Why Refresh the ASV?

The American Standard Version (ASV) is an Americanized version of the English Revised Version (ERV) published in 1885. The American editors promised their British counterparts not to publish until 15 years had elapsed to allow the English revision to find its niche in public notice.

The Twentieth Century noticed a plethora of ‘new’ translations, while the ASV languished in obscurity and struggled to remain in print until nowadays it can hardly be found. The ASV suffered under the cloud of the archaic Old English renderings of verbal and pronounal suffixes. This, together with occasional atavistic renderings, displeased the moderns’ taste, and at this point, correctly so.

An updated version of the KJV (the New King James Version, NKJV) was nicely produced to remedy this and in so doing the translators stated their purpose was not to “make a new translation…but to make a good one better.” But what about the ASV? The New American Standard Bible (NASB) has gathered some attention, but went too far, losing the crispness and clarity of its original. 

Enter the Refreshed American Standard Version (RASV).

The Editorial Board of the NASB described it best in the 1963 Preface to the original publication of the entire New Testament, where the justifications for the translation were cataloged as follows:

“The procedures of this translation were imbued with the conviction that interest in the American Standard Version should be renewed and increased…The chief inducement, of course, was the recognized value of the version of 1901 which deserves and demands perpetuation. The following observations are advanced as justifiable encouragement:

  1. The American Standard Version of 1901 has been in a very real sense the standard for many translations.

  2. It is a monumental product of applied scholarship, assiduous labor and thorough procedure.

  3. It has enjoyed universal endorsement as a trustworthy translation of the original text

  4. The British and American organizations were governed by rules of procedure which assured accuracy in the completed work.

  5. The American Standard Version, itself a revision of the 1881-1885 edition, is the product of international collaboration, invaluable for perspective, accuracy, and finesse.

  6. Unlike many modern translations of the Scriptures, the American Standard Version retains its acceptability for pulpit reading and for personal memorization.

Perhaps the most weighty impetus for this undertaking can be attributed to a disturbing awareness that the American Standard Version of 1901 was fast disappearing from the scene. As a generation which knew not Joseph was born, even so a generation unacquainted with this great and important work has come into being.”

In 1971, the NASB® Editorial Board updated the Foreword and further declared:

“This translation follows the principles used in the American Standard Version 1901 known as the Rock of Biblical Honesty.”

In 1974, F.F. Bruce wrote in the Editor's Foreword of the New International Commentary on Mark:

We are sometimes asked why, at this time of day, we persist in using the American Standard Version of 1901 as the basic text for the New International Commentary. The principal reason for out persistence is that its excessively literal style of translation, however unsuitable it may be for other purposes, is admirably suited to serve as the basis of a commentary which endeavors to pay careful attention to the details of the text.”

Refresh Philosophy

The American Revision Company wrote in the Preface to the ASV:

“We are not insensible to the justly lauded beauty and vigor of the style of the Authorized Version, nor do we forget that it has been no part of our task to modernize the diction of the Bible.  But we are also aware that the rhetorical force and the antique flavor which we desire to retain do not consist in sporadic instances of uncouth, unidiomatic, or obscure phraseology.  While we may freely admit that the English of the Scriptures can, as a whole, hardly be improved, yet it would be extravagant to hold that it cannot be bettered in any of its details. What was once good usage is often such no longer ; and we can see no sound reason for retaining such expressions as ‘smell thereto’ (Ex. xxx. 38), ‘forth of’ (instead of ‘forth from’), ‘inquire at’ (1 K. xxii. 5), ‘a fool's vexation is heavier than them both’ (Prov. xxvii. 3), or ‘when... he be jealous over his wife’ (Num. v.30). These are only a few of the many instances of phraseology which there is the best reason for amending.”

