KJV Family: ASV, RSV, and NKJV

This post is part of our ongoing series examining the King James Family of Bibles.

American Standard Version (Revised Version)

ASVThe Revised Version of the KJV was introduced in several stages, with the English Revised Version being completed in the 1885, and the American Standard Version first being published in 1901 (Bruce, 138). This translation sought to edit the KJV based on the textual work of Wescott and Hort, and efforts were made in the margins to note the differences between the Greek texts and English translations, from whence notes reading “Some ancient authorities read…” originate (Bruce, 137). The major differences between the KJV and ASV are spelling and aforementioned marginal notes, as well as an increased static translation style (Kubo, 41). Early reactions to the ASV were anything but positive, as early reviewers labeled the translation “servile” and “pedantic” (Burgon). It would seem that both the prose and the textual apparatus have been surpassed by both the 1611 KJV and more recent translations, making this perhaps the least effective major project in the KJV family.

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

RSVThe Revised Standard Version, completed in 1952, exists as a revision of the Revised Version. It was here that the first major steps were taken to update the English used in translation, moving toward smoother translations of infinitive constructions and genitive absolutes (Bruce, 187). Additionally, the translation committee sought to vary the translations of some Greek terms, moving away from the KJV and RV’s lack of synonyms (Kubo, 44-7). A common criticism this version is that, if the RV went too far in pressing a literal translation of the Greek, the RSV blurred some of the finer distinctions of the NT text (Bruce, 194). While occasionally being criticized as all new translations seem to be, a testament to the effectiveness of this translation, was its long used in academic circles, especially the popular Oxford Annotated edition (Bruce, 201-2). Indeed, it was so popular that two RSV Catholic editions have been published

New King James Version (NKJV)

NKJVPublished in 1982, the New King James Version sought to find “complete equivalence,” that place between the static equivalence of the Revised Version and the dynamic equivalence of the Revised Standard Version, which “seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form” (Preface, NKJV). Ancient terminology having no modern counterparts, theological terms having long been part of the KJV tradition, and traditional renderings of names were retained in this version, and the translators opted for continued use of the Textus Receptus as their Greek exemplar, though noting major textual divergences such as Matthew 5:44; 17:21; 18:11; and 23:14. In many ways the NKJV seems to correct the over-dynamic translations of the RSV while remaining fairly close to that version. The effectiveness of this translation in the modern context remains difficult to gauge, as many renderings are nearly indistinguishable from those of the RSV, and the later NRSV and ESV.

The King James Version Bible Family

Over the next week, Pursuing Veritas will take a look at one of the most influential “family trees” of English Bible translations, that of the King James Version. As one of the most influential editions of the Bible (ever, but especially in the English language family), the 1611 KJV has spawned countless translation “offspring”, editions and translations of the Biblical text that use the KJV as their starting point. While we cannot examine here every permutation of the KJV family, the translations being compared are as follows: the 1611 King James Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the 1985 King James Version, the New King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version. Over the next several days we will briefly examine the translation histories and philosophies behind each of these versions, consider the effectiveness of each translation, and then offer a brief comparison of each version’s translation of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. As a result of this series, we argue that the New Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version are the most effective translations from the KJV family for the modern context.

1611 King James Version (Authorized Version)

1611 KJV Title Page

1611 KJV Title Page

The 1611 edition of the King James Version remains one of the most influential works of literature in the English speaking world over four hundred years after its first publication (Noll). One of King James’ principles of translation for the six teams of scholars who worked on the KJV was that traditional ecclesiastical terms and names such as “church” and “Elijah” be retained and that completion of sense unites be noted in distinct typeface (Brake, 188f; Bruce, 98). Notably, there was some confusion concerning the translation of Jesus’ name was in the 1611 edition, as several versions translated Ἰησους as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36 (Brake, 206). As a translation, the editors of the KJV were driven to present of the truths of scripture and to making the word of God understandable for English readers (Preface, “The Translators to the Reader”). While the stated purpose of the KJV included calls for a translation, “as constant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek… ” (Bruce, 96), the final version was primarily based upon the 1602 Bishops Bible, and the translators drew upon the translations of Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible, as well as Greek, Latin, and German manuscripts for their translations (Brake, 190). In the 21st century, the 17th century KJV appears quite antiquated; indeed, it takes some level of skill to interpret the spelling conventions of the 1611 edition within the text. However, the cadence and prose of the KJV remains the default reading for many Christians today, and the impact of the 1611 KJV remains unparalleled in the English speaking world.