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.
These are my own opinions. There are more than 450 reviews of the ISR Scriptures on Amazon, mostly positive.
To consider other Messianic Bibles, go Here
18 thoughts on “A Review of The ISR Scriptures”
Messianic Light –
Larry, Where have You been All my life??
I have been looking for you!!!
Especially this last year.
I have Known Yeshua for 44 yrs, although this year I’ve Come to understand Him more deeply, Whom and All that He IS!! In this Abba led me into researching the Scriptures..In search of mis-translations, in order to Know fully the Truth.
It’s been kinda driving me nuts lately for lack of known material to study, but, Tonight I stumbled Upon Your rendering of TS2009 with Your brilliant, yet down to earth answers to comments.
I am relieved to find other references Now, that You recommend or do not (guidance)
Appreciate só Much Your clear knowledge and spiritual under-
standing of Christ, and, the Scriptures which lead Us to Him?Thank You,Shalom?
So, I have the ISR Scriptures. I agree that some of it is a little hokey. But I am hard pressed to find a Bible that is directly from the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages without first being dragged through the Greek. Which, in my opinion always results in failure. “Camel through the eye of a needle and Simon the leper” are just two erroneous passages from Greek translation in the NT.
The name of the Creator is another issue. YHWH is ancient Hebrew and YHVH is modern. And Jehovah is a manufactured term for THE Name. So who produces a book of scriptures that truly is reliable and accurate? I was recently introduced to the Geneva Bible, 1599. Same set of issues as all the rest. A little point in the right direction would be most appreciated.
Thank you for your comment. It sounds as though you believe or at least lean toward Aramaic Primacy – the idea that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, then translated to Greek. For a number of reasons, I do not hold this view. Greek was the written language of the day. While I believe what was spoken was mostly in Hebrew or Aramaic as might be evidenced by certain idioms, it was probably written down in Greek. One exception could be the Gospel of Matthew, however even the Hebrew texts we have today are translated from Greek. If there was a Hebrew original, it is no longer extant.
With that said, probably the closest to what you want is the Lamsa Bible, an English New Testament from the Aramaic Peshitta. Check out this one: A Parallel New Testament Comparing Three Popular Translations in Parallel Columns. It includes Etheridge, Murdock, and Lamsa translations of the Peshitta.
It renders Matthew 19:24 (and parallel passages) as a rope through the eye of a needle. Maybe, but probably not correct. Yeshua likely said a camel through the eye of a needle. That isn’t a concept unique to the Greek New Testament. The Talmud references an elephant going through the eye of a needle. (It is the very last sentence in Berakhot 55b. I think there is a second place as well but don’t know the reference.) Even the Quran mentions a camel going through the eye of a needle. In any case, both a rope and a camel passing through the eye of a needle is impossible, at least without God’s intervention. As for “Simon the Leper,” even the Aramaic Peshitta has that phrase (with all due respect to Roth; I think he is wrong).
I consider the NASB to be the most accurate translation today, with the ESV a close second. Are they perfect? No, they are not. Check out the NET Bible for an excellent collection of translation notes.
Use multiple translations when you study. May you be blessed in your pursuit.
You speak of New Testament texts as “being dragged through the Greek. Which [sic] almost always results in failure.” By making that judgment, you reject the Scriptures, which are given to us in Greek, and prefer generally ad hoc retroversion into Hebrew, which never existed for the New Testament texts.
I am very happy to come across your write-up. It’s very educating. I almost got confused. I didn’t know how to change my believe in Jesus Christ. I am comfortable with “God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, etc”
Your exposition has really helped me.
Thank you for your review. I have some of the same issues and also with some spelling, grammar errors. I have tried to reach them by email with no response. I have begun using my old NASB and also other translations to help understand better. God bless you
What do you think of the restoration study bible as a messianic bible?
Thanks for the comment. The Restoration Study Bible (RSB) is an exclusive product of Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry (YRM). This is a King James Version (KJV) Bible with the name LORD replaced with Yahweh and the name Jesus replaced with Yahshua (common in the Sacred Name movement dating back to about the 1950s but without Hebrew support). Other proper names remain as they are in the KJV. The text includes Strong’s reference numbers, and there are Strong’s Hebrew-Chaldee and Strong’s Greek dictionaries included in the back of the Bible. There are also notes reflecting the doctrine and teachings of YRM.
Like the KJV, the RSB includes the Johannine Comma in 1 John 5:7, a portion of text unsupported in the Greek that is often used to support the Doctrine of the Trinity. I noticed that they did correct two obvious errors in the KJV in Acts 12:4 and Hebrews 4:8.
I don’t plan to review the RSB, but since you have asked my opinion I will say there are better options. I would never base my recommendation of a Bible solely on the use or lack of use of “Sacred Names.” Also keep in mind that the notes in this Bible are the doctrinal position of one particular religious organization (YRM).
If you want a good Bible that has Strong’s reference numbers for key words and a complete Strong’s dictionary in the back, look at one of the Key Word Study Bibles available in several different translations. Be aware, though, that just knowing the Hebrew or Greek root word but nothing else can lead to all kinds of errors.
Where to download the app? Thank you shalom Shalom
Shalom. The apps and programs of which I am aware that include the ISR Scriptures are at the bottom of this page.
I want to thank you for showing me the errors in the ISR translation. I have not studied it in depth and have had a real problem with calling the Holy Spirit the Set Apart Spirit. Since Holy essentially means consecrated, I think their choice of words for Him is disgusting and irreverent.
