Examining the Bible Versions

American Standard Version (1901)

The next major version to come along was the American Standard Version. According to Wikipedia, “The ASV is rooted in the work that was done with the Revised Version. In 1870, an invitation was extended to American religious leaders for scholars to work on the Revised Version (RV) project. A year later, 30 scholars were chosen by Philip Schaff. These scholars began work in 1872. Any suggestion the American team had would be accepted by the British team only if 2/3 of the British team agreed. This principle was backed up by an agreement that if their suggestions were put into the appendix of the RV, the American team would not publish their version for 14 years. The appendix had about 300 suggestions in it. In 1881, the RV New Testament was released. Four years later, the Old Testament appeared. Around this time, the British team disbanded. In 1901, the 14 year agreement between the American and British teams expired. The American Standard Version was published the same year.

The ASV was used for many years by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They first began publishing the ASV in 1944 and have continued publishing the translation until the present time. The reasons for their choosing of the ASV were twofold: One reason for adoption of the ASV was due to its usage of”Jehovah” as the Divine Name, which was congruent with their doctrine, although their usage of it seems to have predated the release of the ASV. Also, there was a perception that the ASV had improved the translation of some verses in the King James Version, and in other places it reduced the verses that they found to be erroneously translated in the KJV to mere footnotes, removed from the main text altogether. From 1944 to 1963, the Jehovah’s Witnesses printed and distributed 884,994 copies of the ASV. The Witnesses’ usage of the ASV was supplanted by their current use of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a translation made by members of their group, and the rights to which are controlled by the Watchtower Society, which is their publishing arm. The ASV is still freely available to nonmembers from Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The ASV is almost completely out of print. A small mail order bookseller in Texas known as Star Bible claims to be the only publisher of the ASV today. Copies of the ASV may be commonly found in used bookstores, however. Because the ASV text is out of copyright, it sees wide distribution in electronic form on the internet. Most electronic copies of the ASV seem to come from the same original scanned or otherwise produced electronic edition and have a number of mistakes in common, such as the omission of the word”who” in the phrase “ye who would be” in Galatians 5:4. Some internet copies have corrected some of the typos. Also because of its copyright status, the ASV has also been used as the foundation of the World English Bible, a modern public domain English updating that is being made available on the internet. The ASV is still published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and is freely available for those wishing a copy.”

Al Maxey has this to say in his critical analysis on the ASV that I believe is useful.

“SOME STRENGTHS OF THE ASV

The actual title of this work is The Standard American Edition of the Revised Version of the Bible. It came out in 1901, and is actually a revision of the English Revised Version (1881-1885), which was a revision of the KJV. Some of the strengths of the ASV are:

  1. At the time of its publication in 1901 it had available to it far more manuscripts and archaeological evidence than any previous version of the Bible. As a result, many corrections and improvements were made to the text. However, in the almost 100 years that have passed since it was prepared, the knowledge of biblical scholars has advanced dramatically. The 20th century has proven to be one of the most productive with regard to exploration and discoveries in the biblical lands. Also, great advances have been made in linguistics, comparative Semitics, etc. In short, the ASV is already very much outdated. At the time, however, it was certainly the most accurate on the market, and still is considered an excellent translation by most.
  2. The ASV uses what is called “Harmony of Expression.” This means that they try to be consistent in translating the same Greek word with the same English word each time it appears. This was an attempt to get away from the wide diversity of expression found in the KJV. Although this technique is far superior to the one employed by the KJV translators, nevertheless it still has its disadvantages.
  3. The ASV is one of the more literal translations on the market. In fact, it has often been criticized for its “translation English.” Some have called it “strong in Greek, but weak in English.” Although it is certainly not written in contemporary English, it is nevertheless hard to beat if one desires a study Bible which is very literal in its rendering of the original languages.

