Who is the NLT really translated for?

I read all the “fine print” in the NLT Study Bible about the NLT translation. I won’t go into detail here other than to say that they say it’s for the modern reader. Also, here is a quote from the NLT blog:

As a dynamic-equivalence translation, the NLT translates the Hebrew and Greek text in natural, understandable English. This means that we try to avoid technical terms that the average reader would not understand.

This post is more about what other people say. I’ve heard things like 6th grade reading level, new Christians, unchurched, shouldn’t be used for serious study, etc. I couldn’t find any of those terms in what the NLT and Tyndale say about the NLT.

So is modern reader or average reader code for all those things? I’m wondering why people and organizations put these terms onto a translation that’s in natural, understandable English but is also true to the underlying languages, translated by scholars—many who have written commentaries on the books of the Bible they translated.

I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years and have been much more serious about studying the Bible for over 2 1/2 years and still the NLT sheds new light on many passages that were somewhat befuddling while for the most part still not sounding overly idiomatic or paraphrastic. I don’t think it’s because I can only read at a 4th grade reading level or because I haven’t gone to church. I will admit that I am not as well educated in the Bible as most of my blogging friends but I would bet that many of them will have a better understanding of some passages when reading them in the NLT and in fact this is one reason why many of them read it.

I’ll still use more formal translations for reference and some aspects of study but I think the NLT gets a bad wrap and the people posting on the NLT blog are trying to rectify some of these assertions.

It might be interesting to know what directives the translators were given as far as target audience, reading level, etc.

I’m not trying to sound like a rabid fan of the NLT, just posting some thoughts I’ve had recently after becoming more interested in the translation.

Psalm 119:18 NLT
Open my eyes to see
the wonderful truths in your instructions.

The Intended Audience of the NLT – NLT Blog (noted in a comment)

Related post:
Translations, Target “Reading Level” and Their Differing Uses

17 Responses to “Who is the NLT really translated for?”

  1. 1 Wayne Leman

    I’m guess that you could ask these questions on the NLT blog and get some helpful answers. They are glad to receive questions about the NLT, especially ones like yours which can help other people as well.

  2. 2 Gary Zimmerli

    Jeff, I’m starting to think we need to leave all that behind when we read the NLT. I certainly don’t read at a 4th grade level either, but I am finding my mind’s light going on frequently as I read it.New believers? Unchurched? No, it’s good for you and me!The fact is, a lot of that Biblish terminology is really just shorthand for theological concepts, and gets in the way of understanding by new believers, – but also by us, too, if we’re not careful.And I think the new NLTSB is proving that the NLT is, too, a good text for serious study.

  3. 3 Robert Jimenez

    I read chapter one of Romans last night in the NLT.  I found it easy to read and felt that it properly communicated the concepts, thoughts and ideas very well.  I didn’t feel like I was reading something completely foreign (i.e. not the bible).  However I read it last night as a devotional, so tonight I will pay closer attention and do some comparisons with other translations, and see what I gain, or loose by reading the NLT.

  4. 4 Gary Zimmerli

    Robert, do you have a copy of the NLT Study Bible? If not, you should get one! I’m convinced that I’m not losing a thing with the NLT, but am actually gaining quite a lot!

  5. 5 nothingman

    When I read from the NLTse, I don’t feel like I am reading at a low reading level, but rather a smooth text in modern English.  I don’t have to consult other translations in order to understand the text on a basic level like I have with more formal translations (NRSV, ESV, NASB). It is refreshing to spend more time reflecting on what God is communicating through Scripture, and that is one reason why I love spending my mornings in the new NLT Study Bible.  Obviously, there is value in more formal translations, but for clarity, the NLTse is second to none.

    Now, I just wish the church I attend would make the switch from the good old NIV to the NLTse, but I think that will never happen considering our pastor thinks the NASB is the TRUE Word of God!

  6. 6 Iyov

    “it also true to the underlying languages translated by scholars.”

    I’m not sure I completely understand what this means (perhaps you have some typos in this phrase) but I think the claim that the NLT is an accurate translation, preserving the nuance of the original text, is certainly open for dispute.  The Hebrew Scriptures were certainly not readable by the average reader.  Some claim that the Greek New Testament was readable by the average reader, but in fact, the language (and certainly the required background to understand) the Pauline Epistles or the Apocalypse of John is considerable.

