New International Reader’s Version and Evangelism

I run a weekly outreach ministry mainly attended by lower-income adults with low educational and reading levels. The KJVs they got who-knows-where are often unintelligible to them, but they seem to truly want to learn and understand. (They listen so much better than more educated audiences to which I’ve spoken!) This sturdy, vinyl covered edition of the New International Reader’s Version has been the answer for us, and I encourage you to consider it if you are involved in evangelism to a similar demographic.

Let me list off five pros and one quasi-con:

Pros:

  • The translation is the best one I know of for poor (or younger) readers.
  • The type is large enough for older eyes.
  • The pages are not cluttered with distracting extra features.
  • There are clear headings written in the same simple language as the text.
  • The text is paragraphed and, where appropriate, set in poetical format.

Quasi-Con:

This translation was not made for careful, exegetically focused exposition (though it does not frustrate someone who does that kind of work in advance but uses this Bible for preaching). A congregation full of better readers should use a version that, if possible, keeps Paul’s long sentences together and leaves ambiguity where God chose to put it. The NIrV, by contrast, picks (generally sound and conservative) interpretations for the reader, and it turns long sentences into a series of shorter ones. That often means adding in a subject or other sentence elements for clarification (see example below). And this would make very careful teaching unnecessarily convoluted. But for people who were given fewer educational opportunities, the easier reading level and somewhat limited vocabulary are a great help. I can’t ask them to observe intricate grammatical features of the text, but I can still preach the truth. And I can ask them to read at home without knowing in the back of my mind that they won’t and can’t. I’m very thankful for the NIrV.

Gen. 2:22 provides an example of a very common feature in the NIrV. A sentence is chopped up into parts which have to grow a little bit to become full sentences. The ESV renders the whole verse in one sentence:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

But this is difficult for some readers to piece together. Who made what into a woman? Answering that requires a moderate level of skill in reading, and I can tell you that this would trip up some readers to whom I minister. So three simple sentences take its place:

Then the Lord God made a woman. He made her from the rib he had taken out of the man. And he brought her to him.

What you lose in literary beauty you gain in clarity for poor readers. (A minor point: when I teach from the OT, that choppiness actually sometimes gives me a little of the feel of the waw-consecutives in the original Hebrew.)

We have an embarrassment of riches in English Bible translations.

HT: Stewart Custer, who recommended the NIrV to me years ago for use with children.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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