The standards of expectation for any new translation of the Bible are perhaps higher than most people realize. To justify its existence, a modern translation must not merely be as good as existing versions—it must be better. The literary merits of the New International Version can be evaluated in terms of clarity, effective diction, vivid expression, respect for the principles of poetry, and smoothness of rhythm.
The prime literary virtue of the NIV is clarity. For example, “Sheol” is translated as “the grave,” and the statement “he will not let your foot slip” conveys the realism of the journey to Jerusalem better than saying that God will not let one’s foot “be moved” (KJV, RSV). The sixth and ninth commandments of the Decalogue are rendered “you shall not murder” and “you shall not give false testimony.” “Dishonest scales” and “accurate weights” are an improvement over “false balance” and “just weight” (KJV, RSV). The lover in the Song of Solomon is “faint with love,” not “sick of love” (KJV) or “sick with love” (RSV). And I hope it will dispel some follies to read that “it is good for a man not to marry” instead of “not to touch a woman” (KJV).
The NIV fares less well in the area of diction. Given the time-honored scale of high, middle, and low styles, the NIV tends toward the low or ordinary. Its dialogues, especially, are filled with colloquial or informal diction, including contractions: “I’ll work for you seven years,” Jacob tells Laban, and the latter replies, “It’s better to give her to you than to some other man.” The exclamation, “How beautiful you are, my darling!/Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Sol. 1:15) is prosaic and trite; “Behold, you are beautiful, my love;/behold you are beautiful” (RSV) is poetic and other-than-ordinary, ...1
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