(This is a slightly edited repost from June 2010)
Along with quite a few other translations of the Bible, I’ve been using the New Living Translation for over ten years now. Though it is not necessarily 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, nursing home, or when I preach at a funeral or other events where the people are not familiar with biblical language.
I also like the NLT for OT narratives and Gospel narratives. 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 constructions and thoughts.
The NLT marketing hasn’t saturated the evangelical world nearly as much as the ESV has, but there are good names behind it. 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: Greg Beale, F.F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, Don Hagner, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner, Moises Silva, Klyne Snodgrass, and Robert Mounce (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 languages, though I do tend to gravitate around the NET Bible, the NASB, NIV, and the ESV. I occasionally look at the KJV, but I’m not at all a Majority Text guy. Furthermore, the archaic English grammar and stiff translation/interpretive method of the KJV can be pretty frustrating – try reading a long OT narrative from the KJV 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 and you end up having to translate old English into modern English! (As a side note, I’m not one who thinks that archaic grammar is somehow more reverent than everyday grammar.)
When people ask about translations, I always say two things: (1) don’t make your favorite translation a litmus test of orthodoxy. That’s a toxic position that prohibits true biblical unity and peace. (2) I also say use a few different translations in your reading – some “word for word” (NASB) and some “thought for thought” (NIV, NLT) and some in between (ESV, RSV). Remember that every translation makes thousands of interpretive decisions as they translate the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic into English (or other languages). All translations of Scripture are also interpretations of Scripture. There is no truly literal translation!
Looking back at the last 20 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, especially when I see from the original language why the translation team chose the words and phrases they did. It increases my knowledge of the Word!
But back to the NLT. 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. I like it and recommend it. It is a decent translation to consult when doing textual work, biblical studies, and as I said above, reading the Word to people who are unfamiliar with it. If you’re not familiar with the NLT and have been wanting to check out a different translation, you may want to check it out!
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002