The Scriptures, published by the Institute for Scripture Research, is one of the most popular Bible translations in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movement. The Messianic Light reviewed the ISR Scriptures in June of 2018. I read the Bible through every year, and that year I had chosen to read the ISR Scriptures (though it wasn’t the first time I had done that). Since then, that review has been one of our most popular posts, and I’ve received numerous comments (and rebukes) both public and private.
The Scriptures was first published in 1993, although that first edition is now very hard to find. The second edition, often abbreviated TS98, was published in 1998 and was widely distributed both in print and in electronic format. The third edition of the ISR Scriptures was published in 2009 (TS2009), with minor revisions in subsequent printings in 2012, 2014 and 2016. My copy is the 2016 printing, and if there were additional revisions after that I am not aware of them.
The Institute for Scripture Research
The Institute for Scripture Research (ISR) is a South African non-profit company. According to their website they charge a nominal fee for The Scriptures, but do not pay salaries to their directors. All proceeds “are used to republish, update and further the work of the ISR.” They will not respond to doctrinal questions or make recommendations regarding other organizations or sources. The stated desire is “to be non-partisan in regard to doctrinal matters.”
Is that possible in a Bible translation? Probably not, but it is a noble goal. Translation from one language to another necessarily requires some kind of interpretation of the meaning – more so with dynamic equivalent translations (such as the NIV or CJB) that seek to bring the meaning of the text into another language, and less so with literal translations (like the NASB or NKJV). Literal word-for-word translations to a greater extent leave the understanding of the words to the reader. The more literal the translation is, the more awkward and difficult it can be to read.
Previously I wrote about my congregational experience with the ISR Scriptures, which wasn’t particularly good. That was with the 1998 edition. My personal reading in 2018 was using the 2009 edition, and I can say there are substantial improvements to the TS2009 over the TS98.
Improvements in the ISR Scriptures 2009
One of the greatest improvements is not within the text itself, but in the notes. In keeping with the stated desire above, many doctrinal references, or potential doctrinal references, have been removed from both the footnotes at the bottom of the page and the Explanatory Notes in the back. For example, consider Ephesians 3:14-15. First, the passage from the New King James Version:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named… (NKJV)
And the same passage in the ISR Scriptures:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Master יהושע Messiah, from whom all fatherhood in the heavens and earth is named… (TS98 and TS2009)
TS98 included a footnote that read, “Would we not then expect to see the Father’s Name in His Son’s Name, and also in the name of His chosen ones, His covenant people?” This is clearly a footnote promoting the Sacred Name doctrine and having nothing to do with the translation itself or with any cross-references. It has rightly been removed in the TS2009.
There are many similar places where footnotes have been removed so that the TS2009 can be unbiased and “non-partisan in regard to doctrinal matters.” One notable instance is what the TS98 called “prophecy hairlines” that were meant to identify prophecy the translators believed had not yet been fulfilled. Prophecy hairline markings are not present in the TS2009.
A couple of particularly troubling passages have been corrected, including:
Then Sha’ul, filled with the Set-apart Spirit, looked intently at him… (Acts 13:9 TS98).
Then Sha’ul, who also is Paula – filled with the Set-apart Spirit, looked intently at him… (Acts 13:9 TS2009).
TS98 completely omitted “who is also Paul” simply because they did not like it. TS2009 corrected this.
“And while suffering tortures in the grave, having lifted up his eyes, he saw Abraham far away, and El’azar in his bosom (Luke 16:23 TS98).
“And while suffering tortures in She’ol, having lifted up his eyes, he saw Abraham far away, and El’azar in his bosom (Luke 16:23 TS2009).
“The grave” is ambiguous; She’ol is an appropriate substitute where the Greek text says Hades.