SOME WEAKNESSES OF THE ASV

  1. The ASV had the ill-fate of being released just before many of the major manuscript and archaeological discoveries were made which forever altered the way we approach the work of biblical translation and revision. In 1877, Philip Schaff (who was the director of the ASV translators) said that only 1500 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament were available to them. There are now close to four times that many available! The Greek papyri have also come to light since the publication of the ASV (the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Bodmer Papyri perhaps being among the most significant). Knowledge of ancient versions in various languages has increased. These, and other, significant advances have made the ASV very much “behind the times” with regard to biblical translation and revision.Dr. Jack P. Lewis writes, “It is not at all suggested that these tools radically change the biblical message, but each new insight is a welcome one for the English reader!” For example: Psalm 16:9 speaks of one’s heart being glad, and “my glory rejoiceth.” Actually, Assyriology has shown that this word literally means “my liver rejoiceth” (the liver was believed at that time to be the seat of one’s emotions). In II Kings 18:17, Jeremiah 39:13, and others, such words as “Tartan,” “Rabshadeh,” “Rabsaris,” and “Rabmag” are not proper names, as the ASV translators believed, but rather are now known to be titles of individuals. These were things that simply were not known at the time the ASV translators worked, but which have since been discovered.
  2. Though an effort is made to render each Greek word by a single English word (Harmony of Expression), this policy is not always carried out.”Teleios” is rendered “full-grown” in Ephesians 4:13, as “men” in I Corinthians 14:20, and as “perfect” in most other places. By not consistently carrying out their intended policy of Harmony of Expression, the reader might be left confused and wondering if perhaps different Greek words are being used in the original. Additionally, the ASV has at times rendered differing Greek words or phrases alike in English. For example: Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (“bare”), and then in vs. 5 it reads, “For every man shall bear his own burden” (“phortion”). This sounds contradictory, until one realizes that two distinct words are being used here in the Greek… something which is not made clear in the translation.
  3. Like many versions and translations of the Scriptures, the committee working on the ASV at times has overstepped its limits and has taken on the role of interpreter as well as translator. In I Corinthians 7:36-38 the ASV inserts the word “daughter” after “virgin” three different times, thus declaring that the relationship in the passage is between a father and his virgin daughter. Not all scholars agree that this is the relationship being discussed here… in point of fact, there are several possible interpretations. In Hebrews 12:2 the ASV (as well as several other translations, including the KJV, RSV and NIV) adds the word “our” to the phrase “looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” The NASB has translated this correctly: “The perfecter of faith.” In I Corinthians 2:13 the ASV reads, “combining spiritual things with spiritual words.” “Words” has been added to the text. A footnote to this passage reads,”interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men.” All of these attempts at interpretation can be very confusing to the reader… not to mention the fact that the interpretations just may be incorrect.
  4. In its choice of what kind of English to utilize, the ASV made two determinations: (a) to use “translation English,” and not the common English spoken or written at that time. This is good for one who is familiar with Hebrew and Greek grammar and construction (thus, it is a good translation for scholars), but it can be confusing to the average student of the Bible. (b) The English they chose was from the 16th – 17th century. They liked the sound and rhythm, and intentionally wanted the text of the ASV to appear “ancient” in its language. There is a belief among many that the more”ancient sounding” a language is, the more “holy” it is. This, of course, is a false premise, but one that is nevertheless not uncommon. Thus, to accommodate this preference, the ASV was produced intentionally in a more ancient style of English than was then current. As a result, like the KJV, there are many archaic words and phrases in the ASV. For example: “six score thousand” is used instead of “one hundred twenty thousand.” Is the former really “holier” than the latter?
  5. Some passages in the ASV have been worded poorly, and as a result can lead to false conclusions. For example: II Timothy 3:16 reads, “Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching,…” Some have felt this leaves the impression that only those passages of Scripture inspired by God (implying some are not) are profitable. Which are the inspired passages, and which are not?!”

CONCLUSION

It is useful to know the background of the ASV since it has been the basis for most of the modern versions released in the last 60 years. Since one cannot readily purchase an ASV, we note this information for those who may still have an ASV on their shelf at home. The ASV brought useful advancements but also had some difficulties. The ASV was an important work but never came close to supplanting the KJV.

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