Translation Principles of the ISV Bible


The following principles of translation are being followed in producing the ISV.

1. Textual Aspects of Translation

  1. For the Tanakh, or Old Testament, the Masoretic text as published in the latest editions of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Quinta is used as the base text, in consultation with other ancient Hebrew texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and a select number of ancient versions (the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Targums). All significant departures from the base text, as well as all significant textual variants, are indicated in footnotes. With respect to the book of Isaiah, Qumran Cave 1’s Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa) was used, along with certain other Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, as the base text for translation, with the MT secondarily consulted for variants to 1QIsa.
  2. For the New Testament, the main text of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece and the main text of the 4th Revised Edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament is used for the base text. The ISV New Testament does not rely solely on one family of manuscripts, such as the Textus Receptus redaction (commonly known as the Received Text), or the Westcott-Hort redaction. Instead, a wide choice of manuscript traditions was consulted. All significant departures from the base text, as well as all significant textual variants, are indicated in footnotes.
  3. The ISV uses literary English, avoiding idioms that come and go, and is as traditional as necessary. Terms such as “justification,” “redemption,” “atonement,” and the Johannine “abide in” formulae have been retained. Where the Committee on Translation determines that a word-for-word translation is unacceptable, a change can be made in the direction of a more current language idiom. In these instances, the more literal rendering is indicated in a footnote.
  4. In the ISV New Testament, the word Christos (itself a Greek language translation of the Hebrew word moshiach) is translated as “Messiah”. For example, the ISV renders the name and title traditionally rendered as Jesus Christ as Jesus the Messiah in order to emphasize the unique claim made by the New Testament writers that the things about which they wrote pertained to Jesus as the claimed fulfillment of the hope of Israel’s Messiah. The alternate rendering “Christ” appears in footnotes. The rarely utilized NT Greek transliteration messias of the Hebrew language moshiach is rendered in the ISV NT as “Anointed One”.
  5. When the text can be understood in different ways, an attempt is made either to provide a rendering in which the same ambiguity appears in English, or to decide the more likely sense and translate accordingly. In the latter case, a footnote indicates the alternative understanding of the text. In general, the ISV attempts to preserve the relative ambiguity of the text rather than to make positive statements that depend on the translators’ judgment or that might reflect theological bias.
  6. Whenever possible, a short sentence is translated by a short sentence. However, a very long sentence may be translated in two or more sentences, provided the original intent of the text is accurately reflected.
  7. Regarding the Greek tenses, the ISV is guided by observing the grammatical nuances of the Greek in conjunction with the language rules of contemporary English. The policy of distinguishing the Greek imperfect tense from the aorist indicative is followed when the distinction is grammatically significant and stylistically acceptable. For example, in addition to the progressive imperfect (e.g., “he was proclaiming”), other possible renderings of the imperfect tense include the inceptive imperfect (“he began to proclaim”), the iterative imperfect (“he used to proclaim”), and the customary imperfect (“he would proclaim”). Where the context indicates that no distinction is being made between the imperfect and the aorist, the aoristic imperfect (“he proclaimed”) is used.
  8. Special attention is given to the translation of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek conjunctions. They are rendered in ways that best fit the immediate context or omitted in translation without a footnote when deemed pleonastic.
  9. In the Old Testament, the traditional “LORD” is used for Yahweh. Where the Hebrew Adonai Yahweh occurs, the rendering “Lord GOD” is used. Yahweh Elohim is rendered as LORD God. Most titles of God are translated in the text, with the original title placed in a footnote.
  10. A noun may be substituted for a pronoun when it is needed for clarity. In these cases, the literal rendering is placed in a footnote.

2. Language Aspects of Translation

  1. The use of inclusive language is limited to where the meaning of the original text is inclusive of both sexes, and then only without com­promising scholarly integrity or good English style. Specifically:
    1. The generic use of “he,” “him,” “his,” “himself,” etc. may be used to translate generic third person masculine singular pronouns in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Person and number are retained: Generally, singulars are not changed to plurals, and third person statements are not changed to second person or first person statements.
    2. Substantival participles such as ho pisteuon may be ren­dered inclusively: “the one who believes,” “the person who believes,” etc.
    3. “Man,” “mankind,” “humankind,” “humanity,” “people,” “human beings,” etc. may be used to designate the human race or human beings in general.
    4. Hebrew zaqar and Greek aner are usually translated “man” or “men.” The Hebrew ‘am, usually translated “people”, is occasionally rendered “army” when utilized in a military context. Hebrew tribal names usually are referred to with the introductory phrase “the tribe of,” even if the base text does not utilize this phrase, with the additional words noted in an explanatory footnote.
    5. The Greek plural noun anthropoi may be translated “people” or “persons” instead of “men.” The singular anthropos may be translated “person” or “man” when it refers to a male human being.
    6. The Greek indefinite pronoun tis may be rendered “anyone,” “someone,” “a person,” “a man,” etc.
    7. Pronouns such as the Greek oudeis may be rendered “no one,” “no person,” etc.
    8. When used substantivally, the Hebrew kol and the Greek pas may be rendered “everyone,” “every man,” or (in the plural) “all people.”
    9. “Son of Man” as a traditional reference to Christ is retained.
    10. Masculine references to God are retained.
    11. The Greek plural noun adelphoi is normally rendered “brothers” but may be changed to such expressions as “fellow believers” or “dear friends” in appropriate con­texts.
    12. Hebrew ben and Greek huios may be rendered “child” or “children” and “son” or “sons.” When used as a descriptive term preceding an ethnic group meaning “descendants of,” the Hebrew term ben may be rendered “descendants of” or the term may be conflated into a generic descriptor (e.g., bene Israel is rendered “Israelites), depending upon context
    13. Hebrew ab and Greek pater may be rendered “parent” or “parents,” “ancestor” or “ancestors,” or “fore­fathers.”
  2. Because the original languages of Scripture provide no special indication other than grammatical context to identify pronouns or predicate nominatives that refer to deity, predicate nominatives and pronouns whose antecedent is God the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit are not capitalized.
  3. Words that describe portions of Scripture, such as “law” are capitalized only when they refer to a specific section of Scripture (e.g., the “Law and the Prophets”) or are used as a part of a title (e.g., “this Book of the Law”). In certain contexts, particularly in the Psalms, the Hebrew word “law” may mean either divine instruction in general, or the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), or both. In these instances, the word “law” is rendered as “instruction”.

