Examining the Positive & Negative Qualities
Of Various Versions & Translations
Of God's Holy Scriptures

A Critical Analysis

by Al Maxey


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 In short, the ASV is already very much outdated.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 (for a discussion of these, see the analysis on the NASB).

#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.


#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 tings 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?!


"There are no significant weaknesses of the ASV. It may take just a little longer to read than the KJV or RSV, but it is more accurate, and remember, we will be judged by the words He has spoken" (Warren Wilcox, Versions of the Bible: Their Strengths and Weaknesses). Dr. Jack P. Lewis states that the ASV is not a poor version of the Bible, but merely a good one in need of improvement. "The ASV represented the best scholarship and biblical learning of its time. It is not, however, the final word in Bible translation. Scholarship has advanced with the passing of years, and the ASV now lags behind."

Home Page Versions Index