Should the ISR Scriptures be your primary Bible? This translation from the Institute for Scripture Research has some unique characteristics. Is it a good one?
For several years now I have followed the practice of reading through the Bible annually. I use either a different translation or different format (for example, chronological) each year. This year (2018) I have chosen to read The Scriptures, 2009 Edition, from the Institute for Scripture Research.
This is not my first time through this translation, though previously I had used the 1998 Edition. You may have seen one of these translations in Bible software such as e-Sword or theWord, identified as TS98 or TS2009. As expected, there are some differences between the two editions, just as you would see differences between the 1977 NASB and 1995 NASB, between different editions of the NIV, or even between different editions of the KJV.
I will say up front that this is not one of my preferred translations. In fact, I do not care for it. However, the reasons I do not like it may be the very reasons you would like it, so I will continue with my observations.
My Experience with The ISR Scriptures
The Scriptures by ISR is the second such “sacred name” Bible I encountered after beginning this walk. The first was The Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition from the Assemblies of Yahweh, edited by the founder, Elder Jacob O. Meyer. It was basically the 1901 American Standard Version with substituted names and a few revisions to the text to suit doctrinal bias.
The Scriptures, on the other hand, was a new translation. I began reading this after joining a Torah-observant congregation in 2002. Many in the congregation had it, and it was used for public reading of the portions each Sabbath. I quickly became involved with the congregation and read aloud from the Torah, Haftarah or New Testament each week on a rotating basis. However, after a while I became uncomfortable with this translation and asked to use something else like the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Instead, I was removed from the reading rotation in 2003 (but some time later was allowed to rejoin the rotation using the NASB).
The thing that finally caused me to object to the ISR Scriptures is found in Acts 13:9:
Then Sha’ul, filled with the Set-apart Spirit, looked intently at him…(TS98)
If you are familiar with this verse, you notice a glaring discrepancy. The same passage in the NASB reads:
But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him…(NASB)
Every translation I have, and I have several, reads similar to the NASB. The line “who is also known as Paul” is not questioned in any of the source texts. Yet, here in the ISR Scriptures, 1998 Edition, it had been left out because for some reason the translator does not like it. The explanatory notes suggest the “change of his name” (there was no change; he was known by both names) was done to appease the Roman people. The reason is irrelevant – the phrase appears in all source texts. If the translator feels at liberty to omit something here that he does like, what other things have been conveniently left out or changed?
Occasionally some staunch defenders of the KJV will claim that the NIV or other modern translations strategically omit verses. That simply is not the case (a topic for another time). There is nothing left out; there are differences in the source texts used for these translations. However, with the ISR Scriptures there is no explanation for leaving out the phrase “who was also known as Paul,” which appears in all source texts, other than personal bias.
Perhaps the translator feels justified in in making changes or omissions because he believes the Greek text to be corrupted and, since no “original” Semitic text exists, he felt at liberty to modify the text “as seemed appropriate” (a quote from the Preface). “We cannot therefore claim that our text represents a translation of any particular underlying text.”
It should be noted that The Scriptures 2009 Edition does now contain this phrase in Acts 13:9, though the errant explanatory note is still present.
Then Sha’ul, who also is Paul – filled with the Set-apart Spirit, looked intently at him…(TS2009)
A unique characteristic of this translation is the rendering of the Divine Name and the name of the Messiah. They are shown in Hebrew, yod-hey-vav-hey and yod-hey-vav-shin-ayin, יהוה and יהושע respectively, without vowel points. I am not able to show the exact font here in my text, but you can look at this picture to see how both names are rendered. This allows for the reader to pronounce them however he or she believes is correct, if at all. Similar to a complete text written in Hebrew, one can see יהוה and choose to either pronounce it or to say Adonai, Hashem, or some other euphemism. One could even see יהוה and יהושע and say “Jehovah” and “Jesus” if they wanted. This helps to remove the objections of those who are adamant about a particular pronunciation being spelled out.
There are a couple of things to be aware of with this choice of rendering names. First, the name יהוה appears in the New Testament, both in quotes from the Tanach (Old Testament) were it can be verified and in other places where the translator feels it should be used. The Divine Name never appears in the Greek text – but since, as previously stated, this translation does not follow “any particular underlying text” the translator takes the liberty of including it as he sees fit, similar to the way the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) does with the New World Translation.
Second, in the New Testament the translator has chosen to use יהושע (Yehoshua or Joshua – compare this to the spelling of the name of the leader who succeeded Moses) rather than the more common ישוע (Yeshua). This may be a concession to the sacred-name view that the Messiah’s name must actually contain a form of the Divine Name. Using this spelling has even caused some readers to come up with their own odd pronunciations like “Yahusha.” Again, the intention is that the reader can see these Hebrew characters and pronounce them as desired.
