The New Living Translation

Along with quite a few other translations of the Bible, I’ve been using the New Living Translation for a while now (the updated edition).  Though it is not my favorite translation, and though I’ve seen some weaknesses in the translation, there are certain aspects of it I appreciate.  For example, I like the modern language – this is a good translation to use for those not accustomed to detailed grammatical phrases, older language, and unfamiliar vocabulary.  Sometimes I use the NLT in a prison setting or when I preach at a funeral (or other event) where the people are not very familiar with biblical language.

I like the NLT for OT and Gospel narratives (specifically as I’m working through Joshua).  However, I’m not as excited about the NLT in some of the Pauline epistles, because smoothing things out too much can take away from the tighter epistle constructions and thoughts.

In case you’re interested, here are some scholars and teachers that worked on the NLT Bible translation team.

OT: Daniel Block, Gordon Wenham, R.K. Harrison, V. Phillips Long, Bill T. Arnold, Ray B. Dillard, Al Wolters, Mark Futato, Doug Green, Richard Pratt, Willem VanGemeren, Joyce Baldwin, and Douglas Gropp (just to name a few).

NT: Craig Blomberg, Don Hagner, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner, Moises Silva, Klyne Snodgrass, Greg Beale, Robert Mounce, and F.F. Bruce (just to name a few).

To be honest, I’m not really “married” to a specific translation.  I try to do most of my work out of the original, though I do tend to gravitate around the NIV and ESV. I sometimes use the NKJ as well, but I’m not a Majority Text guy.  Furthermore, the archaic English grammar and stiff translation method of the NKJ can be pretty frustrating – try reading a long OT narrative from the NKJ out loud to people who never speak or read this type of old English.  You get a few puzzled looks as you’re stumbling through the odd grammatical phrases.  For example, take Joshua 8.4: it will come about, when they come out against us as at the first, that we shall flee before them. Who speaks like that? (By the way “at the first” simply means “like they did before.”)  As a side note, I’m not one who thinks that archaic grammar is more reverent than everyday grammar.

When people ask about translations, I say two things 1) don’t make your favorite translation a litmus test of orthodoxy and 2) use a few different translations in your reading – some “word for word” (NASB, NKJ) and some “thought for thought” (NIV, NLT) and some in between (ESV, RSV).  Remember that every translation makes thousands of interpretive moves as they translate the original to English.

Looking back at the last 10 years of my Christian walk, I noticed that my Bible reading time has increased when I purchase a new translation, because I want to see how they translated my favorite passages.  This leads me to read more of it and it becomes an enjoyable reading experience for me.

All in all, while I don’t think the NLT will ever be my primary translation, I do think it is valuable to have on my shelf.  It is an OK translation to consult when doing textual work, biblical studies, and as I said above, reading the Word to people who are unfamiliar with the scriptures.  If you’re not familiar with it and have been wanting to check out a different translation, you may want to check out the NLT.

shane lems

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One comment on “The New Living Translation

  1. Andrew says:

    Nice. Very well put.

    The more time I’ve spent reading Hebrew, the more I’ve come to realized that translation is interpretation. Even when translations try to be “neutral” or “interpretation free” – they’re just not. It isn’t possible to render all the subtleties and nuances of a particular language into a target language with mechanistic precision. And when the original language is LONG gone – and its spoken register nearly impossible to access with any certainty – knowing how the idioms were used in order to find equivalents in the target language is even tougher.

    In the end, we do well to have “conversations” with other Bible translators. That doesn’t mean getting on the phone every week with a Wycliffe, all one needs to do is open their NASB and their NLT and their NIV and their ESV with a critical eye and look at what they’re doing with particular passages.

    In the end, I’ve found so many places where translations, even some of the supposedly “literal” translations, take significant interpretive liberties simply to remain in a given reading tradition. I only wish now I had been cataloging some of these!

    Yep, the NLT, TNIV, NRSV, NJPS and many others are important interpreters to consult when presenting our own interpretations of these ancient texts!

    Again, great post!

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