Posted On May 4, 2020

Lexham English Bible: Outdoing the NASB?

by | May 4, 2020 | Theology

In my previous post, which concerned John MacArthur’s announcement of the new Legacy Standard Bible translation and the ever-impending NASB 2020 update, one point that seemed to gain much attention was the existence of the Lexham English Bible, a translation that already includes the distinctives John MacArthur touted in his announcement of the LSB: YHWH being translated “Yahweh” instead of LORD, and doulos being translated “slave” rather than “servant.”

In addition to the two distinctives named above, the LEB is beautifully formal (“word-for-word”), consistently translates adelphos as “brother” rather than “brothers and sisters” or “brethren,” italicizes supplied words in similar fashion to the NASB, and places idioms in corner brackets with more-wooden literal translations in the footnotes. There’s a lot to like here. But if you didn’t read my previous post, you should know right away that the LEB is published only electronically, not on paper. I would have a very hard time recommending that pastors begin preaching out of the LEB unless nearly everyone has switched to electronic Bibles on Sunday mornings (quarantine jokes aside).

Still, it appears that the LEB will eventually make it to print, and given the proliferation of electronic Bibles — I am the Bible Software Guy after all — it is well worth digging into the LEB to see what else is going on. The LEB’s website has a useful portion about the translation process. The short version is that it’s derived from the Lexham Hebrew and Greek interlinear Bibles, which include context-sensitive glosses for individual words. These are then put together into the final English translation. The stated advantage of this process is that the reader is able to see the process. Later in this post, I’ll explain how to take advantage of this for yourself.

Comparing translations choices in the LEB

Breaking from familiar verses

Besides the marketing advantage of basing and naming a new Bible translation upon an older popular one, Bible readers undoubtedly are looking for a certain degree of familiarity. Stray too far from the norm, such as the HCSB using “Yahweh” instead of LORD, and publishers risk popular rejection. Since the LEB isn’t based on a previous translation and doesn’t have to worry about sales on paper, breaks from tradition seem more likely.

John 3:16 — For God SOOOOOOOOOO loved the world…

For in this way God loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, in order that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. (LEB)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

What Bible verse could possibly be more traditional than John 3:16? Even in the West’s increasing secularization, many unbelievers probably have this passage memorized simply from their upbringings or hearing it in the popular culture. Among these three translations, the NASB is probably the most “popular” in terms of its form. The Greek monogenes is translated “only begotten” rather than “one and only,” and “whoever” is close enough to the KJV’s “whosoever.” Even the NIV 2011 refuses to break from “For God so loved the world.” The Greek houtos here could be demonstrative (“in this way”), intensive (“SOOOO!!”), or both, so the LEB actually has a more neutral position here. The NET note on this is helpful.

Matthew 6:9 — May your name be treated as holy?

Therefore you pray in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, may your name be treated as holy. (LEB)

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. (NASB)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (NIV)

Imagine a pastor leading his congregation in the Lord’s prayer and using the LEB translation without warning. It wouldn’t take a KJV-onlyist to get weirded out, but there’s nothing inaccurate about the translation. Given that our extra-biblical usage of “hallowed” is likely isolated to old sports facilities being “hallowed ground,” the LEB made a completely justifiable call here.

Romans 5:1 — Interpreting participles

Therefore, because we* have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (LEB)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (NASB)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (NIV)

Unlike with matters such as person, gender, number, tense or aspect, voice, and mood, we can’t necessarily get the syntactical use of a participle just from the inflection (spelling) of the Greek participle. With the NASB and NIV examples here, we see two distinct approaches to this problem. The NASB leaves the usage uninterpreted and leaves the reader to decide, though it sounds wooden and could be misinterpreted to be a mere time reference. The NIV interprets the participle to mean that our justification is the cause of our having peace with Jesus Christ.

The LEB seems to take a middle approach here. By italicizing “because we,” the translation communicates that causality is a matter of interpretation and that there is no particular Greek word in the verse that means “because” or “since.” It would appear that the LEB out-NASB’d the NASB.

Selected original language lemmata

lemma, by the way, is a dictionary word, as opposed to a root (which may appear in multiple lemmata) or an inflected form, e.g. the masculine plural nominative form of a lemma. Confused? Don’t sweat it.

