If the ASV occupies a place in my heart, then the New American Standard Bible occupies a place in my gallbladder.
Now that I have your attention… let’s dial back that sentiment just a bit. It is again held for personal reasons, and again I’ve never used this version as my go-to, daily use bible. In fact, I happen to have a great deal of respect and appreciation for this translation, but I have two gripes with it. One is purely childhood silliness, and the other comes from a more mature perspective, from which the NASB seems almost too good.
Let me explain the childish part first. When I was a kid, I read from the KJV. Exclusively. Like most people faced with the KJV, I had some trouble understanding the dated English, but I learned to understand it quite well with some practice and careful thought (and an obsessive affinity for language not present in most 8-year-olds—oh yes, I was a fun kid to be around). As it happened, my development of this linguistic prowess coincided with an influx of new blood in my congregation, and most of these people chose to read from an NKJV or NASB. I considered myself a bit of a purist, as if the difference between these translations was chiefly a watering-down of God’s word, which was perfectly understandable as God originally spoke it, in Jacobean English. In my mind, the ASV, although newer and less archaic-sounding than the KJV, was an acceptable choice (after all, my dad used one!), while the NKJV, being a diluted version of the “original,” was a nearly unconscionable compromise—an admission that the reader wasn’t smart enough, or diligent enough, to meet God on his own terms (I was forced to edit this notion somewhat when my obviously-infallible parents gave me an NKJV for my birthday a few years later, but that’s neither here nor there). To use an NASB, however, was selling out completely! Why would anyone see a need for such a thing? It sounded almost like everyday, conversational English! Sacrilege!
Of course, the feeling I got from the words was pretty unimportant compared with textual basis, scholarship, and translation philosophy, but I didn’t know that at the time. And ironically, in these more weighty matters the NASB fares extremely well!
It was published in 1971, then updated until 1995, by an organization called the Lockman Foundation, whose chief purpose is wrapped up in this translation. They assembled a large team of translators from disparate theological backgrounds and determined to follow the example of the KJV and ASV by using the best and latest texts available at the time for their basis. By 1971, this included the Dead Sea Scrolls in addition to the tried-and-true Masoretic Text and the Septuagint for the Old Testament, and the excellent Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, a critical edition after the pattern of (and improving upon) the Wescott-Hort used for the ASV. They also benefited from advances in the study of Koine Greek during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Their approach to translation was, somewhat surprisingly, even more literal than the ASV. Some consider this a desirable feature, and some find it makes the English somewhat clunky on occasion. In another surprising twist, the NASB is translated with a rather conservative mindset—standing out from just about all other major translations of its time, which leaned more and more to the liberal side of things. Ideally, of course, we’d do away with such classifications and merely translate, but in practice it isn’t that simple.
The chief drawback of the NASB is in its literalness. In itself, this isn’t a bad attribute, but as it has become known as the most literal of the major bible translations, it has (at least in my circles) gained a reputation for being the most accurate, by virtue of its literalness. It is difficult for a non-linguist to appreciate, but literal and accurate are not always the same thing, and often a literal translation obscures the sense of the original—exactly what we hope to avoid!
Now, I’m not claiming the NASB is a bad translation; in fact, I’d put it on equal footing with a handful of translations with which I have experience, and state categorically that it is far better than the great majority of them! The trouble is that so many people treat it as the touchstone, and in cases of notable disagreement between versions, the NASB is commonly held to be correct, based purely on its reputation. Well frankly, it usually is right in my opinion, but that’s no reason to dismiss any alternative translation without even considering its merits!
The trouble with the NASB, then, is basically that it is too good, and is thus presumed to be perfect by some. While it is a superbly excellent piece of work, it is not the one and only! We still need to keep an open mind, or else we’re in the same boat as the misguided folks cursing any translation of the Bible that wasn’t published in 1611.