I just had to voice my opinion and say that I was recently given the Tree Of Life version and plan to do much of my studies out of it.
Again, thank you so much for enlightening me to the many problems with the ISR translation, and God bless you.
Glad to be of help. I highly recommend the Tree of Life Version and pray it is beneficial to your studies.
I noticed today that the tree of life version has issues as well. Zechariah 1:18-21 are missing. So a good burean studies multiple versions and compares in and with interliniear and also different translations brown,green,strongs….etc
Thanks for the comment, Richard. Actually, what you know as Zechariah 1:18-21 isn’t missing at all; this is really the beginning of Chapter 2. In the Hebrew Bible, the first chapter of Zechariah has 17 verses and the second chapter has 17 verses. In the Greek version, chapter 1 has 21 verses and chapter 2 has 13 verses. In both cases, there are 34 verses in the first two chapters. They are just divided differently.
The Tree of Life Version follows the Hebrew chapter divisions. The ISR Scriptures follows the Greek chapter divisions even though the book layout is the Hebrew format. This is both inconsistent and confusing and the real question, is why would they do that?
You will find many instances where chapters are divided differently in Greek-based and Hebrew-based Bibles. I address this in another post Book, Chapter and Verse.
I agree we should study multiple translations of the Bible. The Tree of Life Version is one that I highly recommend.
Brother Larry your objections by and large stems from the fact that u want to read the Hebrew scriptures written by Hebrews for Hebrews with a western mindstate. English, greek and Latin fail miserably in capturing true Hebrew word meanings because these European languages r based on abstract ideologies. Paleo Hebrew is more akin to one creating an entire language made of action verbs. Thus the word Ruach means breath of Yah which donates breathing the word Qodesh means to purify or to set apart. Greek, latin and English mis translated this active word to the holy spirit. An inert concept that starts and stops with zero action.
Merely a concept that can be interpreted subject many readers diverse understanding. Also Sa’ul was a Yahudi from the tribe of Benyahmin. The name he was born with is all thats needed. No one cares about what name that was used to apease the ancient greeks and Romans.
Thank you for your comments! Actually, if you look around this site it should be pretty evident that I don’t want to read the Hebrew Scriptures with a western mindset. English is the language in which I communicate, and the purpose of these Messianic Bible translations is to bring the rich meaning of the Hebrew text into the English language without losing the essence. I am of the opinion the ISR Scriptures falls short in this quest.
Let’s take another look at the two items you’ve mentioned.
Regarding the translation of Ruach HaQodesh as “Holy Spirit,” first I would point out that the phrase Ruach HaQodesh (a real Hebrew term) never appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, I am using transliteration. The closest you will get is Ruach Qadshekha “Your Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:13) and Ruach Qadashow “His Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10,11). I will assume, since the ISR Scriptures uses the phrase “Set-apart Spirit” that you are OK with the word “Spirit” to translate Ruach in these cases.
While the word Qodesh is derived from the verb Qadash, here it is a noun used as an adjective, so context is important. “Set-apart” is a very benign, or as you said “inert,” description. As I indicated in my article, anything (like the shed in my yard) can be set apart from something else. In fact, the word haqadeshah (the feminine form of this noun) is used to describe what Judah thought was a cult prostitute (Tamar) in Genesis 38 – because a cult prostitute is “set apart.” But she is not “holy,” a word we understand in our English Bibles as meaning “set apart to Yah.” So now, when the phrase “Holy Spirit” is used instead of the benign “Set-apart Spirit,” it has meaning.
This is a common problem with the ISR Scriptures, which for several Hebrew words tends to translate them in exactly the same way every time they are used, regardless of context. This really prevents the rich beauty of Hebrew from coming across in English. A much better Messianic Bible would be the Tree of Life Version, which actually uses the transliterated words Ruach HaKodesh with the proper English possessive “Your” or “His” as appropriate. A Bible that uses the English phrase Holy Spirit would also convey the correct meaning.
Regarding “Shaul” and “Paul,” my post points out that the original ISR Scriptures arbitrarily left out part of Acts 13:9 simply because they didn’t like it. That is very dangerous. I also pointed out that this grave error was corrected in the 2009 version. This man was simply known by both names, his birth name Shaul and another Roman name, Paulus. To suggest this was to “appease the ancient Greeks and Romans” has no merit; this was simply cultural. As a parallel, I am guessing that “Yirmeyahu Ben Yahudim” is not your given birth name and that you probably use both depending on the circumstances.
The bottom line, though, is whether or not the Ruach HaQodesh/Set-apart Spirit/Holy Spirit speaks to us when we are reading one of these translations, and whether or not we hear. If the ISR Scriptures works for you, by all means read and study it. For those reading this article looking for a good Messianic Bible translation, I want to make them aware of its shortcomings and recommend what I think would be a much better translation, like the Tree of Life Version or the Complete Jewish Bible.
I was wondering if there was is a Bible that has the excellent flow of the NASB or ESV, but with the original Hebrew titles of Yahweh and Yahshua restored?
Thanks in advance.
The Legacy Standard Bible is a revision of the 1995 New American Standard Bible that restores the name Yahweh where most English translations substitute LORD. I quote from it on my 2023 Feast Dates page. The name of the Messiah is transliterated as Jesus (from the Greek Iesous used in the New Testament texts), common to most English translations. “Yahshua” is a made-up name from the Sacred Name movement and has no basis in Hebrew. There are several Messianic translations that use the Hebrew name Yeshua, with other proper names are also transliterated Hebrew. None of them flow quite like the NASB or ESV, though.