Liking the NLT is confusing my translation dilemma

Or maybe not. In case you are interested in my musings…

I’ve been using the NRSV as my main translation for 2 1/2 years. I’ve come to dislike the archaisms despite its major improvement in that area over the RSV.

I’ve been looking for a Bible that will be all things to me—one I can use for reading, studying, taking notes in etc. I also wanted one that is on the formal/literal end without a lot of the archaisms but uses standard theological terms. The HCSB seems to fit the bill but I am/was waiting for the expected update next year.

However, the more I read the NLT, the more I like it. I’ve been reading the NLT Study Bible, as cumbersome as it is, and recently looked again at the Favorite Verses of the Bible for a second time. For some reason when I looked at them recently I liked them a lot better than I did a few months ago.

So for now, I’ve decided that the NLT will be my reading/devotional Bible, and I will continue to use the NRSV for taking notes, which is where I have a ton of notes and highlighting, and also as a more literal/formal alternative. There is no single translation that is all things. The NRSV a fine translation so why not keep using it? I will continue to use the HCSB for reference, quoting and memorizing when I see fit. I will re-evaluate next year.

I wasn’t raised on the Bible and catechisms so I’m not sure if it would be of benefit to stick with a formal translation for most of my reading, especially when it comes to the Old Testament and the NT use of it. And even many who have been well educated in things Biblicular have espoused the use of a dynamic translation like the NLT.

As far as a Bible for “studying”, I’m not sure if it really matters which one I use, since I will be using other materials like commentaries, word definitions etc. Phrasing Scripture might be best with a more formal translation as far as the grammar goes, but again I don’t think it’s critical as to which one I use if I feel a need to use something other than or in addition to the NRSV.

The thing about the NLT is that even though it fits squarely in the dynamic (previously termed as thought-for-thought) realm, it’s still very “accurate” and is rarely paraphrastic or overly idiomatic. So as far as the NLT, why not use it too? (For you TNIV fans, I have already looked into this and am very familiar with it especially since I used the NIV for 20 years.)

Here is some stuff about the NLT if you’ve managed to even read this far:

Esteban mentioned an interesting article that I didn’t take the time to read until now.
New Living Translation (NLT) Evaluation Committee Report of the Christian Reformed Church in North America

Don’t let the length scare you—those of you with short attention spans—the NLT portion is only six pages long. If you are interested in the NLT it’s a great read for the most part. But for those who don’t want to read the whole thing, here are some quotes.

It [also] avoids words such as ‘justification,’ ‘sanctification,’ and ‘regeneration,’ as carryovers from Latin translations. In their place it uses equivalents such as ‘we are made right with God,’ ‘we are made holy,’ and ‘we are born anew.’

I never knew these were carryovers from Latin translations. But since they are such common theological terms, the main thing that bothers me about the NLT is that they are missing. And where the NLT1 explained propitiation well in Romans 3:25 they truncated it. Oh how I wish they wouldn’t have messed with that. I’m sure they have their reasons.

Some positive examples:

…the NIV reads, ‘The hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.’ The NLT captures the sense of the original well with the translation ‘But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me.’ In John 13:18, compare ‘turned against me’ (NLT) with ‘has lifted up his heel against me’ (TNIV). In these and many more examples the NLT has provided a very readable translation that is accurate to the intent of the original text.

From Esteban:

I’m glad to note that I’ve been intimately acquainted with the New Living Translation since its release in 1996: I bought a copy hot-off-the-press, and used it in short order as my teaching text for a Bible study on Acts that I lead during my freshman year. I had a rather decent reading knowledge of Greek by then, and I was consistently impressed by how well the NLT rendered St Luke’s narrative—lively, engagingly, idiomatically, and above all, accurately.

–Esteban Vázquez

There may be some “speculative additions” to the Hebrew text in the OT which you can read about in the article but many of them seem somewhat minor. The glaring one I saw was the overly colloquial Psalm 73:7, “These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!”

But all translations can be nick-picked to death. For now I’ve embraced the NLT.

Comments welcome. I could write more but I’ll stop there. And congratulations if you made it this far.

