What Are the Italics in My Bible?

If you’re new to the Bible — and maybe even if you’re not — you may be wondering what the italicized words are in your Bible.

Unlike in most other contexts, the italicized words are not for emphasis. In fact, it’s almost a kind of de-emphasis. The italicized words have been added by the translators, for clarity or to improve sentence flow in English, but aren’t in the original text (where word order, grammar, etc. are often different due to language differences).

In most cases this is pretty insignificant. Minor words are added to prevent sentences from being clunky, like this:

because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  (Romans 1:19)

Sometimes it’s making the grammar more obvious or making clear where the repetition of a word is implied by actually repeating the word. As in these examples:

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.  (Romans 1:1-4)

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

But it’s worth paying attention to when you’re studying a passage, because occasionally there’s some interpretation involved in adding these words, and it can change the overall emphasis of the sentence.

For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:10)

If you’re just reading, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. But if you’re sitting down to study a passage, I encourage you to mentally read through the verse without the added words. Does the (potential) meaning of the sentence change or just the sentence just get clunkier? If it’s just clunky, then you can assume the words are solely impacting the flow. But if they change the meaning of the sentence, it might be worth reconsidering whether the words should have been added, or if that was presumptuous on the part of the translators.

What Are the Italics in My Bible? (square title image)

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