A few others are still just as strange even after correction:
Because in Him dwells all the completeness of the Mightyness bodily… (Colossians 2:9 TS98)
Because in Him dwells all the completeness of Elohim-ness bodily… (Colossians 2:9 TS2009)
There is one noticeable place where the TS2009 took a step backward from TS98. In the New Testament – or what the translators previously called The Messianic Scriptures (TS98) but now awkwardly call the Second Writings (TS2009), Hebrew names are used for books whose authors obviously had Hebrew names. Matthew is Mattithyahu; John is Yohanan; Hebrews is Ibrim; James is Ya’aqob; Peter is Kepha; Jude is Yehudah. Now, in TS2009 all the books have “Hebrew” names, even those that were not Hebrew. There is no doubt that some of them are even made up to sound Hebrew. That part is almost laughable, except that when references are written using those odd names and then abbreviated it is pretty hard to figure out what they really are.
Format of the Text
What is commonly called the Old Testament is appropriately labeled “TANAK,” the Hebrew acronym for Torah–Neviim–Ketuvim or Law-Prophets-Writings. The order of the books is what you would expect in a Hebrew Bible, which of course differs from the Old Testament in Christian Bibles. While this is a good thing, the translators are then inconsistent in continuing with the Hebrew pattern for verse numberings. Instead, the ISR Scriptures matches Christian Bibles in chapter and verse identification, not the Hebrew Tanakh.
Hebrew terms are used pretty extensively in the text, often using special characters to effect the transliteration. This, again, makes it difficult to read. I am not a Hebrew speaker, but some of those who are have stated that the attempts at Hebrew are too often not very good, kind of like what I said about the names of New Testament books. In several instances, the poor Hebrew in proper names is certainly the result of Sacred Name doctrine, a translation philosophy that can’t be avoided in the text even if notes are neutral.
The Divine Name is printed in Hebrew characters, יהוה, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, even though this name does not appear in the Greek New Testament texts. The name of the Messiah is printed as יהושע instead of ישוע. This is again a carryover of Sacred Name doctrine. All other Hebrew names are transliterated.
New Testament quotes from the Old Testament are printed in bold text in TS2009. Standard text was used in TS98. The Old Testament reference is shown in superscript at the end of the quote, which is very helpful even though the abbreviation is for the Hebrew name of the book.
Stuff that Doesn’t Make Sense
The ISR Scriptures tends to always translate a particular Hebrew or Greek word with one corresponding English word. This does make it easier to recognize where a certain word is used in the original languages, however it does not take into account the context. Previously I pointed out a problem with the Hebrew word chesed (H2617) always being translated as “loving-commitment,” a little awkward but accurate most of the time. It works here:
Do not those who plan evil go astray? But loving-commitment and truth are to those who plan good (Proverbs 14:22 TS2009).
But it doesn’t work here:
Righteousness exalts a nation; And loving-commitment, To the peoples is sin (Proverbs 14:34 TS2009).
In this case, the word actually means just the opposite. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, chesed can mean:
- goodness, kindness, faithfulness
- a reproach, shame
The Hebrew word kilyah (H3629), according to Brown-Driver-Briggs, can mean:
- kidneys, the physical organ (when used literally)
- the seat of the emotions (when used figuratively)
The ISR Scriptures consistently translates kilyah as “kidneys,” which works here:
And he took all the fat that was on the entrails, and the appendage on the liver, and the two kidneys with their fat, and Mosheh burned them on the slaughter-place (Leviticus 8:16 TS2009).
But not here:
I, יהוה, search the heart, I try the kidneys, and give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds (Jeremiah 17:10 TS2009).
I bless יהוה who has given me counsel; My kidneys also instruct me in the nights (Psalm 16:7 TS2009).
“My kidneys also instruct me in the nights” sounds like a personal medical problem.
Virgins and Maidens
Much has been said about the text of Isaiah 7:14 and its quoting in Matthew 1:23 as to whether or not it says “the virgin will conceive.” The Explanatory Notes in the ISR Scriptures accurately state that “None of the Hebrew and Greek words can be translated exclusively as ‘virgin’ or ‘non-virgin’.” The ISR Scriptures consistently translate bethulah (H1330) as “maiden” and ‘almah (H5959) as “young woman” except in Isaiah 7:14. In the New Testament, parthenos (G3933) is consistently translated as “maiden” except in Matthew 1:23, where the Hebrew word ‘almah is inserted and not translated. So we have:
Therefore יהוה Himself gives you a sign: Look, the ‘almah’ conceives and gives birth to a son, and shall call His Name Immanu’el (Isaiah 7:14 TS2009).
