἰησοῦς.

So, where the ESV gets the idea from that Ἰησοῦς is used twice in verse 1 is a perplexity to me. I have before me Greek texts that use the Textus Receptus on one hand, and the Codex B and Aleph on the other - there is no difference for verse 1. 'Lord' (κύριος) is written the first time, then 'Jesus' (Ἰησοῦς) is used second, then third, in that one sentence.

For the Textus Receptus I have the Greek Text of Stephens, 1550 (with various readings of Elzevir, 1624, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendord, Tregelles, Alford and Wordsworth.) The interlinear literal translation is that of the A.V. 1611.

For the modern, 'preferred', Greek text I have the text revised by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1948 reprint). Also, the Nestle Greek Text, Novum Testamentum Graece, 21st edition (there are 28 editions).

You ask "why the more literal translation acts less literally here?" but this has nothing to do with a literal, or a less literal translation. The Greek is clear, whether that of the old Textus Receptus or that of the much newer Westcott & Hort text. Both texts have 'Lord' first, followed by 'Jesus' thereafter.

It seems to be a fairly simple and logical point to me that, given the Pharisees' refusal to acknowledge Jesus as 'Lord', they would only call him 'Jesus'. Therefore, the apostle John was sensitive to address Jesus as 'Lord', while giving the clue that the Pharisees would never call him 'Lord', but only 'Jesus'.

It should never be forgotten how much damage to Bible translation has been done since 1881. Here is a quote flagging this up:

"The text printed by Westcott and Hort has been accepted as the true text, and Grammars, works on the synoptic problem, works on higher criticism, and others, have been grounded on this text... The maligned Textus Receptus served in large measure as the base which B tampered with and changed, and that the Church at large recognised all this until the year 1881 - when Hortism (in other words Alexandrianism) was allowed free play - and has not since retraced the path to sound tradition." Codex B & Its Allies, Herman Hoskier, Vol. 1, pp 468 & 464

The Hort text does make the evangelists appear to err in some respects, yet not with regard to John 4:1, as far as I can see - it agrees with the Textus Receptus in saying 'Lord' first, then 'Jesus' thereafter. However, it may be that in the myriad revised editions of the Greek text based on Westcott & Hort and Eberhard Nestle, more and more obscure manuscript portions have been introduced, casting shadows into what never was an unclear verse. So, post Tenebras Lux by going back to the original light!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.