Reading can be difficult! It often requires us to slow down and think hard about the meaning of the words on the page in front of us. Reading the Bible can be even more difficult. People have been thinking hard about the meaning of the words on its pages for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the difficulty of reading, especially Bible reading, leads many to abandon the practice altogether. But reading and meditating on the Bible is essential for anyone who wants to:
• know the truth about themselves and God (John 17:17)
• learn about salvation (2 Timothy 3:15)
• have the best human life possible (Psalm 1:1, 3)
• keep themselves from heading down the wrong path (Psalm 119:105)
• be able to explain the gospel to those who don’t know it (1 Peter 3:15)
And there are many more benefits that could be added to this list. In our world where what is considered right, or acceptable, or “woke” changes from day to day, it is comforting to know that there is a source of absolute truth that never changes or becomes irrelevant. It is the truth that our Creator himself has communicated to us and preserved for us in the Bible (Matthew 24:35).
The Bible is indeed a treasure, but it is a treasure that is accessed by most people by means of a translation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. To be effective, Bible translations must communicate to people at the level of their comprehension ability. Most Bible translations, unfortunately, aim for a level of reading comprehension that is too high for many people. For example, younger children, people with learning difficulties, people who learn English as a second language, people who are unfamiliar with the technical theological terms found in the Bible, and others who for whatever reason struggle to understand English at the level represented by most English Bible translations. To open the riches of the Scriptures for these underserved communities, the New International Readers Version (NIrV) was created.
NIrV vs NIV
The NIrV is based on the NIV, and therefore benefits from the scholarship of that most read and trusted translation. But the NIrV then takes the NIV translation to a comprehension level more beneficial to those for whom the English language is more of a challenge. It does so by:
1. Keeping sentence length to 15 words or fewer
NIV Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
NIrV Ephesians 3:20-21
God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by his power that is working in us. Give him glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. Give him glory through all time and for ever and ever. Amen.
2. Eliminating any expressions that only a native English speaker would understand, such as idioms, figures of speech, nation-specific allusions, and terms with which anyone not raised in the church would be unfamiliar.
NIV Job 19:20
I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth.
NIrV Job 19:20
I’m nothing but skin and bones. I’ve barely escaped death.
NIV Isaiah 45:23
By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
NIrV Isaiah 45:23
I have made a promise in my own name. I have spoken with complete honesty. I will not take back a single word. I said, ‘Everyone will kneel down to me.
Everyone’s mouth will make promises in my name.’
The NIrV does not in any way compromise the biblical text. Instead, it seeks to communicate the deep theological truths of Scripture more simply and clearly. This often involves a reexamination of the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts to ensure that they are being represented as plainly, naturally, and as accurately as possible so that they are understandable by as many as possible. Consider, for example, how the same biblical truth can be represented by the different levels of English represented by the NIV on the one hand and the NIrV on the other:
NIV Ephesians 2:8–9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
NIrV Ephesians 2:8–9
God’s grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift. It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it.
Notice how, in addition to using shorter sentences, the NIrV communicates the idea of being made in God’s image in clearer words that in no way minimize the mystery or majesty of this amazing theological truth. The NIrV doesn’t flatten the biblical text but rather opens the door to understanding it far wider so that more can come in.
Need for the NIrV
Opening the door to understanding the Bible for more people has been the goal of the NIrV since the need for such an accessible Bible became evident to Jeri Ryskamp during her work in 1976 with Vietnamese refugees who were fleeing to the US. She wanted to communicate the gospel to them but was hampered by the lack of a Bible translation that could be understood by those who were just beginning to learn English as a second language. Her ministry with children, those in prison, and troubled teens only further underscored the need for a translation that communicated to these populations.
Jeri expressed her frustration to her husband, Bruce Ryskamp, who was providentially in a position to do something about it, having been named President and CEO of Zondervan in 1983. Zondervan, working together with the International Bible Society and the Committee on Bible Translation (the team of translators who produce the NIV), was able to answer this need and eventually see the creation of the NIrV translation of the Old and New Testaments in 1996. As a result, there is now a complete translation of the Bible that anyone with only a third-grade level of English comprehension can understand and use.
When I became a Christian later in life, it was the NIV that enabled me to understand this glorious new kingdom of which I had been made a citizen (Philippians 3:20). The NIrV seeks to provide this same help to those who are as new to the faith as I was, who struggle to understand the Bible or the theological terms it contains, or who would simply like to read a Bible that is rigorously faithful to the original texts and yet communicates the meaning of those texts in the clearest possible English. The goals of the NIrV are therefore to provide a translation that enables believers of the broadest possible age range and the widest possible reading ability to (1) deepen their understanding of, faith in, and relationship with God; and (2) communicate the good news to other people in a way those people can understand as well. The focus should always be on knowing God and making him known, rather than on figuring out what the words mean. This year we are celebrating the fact that the NIrV has been accomplishing these goals for 25 years. By God’s grace, it will continue doing so long into the future!
“See all the NIrV Bibles available for adults and kids.”
Michael Williams (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is a retired Senior Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, where he taught for 23 years. He has been a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation since 2005, a member of the NIrV review team since 2011, and an associate editor of the NIV Study Bible since 2016. He is the author of many articles and books on the Old Testament, including How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens (Zondervan, 2012) and The Biblical Hebrew Companion for Bible Software Users (Zondervan, 2015). His passion is to equip believers with knowledge of the Old Testament and its languages so that they may grow in their comprehension and appreciation of redemptive history and be adequately prepared to promote and defend the faith through word and action. Michael resides in Grand Rapids, MI, with his wife, Dawn.