Is the NASV an improvement over the KJV?


When people discuss English translations of the Bible, they will commonly cite that a particular modern version is an improvement over the KJV because it is easier to understand or easier to read.  Many confess that studying several versions at the same time gives you a clearer insight into what God was saying.

However, we have asked proponents of modern Bibles to actually cite specific Bible references that are clearer in the modern translations than they are in the KJV.  To date, we have not been given one passage that makes more sense in the modern Bibles.

So, out of curiosity, we chose a chapter of the Bible at random to see what changes had been made in the NASV versus the KJV.  We chose Isaiah 1.  It was our goal to find something that actually improved the text.  What follows is the conclusion of that effort (we did not concern ourselves with minor changes, of which there were many).

The first part of Is 1:5 in the KJV reads, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.”  The Lord essentially asks why he should keep whipping them.  They are just going to keep revolting more and more.  In other words, what’s the use?

In the NASV, the same passage reads entirely differently, “Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion?”  There is nothing in that change that indicates the pointless punishment of people bent on sin.  Instead, the Lord is asking where he can strike them.  Did the translators mean where he could strike them on their wounded bodies?  We’re not really sure.  The change is certainly not clearer.

The last part of Is 1:6 in the KJV reads, “they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.”  These are the ways that wounds and putrefying sores are treated.  The wounds have to be closed to protect them from infection and to keep them clean.  They have to be bound up with bandages.  And the ointment [like a salve] mollifies or soothes the wound.

In the NASV, the same passage reads, “Not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil.”  We are not familiar with “pressing out” a wound.  We guess that might be like squeezing puss out of a boil, but there are only bruises, welts and raw wounds in the NASV, none of which you would press out.  Likewise, we are not familiar with “softening” any of these with oil.   Hence, we didn’t find an improvement here.  This is actually more confusing.

In Is 1:12 in the KJV, the word “tread” is used to describe those who are walking in the courts to bring their sacrifices.  In Deut 11:24-25, the same word is used about walking over an area.

In the NASV, the same word reads “trampling.”  That would indicate someone treading down or flattening something.  To “tread down” or “tread under foot” would indicate something more like walking on and flattening something, the way the NASV has it in Rev 11:2.  This change is confusing because no one is trampling anything in the courts in Is 1:12.

In the second half of Is 1:13, the KJV reads, “the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.”  Now that is tough, we’ll admit.  However, since the Bible is self-interpreting, you can look at cross references and get what the Lord is saying clearly.  Just look at Lk 23:18 and Jn 19:15, for example, where the multitude cried, “Away with this man.”  Here “away with” is correctly used to indicate motion from a place with no expressed verb.  So, the Lord is saying, “I cannot away with your new moons, sabbaths and calling of assemblies.”  In other words, I cannot get them away from me.  And that’s what he wants to do because he’s sick of them.

In the NASV, the same passage reads, “New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.”  There is no verb or sentence construction to complete the three subjects: new moon, sabbath and calling of assemblies.  Nothing is said about what the Lord thinks about them or what he will do with them.  They are just hanging out there with a hyphen.  The verse only says that he cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  And even then “I cannot endure” is not the same thing as I cannot get them away from me.

In Is 1:17, the KJV says, “relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”  The fatherless are children without fathers.  To judge them is to hear their causes and render a fair decision [this involves delivering them from those who would take advantage of them because they have no fathers (Ps 10:18, 82:2-3; 2 Ki 4:1)].

In the NASV, the same passage reads, “Reprove the ruthless, defend the orphans, plead for the widow.”  These are great changes.  For one thing, the fatherless are suddenly orphans, meaning that they have lost both parents and not just their fathers.  Furthermore, there was nothing said about relieving the oppressed.  Rather, now, the ruthless are to be reproved.  If you were to study these passages in parallel, which one would you believe?  The NASV is not an improvement over the KJV, it is something altogether different.

In Is 1:27, the KJV reads, “her converts.”  When the Lord refers to converting Jews in the Bible, he is referring to the time when the remnant of the nation ofIsrael will all be saved (Rom 11:25-27).  This is the time when he will actually enter into the new covenant with them (Heb 8:8-13) and they will all know him from the least to the greatest.  They will literally be changed (Heb 8:10).

In the same passage, the NASV reads, “her repentant ones.”  Notice, according to Acts 3:19 in the KJV, that repenting and converting are two different things.  Judas repented (Matt 27:3) but he didn’t convert.  He even returned the money (see Acts 3:19 in the NASV for repenting and returning).  Yet, he will burn for ever.  Peter, on the other hand, converted (Lk 22:32, 2 Cor 5:17) when he was born again.  There is a big difference.  By the way, the NASV doesn’t have Peter converting in Lk 22:32, he was to only turn again.  This is far from an improvement.

In Is 1:29, the KJV reads, “ye shall be confounded.”  To be confounded is to be confused and mistaken.  In this case the Jews are confounded because they mistake God for their idols made of oaks and worshipped in their gardens (similar to Rom 1:21-25).  See Ps 97:7 for a good cross reference.  Mentally and spiritually, they are confused and perplexed.

In the NASV, the same passage reads, “you will be embarrassed.”  To be embarrassed is to be hindered or impeded from freedom of thought, action or speech as in the case of a speaker being embarrassed by laughter.  He can recover from his embarrassment in a matter of seconds or minutes.  The confounded Jews don’t recover for centuries.  This change is degeneration not improvement.

Now, we will continue this exercise through a few more random chapters and difficult texts so that we can ascertain whether this chapter was just a fluke or whether it represents a fair assessment of the changes in the NASV.  We are not trying to defend the KJV or to debunk the NASV.  We are simply examining the two Bibles side by side to see if the statement that the NASV is easier to understand is true or false.

In a comparison, if we find that the KJV is already easy enough to understand, then we will wonder why so much time, money and effort went into translating another English version in the first place.  And we will wonder why that version is said to be easier to understand when, in fact, as we have already seen, it is harder to understand and often results in confusion rather than clarity.

Hope this helps,

Pastor Bevans Welder