We’ll look at three lemmata here: those for “slave,” “brother,” and “man, mankind” to get a feel for how the LEB handles them.

doulos (slave, bondservant, servant)

The NASB translates doulos as “slave” a little more than 75% of the time, far more than the NIV 2011, which has forms of “servant” about 75% of the time. The LEB translates “slave” every time except for one time in Acts 2:18, where it separates the translations “male slaves” and “female slaves.” The LEB is thus everything the LSB promises in this regard.

adelphos (brother, brethren, brothers and sisters)

Similarly to the above, the LEB is remarkably consistent in translating adelphos as “brother,” even rejecting the NASB’s often-used “brethren.” MacArthur would probably approve.

The pie chart for the NIV 2011, unfortunately, doesn’t tell the whole story, as it counts examples like Matthew 5:22, where it translates adelphos as “brother or sister,” under “brother” in the pie chart. A search in Accordance Bible Software reveals that in some 150 instances, the NIV 2011 translates adelphos as “brother(s) and sister(s)” without the feminine form adelphe appearing in the text.

adam (man as in mankind, humankind)

The two primary Hebrew words for “man” in the Old Testament are adam and ish. The former is most often translated “man” but can also denote humanity in general (“mankind” or “humankind”). The latter does not refer to mankind and “almost always signifies a person of the masculine gender” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, 437).

Given what we saw with doulos and adelphos, you might be thinking that adam will always be “man” (often in a collective sense) or “mankind,” but you (and I) would be wrong.

As you might imagine, this could get jarring if you’re used to a more traditional translations of certain passages. Take Genesis 6:1–4, for example.

And it happened that, when humankind began to multiply on the face of the ground, daughters were born to them. Then the sons of God saw the daughters of humankind, that they were beautiful. And they took for themselves wives from all that they chose. And Yahweh said, “My Spirit shall not abide with humankind forever in that he is also flesh. And his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were upon the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God went into the daughters of humankind, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty warriors that were from ancient times, men of ⌊renown⌋. (LEB)

Is the LEB suddenly succumbing to political correctness? It is most likely that the LEB editors did wish to present a degree of gender-neutrality where appropriate. It is not as if “humankind” is a wrong translation. And the LEB certainly isn’t afraid to deviate from more traditional translations since it appears to do so well in earlier cited examples. However, it could not do so with adelphos because there is no equivalent gender-neutral term that communicates appropriate endearment. Nobody uses the term “sibling” in an endearing manner like one uses “brother.” And “brother(s) and sister(s)” is too dynamic.

It would also not necessarily be a good idea to translate adam rigidly as “man” in every instance in order to look conservative. Even the NASB occasionally translates adam as “human,” and it would be rather creepy to translate the instances in Ezek 1:8 and 10:21 as “man hands.”

How (and how not) to access the LEB

Those of you who have purchased Logos Bible Software need no help with this one. If it’s not already in your Logos library (and I can’t foresee any reason why it’s not), log into logos.com with your account and “buy” the LEB for free.

If you don’t have Logos and don’t want to spend any money to use the LEB within Logos, you actually don’t need to spend anything. Use logos.com to establish a Faithlife account (assuming you don’t have one), “buy” the LEB for free, install Logos on your computer or mobile device, and log in with your Logos account. Installing Logos on a mobile device is easy enough. On a computer, follow this link to download Logos 8 Basic, which includes the LEB already. You should then peruse the Logos store and “buy” every free resource that interests you. Make sure to “buy” the SBL Greek New Testament, as this is the base Greek NT text upon which the LEB is based.

My Bible Software Guy video on this is a bit out of date, but the gist still applies:

If you don’t want to install anything, another reliable means of reading the LEB is via biblia.com, which is Faithlife’s web page Bible, not to be confused with bibliCa.com, the International Bible Society’s web page. For the time being, I must recommend against non-Faithlife sources such as BibleGateway.com, Bible.com, and the YouVersion Bible app which also have the LEB. I noticed during my research for this post that there is an entire sentence of text missing from Genesis 6:4 on a couple of non-Faithlife sites, and I have not yet figured out why. Get the LEB from the Faithlife sources instead.

Because the LEB is a Faithlife product, the bummer for me is that the LEB will probably never be available in fully-featured form in Accordance Bible Software since they and Faithlife are competitors. While Faithlife does make the LEB freely available for use outside Faithlife products, part of the agreement entails reporting how many times the LEB is distributed on an annual basis, and that would basically require Accordance to report its own sales statistics to its primary rival, which is never going to happen. Apologies to my fellow Accordance fans.

Details, Details

If you’re interested in comparing translations in more depth, I’ve put together a few comparison tables with the LEB, NASB 1995, and NIV 2011 side-by-side. These are the product of searching for where the LEB translates adam as certain English words and then seeing how the NASB and NIV translate those same verses.


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