The committee expounded further in the Preface to the New Testament:

“In dealing with the Language, the American revisers have endeavored to act with becoming deference and reserve.  A few archaisms, such as ‘how that,’ ‘for to,’ ‘the which,’ ‘howbeit,’ etc., which are becoming uncouth to a modern ear, have been generally although not invariably discarded.  Not a few of the instances of the superfluous use of ‘do’ and ‘did’ as auxiliaries, of ‘that’ as equivalent to ‘that which,’ and the like, have also been removed ;  and current usage has been recognized in the case of forms which King James’s revision employed indiscriminately, as ‘beside’ and ‘besides’ (see Mk. iii. 21 ; 2 Cor. v. 13).  But in making these and other slight changes, the American editors have not forgotten that they were dealing with a venerable monument of English usage, and have been careful not to obliterate the traces of its historic origin and descent.”5

Looking back over one hundred years from the penning of these words, and now both having, and taking, an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of better men, we can do no better than to follow the examples so aptly demonstrated by our predecessors to resolutely retain commitment to a Formal Equivalence translation philosophy, while at the same time handling the English text of the ASV with both deference and reserve by retaining the textual decisions of the American Revision Committee, avoiding a rehashing of the text, and merely refreshing the English text.

Observing the growth of revisions and translations since the publishing of the ASV, it is important to note the role of translations summarized as:

  • Translate God’s book for the benefit of God’s people; they have no right placing any other concern ahead of the church’s need for accurate translations
  • Communicate the content of biblical texts in the native language of the readers for whom the translation is being prepared; be concerned with equivalence, that the finished translation communicates accurately what the original author wrote
  • Consciously aim to parallel closely the linguistic form (structure, grammar, and exact wording) of the original
  • Attempt to say ‘what’ the original text says by retaining ‘how’ it says it (as faras English grammar allows)
  • Deal with truth exactly expressed
  • Follow the text; it is not their business to interpret it or explain it
  • Be careful lest simplicity of expression erode precision of meaning
  • Permit the reader to identify himself as fully as possible with the original readers and understand as much as can be of biblical customs, ways of thinking, and modes of expression
  • Intrude interpretive opinions only where the necessity of making grammatical decisions forces it
  • Avoid the task of the expositor, attempting to settle questions that have divided interpreters
  • Be faithful and precise, cautious and conservative

The Formal Equivalence philosophy employed by this volume can then be summarized by the rejection of the following trending errors:

  1. Elimination of complex grammatical structures
  2. Addition of words in translation
  3. Omission of words in translation
  4. Erosion of the Bible’s technical terminology
  5. Leveling of cultural distinctives
  6. Presentation of the interpretation of Scripture as Scripture
  7. Paraphrasing of Biblical text

It is therefore the intent of this volume to share the conviction of the earlier American Revision Company:

The present volume, it is believed, will on the one hand bring a plain reader more closely into contact with the exact thought of the sacred writers than any version now in current Christendom, and on the other hand prove itself especially serviceable to students of the Word.” 

Noting the published convictions of the value of the American Standard Version, one may rightly inquire whether the proliferation of new translations is needed at all. And now that the copyright restrictions governing the text of the original ASV have long since expired, we may instead highly esteem that existing singular standard, valued by both ourselves and others, ought merely to be refreshed, rather than revised or replaced. This is indeed the rationale of, and the conviction for, the Refreshed American Standard Version.

Refresh Emendations

This work is intended to follow the aforementioned efforts in the ASV Prefaces insofar as to intentionally limit the emending of its Elizabethan English text in a ‘refreshing,’ rather than a full-scale revision, of the ASV toward conformity with current usage in the following ways:

  1. Archaic personal pronouns
  2. Archaic verbal terminations
  3. Archaic spelling
  4. Archaic punctuation spacing
  5. Archaic, obsolete, or antiquated vocabulary, resulting from semantic shift
  6. Archaic word order in limited affirmation and negation cases in which the original greek word order is maintained
  7. Identification of direct and indirect discourse and quoted text with quotation marks

Features

With the goal of increased simplicity and focus on the text, the following features are used in variation from the ASV, as originally published by Thomas Nelson & Sons © 1901:

  1. Use of independent Old Testament and New Testament Prefaces, Table of Contents, numbering, and copyright notices has been merged into a single instance of each to provide a single, integrated Preface
  2. Page reference ranges at the top of each page have not been retained.
  3. Passage headings have not been retained
  4. Marginal cross references contained in the center column have not been retained
  5. Marginal footnotes have been reduced to mark only those variants significant enough to warrant attention, where text is omitted, disputed, or deemed theologically sensitive
  6. Maps have not been retained