3. Format Aspects of Translation

  1. The serial comma is used before the last item in a series of persons, places, or things.
  2. The relative pronoun “which” is used (1) after a comma, (2) in the expression “that which,” and (3) in a question. Otherwise, the pronoun “that” is used.
  3. For the future tense, the auxiliary verb “will” is used in place of “shall.” Please note that “shall” is used in contexts where the language is imperatival (e.g., “you shall not murder”). With the simple future, “will” is used.
  4. Hebrew and Greek exclamatory indicators (e.g., the Hebrew hine and the Greek idou) traditionally translated “Behold!” or “Lo!” are rendered in ways that best fit the immediate context and that best represent contemporary English usage (e.g., “Look,” “See,” “Suddenly,” “Here,” “Indeed,” etc.). In certain cases, exclamatory indicators have been omitted entirely, with an exclamation point added at the termination of the sentence to indicate the placement of exclamatory indicators in the base text.
  5. Because the Hebrew and Greek equivalents to the English “It came to pass…” are often only transitional words marking the beginning of a new episode, they are sometimes not reproduced. In other instances, the translator may use a more natural English equivalent (e.g., “It was so,” “And then,” “Later,” etc.).
  6. In parallel texts such as the Synoptic Gospels, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, consistency of rendering is carefully observed.
  7. The Hebrew and Greek counterpart for “saying,” when pleonastic, may be omitted in translation without a footnote. When introducing a question, the Hebrew and Greek “said” may be rendered “asked” or “inquired”.
  8. Marginal notes may include literal renderings (Lit.), alternate renderings (Or), explanatory words or phrases (I.e.), notes on significant textual variants, and other explanatory comments. With textual variants, language such as “the earliest and best manuscripts omit…” or “most manuscripts add…” is avoided. Instead, the following language is used: “other manuscripts lack…,” “other manuscripts read…,” etc.
  9. When the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, quotation marks surround the quote and a reference to the source of the quotation is footnoted. The sources of New Testament quotations from literature other than the Old Testament are also referenced in footnotes, when known.
  10. If additional words are necessary to clarify the sense of the translation, the literal rendering is set forth in a footnote. Alternatively, an explanatory footnote may be added indicating that the original text lacks the additional wording.
  11. The Greek term Hades appears to be employed as the equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol, the general realm of the dead. Both terms rarely appear in transliteration; instead, the ISV usually renders these terms as “realm of the dead,” “afterlife,” or “where the dead are,” depending upon context. Departures from this policy are clearly footnoted, and usually occur in Old Testament poetry. The Greek Gehenna is rendered “hell.” Tartarus is rendered “lowest hell,” with an explanatory footnote.
  12. Subheads are used to identify flow of thought and themes. Parallel passages, where they exist, are cited in subheads.
  13. Parentheses may be used in the text whenever called for by the sense of the passage. The ISV does not use brackets to indicate disputed verses. Instead, footnotes indicate the absence of such verses in some manuscripts.
  14. Poetic passages in both the Old and New Testaments are printed in poetic form. Certain New Testament hymns and sayings are rendered in poetry (e.g., 2 Timothy 2:11-13).
  15. Quoted statements of speakers may be rendered into English using contractions (e.g., “can’t,” “won’t,” “don’t,” etc.) in order to communicate a sense of natural spoken informality. The use of English language contractions will usually be avoided when translating historical narratives or apostolic correspon­dence in order to communicate a sense of formal literary composition.
  16. Numbers less than 20 are rendered as words unless they comprise part of an inventory list or census enumeration. Numbers from 20 and above are rendered with Arabic numerals unless they begin a sentence. Measurements are rendered in English units with metric equivalents placed within an explanatory footnote.

Materials for production of footnotes regarding Dead Sea Scrolls variants from the Masoretic Text were produced courtesy of Dr. Peter Flint and Dr. Eugene Ulrich. Citations of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) in the ISV New Testament conform to Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, Archer, Gleason L. and Chirichigno, Gregory C., eds., (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983).