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Friday, January 19, 2007

comparing the ISV and NIV

Most of the Bible-reading public, evangelicals anyway, are quite familiar with the NIV. It has been the best-selling English Bible version for quite a few years, although in recent months occasionally the NKJV outsells it at Christian bookstores. The ISV (International Standard Version) is far less well known but deserves to be much better known. I have been evaluating the ISV since it first began to be released in electronic, then print, editions on the ISV website. These days I get the sense that the ISV team is getting a second wind which, with some additional financing, will enable them to complete translation of the Old Testament.

Recently the ISV Foundation, producers of the Holy Bible: International Standard Version, received an inquiry regarding vetting of possible international publication rights to the ISV by a major publisher. The publisher, the identity of which remains confidential for now, has asked to be provided information comparing the ISV with the New International Version as currently published by Zondervan. As you are probably aware, the ISV Foundation in its Front Matter to the ISV claims that the NIV is very idiomatic. For example, the following paragraph can be found on the ISV's Principles of Translation page and in the Front Matter to the ISV:
All major translations of the Bible fall somewhere on a scale between complete formal equivalence and complete functional equivalence. Some of these translations are quite literal (e.g., the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV®), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB®), the Revised Standard Version (RSV®), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV®). Other translations lean toward the idiomatic end of the spectrum (e.g., the New International Version (NIV®), the New English Bible (NEB®), the Revised English Bible (REB®), the Good News Bible (GNB®), the New Living Translation (NLT®), and the Contemporary English Version (CEV®).
The candidate publisher has asked to receive, to use his own words, "some examples of where, in their [the ISV Foundation's] view, the NIV goes astray." Please note that the inquiry does contain some ambiguity as to what constitutes "going astray". The ISV Foundation is at a loss to explain what this phrase means, having never once employed it in any discussions comparing the ISV to other modern translations. The ISV Foundation suggests that perhaps the candidate publisher is aware that certain individuals have doubts about the suitability of the NIV for serious Bible study, and perhaps this publisher is uncertain as to how to phrase their request for clarifying information about how the ISV differs from the NIV.

Due to my involvement in Bible translation comparisons over the years, I've been invited by the ISV Foundation to extend an invitation to you to assist in providing an answer to this inquiry. The ISV Foundation's director, Dr. William Welty, believes that it is in the best interests of the Body of Christ to have an answer to this inquiry provided by impartial observers who have extensive experience in reading other English languages translations from an independent, "arm's length," viewpoint. Also, comparisons of the ISV with other modern translations might also be appreciated, so feel free to send these along as well. Embedded URL links to previously published web pages that discuss these issues are also welcomed.

If you would like to help answer the inquiry, please email your thoughts to Dr. Welty who will forward them to the candidate publisher. Also please include your comparisons as a comment to this blog post, so others can benefit from your analysis, as well. You may also wish to post your comments in the ISV section of the Cross Connection forum.

I have spent some time this morning comparing the ISV and NIV. Following is my beginning list of comparisons:
Ex. 3:14b: (register)
“Thus you shall say to the Israelites: ‘I AM sent me to you.’” (ISV)
This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (NIV)
("Thus" is higher register English.)

Matt. 10:27 (idiom)
what is whispered in your ear you must shout from the housetops (ISV)
what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs (NIV)
(both translate the literal biblical idiom, "what you hear in the ear," to the same equivalent English wording)

Matt. 23:15 (idiom)
you make him twice as fit for hell as you are (ISV)
you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (NIV)
(ISV translates the meaning of the biblical idiom better.)

Matt. 23:32
Then finish what your ancestors started! (ISV)
Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! (NIV)
(ISV translates the original to meaningful English; it is difficult to understand the more literal translation of the NIV.)

Mark 1:1 (genitive ambiguity)
the gospel of Jesus Christ (ISV)
the gospel about Jesus Christ (NIV)
(The ISV is unclear whether it is the gospel about Jesus Christ or the gospel that he proclaimed, likely reflecting the ISV translators' belief that it is unclear which meaning is intended by the Greek genitive; the NIV chooses one exegetical option, so its English is clearer. The ISV team would consider its translation more accurate, unbiased in favor of either genitive meaning.)

Mark 2:19 (idiom)
The wedding guests (ISV)
the guests of the bridegroom (NIV)
(Both translate literal "sons of the bridechamber to accurate, meaningful English.)

