There are three different interpretations of Adam Smith’s trade theory in modern literature: first, the neoclassical theory of absolute advantage; second, an interpretation based on increasing returns; third, an interpretation of uneven development. These interpretations come to widely different conclusions, especially considering the development of the pattern of trade in Smith’s theory. I discuss how these three interpretations emerged. They do not stem from a more detailed analysis of Smith’s works itself but reflect changes within international trade theory. They all result from the fact that economists have imposed nineteenth- and twentieth-century modes of thoughts on Smith’s theory, forcing his writings into later-developed theoretical frameworks. In contrast to classical economists in the nineteenth century, these subsequent interpretations misrepresent Smith’s trade theory in order to portray him as a forerunner of later theories. The differing interpretations can thus be explained only against the backdrop of the development of international trade theory.