Bible Translations, IV: Interpretive Versions

Let us examine a different division within Bible versions: interpretive versions. Previously, we have examined the literal versions (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, NASU, RSV, NRSV); versions that their editors wished to make as literal of a translation as possible from the Hebrew/Greek into the English, so that the modern Bible student can have the most accurate text at his disposal. The editors of interpretive versions, however, determined that their versions should not necessarily follow the literal text: they wish to convey the meaning, not the letter, of the Scriptures. Examples of these versions include the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT; also, “The Book”), “The Message,” Today’s English Version (TEV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), and others.

Interpretive Versions: Overview

First and foremost among interpretive versions is the NIV. Developed in the 1960s, the NIV is a distant offshoot of the ASV: the editors determined from the ASV what needed editing for comprehension. The NLT is gaining ground also, the work of evangelicals in the last decade. The other versions tend to be modifications of the same concept as the NIV and the NLT.

Interpretive Versions: Strengths

Interpretive versions can highlight different ways of reading and understanding the Bible text. Nevertheless, it is the task of individual Christians, not translators, to determine the meaning of Scripture. When the Hebrew or Greek text involves an idiom that requires further clarification, then perhaps help with the meaning is necessary, but this needs to be the exception, not the rule.

Interpretive Versions: Weaknesses

These interpretive versions act more as a rubber stamp for denominational (mostly Evangelical) doctrines than an actual Bible. Consider a passage “translated” toward denominational understandings in Psalm 51:5:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (NIV)

For I was born a sinner– yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. (NLT)

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. (NASU)

The NIV, and the NLT more so, show the denominational belief of original sin, which is clearly in error, as shown by Ezekiel 18:20.

Furthermore, interpretive versions are marketed toward the people who are new to the Bible or do not understand the Bible well, and these are the people who are most likely to come away with a distorted understanding of Scripture because of these versions. People do not just absorb the direct meaning of Scripture; they make inferences based on the way they see Scripture composed. When their inferences are based on non-literal representations of the text, their inferences are often unsupported by the text as it actually exists. Yet they remain unaware of this unless someone points it out to them!

Interpretive Versions: Conclusion

The interpretive versions of the Bible are man’s latest attempt to fit the Word of God to fit men’s doctrines. The Calvinistic slant on Psalm 51:5 cannot be ignored, among other passages. As a Christian, you have the responsibility to read and understand the Scriptures for yourself– not to have someone “preinterpret” the Scriptures for you. The only possible value from interpretive versions is to see how another person reads the text and be challenged by that reading– but only after being fully established in what the text says based on a more formal equivalent version. There can be no positive recommendation for any interpretive version for those unskilled in the Word of God.


Leave a Reply