Luke 2:26 (idiom)
that he would not die (ISV)
that he would not die (NIV)
(Both translate the literal idiom "not see death" to "would not die", identical accurate, meaningful translation.)

Luke 6:22 (idiom)
slander you (ISV)
reject your name as evil (NIV)
(The ISV translates the figurative meaning of the original idiom more clearly to English.)

Luke 10:6 (idiom)
a peaceful person (ISV)
a man of peace (NIV)
(Greek, literally "son of peace." I consider that the ISV rendering is more natural English, with the adjective preceding the noun.)

Luke 19:9 (idiom)
a descendant of Abraham (ISV)
a son of Abraham (NIV)
(The ISV more accurately communicates the meaning of the Greek here, literally, "son of Abraham." Note that in English we do not generally refer to someone who is descended from another after several generations as a "son" of that person.)
I hope to add more comparisons as time allows.

Why don't you join me in helping the ISV team. In the process, I'm sure that you will learn more about the Bible and the various factors, sometimes competing, that go into the Bible translation process.


At Fri Jan 19, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, I wonder if the point of asking "where, in their [the ISV Foundation's] view, the NIV goes astray" may in fact be in justifying the existence of ISV. As a translator I might ask, since many translations including NIV exist, why was it necessary to make and publish a new one? Since they have made a new one, they presumably considered that there was something lacking in every existing translation, at least for their target audience. A publisher's thinking might be subtly different, more like what the distinctives of ISV are that could be used in marketing. But they would still want to find out in what ways ISV differs from NIV.

At Fri Jan 19, 01:50:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

The NIV consistently mistranslates 'sarx', the Greek word for flesh, in Paul as "sinful nature", which some biblical scholars claim, wrongly in my view, is the underlying meaning. The idea does have to do with fallen humanity, but it certainly cannot have anything to do with our nature, or it couldn't be redeemed. If it's in our nature, then removing it would mean the result would be someone else and not us. Our nature is central to who we are. The ISV preserves "flesh", presumably given the difficulty of finding an idiomatic translation that does capture what this term means. Most people who prefer more idiomatic translations would probably prefer the NIV on this, but I think that's inaccurate to what the expression means, even in its underlying sense, so I much prefer the ISV.

Phil 2:10a "and when Jesus' name is called" (ISV)
"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (NIV)
The ISV is very clearly more idiomatic here. I'm not sure I like either "Jesus' name" or "the name of Jesus" given that the name in question is probably not the name 'Jesus' but the name 'YHWHW', which Paul goes on to refer to when he says that Jesus will be seen to be Lord, the LXX way of substituting for the name 'YHWH'. I prefer 'the name belonging to Jesus" as more accurate, but it's also not very idiomatic. There isn't much to do to make Paul's logic much clearer without adopting less usual ways of speaking, though.

The ISV repeats the mistake of the NIV and ESV in Philemon 6, translating a term that's usually about fellowship in a way that sounds as if it's about evangelism ("the sharing of your faith"). This is such a common complaint that it amazes me to see any recent translation goofing on this. Both instances are attempts to be more idiomatic that end up sacrificing the meaning.

Several places in the ISV attempt to make elevated prose into English poetry, and I think it seems really strained. I Tim 3:16 is a good example of this. There's some cheesy rhyming, and the attempt at a consistent meter seems very strange to me. It certainly seems more idiomatic to me than the NIV, and I haven't looked at the Greek to see if it's more or less accurate (although I'd be extremely surprised if the ISV is equally or more accurate to the sense of the Greek), but it sounds so cheesy that I can't help but think that it's lost something in its most to triteness away from the more elevated sound of the NIV, which I'm sure more adequately captures the elevated prose of the Greek.

I don't understand how anyone can use the word 'blessed' in the Psalms and expect it to mean any one thing to most English speakers today. The ISV continues to use it. In African American circles and some Pentecostal circles it's a common term, but I don't think that usage parallels the biblical usage very much. In most other English-speaking circles, it's simply an archaic word. A number of translations have distanced themselves from this.

