Reading from the NIrV

Reading from the NIrV

The New International Reader’s Version never got much traction, especially here in the United States, but I do have a copy, and I chose to do my lectionary reading from it this morning. That kind of reading is helpful in getting a quick feel for a version. I can ask myself how I would teach this passage if I were using this particular version. Because the lectionary includes a variety of types of passages, I get a feel for how it will read.

This version is to some extent aimed at the same readers as the New Life Version, about which I blogged a couple of days ago. Those for whom English is a second language should do well with this version, as should children, and those working on their literacy. Christian programs designed to teach reading could use this as a reader.

It pretty much reverses the comments I made on the NLV. First, it is much more even in its style. This probably results from committee work, and from the fact that it is the revision of an existing version. One person will have a hard time matching a committee in terms of making the style even. Of course, one should note that a committee will never produce the likes of The Message either, while one man did!

The NIrV uses very simple syntax. Let me quote a couple of verses from 1 Samuel 16 to illustrate:

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you be filled with sorrow because of Saul? I have refused to have him as king over Israel. Fill you animal horn with olive oil and go on your way. I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it. Then he’ll kill me.”

The LORD said, “Take a young cow with you. Tell the elders of Bethlehem, ‘I’ve come to offer a sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice. The I will show you what to do. You must anoint for me the one I point out to you.” — 1 Samuel 16:1-3

Now you’ll also notice that unlike the NLV, the NIrV uses some of the somewhat technical terms, “anoint”, “elders”, and “sacrifice.” The NLV avoids all of these. The NIrV answer to the problem of this sort of vocabulary is a dictionary provided in the back, at least of my edition. Many Christian I encounter cannot understand the problems with these words that seem common to them. But if you grew up in church, you actually speak a “church” dialect. Even many unchurched people in the United States grew up with this church dialect. Versions that aim for readers whose English is at all weak, or who are not part of the church community already, have to take such issues into consideration.

This type of simplified syntax, and partially simplified vocabulary works better in some types of passages than others. I was reading lectionary passages for Lent 4 and 5 of cycle A this morning. Let me list the passages in the order of how effective the NIrV translation was. I’m considering here public reading, preaching or teaching, as well as conveying the intention of the passage as it was written. Any Bible translators reading this will almost certainly be able to predict this list if they know the eight passages.

  1. 1 Samuel 16:1-13
  2. John 9:1-41, John 11:1-45
  3. Ezekiel 37:1-14
  4. Romans 8:6-11; Ephesians 5:8-14
  5. Psalm 23, Psalm 130

Basically, the simplified syntax is quite effective in narrative portions. I wouldn’t mind preaching from those passages at all using this version. It is a little bit less effective in the gospels, and that difference is accentuated because it is the gospel of John which is somewhat subtle in vocabulary and symbolism. Normally, I think a passage from the prophets would be difficult to work with in this simplified of a version, but Ezekiel 37 is narrative in form, and it’s actually quite effective there. The epistles lose something in translation. Paul is writing complex, and the translation is simple. Finally, such simplified syntax does very poorly in poetry, though the NIrV does break out poetic lines unlike the NLV.

All of these differences are not faults of the translators or translation; they are simply facts of life. When you translate poetry, for example, you can translate either the literary quality and nuances, to whatever extent possible, or you can stick with the intellectual content. The NIrV, quite understandably, sticks with the intellectual content. You can’t write great poetry with simplified syntax and vocabulary.

There was one really awkward wording, and I’m not sure exactly how I would explain it in teaching. I’d probably simply give my own translation and explain from that. It’s in 1 Samuel 16:5, where Samuel tells the elders of Bethlehem, “Set yourselves apart to him . . . ” I’m not sure what that would mean. I know what the Hebrew means, but I don’t recall heard “set apart to ___” unless the blank was verbal.

Overall, I maintain my initial impression. This version is a good version for outreach or for use by anyone who is working on reading skills in English. Though there are a number of good alternatives, such as the CEV, NCV, or the TNIV. The last of these is not quite a simplified as is the NIrV, or at least that is my impression.

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