    You mention scholars who translated the NLT — do you know if anyone of them teach at seminaries or universities that use the NLT as their standard translation?   It seems to me that the NLT was translated by scholars, but those scholars almost never use it in their serious teaching.

  7. 7 Scripture Zealot

    Iyov, what I was referring to is that many of the translators wrote commentaries on the books they translated. I can’t find a quote on that so maybe somebody can help me out.

    If you look at the list of scholars, at least for the Greek I can recognize most who have written a commentary on each of those books.


  8. 8 Scripture Zealot

    “it also true to the underlying languages translated by scholars.”

    “it” was a typo and should be is. I hate it when I’m not perfect.

    I changed part of the sentence to this:

    “is also true to the underlying languages, translated by scholars—many who have written commentaries on the books of the Bible they translated.”

    Which probably isn’t perfect either but I try. I’m always open to criticism of my writing.

  9. 9 Robert Jimenez

    Gary, no I have not purchased the NLT study bible.  I had placed my order for the ESV study bible and I am waiting for it.  I am not as big a fan of the ESV as I once was, however I still think it is a fine translation.  Plus the study bible looks like it will be really good, unless I am just bying into their marketing.Right now my main bible is the Holman CSB.  But since so many of the blogs that I follow, have nothing but good things to say about the NLT, I thought I should give it a serious look.  If I truly enjoy it I just may purchase the NLT study bible.  Jeff showed me where I can try it out on line as an evaluation.  I don’t mind having more than one, I’ll just have to decide which one will have all of my on-line notes, which is really what I am looking for.

  10. 10 Scripture Zealot

    Iyov or anyone else I’d like to learn more about how the original languages were understood by readers of the time.

  11. 11 Keith Williams

    I’ve thrown up an official-ish answer to your question on the NLT blog.

  12. 12 TC

    What I’m to the TNIV, Jeff is to the NLT.  Not bad!

    But on a serious note, I do love the NLT.  I think it is a wonderful translation.  It is quite readable and accurate.  A great combination, I say!

  13. 13 Armen

    I’m not too sure who the NLT is translated for, but with so many different versions being published on what is supposed to be one book, I’m beginning to think it’s just to keep ‘translators’ in a job.I came across this article the other day, and considering it’s secular, I found it rather profound.

  14. 14 Steve Obergq

    While I am NOT, repeat, NOT a big fan of the NLT, I do at least appreciate how it handles *theological* language (christianese) – terms that the christian sub-culture has monopolized over the years.

    On a lighter note, as a student of Biblical languages (Bible translation) we much preferred TEV (Today’s English Version) – known as the Good News Bible as being very true to the original intent (in our opinion, in “blind” surveys after serious study of passages in the original as compared to readings of various versions.)

  15. 15 Scripture Zealot

    I notice that Gordon Fee often mentions the GNB.

  16. 16 Sid Wiliams

    I have published, “The Very First Bible Translation; Including the Names of the Gods,” c. 2007.
    NLT & ESV and all other “alleged” translations are only
    “copies” of the Pope’s deep Dark Ages rendition.
    “Inherit the earth” instead of, “inherit name (nomo) of earth” – Mt 5.2. “Jesus Christ” instead of “Iesous Anointed.”
    “baptism” instead of “dipping.”
    “Peter” in stead of “Rock.” Then, “church” instead of (ek klhsia), “From Calling.” Also, “preach” instead of “publish.”
    The “Man of Sin,” Ignatius, was the “original preacher.”
    Ecclesiates (spelled backwards; THS EKKLHSIA) has “preacher” in the OT for “assembly.”
    I will close with the admonition of my youth, “The simple
    believes every word, the prudent looks well to his going”
    – Proverbs 14.15. Repeat that every day in the morning.
    I have published, “The Very First Hebrew Manual without “Fake” Vowel Points, c. 2007.
    “Lord God” (Re v 4.8, and others),has blessed me with gold and silver.
    Watch your step!

  17. 17 Scripture Zealot

    Not sure why I approved that last comment.

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