MSG: Pharisees came up, intending to give him a hard time. They asked, "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?"
NLT: Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”
NIV: Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
NASB: Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.
ESV: And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
"And Pharisees came"(ESV) or "Pharisees came"(MSG) or "Some Pharisees came"(All others)?
The only version that begins this with "And" is the ESV. Looking back, the ESV starts both sentences in v.1 with "and" as well. It's getting long in the tooth.
The MSG's "Pharisees came" is ok, but too abrupt.
"Some Pharisees came" makes for the smoothest reading here.
-1 ESV And, and, and...
+1 NLT, NIV, NASB
"came"(NLT, NIV) or "came up"(MSG, NASB, ESV) or "came up to Jesus"(NASB)?
It is interesting here that the most formal (NASB) would be the most explanatory. To me, the word "up" isn't entirely necessary. As far as the NASB reading "Jesus" here, all versions have a personal pronoun later to refer back to "Jesus" in v.1. However, having "Jesus" in v.2 is makes comprehension easier.
"and" (All but the NASB):
A transitional word is needed here for smoothness. A really great reading here would be "Some Pharisees came up to test/trick Jesus," which I would have liked best of all. That said, the NASB isn't bad here, just not smooth.
+1 MSG, NLT, NIV, ESV
"in order to test him asked"(ESV) or "testing Him, and began to question Him"(NASB) or "tested him by asking"(NIV) or "tried to trap him with this question" (NLT) or "intending to give him a hard time. They asked"(MSG)?
All our versions go different ways here. The ESV's "in order to" is unwieldy. The reading of the MSG makes me want to chuckle, it's too much of a paraphrase. The NASB and NIV are similar; a difference basically between "came and tested" vs. "came testing." The NASB is concise but too abrupt while the NIV is smoother. The NLT is definately a paraphrase here, but while it doesn't go beyond bounds in the way that the MSG does, it's sort of wordy. The NIV, though, is simple and smooth.
"whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife"(NASB) or "is it legal for a man to divorce his wife"(MSG) or "should a man be allowed to divorce his wife"(NLT) or "is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife"(NIV, ESV)?
Lawful, legal, or allowed? The Pharisees are asking this question concerning the Mosaic law, so any of these would do. However, the modern reader would get the wrong idea from the word "legal" and possibly "lawful." "Allowed" fits in the context and helps focus the reader's attention on the issue of divorce better than the others.
Verse 2 winner: NLT
The NIV and NLT tie with three points. The NLT's use of "allowed" in the wording of the Pharisee's question is the tie breaker for me, though, as it directly avoids the confusion of what the Pharisees meant by "legal" or "lawful". As we will see in the next verse, the issue of the Mosaic law comes out in all versions, so the NLT isn't "hiding" anything from the careful student of Scripture.
The NLT is wordier here than the NIV but it works to good purpose in aiding ready comprehension.
A Look at the Old KJV
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
I like what the KJV does in this verse, putting the issue of temptation by the Pharisees after the question. Newer versions, by putting the issue of temptation before the question, make more work for themselves in having to mesh coming, tempting, and asking in the first part of the verse.
Two personal pronouns before the question and the phrase "put away" make this rendering a poor choice for reading, however.
It might seem to some of you that with a moment's worth of attention any of these differences are trivial so what's the point? The Scripture talks about the "twinkling of an eye," which I have heard referred to as the time it takes for your eye to go from one letter to the next. That's fast! If the words and grammar on the page fit the framework of language you use on a daily basis, the concepts appear in your mind instantly.
If they do not, or only fit to a point, your brain will signal you to slow down and study the text- but not always. Sometimes your brain will make an assumption that is false.
The point being, if you are intending to read as opposed to studying, you will either be slowed down or given the illusion that you get it when you don't. And that means less opportunity to reflect on the truths of the Bible and more time spent picking through words or just plain being wrong until you realize your mistake.