Psalm 119:31-34
I cling to your laws.
LORD, don’t let me be put to shame!
I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
Teach me your decrees, O LORD;
I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions;
I will put them into practice with all my heart.

27 Responses to “Liking the NLT is confusing my translation dilemma”


  1. 1 Nick Norelli

    But all translations can be nick-picked to death.

    The only translation I’ll pick to death is the KJV! 😛

  2. 2 Nathan Stitt

    After an initially bad impression I’ve since warmed up to the NLT. I now own a small copy of the second edition that I take to church if I don’t take my TNIV instead. Most of my time with scripture now is through The Bible Experience which is TNIV. So I’ve started taking the NLTse more often just for variety.

    When it comes to study I now use a large variety of translations, and I am no longer concerned about which translation is best for study. I have these two primary translations, and I use all other for comparison. Some of my favorites being the NEB/REB and the NJB. I still refer to the ESV on a regular basis and especially the JPS Tanakh SB from Oxford in the OT, it’s great.

    It’s encouraging to see a positive attitude in your posts, some of the other bloggers are still giving me a negative vibe that is hard to overcome.

  3. 3 Nathan Stitt

    I’m still getting used to your comment system. All of my double returns were
    removed for some reason when I hit submit 😛

    [edit]
    Nevermind, I was able to edit it just fine, odd.

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Nick, sometimes I wish they just would have stopped at the KJV. But unfortunately my reading comprehension goes down about 25-30% when I read it.

    Thanks for your comments Nathan. I’m glad to hear someone confirm my idea about translations for study. I’ll have to look into the JPS Tanakh.

    I have another post about the NLT planned.

    I’m hoping the comment formatting system is more helpful than confusing.
    Jeff

  5. 5 ElShaddai Edwards

    I think that the NLT and NRSV would be a terrific combination of translations to use – both are excellent in their respective areas of strength. I’ve also thought that an NASB/NLT would be a great parallel Bible to study with – Zondervan made a NASB/Message parallel… an NLT version would be even better!

  6. 6 R. Mansfield

    I used to live in a very comfortable world in which I was able to take notes in my wide-margin NASB and then teach from the same Bible. Yes, I referenced other translations and even the original languages in my preparation, but I was able to record notes and teach in the same Bible. 

    Then I had to go and become “sensitive” to my audience! That put me in a dilemma that I have still not resolved to this day. None of the translations which I have found better suited to public use (TNIV, NLT, NET, even HCSB) has a decent wide margin edition. So my method is now schizophrenic: I still take notes in my NASB, but resort to writing a subset of them in my TNIV Reference Bible–whatever will fit. Gone are the days where one Bible suited both purposes. To me a “primary” translation is one that I can use for both purposes. And much like the situation you describe here, Jeff, I resort to using different Bibles for different purposes beyond the point that I’d like to. 

    Too bad I can’t warm up to the ESV because Crossway makes a number of wide margin editions. 

    I’d love to find one translation that could remain my primary for even the next ten years. But I need a wide margin edition for that to happen. 

  7. 7 tc robinson

    Jeff, I have to agree with Elshaddai’s combination.  For me, if I’m not reading the TNIV, it’s either the NLT or th NRSV.

  8. 8 R. Mansfield

    Regarding EE’s comment above, Tyndale has traditionally been fairly guarded about other companies publishing the NLT, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t publish parallel editions themselves. The NLT has shown up a few other places though. The NLT1 was available in Zondervan’s Complete Parallel Bible, and both the TNIV and NLTse are going to be placed side by side in an upcoming interlinear from Zondervan. 

    On a related note, by all indications Tyndale wants the NLT to move from the place as a secondary translation to one that can be used for serious study as a primary Bible (we see indications of this with the new study Bible, the Cornerstone commentary series, the Tyndale-Strongs numbering system, and the continued revisions of the text that hone the translation’s accuracy). I would suggest that the next step involves moving to direct relationship with the original languages such as what we’ve seen recently in the NET diglot from Bible.org. Tyndale should consider producing a New Testament in which the Greek text is side by side with the NLT, maybe even with commentary offering justification for particular renderings. This would make a bold statement that the NLT really is a serious translation of the Scriptures.