No appearance of the word 'lest' in an English translation counts as idiomatic. The ISV includes it in Exodus 1:10; 19:22,24; 23:33; 34:15; I Samuel 30:4; Psalm 2:12; 7:2; 14:3, 4(twice); 50:22; 59:11; Ecclesiastes 12:1-2; Jeremiah 10:24; Lamentations 2:14; Amos 5:6; Micah 3:6; Malachi 4:6; Mark 14:2; Romans 16:20; I Corinthians 11:32; Galatians 4:11; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:21; I Timothy 3:7; Titus 2:5; 3:14; Hebrews 4:1; James 5:12; II Peter 3:17. (I know I missed a few there, but this is a good sample.)

The NIV may have more of these in other places (I don't know), but it contains 'lest' in only the following instances from the above list: Psalm 2:12 and Jeremiah 10:24. That's it. Some of these in the NIV have the reverse problem of not conveying the sense of what would be there if 'lest' were there, but there are ways to do that without using 'lest', and most of these verses do that adequately. On this score, the NIV is far more idiomatic.

At Fri Jan 19, 03:27:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, our sinful nature cannot be removed without changing us. But I don't agree that it cannot be redeemed. Well, that depends on what you mean by "redeem", of course, but the basic meaning of the lutron word group here is "set free", with the payment of a price as a secondary component. If our nature was sinful because it was in slavery to sin and Satan, but "in Christ" has been set free, then that by no means implies that our nature has been removed, nor changed such that our identity is affected. Thus your objection is invalid because it seems to rely on a misunderstanding of "redeem" as equivalent to "remove". Now I agree with you in not being entirely happy with "sinful nature" as a rendering for sarx, but that is on other grounds such that the word is quite often used without any clear connotations of sinfulness. If I remember correctly GNT (TEV) has "human nature", and I tend to think that fits better except in a few places where some clarification about sinfulness may be necessary.

At Fri Jan 19, 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

1 Timothy 3:16 in the original Greek is not "elevated prose" but poetry, at least according to the scholars who produced the Nestle-Aland text, and as such ISV is surely justified in attempting to render it as English poetry. Indeed NIV also does this, by printing the text in lines and with some rhythm, although it does not attempt rhyme which is probably wise.

At Sat Jan 20, 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I agree with you about σαρξ - that the NIV is very awkward. The interpretaion of 'flesh' is better left to a discussion after the translation is done. IMHO

Perhaps 1 Tim. 3:16 should have a good metre - it is poetry - but the rhyming is a little cheesy!

For Acts 22:3 I would prefer to see "sat at the feet of" instead of the NIV idiomatic translation. This obscures the connection with Mary who sat at Jesus' feet.

Then Paul said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. Acts 22:3 NIV

The ISV handles this better.

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia but raised in this city and educated at the feet of Gamaliel in the strict ways of our ancestral law.

However, the male Junias in Romans 16:7 ISV is perhaps a most peculiar straying from the majority position. I am thoroughly surprised that men today cannot accept a woman apostle when Chrysostom could! You would think they could make up some other explanation and leave the integrity of the text alone. I wouldn't care if they just said that a woman apostle had the gift of healing or something like that, which may have been what the ancients thought. That would leave the issue open for both sides, but these men have to wrap it up and influence others to accept their interpretation as the "word of God."

I believe that the NET Bible and the ISV shut women out definitively so I don't have much opinion of either. They are translations done by those who wish to play in a 'boys only' sandbox.

I have somewhat less criticism for older translations on this issue since they had a Greek NT which undergirded their misinterpretation. There is no excuse today. Welty and Wallace must be working from preconceptions since they both, for conflicting reasons, make sure there is no woman apostle! It is very divisive nonsense. There is still no competition for the KJV when it comes to neutrality on gender issues. Odd considering how King James was much in favour of disposing of witches!

At Sat Jan 20, 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, to be fair to Welty and ISV, do we know that this team also was not working from "a Greek NT which undergirded their misinterpretation"? We know from their own website that they were working from "the main text of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece and the main text of the fourth corrected edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament". I don't remember the exact date when these two editions were corrected to indicate a preference for "Junia" rather than "Junias", but it may have been after ISV was published, and was certainly not long before. So the translators may have been simply, and rather blindly, following their base text. The greater blame is on the textual scholars who allowed a mistake to in the apparatus to be perpetuated for so long.

