Why the NLT is Good, actually

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31 Responses

  1. There is a reader’s version – immersebible.com. It’s in six volumes and with added bits and pieces, but it’s a reader’s version format.

    We’re actually going to give this ‘project’ a go in our church. We’re hoping it will get people who struggle to read, or don’t often read, the Bible, to not only start reading but together read through the whole Bible and being a lifelong relationship with God’s word. Let’s see how it goes!

    (And that’s how I came to your piece here – thank you. I’m not an NLT reader, I was confident it wasn’t a bad translation, but I wanted further perspective).

    Also, as a side note, the fact that the Immerse Bible is available in Spanish (since the NLT is – Nueva Traduccion Viviente) is a massive bonus for our bilingual church. It’s not easy to come across bilingual resources. It’s a different consideration in Bible translations – being able to find comparable translations in two modern languages so that bilingual congregations can read along together.

    Right now it tends to be:
    NIV + NVI (Same)
    NLT + NTV (Same)
    NKJV + RV60 (Reina Valera 1960) – similar
    NASB + NBLA (Nueva Biblia de Las Americas) – same translation group (Lockman Foundation).

    Thanks again, and God bless!

    • Tommy Keene says:

      I like the coupling for bilingual congregations. That’s really helpful

    • Rebekah says:

      I was just introduced to the Immerse Bible. I’m really hoping that the teenage Sunday school class will go through at least Messiah (the volume with the New Testament) next year. Half of the teachers are definitely on board. When I heard the pitch for the “program” I thought, “Oh its a readers Bible. Great.”

  2. Caleb Martin says:

    Love this write up. Having grown up in NASB and ESV circles, I read the NLT once through post-college, and really enjoyed it. That translation breathed life to me in some very trying times.
    I also concur that a Reader’s edition feels like a no-brainer! C’mon Tyndale! I’d buy one in a heartbeat!

  3. Dominic Stockford says:

    This is all well and good. I agree that the NLT is, as far as it goes, a very helpful translation. It is frequently blunt when the original Greek or Hebrew was blunt, and other translations pull back almost as if in fear of being so outspoken.

    However, you have not answered one question, not related to ‘how’ it has been translated, but to ‘what’ has been translated. The issues of Textus Receptus vs critical Text, and the choice as to which to use, also need to be addressed if the overall presentation of the NLT as a good thing is to be complete.

    • Tommy Keene says:

      Helpful, thanks. I suppose since, as you say, this is more addressing the “what” over the “how” and why, that I didn’t consider it center of the circle for the argument I’m making. Also, most translations pitteed against the NLT also use a critical text, so it keeps the discussion a bit more apples to apples. However, I’m certainly all for more translations of the TR, though I do think to use a critical text for one’s “everyday carry.”

  4. Mark says:

    I can’t get on board, it just feels like it adds too much that should be left to the teachers and preachers. For example, Hebrews 10:11-12 (NLT):
    11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

    In just two verses they add 3 phrases that are not in the Greek, (1) Under the old covenant, (2) High Priest, (3) In the place of honor. Doctrinally there is nothing wrong with these 3 phrases, but there’s no equivalent to them in the manuscripts. It comes across to me as the translation team trying to interpret and teach through their translation. Which to me is adding to Scripture.

    • Tommy Keene says:

      It’s definitely interpretive, and the examples you mention are on point. Also, I think you initial comment–“much that should be left to teachers/preachers” gets at why I would have trouble teaching from the NLT. It makes decisions, and not always the decisions I would make, and as a result I would like find myself “critiquing” the translation from the pulpit, which is not something I want to be doing.

      But a brief counterpoint: not everyone is a teacher or preacher with access to the languages. Do ordinary people not get a “vernacular” translation apart for it being actively preached through? I know your not saying this, but then what’s the solution? All translations interpret and teach, the NLT just does it a bit more because of its target audience and reading goals.

      • Mark says:

        Thanks for the engaging counterpoint! My solution would be study Bibles, which I tend to recommend a lot. But you’re right that all translations teach and interpret to some degree.

  5. Tom says:

    Thanks for a really great and thought-provoking article!

    There is one more problem with translations in general that I’ve noticed in trying to re-learn Greek after 50 years. That is, some Greek grammar just has no equivalent in English. You mention ἁγιασθήτω in the Lord’s prayer. It is, as you note, a 3rd-person imperative. The Greeks had this grammatical feature, but we just don’t have it in English. There is no way that this can be translated into English without making some allowance for the absence of a 3rd-person imperative in English.

  6. Gary L Blankenship says:

    Why is the gender neutral (inclusive”) wording not important for you to mention here?

    • Tommy Keene says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s not important, I just didn’t single it out. It’s part of the “modern contemporary English” aspect of the translation philosophy, which I think has value and is commendable.