Things that Make You Say “Huh?”
The Institute for Scripture Research, publisher of The Scriptures, is in South Africa. Some of the English used may seem awkward to those of us who use American English. This is pretty easily overcome. There are, however, other things regarding word choices that can be very distracting and make this translation difficult to read.
Words like God and Lord are not found, which is common among sacred-name groups. Instead you will read the Hebrew word Elohim (when referring to the Creator) or mighty ones (when referring to other gods). The Hebrew adon is generally translated as master.
Certain words we would expect to see have been completely avoided in this translation. You will never read words like glory, faith, king or holy. Instead, you see esteem, belief, sovereign and set-apart. Other forms of those words are also affected – for example, glorify becomes esteem (as a verb) and glorious becomes esteemed. Kingdom becomes reign (as a noun). That is noticeable but not too bad. However, some words are rendered rather awkwardly, such as holiness being translated as set-apartness. The Holy Spirit is called the Set-apart Spirit, a phrase that seems ambiguous and sounds much less honorable. The shed in my back yard is set-apart from my house, but it isn’t “holy.”
There are many other “unused” words not in this translation that end up making it less readable.
Most words seem to be translated consistently, which can be helpful but at times can also be confusing, especially when context is not considered. For example, the Hebrew word chesed, traditionally translated into English as mercy, love, lovingkindness, or kindness, is always translated as loving-commitment (another awkward read). But in some contexts it could mean just the opposite. Consider this verse:
Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people (Proverbs 14:34 NASB).
Righteousness exalts a nation; And loving-commitment, To the peoples is sin (Proverbs 14:34 TS2009).
Here it is in my Interlinear Bible:
The Hebrew noun chesed, Strong’s number H2617, is derived from the verb chasad, Strong’s number H2616. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, the word changes meaning depending on the verb stem. Likewise, the noun can have different meanings. In this verse, the translator(s) completely missed this, and the end result doesn’t convey what the author said – in fact, it doesn’t even make sense. I am not a master of Biblical Hebrew, so I need to have confidence that the translator of my Bible knows these things. It appears this translator does not.
If you are one who likes to check on things that you notice are different, you may want to pick up a copy of Green’s Interlinear Hebrew-Greek-English Bible. I has the Biblical text in the original language with a literal English translation directly underneath each word, and the Hebrew or Greek words are keyed to Strong’s numbers so that you can look them up in other references (not Strong’s, which primarily just gives you the King James Version usage). You can use it to confirm, verify or clarify a passage you are reading, understanding though that the translators are usually more familiar with the original languages than most of us. Remember that word forms can change the meaning of the root word.
When sentence structure and word usage is awkward, uncomfortable or unnatural, the reader is less likely to recognize otherwise familiar passages and, much more importantly, less likely to commit them to memory.
Beyond the awkward reading due to seemingly “banned” words, here is one of the most disappointing things to me with this translation. I love the Psalms, yet in The Scriptures there are many parts that are left out. Consider Psalm 18:
For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said, I Love You, O LORD, my strength (Psalm 18:1 NASB).
I love You, O יהוה, My strength (Psalm 18:1 TS2009).
Many of the Psalms have titles (or subtitles). These are not added by Bible translators; they are actually a part of the Hebrew text. Often they identify the author, the type of song, and/or the setting in which the psalm was written. Sometimes, as in this instance, the title is actually the first verse in the Hebrew text. Verse 2 begins with “and he said, I Love you…”.
With Psalm 18, it is easy to identify the setting because it can also be found, nearly word-for-word, in 1 Samuel 22. However, with other Psalms this translation leaves you without knowing the author or the reason it was written, even though in many cases the Hebrew source text has this information.
Finally, here are just a few additional observations in this Messianic translation. I have more, but will save them for another time.
There is a section in the back called Explanatory Notes. While some of them offer good explanations, others are sheer nonsense (like the translator’s comments on the name Jesus). Just keep in mind as you read them that they are NOT sacred text. Too many times, we are gullible when these sensational ideas are offered.
The book order in the Tanach (Old Testament) follows the traditional Hebrew arrangement. However, the verse and chapter numberings are based on the Christian Bible, which seems inconsistent. There is no mention of the traditional Torah or Haftarah readings.
Here is the bottom line: this translation should probably not be used as your main Bible, but because of some of its unique word choices it may inspire you on to further study. And again, the reasons I do not like it could be the reasons you do like it. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and speak to you in whatever you read.