Friday, April 10, 2015

"Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV": Review: Part 5: Quality of Notes

Image:  A marginal translation note at Acts 27:40 which appeared in the original 1611 publication of the King James Version.

This is the fifth and final part in a series reviewing the brief online article by Daniel Stanfield titled “Why I Prefer the NASB over the KJV.”  In Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, I responded to the preface and first three paragraphs of the article.  With this post we move on to the fourth of four paragraphs. Here is Stanfield’s fourth paragraph in full (in italic) followed by my response:

4. Quality of Notes - NASB While almost all KJV Bibles are published with some kind of notes, none are version inclusive. The NASB does include a particular set of notes with the text which pertain directly to the rendering. The first example of these notes is the notation of the literal translation in those instances where a word or phrase is not literal. A second set of notations identify certain passages as being included or excluded in various manuscripts, or giving readings found in alternate mss. Other advantages of text notes include the use of the small-capitals font when the New Testament is quoting the Old Testament, the marking of the Greek historical presents [sic] tense, and the capitalization of personal pronouns which refer to deity. The fact of the matter is that the English Bible is a translation, and as such, justifiably calls for adequate translation notes, notes which are bountiful in the NASB and completely absent from the KJV.

JTR Response:  I must admit that I do not easily comprehend what Stanfield means by the opening sentence of this paragraph.  He refers to “almost all KJV Bibles” being published with “some kind of notes” but “none are version inclusive.”  I do not get his point here.  The KJV was, in fact, originally printed with copious scholarly notes by the translators in its original publication in 1611.  These notes were edited and expanded in later editions of 1701 (by Anglican Bishop William Lloyd), in 1762 (by F. S. Paris and H. Therold of Cambridge), and in 1769 (by Benjamin Blayney).  For more on this, see Alan J. Macgregor, Three Modern Versions:  A Critical Assessment of the NIV, ESV, and NKJV (The Bible League, 2004):  pp. 94-95.  I thus offer three responses to Stanfield’s argument:

First, the editorial notes added by the original translators of the KJV and of subsequent editors are, by definition, version inclusive, in that they are notes specifically related to the translation choices reflected in this version.  Therefore, the nebulous charge that the KJV does not include “version inclusive” notes is simply inaccurate.

Second, perhaps the confusion here relates to the fact that over time the KJV came to be the most widely reprinted English translation.  It is held in the public domain.  Most modern editions which reprint the KJV do not include the original notes, and they are not legally bound to do so.  Far from being a drawback, however, the fact that the KJV is in the public domain and is not controlled by any publishing company, foundation, or Bible society might well be seen as an advantage.  The translation is protected against promotion of it merely for financial gain or personal influence.  Furthermore, if one wants to read original and expanded KJV notes, there are editions which continues to reprint them, including Oxford and Cambridge editions. 
Third, the most important aspect of the KJV as a translation, or, for that matter, for any translation, is not the notes which accompany the text of the translation but the text upon which the translation is based and the quality of the translation itself.   With regard to text, as already noted in this series, the KJV is based on the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.  The present author and many others believe that this text, the acknowledged standard of the Reformation period, is preferable to those based on modern critical texts, which arose during the Enlightenment and modern periods. With regard to the quality of the translation, it is generally agreed that the KJV is an outstanding literary work, which has had an unparalleled impact in Western history, religion, and culture. Are there not good reasons to retain this venerable translation in personal study and devotion but, perhaps most importantly, in public worship?

After noting what he perceives to be the inadequacies of the KJV with regard to “notes,” the article proceeds, correspondingly, to extol the value of the NASB’s “notes.”  Three kinds of examples of this are cited, but, again, no specific references or citations are made to the NASB itself to verify or illustrate these points.  The three suggested improvements in the NASB include the following:

(1) Stanfield suggests that the NASB is superior to the KJV, because it provides a more literal alternative in the notes when it chooses to use a less literal rendering in the main text of translation.  Perhaps the NASB does this in some cases (though no examples are cited), but in the example I cited in Part Four of this series from Acts 21:9 the NASB provides no notes to explain why it chose to depart from the literal Greek text and describe Philip’s prophesying daughters as “prophets.”

(2) Stanfield suggests that the NASB is superior to the KJV, because it supposedly provides notes which offer information on the original language manuscripts which the NASB follows and on alternative traditions.  The fact is that the NASB textual notes can be very misleading.  Rather than providing objective information, the notes simply reflect the consensus viewpoint which supports the modern critical text.  For example, the note at Mark 16:9 says, “Later mss. add vv. 9-20.”  What it fails to say is that only three extant Greek manuscripts end the Gospel of Mark at v. 8 while the vast majority of manuscripts (thousands), including ones of great antiquity, include it.  Furthermore, if one were to choose a translation simply on the basis of the number and quality of its textual notes and explanations, he would have to choose the New King James Version (NKJV), which provides numerous detailed notes on disputed textual issues.

(3)  Stanfield suggests that the NASB is superior based on several other facets of its editorial layout, including:  setting off Old Testament quotations in a distinct font, “marking” the historical present [Note:  The NASB uses a star symbol to indicate places where it renders a present tense verb in the Greek NT in the past tense in its translation, upon the assumption that it is grammatically a historical present.], and the capitalization of personal pronouns for the Deity.  A couple of these points have been previously discussed in this series.  I would again make the observation that all of these supposed advantages are, in fact, examples of translational interpretations, which might not always be considered to be improvements. Furthermore, with specific regard to capitalization of pronouns for the Deity, I might add that if one believed this to be a mark of superiority in an English translation, then one might well prefer the NKJV, which does this more frequently and systematically than does the NASB.  In fact, I do not take this to be an improvement but, rather, a practice that weakens the usefulness of both the NASB and NKJV.

To conclude, notes might be helpful for a translation, but they are not essential.  The author does not prove to any degree why the NASB’s notes make it a superior translation, and he is simply in error when he says such notes are “completely absent” in the KJV translation tradition.


Phil Brown said...

Why would the notes matter that much? It seems to me that he relies on the notes because he has a slight skepticism in the translation. I am not saying that there can't be alternate translations, but wouldn't it make sense to trust translators who were far better versed in the original languages than the ones we have today? I do agree that the Oxford and Cambridge Bibles seem to be the best. The Trinitarian Bible Society puts out good ones as well.

thenelsons@pinawa said...

You say it is better to trust translators? Why not trust them when they say they are not sure about what way to render a word or phrase? That is the point of the margin notes - the translators were not sure. To omit the margin notes gives one reading more weight than the translators intended.

Pastor Jeff said...

Though your comment is directed to Phil's comment, let me chime in here as well. I think Phil is simply saying that the translators must make choices. One reading must appear in the main text. Notes with alternatives might be helpful to scholars and educated lay readers. For others, however, it might introduce doubt and uncertainty and, at worst, surrender to relativism (e.g., No one really knows what this means!).