  7. Mark Weagle says:

    My “quibble” with the NLT has always been with Romans 5:1. The NLT is the only English translation that I know of that translates it as “being made right in God’s sight” whereas all other English translations state “justified by faith.” In my eyes, this is “troublesome.” There is quite a difference being God declaring us to be righteous (justification) & God making us righteous (sanctification). The entire context of Romans 4 : 5 is how God declared Abraham to be righteous because he believed what God had promised him. I think translating Romans 5:1 as God making us righteous instead of God declaring us righteous misses the mark. I would welcome your thoughts please & thanks?

  8. Mark Weagle says:

    My apologies for the typo on the 1st post. I meant Romans 4 & 5, not Romans 4:5

  9. C. Cartwright says:

    Sir, with respect and love, this analysis is incomplete. At worst, it is dishonest. One could argue that the main gripe with the NLT is not the use of contemporary wording or style, but the fact that verses are partially or entirely omitted. Compared to the KJV:

    Matthew 17:21 – entire verse omitted
    Matthew 18:11 – entire verse omitted
    Matthew 19:9 – half of the verse is omitted
    Matthew 23:14 – entire verse omitted
    Mark 6:11 – half of the verse is omitted
    Mark 7:16 – entire verse omitted
    Mark 9:44, 46 – entire verses omitted
    Mark 11:26 – entire verse omitted
    Mark 15:28 – entire verse omitted
    Luke 4:8 – “get thee behind me Satan” is omitted
    Luke 17:36 – entire verse omitted
    Luke 23:17 – entire verse omitted
    John 1:41 – The NLT leaves out the phrase, “Which is by interpretation, a stone.” Hence, the critical distinction between Peter as “the stone” (Petros), and Jesus as “The Rock” (Petra) is obscured. This was no doubt deliberate to pleases Catholics who falsely teach that Peter is the rock upon which the church is built. The Bible states in no uncertain terms, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1st Corinthians 3:11).
    John 3:16 – the all important word “begotten” is omitted, thus denying the deity of Christ
    John 3:13 – “which is in heaven” is omitted
    John 5:4 – entire verse omitted
    Acts 8:37 – entire verse omitted
    Acts 17:29 – completely removes the “Godhead”
    Acts 28:29 – entire verse omitted
    Romans 1:20 – completely removes the “Godhead”
    Romans 16:24 – entire verse omitted
    Philippians 2:6 – removes the word “equal,” thus denying Christ’s deity
    Colossians 2:9 – completely removes the “Godhead”
    1 Timothy 3:16 – “God” is omitted, says “Christ appeared in the flesh, thus denying the deity of Christ
    1 Timothy 6:5 – “from such withdraw thyself” is omitted
    Hebrews 1:3 – the all-important words “by himself” are omitted
    1 Peter 4:1 – “for us” is omitted
    1 Peter 4:14 – half of the verse is omitted
    1 John 3:16 -completely removes “the love of God”
    1 John 4:3 – the all-important words “Christ is come in the flesh” are omitted 1 John 5:7-8 — Trinitarian clause omitted
    1 John 5:7 – half of the verse is omitted, thus denying the Godhead
    1 John 5:13 – half of the verse is omitted
    Revelation 1:11 – “Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” is omitted
    Revelation 5:14 – The four beasts saying “Amen” and the 24 elders falling down and worshipping “him that liveth forever and ever” is omitted

    • Jeremy says:

      Interesting, which version do you prefer?

    • Hito says:

      Hi, sorry to necro but I would just like to say…

      This is not an ‘NLT’ thing; it is a ‘Critical Text’ thing. Scholars that favour the critical text adopt the mindset that the TR (KJV uses this) added the verses due to perceiving ‘centuries worth of re-copying errors’, and given that the Critical Text manuscripts are dated closer to the 1st century, they choose the ‘those are more reliable’ option. So do not include them in the main body of the text. 

      KJV (TR) fans though adopt the point of view of ‘The Critical Text Removed them’, both are reasonable points of view and opinions. 

      But yes, this is a source manuscript issue, as previously stated, not a ‘NLT’ issue. But if you do due diligence, the NLT confronts this by having them in the footnotes and explaining the differences between manuscripts, despite them not being in the main body of the ‘CT’ which is a good thing you get ALL the manuscripts in the NLT (read your footnotes). So the verses are actually not missing, as they are given in places where the chosen translation source differs from others.

  10. Peter Hrkal says:

    totally missed the mark here with this analysis in my humble opinion. Nothing on doctrinal applications from the translation…
    Divinity of Jesus? Claims of the JW from the NLT

    • Jeff Gissing says:

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but it seems to me that viewing the translation as something that props up doctrinal applications is problematic. I’m all for doctrinal preaching, but we have to start from the text.

  11. Derek says:

    Why does Romans 8:35 in the NLT remove “nakedness”? It seems to be an important part of the verse.

