ESV vs. NASB: Comparing Bible Translations

When choosing a Bible for study or personal reading, understanding the differences between various translations is vital.

Two such versions, the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB), are widely used and respected for their fidelity to the original texts.

Both follow a “formal equivalence” translation philosophy prioritizing a word-for-word approach, but each has unique characteristics.

Let’s delve deeper into comparing the ESV and NASB to help you determine which might suit your personal or scholarly needs best.

Also, see Is the ESV a Good Translation? to learn more.

New American Standard Bible
Is the NASB or ESV more literal? See below

The NASB Is a More Literal Translation Than the ESV

A highly literal Bible translation, also known as a “word-for-word” or “formal equivalence” translation, aims to adhere as closely as possible to the exact words and structure of the original languages — Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

These translations aim to maintain the linguistic integrity of the original text, which can be important for academic or in-depth study.

Translation MethodEssentially Formal EquivalentEssentially Formal Equivalent
Language StyleFormal and more literalFormal and highly literal
ReadabilityCan be more challenging for someCan be more challenging for some
AccuracyEmphasizes word-for-word accuracyEmphasizes word-for-word accuracy
Word UsageModernizes language where possibleRetains more archaic language

An archaic Bible translation uses older forms of the English language, which may seem outdated or unfamiliar to modern readers. Some of these include “thee” and “thou” (for “you”), “hast” (for “have”), and “maketh” (for “makes”).

What Is a Gender-Nuetral Bible Translation?

A gender-neutral Bible translation, also known as an inclusive Bible translation, is a version of the Bible that seeks to remove or minimize gender-specific language when referring to people.

Traditional translations of the Bible often use gendered language, with masculine pronouns and terms that reflect the cultural context in which they were written.

For example, they may use “they” or “them” instead of “he” or “him” when the referent is not explicitly male. Additionally, they may replace gendered terms such as “man” or “mankind” with neutral alternatives like “person” or “humanity.”

Manuscript BasisRelies on the Masoretic Text (OT) and Nestle-Aland Greek Text (NT)Relies on the Masoretic Text (OT) and Nestle-Aland Greek Text (NT)
Inclusive LanguageLess inclined toward gender-neutralLess inclined towards gender-neutral
Denominational UsePopular among Reformed/Calvinist denominationsPopular among conservative denominations
Study ResourcesOffers a wide range of study BiblesOffers a variety of study editions
PopularityIncreasingly popular in recent yearsKnown for its accuracy and precision

What is the Masoretic Text?

The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, which corresponds to the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. It is the foundational text for Jewish religious study and worship. The term “Masoretic” comes from the Hebrew word “Masorah,” which means “tradition.”

The Masoretic Text became the authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible due to its careful transmission and scholarly consensus. It is the basis for most modern translations and interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures.

What is the Nestle-Aland Greek Text?

The Nestle-Aland Greek Text, also known as the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, is one of the most widely used critical editions of the Greek New Testament.

It is a scholarly edition that aims to provide a reliable and comprehensive representation of the original Greek text of the New Testament.

The Nestle-Aland Greek Text was first published in 1898 by scholars Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle. Since then, it has undergone several revisions and updates, with the most recent edition being the 28th edition, published in 2012 (as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021).

The Nestle-Aland text is often used as a reference for academic research, biblical translation work, and textual criticism.

Also, see Is the NASB a Good Translation? to learn more.

Holy Bible
What is the history of the ESV Bible? See below

What Is the History of the English Standard Version?

The ESV is a popular English Bible translation that aims to balance accuracy, readability, and literary quality. The translation project began in the late 1990s and was published in its final form in 2001.

Crossway, a publishing ministry based in the United States, initiated the ESV translation project. The ESV’s roots can be traced back to the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which was first published in 1946.

The RSV was a highly regarded translation that sought to provide an updated and accurate English rendering of the Scriptures.

In the late 1990s, Crossway desired to create a new translation that would build upon the strengths of the RSV while addressing some of its perceived weaknesses.

The ESV translation committee was formed, consisting of a diverse group of evangelical scholars and pastors with expertise in biblical languages, textual criticism, and biblical studies.

The ESV translators sought to maintain a balance between the formal equivalence approach, which emphasizes a word-for-word translation, and dynamic equivalence, which focuses on conveying meaning in contemporary language. Their goal was to produce a translation that was both faithful to the original texts and accessible to modern readers.

The ESV translation project incorporated the latest scholarly insights and textual discoveries, drawing from a wide range of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, as well as early translations and commentaries.

The translation committee worked collaboratively, with individual books assigned to specific scholars for translation, followed by thorough review and editing.

The ESV was published in 2001 and received a positive reception within evangelical circles. It gained popularity for its accuracy, readability, and adherence to traditional theological terminology.

Since its initial publication, the ESV has undergone some minor revisions, including updates to language and corrections based on new research.

Christian Bible
What is the history of the NASB? See below

What is the History of the New American Standard Bible?

The NASB is a widely respected English translation of the Bible known for its literal and precise rendering of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. Its origins can be traced back to the mid-20th century.

In the late 1950s, the Lockman Foundation, a nonprofit Christian publishing organization, began a project to produce a new translation that would emphasize accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

The translation committee consisted of a group of scholars who were committed to a word-for-word approach, seeking to capture the precise meaning of the biblical texts.

The initial publication of the NASB took place in 1963, with the release of the New Testament. It was based primarily on the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), which itself was a revision of the King James Version (KJV).

The NASB translators, however, made numerous updates and revisions to reflect the latest biblical scholarship and manuscript discoveries.

The translation process involved careful examination of the original languages and comparison with a wide range of ancient manuscripts, versions, and commentaries.

The translators aimed to create a reliable and readable translation that would serve the needs of English-speaking Christians who desired a more accurate rendering of the biblical text.

Over the years, the NASB underwent several revisions and updates. In 1971, the complete NASB Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, was published.

Further revisions were made in 1977, 1995, and most recently in 2020. These revisions incorporated advances in biblical scholarship, language usage, and textual studies.

The NASB has gained a reputation for its accuracy and literalness, making it particularly valuable for in-depth study, sermon preparation, and academic research.

Its commitment to maintaining close adherence to the original languages has made it popular among those who prioritize precise translation and textual accuracy.


The ESV and NASB translations are both highly regarded English versions of the Bible. While the ESV prioritizes a balance between accuracy and readability, the NASB leans toward a more literal rendering.

Both translations have been embraced by Christians for their commitment to faithfulness to the original languages and serve as valuable resources for study and devotion.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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