  9. 9 Scripture Zealot

    When I first starting thinking about using two translations instead of one, I was thinking HCSB and NLT, or HCSB could be substituted with NASB or NRSV. I think NASB/NLT would be great.

    If the NLT is indeed accurate then I don’t see why it can’t be used for “serious study” even though I would like to use a more formal translation in addition.

    I have a post in mind about how patronizing people are towards the NLT.
    Jeff

  10. 10 nothingman

    I agree with EE as I currently use the NLTse alongside the NRSV for study.  It is interesting to compare such different translations, and I have come to appreciate the clarity in the NLTse the more I use it.  I continue to carry the NIV with me to church on Sundays as this continues to be THE translation used from the pulpit and in our classes.  I hope to see the day when the NLTse takes THE place of the NIV.

  11. 11 Robert Jimenez

    About a month ago I purchased a descent Trutone version of the NLT, in hopes that if it is nice to hold I will make an effort to read it more often.  Although I have not been as commited as I liked to be, I am making some progress.  I still read the HCSB as my main bible.I did order the ESV study bible.  I had pretty much given up on study bibles, and was never going to purchase another one again.  However, on thing that made it interest to me was all of the on-line capabilities that it’s going to offer.  I am big advocate of on-line documents.  I keep all of my messages, study notes on line with Google Docs.  Having a study bible on line that I can write notes, highlight was something I could not resists.  I hope that the others will follow along this path.I am disappointed with the lack (none at all) of user particiapation the HCSB has.

  12. 12 Scripture Zealot

    Robert, I’m planning on getting a NLT Personal Edition or another edition for reading because the Study Bible is bulky for that purpose. Is the one you have the Personal Edition?

    I like online/computer stuff too. I use e-Sword all the time.

    I’ve ordered the ESVSB also. It will be interesting to see how the online version works and also to see how the NLTSB online edition evolves.

    I wrote to the HCSB people about being more involved online. Maybe they feel it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Their sales seem to be right up there with ESV nonetheless.
    Jeff

  13. 13 Kevin Sam

    Like you, I’m using NRSV and NLT as my formal and dynamic translations right now. I’m also using TNIV as my mediating translation.  So NRSV, TNIV, and NLT–these are my 3 main translations.  I haven’t given up on the ESV yet but it’s sliding as a regular read. I also tried out the HCSB but can’t really get into it even though its translation philosophy is great.

  14. 14 ElShaddai Edwards

    @Kevin – what does the TNIV give you that the NLT and NRSV do not? I’m actually serious – I understand those that would use the TNIV as their only translation, but if you’re covering the formal side with the NRSV and the functional with the NLT, what does the TNIV provide *you* in terms of a unique view of Scripture? (For me, it would be consistency with our church’s use of the NIV, but I’m curious to get your answer.)

  15. 15 Robert Jimenez

    Jeff, the one I bought is the Personal Edition (black/onyx), it has a great font size.  Is the NLT going to have an on line version as well?  Do you if it will have the same capabilities as the ESV?  I would like to hear more about the NLT online study bible.

  16. 16 Kevin Sam

    Very good question ElShaddai.  I had to think about this for a while. My answer is that it would give me an alternate translation. For a person like myself who looks at 5 or 6 translations for sermon preparation, it’s still useful. But for someone who only reads 2 translations maybe the NRSV and NLT is sufficient. Since I never did get into the NIV in my early days, I probably wouldn’t feel a big loss if I never read it.  But for those who have memorized a lot of scripture from the NIV, it’s a jewel.

  17. 17 Scripture Zealot

    Robert, you can get a 30 day trial of the NLTSB online here:
    http://www.nltstudybible.com/X_Secure/login.asp
    It’s in beta right now so it doesn’t have all the features. It doesn’t have word studies or community notes yet for example. I would wait a month and then get the free trial.

    I’ll go to my local Christian bookstore and see what they have for NLT. Otherwise I may like to email you about that Bible. The NLT people might put up some PDFs for different editions.

