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.)
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.