See, an ‘almah’ shall conceive, and she shall give birth to a Son, and they shall call His Name Immanu’el, which translated, means, “El with us” (Matthew 1:23 TS2009).
It should be noted that TS98 in both passages says “maiden.” Furthermore, Luke 1:26-27 reads:
And in the sixth month the messenger Gabri’el was sent by Elohim to a city of Galil named Natsareth, to a maiden engaged to a man whose name was Yoseph, of the house of Dawid. And the maiden’s name was Miryam (Luke 1:26-27 TS2009).
Of course, the Luke passage is not quoting from the Old Testament.
The ISR Scriptures and the King James Version
The ISR Scriptures Old Testament is translated from Kittle’s Biblia Hebraica, a Masoretic Text. The New Testament appears to be translated from various Greek texts. The translator(s) believe the New Testament books were originally written in a Semitic tongue but are no longer extant. The preface even states, “We cannot therefore claim that our text represents a translation of any particular underlying text.”
The New Testament text very clearly, though, follows the King James Version (or KJV source texts) in most cases. In those passages where additions to the Byzantine texts are not in the Alexandrian texts, they usually appear in the ISR Scriptures. The KJV is closely followed in the in the Old Testament as well, though here most translations are very similar.
If you like the King James Version and want to find something a little more Hebraic, then the ISR Scriptures might be what you are looking for. You won’t find the majestic 18th-century language of the 1769 KJV, the one most people read.
In the account of the three Hebrew men thrown in the furnace, king Nebuchadnezzar identifies the fourth man as “the Son of God” in the KJV. Most modern translations just say “a son of the gods.” The Hebrew (or in the case of Daniel chapter 3, Aramaic) is ambiguous. It is highly unlikely that the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar would have recognized or even acknowledged the existence of the Son of God (Yahweh), but would have considered a fourth person to be like the gods.
He answered and said, “Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire. And they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of Elahin” (Daniel 3:25 TS2009).
“Elahin” is yet another odd transliteration, this time for the Aramaic plural of “god.” The ISR Scriptures capitalizes it, indicating the one true God, Yahweh.
In Mark 9:23, following the tradition of the KJV, the word “believe” has been added, which actually changes the whole meaning of the verse.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe… (Mark 9:23 KJV)
And יהושע said to him, “If you are able to believe…” (Mark 9:23 TS2009)
And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?…” (Mark 9:23 NASB)
Titus 2:13 is an example of the Granville Sharp’s Rule of Greek grammar. The KJV gets it wrong, and the ISR Scriptures follows the KJV error.
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ… (Titus 2:13 KJV)
…looking for the blessed expectation and esteemed appearance of the great Elohim and our Saviour יהושע Messiah… (Titus 2:13 TS2009)
…looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus… (Titus 2:13 NASB)
And yet in 1 Timothy 3:16 the ISR Scriptures departs from following the KJV and instead follows the Alexandrian text – probably for doctrinal influence. The KJV presents a problem for some readers.
… great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh… (1 Timothy 3:16 KJV)
… the secret of reverence is great – who was revealed in the flesh… (1 Timothy 3:16 TS2009)
… great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh… (1 Timothy 3:16 NASB)
Likewise in 1 John chapter 5 the ISR Scriptures correctly deletes the Johannine Comma rather than following the KJV.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (1 John 5:7-8 KJV).
Because there are three who bear witness: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. And the three are in agreement (1 John 5:7-8 TS2009).
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement (1 John 5:7-8 NASB).
There are many examples we could show, but we will finish with this one where the ISR Scriptures follows the KJV at the end of Revelation. The interesting thing is that most of us in the Messianic lifestyle wish that the Bible actually said this, but alas, it is an error in the KJV source text (which is a very interesting story if you choose to look it up). The footnotes in the ISR Scriptures even reference the writings of the Church Fathers to justify this text.
Blessed are they that do his commandments… (Revelation 22:14 KJV)
Blessed are those doing His commands… (Revelation 22:14 TS2009)
Blessed are those who wash their robes… (Revelation 22:14 NASB)
Missing Verses from the Hebrew Scriptures
The ISR Scriptures completely ignores whole lines from the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the Psalms, there are headings and descriptions that are present in the Hebrew text. For example:
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.