    ElShaddai that’s a great question. I was also thinking that the TNIV would be a good single translation to use if one likes it the best.

    It’s interesting to see that there are others who use NRSV and NLT.
    Jeff

  18. 18 Tim

    Quick question in regards to the NLT.  I have a NLT: Catholic Reference Edition which I don’t use very much, but may take a second look at.  Is there a huge difference betweeen the NLT first edition and its subsequent revisions?  For better?

  19. 19 Scripture Zealot

    Hi Tim,
    You can see this post for a way to compare. There are a couple places I liked the NLT1 better but for the most part the NLTse seems to be a major improvement.

    My connection is flakey so that’s the short answer. Write again if you need to.
    Jeff

  20. 20 kevin O'Brien

    All,
    Thanks for your interest in the NLT and the kind words. I am working with our typesetting team here at Tyndale to get page sampes posted on http://www.nltblog.com later this week. I will include pdfs of 4 or five of our most popular text Bibles so that you can compare. My favorite is the personal size which is pretty small, but with a generous font for the trim size. Hopefully these will help to get a sense of the various options out there.

  21. 21 Scripture Zealot

    Thank you so much Kevin. For those without a local bookstore that will be so helpful.
    Jeff

  22. 22 Yasmine

    Hello everybody, I know this is probably not the right place to ask, but I wonder if you are willing to help me. I am a layperson very much interested in the bible. Four years ago I started reading it from beginning to end for educational reasons. It draw me deeper and deeper and I read a lot of books about history and archaeology at the side. Being German I like best the German Good News translation for its readabilbty. Now, here comes the question: I would like to buy a study bible, but can’t seem to make up my mind if I should go for the TNIV or NLT? It should be easy to read and have good notes on history and archaeological stuff. I already have a QuestSB which I like very much to develop the faith that obviously is growing and need something that covers all the other stuff. The NIV is sometimes a bit hard for me to read and I have to reach for my German GNB from time to time. It would be nice to have one bible that would it unnecessary to reach for a German translation and various study helps as I am reading mostly when commuting or in bed. Thank you all in advance for being so helpful! Regards Yasmine

  23. 23 Yasmine

    Well I forgot something! Thank you all for your wonderfull blogs! I have learned a lot lurking and reading them and I think you all do a great job spreading the Message doing them! I also like the fact that you interact with the bible scholars who translate and comment on the bible and thus enhance the bibles published and the scholars to take the time to listen to you and respond! It is a living community and it is nice to know that there are people who care so much!

  24. 24 nothingman

    Yasmine – From what I gather from your post, I would highly recommend the NLT Study Bible over the TNIV.  I have used both, and I think you will appreciate the readability in the NLTSB.

  25. 25 Peter M. Lopez

    It looks like I missed out on most of this discussion, but I will add my $.02, I think the NRSV/NLT combo is great.  I agree with Elshaddai and others, simply b/c my own personal preference is the NASB, the an NASB/NLT combo would be excellent.  I have an NASB/NIV/Greek parallel NT that is a great resource, too.BTW there is a hand-sized, softcover JPS Tanakh in Hebrew and English (Hebrew on one side/English on the other) that is excellent.

  26. 26 Scripture Zealot

    Yasmine thanks for stopping by. I haven’t used the TNIVSB so I can’t comment on that but I would go with what nothingman says. There is one called The NIV Archaeological Study Bible if you want to focus on that aspect but it sounds like you would like the NLT translation.

    Thanks for the comments Peter.
    Jeff

  27. 27 Yasmine

    Dear Nothingman, dear Jeff,Thank you so much for being so helpful! I think I will go for the NLTSB then. Had a look at the ArchaeologicalSB but I don’t like that it doesn’t look like a bible but more like an illustrated whatever with the parchment-styled up pages. I really appreciate your advise as there is naturally no bookstore here where I can have a look at these bibles to make up my mind and thus have to rely on the internet. Funny and also sad that there is a SB for everything and everyone and their pets in English and almost nothing available in German, only Thompson, MacArthur and Genova. Regards Yasmine

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