At Sat Jan 20, 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Concerning sarx, BDAG has a long list of citations outside the NT with usages similar to Paul which suggests that the literal translation (which should really, outside the idiom "flesh and blood" be translated "meat," at least in my dialect - flesh is obsolete in most contexts) would be inaccurate as the metaphor, having been applied at least as early as Epicurus, was almost certainly dead. That doesn't necessarily mean "sinful nature" is correct. Jeremy, I think you are assuming the word nature is being used in a precise and philosophical sense, which may or may not be the idea the NIV and other translators have in mind. They mayDespite Paul's extended usage of the term to apply to all kinds of sinful desires, as far as capturing the meaning of the term before Paul, it may be most accurate to use the term "sensual." BDAG observes "for Epicurus the sarx is the bearer of sinful feeling and desires as well as teh means of sensual enjoyment" and goes on to cite letters of Epicurus recorded in Plutarch's Moralia and similar uses in Plutarch's own writing (Plutarch being contemporary with the NT and Epicurus roughly 350 years earlier). Personally, I also suspect that the resemblance between Paul's usage of "flesh" and Plato's usage of "money-loving soul" (and the overall tri-partite division) in the Republic is not coincidental, but that's another story entirely.

At any rate, if we can get it to work in the various contexts needed, we may be able to say something like "sensual desires" for sarx in Paul. On the other hand, there are many times, including several in Paul, where it simply means "flesh" in the sense of "flesh and blood."

At Sat Jan 20, 02:24:00 PM, Blogger John said...

I added an excursus on ISV Zechariah 9:9 to the post on that passage on my site (canvassed earlier on Better Bibles Blog). The last line, I admit, is rather strong. Trouble is, I believe it. Here is the excursus, which makes more sense of course if read in context:

Excursus on ISV Zech 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
cry out, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you.
He is righteous,
and is bringing salvation with him.
He is humble,
and is riding on a colt,
the foal of a donkey.

ISV’s handling of Zech 9:9 is curious. It seeks to reflect the poetry of the underlying text in translation, in itself an admirable goal. But it does so by dividing the text into what in English – not Hebrew - are roughly equivalent prosodic phrases. The lineation of the underlying text is disregarded. Where the Hebrew has צַדִּיק וְנֹושָׁע הוּא “He is just and victorious” (a single half-line), ISV has “He is righteous, // and is bringing salvation with him.” Where the Hebrew has עַל־חֲמֹור וְרֹכֵב עָנִי “lowly, mounted on an ass” (once again, a single half-line), ISV has “He is humble, // and is riding on a colt.” To be sure, ISV’s rendering has an advantage. It brings out the vertical parallelism of צַדִּיק and עָנִי with great clarity. But ISV does so by repeatedly departing from the principle of one-to-one correspondence in terms of semantics, syntax, and prosody.

ISV’s translation of חֲמוֹר, עַיִר, and בֶּן־אֲתֹנֹות is objectionable. It collapses the three expressions into two, neither of which is “as literal as possible and as free as necessary.” “Colt” is simply wrong: neither חֲמוֹר nor עַיִר mean “colt.” To be sure, “colt” harmonizes with LXX and Matthew 21:1-7. Perhaps ISV harmonizes its translation of OT passages with NT’s understanding of them. A high view of Scripture, I would argue, militates against this approach. The application of a harmonistic hermeneutic, in any case, is not the same thing as translating directly from the Hebrew, something ISV claims to do.

In my view, Scripture is like a grand edifice built over the centuries by many and diverse hands. Its very disharmonies contribute to its grandeur. Those who remove the disharmonies commit an act of vandalism.

At Sat Jan 20, 05:30:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I added an excursus on ISV Zechariah 9:9 to the post on that passage on my site (canvassed earlier on Better Bibles Blog).

John, I have forgotten which is your blog. Please give us an Internet address so we can get to it.

At Sat Jan 20, 07:01:00 PM, Blogger Charles Welty said...

I thought that Peter Kirk's comments about the ISV needed to be addressed. He says "Since they have made a new one, they presumably considered that there was something lacking in every existing translation, at least for their target audience."

This is completely untrue. We never considered this for one moment. The reality of the situation was that all the major contemporary English language Bible societies or their publishers have consistently refused to allow modern English language Bibles to be printed without royalty payments for mass evangelism purposes.

For example, we know of one group (the Phillipine Mission Association) that would like to hand out literally millions of New Testaments, but US-based Bible societies won't let them print their New Testaments without a payment of 10 cents or so per copy. This situation is an insult to the good work of evangelism.