This is the first verse of Psalm 18 in the Hebrew Bible. In most English translations, this appears before the first verse. However, in the ISR Scriptures, it isn’t there at all. This isn’t some kind of study note or side text; this is an important part of the Scriptures. And they just leave it out.
There are 116 instances – 116 verses – that are omitted from the Psalms in the ISR Scriptures.
The ISR Scriptures on the Name, Jesus
I’ll just print this paragraph here exactly as it appears in my TS2009 Explanatory Notes. This, my friends, is complete nonsense. Please keep in mind that this is in the Explanatory Notes in the back of the book, NOT in the Bible text.
Consider Iesous, rendered as “Jesus” in English versions up to now. For example the authoritative Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, under Iaso: the Greek goddess of healing reveals that the name Iaso is Ieso in the Ionic dialect of the Greeks, Iesous being the contracted genitive form. In David Kravitz, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology, we found a similar form, namely Iasus. There were four different Greek deities with the name of Iasus, one of them being the Son of Rhea. Further, it is well known that Ies is the abbreviated form of the name Iesous, and Dr. Bullinger, in The Apocalypse, p 396, says Ies was part of the name of Bacchus. Also see Come out of her, My people, by C.J. Koster.
Other “Pagan” Words
There are many words common in other Bibles and in standard English vocabulary that you will not find in the ISR Scriptures. They give various reasons, usually relating them to pagan deities in one way or another. Here are just a few of the words you don’t see, along with the word or words the ISR Scriptures uses instead. This quite often makes the ISR Scriptures very difficult and awkward to read. There are several places where these words just don’t make sense, a few of which I listed above.
Here is one of the silly things found in the Explanatory Notes. Remember, though, that these Explanatory Notes are not part of the Bible text (oops, “Bible” is another of the bad words), but they do give insight into how the ISR Scriptures was translated.
Right-ruling, Rightly rule
This noun and verb might at first appear to be unconventional, or rather unknown in the English language. They render the Hebrew noun mishpat and its verb shaphat often more precisely than the well-known “judgment” and “judge.” Traditionally they have been rendered as “justice” and “justify” in some instances. We have avoided these latter two words because they derive from the name of a gentile deity.
In the words of a modern-day news broadcasting network, “We report, you decide.” The ISR Scriptures is a somewhat unique rendering of the Old and New Testament texts. It should probably not be your primary Bible but may give some insight into the Hebrew context. Reading and studying from multiple translations is always a good practice. Recognizing what the differences are between translations and translation philosophies is essential and keeping those things in mind makes the ISR Scriptures a good addition to your library.
To see what others think of this translation, read the reviews and comments on the Amazon page.
1 thought on “The ISR Scriptures Revisited”
What I find strange is the ‘straining at a gnat’ with some of the sacred name bibles on seeking to make the Greek New Testament Jewish, and also making some of the Old Testament unintelligible in its straining, or at least the various names of people and books. It is a case of seeking to be more Jewish than the Jews!
For example, I have before me a 2011 translation of the Jewish Bible by the Mesorah Heritage Foundation. In the title page to the Torah portion, ‘Genesis’ has before it the Hebrew title in Hebrew and after it, the Hebrew name in English; ‘Bereishis'(& likewise for the rest of the Torah, and the rest of the Tanach), but thereafter at the top of each page ‘Genesis’. Also, the standard English names for the characters in the Tanach are given. Even with the title, it has after ‘English Tanach’ ‘The Jewish Bible’ – making clear what it is. The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh of 1917 follows English conventions. So too with my Jewish Daily Prayer Book of the early 1950s – it can be read with ease. Not so with many of the sacred name groups bibles. The ISR is by no means the worst and I have some ‘vanity published’ (or more kindly ‘self-published’) bibles by sacred name groups which are awful, looking like books of hieroglyphics – completely useless for any mission work.
If in following the vision of Isaiah of attracting all the nations to worship the one True God, and the great commission of Matthew 28, it is that, which should govern our rendering of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into readily understood translations.