  12. I first wrote this elsewhere, but I think a lot of it is similar to what you said (many thanks for your very informative and helpful post, btw)! 🙂

    1. Reasons I like the NLT:

    a. Clarity and naturalness. Clarity refers to whether a text is comprehensible or understandable. For example, the sentence “I am one who is called John” is clear. However, this isn’t how most people speak. Most people would simply say “My name is John”. That’s more natural. In fact, that’s both clear and natural. And the NLT is both clear and natural. The NLT speaks to us in contemporary English. As if we’re talking with a friend. This is perhaps the NLT’s greatest strength.

    b. Audience appropriateness. The NLT is appropriate for multiple different audiences. It’s appropriate for many children. It’s appropriate for people whose first language isn’t English but are learning English. It’s appropriate for the biblically illiterate inasmuch as it’s becoming increasingly common in our culture that many people have little if any familiarity with the Bible and its contents (e.g. they wouldn’t necessarily correctly understand “churchy” words like “hallowed” or “propitiation” let alone “Biblish”). And the NLT is even appropriate for Christians in general who wish to have a smooth read-through of the entire Bible.

    2. Reasons I dislike the NLT:

    a. Accuracy. On the one hand, the NLT is often (surprisingly) accurate in capturing nuances in the biblical Hebrew and Greek that some formal equivalence translations don’t capture (and perhaps can’t capture due to their formal equivalence translation philosophy). For example, compare some of the historical narrative passages in the OT in a formal equivalent translation with the NLT. The NLT can often bring out a fuller meaning that truly is in the text than a formal equivalence translation which doesn’t.

    On the other hand, there are times when the NLT can be overly interpretive: it adds in more than what the text says. For instance, the Greek scholar Bill Mounce points out the NLT’s translation of Acts 27:17: “the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast”. The phrase “off the African coast” is not in the Greek. It’s been added by the NLT translators for clarification. However, it’d arguably be better to put “off the African coast” in the footnotes, in a commentary, or let the pastor-teacher explain where Syrtis is. As such, the NLT is overly interpretive. Yet, if we read the NLT alone (without other translations or reference to the biblical languages), it can be hard to know if one is reading the original Hebrew/Greek text or if one is reading text that’s been added in by the translators.

    b. Historical distance. Ideally there should be historical distance in terms of the time and culture of the biblical text (i.e. so modern audiences can enter into the ancient world of the biblical text), but there should not be historical distance in terms of the language (i.e. the language should sound to us as it did to the original audience). At times the NLT does not have as much historical distance in terms of the time and culture of the biblical text as it should. It makes the ancient world seem a bit too much like our day and age.

    c. Register. Register refers to literary style. A higher register refers to a more formal literary style, whereas a lower register refers to a more informal literary style. Consider the NT. Most of the NT is in koine (“common”) Greek, even though literary Greek existed at the time and was used by the best writers across the Roman empire. However, for various reason(s), the NT authors wrote in common every day Greek. C.S. Lewis may have put it best: “The New Testament in the original Greek is not a work of literary art: it is not written in a solemn, ecclesiastical language, it is written in the sort of Greek which was spoken over the eastern Mediterranean after Greek had become an international language and therefore lost its real beauty and subtlety. In it we see Greek used by people who have no real feeling for Greek words because Greek words are not the words they spoke when they were children. It is a sort of ‘basic’ Greek; a language without roots in the soil, a utilitarian, commercial and administrative language.”

    The main exceptions to this are Hebrews and Luke-Acts (or at least the prologue in Luke 1:1-4) which are written in a higher register than the rest of the NT. Likewise, there are other parts of the Bible that are set in a more poetic and higher register (e.g. the Psalms, Ecclesiastes).

    Now, I think an English translation should reflect the literary style of the original text. If it’s in a higher register, then the translation should be in a similarly higher register as well. But the NLT flattens out the literary style of the entire Bible such that the Bible sounds more or less the same across the board: ordinary, conversational, colloquial English.

  13. Victor R. says:

    Fashionably late to this article but I found it an interesting read as I have been going down the rabbit hole of English Bible translations of late. I was looking for a daily reader that wasn’t as stiff as the NKJV that my pastor teaches from. I can understand the NKJV just fine, but too often I’m turning to outside resources to determine a meaning or phrase that simply isn’t very clear.

    I ended up stuck between the Christian Standard Bible and the New Living Translation but ultimately settled on the CSB. The NLT has plenty of places where it shines, especially for new believers. Romans 3:21-31, for example, where Paul is describing Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. In most English translations, it’s a bit of a word salad that relies on understanding the New Testament context of ‘righteousness’ (being right with God). In the NLT, it’s straight forward: Believing in Jesus Christ makes us right in the eyes of God because he died for our sins. No “propitation” or “mercy seat”, no looking up the context of “righteousness”, just the straight forward meaning of what Paul was conveying.

    But then there’s instances like 1 Corinthians 7:27, where Paul is discussing marriage, divorce, and widows. In that particular passage, nearly every major English translation makes it clear that he is addressing divorced and widowed men.:”Loosed from a wife”, “Free from a wife”, “Released from a wife”. But then you have the NLT’s translation of “If you do not have a wife, do not seek to get married.”, which completely omits the divorce/widow context.

    And the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) are a complete and total mess in the NLT.

    I like the NLT as a “big picture” cross-reference translation, but for a good balanced daily reader I vastly prefer the CSB. In both cases, if I want to compare to something more literal, I compare it to my NKJV or the ESV I have on my Kindle.

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