It is our policy to NEVER charge royalties for copies that are intended to be given away without charge for evangelistic purposes. If millions of copies of the ISV are requested for free give aways, we always say "Yes!" to waiving the royalties for this type of activity. And we will provide the PDF files for the printing at no charge, too. The mission group, of course, must arrange for their own printing.

Our attitude is "Yes, we paid for the translation. God gave us the money to do this, so we can give it away if we want to." We are beholden to no one in this regard.

Charles Welty
Founder, Davidson Press
Publishers of the ISV Bible
Fullerton, CA
tel: 1-866-NEW-BIBLe

At Sat Jan 20, 07:25:00 PM, Blogger Charles Welty said...

In the light of Ms. McCarthy's comments on "Junias", perhaps the ISV Committee on Translation should revisit the issue. But I am thinking more in line with a footnote that indicates that some MSS read "Junia", a female name. As a later commentator noted, the fault may be more with the scholarly editors of the base text in the Greek. We should let the scholars handle this issue.

But I must say the spurious and imprudently denegrading comments about the Committee ("These men?" Puh-leeze! There is no call for this type of talk.

Charles Welty
Founder, Davidson Press
Publishers of the ISV Bible
Fullerton, CA
tel: 1-866-NEW-BIBLe

At Sat Jan 20, 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Charles Welty said...

I think John's comments on Zecharia certainly need to be looked at. To all reviewers of the ISV Old Testament, I remind them that the ISV Old Testament text is a work in progress. It is posted as a "Review Edition" only. The text is subject to amendment and changes, and all comments -- especially well-thought out examinations like John's -- are most welcome and will be thoroughly reviewed by the ISV COT.

Keep up the good work, folks! We do value every comment. We hope to have the ISV OT complete in the base translation by the end of the fall of 2007 -- perhaps earlier if additional funding is forth coming.

Charles Welty
Founder, Davidson Press
Publishers of the ISV Bible
Fullerton, CA
tel: 1-866-NEW-BIBLe

At Sat Jan 20, 09:44:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Dr. Welty,

I did notice your footnote, that it could be Junia, but research indicates that there never was a male name Junias. So Junia must be the first choice not the second one.

By "these men" I meant Dan Wallace who claims that Junia was a woman but not an apostle, and the ISV committee, who believe that Junias was not a woman but was an apostle. These committees are composed of men, are they not? I think you read sarcasm into that phrase that was not there.

Well, yes, I did call this male domain a bit of a sandbox, but it is one in which I believe women would very much like to play! Forgive my tone, but I think women do feel shut out. My emotion is genuine.

It is an odd thing really about Junia. Could I recommend some articles and books here? John Thorley's article is perhaps the most relevant.

John Thorley, "Junia, a Woman Apostle", Novum Testamentum, 38/1 (1996), pp. 18-29.


Junia, the first woman apostle by Eldon Jay Epp

If the male Junias was an honest mistake on the part of the ISV committee, then I apologize. However, I was under the impression that most scholars have agreed for some time that Junia was a woman.

I would also like to point out that I did give the ISV top marks here for being a version without an obvious ideological agenda.

I try to be extremely cautious and fair in my posts and then let loose a little in the comment zone.

I actually have high hopes for the ISV. I thought when I first read it that it was one of the best I had seen.

But I do think that we can access the best translation for Junia fairly easily. As I said, Thorley and Epp should clear this up.

At Sat Jan 20, 10:36:00 PM, Blogger John said...


the address of my blog, if you can call it that, is

At Sat Jan 20, 11:15:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

the address of my blog, if you can call it that, is

Thanks, John. Suzanne helped me figure that out a few hours ago, but it's good to have it confirmed by you. I added your name to your website that is in our blogroll.

At Sun Jan 21, 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Charles, thank you for the clarification. I think I always meant that among the "something lacking in every existing translation, at least for their target audience" I included non-translational matters like availability. It is of course a serious lack in the major translations that they are not freely available for evangelism etc. I am glad that you have addressed this issue.

But "a footnote that indicates that some MSS read "Junia", a female name" would not be correct, as ALL manuscripts which distinguish the forms, i.e. all accented manuscripts, read the female form. You are right that "We should let the scholars handle this issue." And they have dealt with it, belatedly, in their latest editions which give the feminine version.


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