Re: New Living Translation

Jon Allen Weatherly (
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 15:29:56 -0500 (EST)

Tyndale House Publishers has information about the New Living Translation on
their web site ( It is predictably laudatory, but the
discerning reader will learn something from it.

Ive reproduced below a review of the New Living Translation which I did for
the _Christian Standard_, a popular-level weekly journal for the Christian
Churches and Churches of Christ. It is far from a thorough review and reflects
the interests of that group, not of this list, but I offer it for those on the
list with an interest:

For over twenty-five years the Living Bible (LB) has been a popular version of
the Scriptures in English. Widely criticized in many circles, it has
nevertheless found a wide audience among people who have found more
traditional versions hard to understand. With the publication of the New
Living Translation (NLT), Tyndale House Publishers hope to address some of the
concerns of critics while preserving the popular appeal of the LB.

Like its predecessor, the NLT follows the dynamic equivalence method of
translation, which seeks to translate concepts from the original text into
expressions which will have the same impact on the modern reader. But unlike
LB, which was an individuals paraphrase of the American Standard Version of
1901, the NLT is the work of a large committee of evangelical scholars of
Hebrew and Greek who, while referring to the LB, have produced a new
translation directly from the original-language texts. In this respect alone
it is a welcome improvement on the LB.

The NLT in many respects resembles the LB. Where difficult figures of speech
occur, especially in the Old Testament, the NLT either offers a less
figurative translation which in effect interprets the figure (for example,
"united as one" for "become one flesh" in Gen 2:24) or adds an interpretive
gloss (Isa 7:14 "ImmanuelGod is with us"). At other points the translators
have inserted phrases to represent the flow of the original discourse ("at
last" is inserted in Gen 2:23 to suggest that Adam speaks in a state of
ecstasy as he first sees Eve). Where the specific sense of a word or figure is
disputed, the NLT often supplies a footnote to lay out the alternatives (as in
1 Thess 4:3). To reproduce the originals effect for the modern reader the
translators occasionally employ English idioms not commonly found in biblical
translations (for example, "lazybones" in Prov 6:6). In general the NLT
reworks sentence structure and expressions from the original to clarify the
sense of the text for the modern English reader.

In other respects the NLT differs from its precursor, often in ways that
address weaknesses in the LB. Some of the more radical renderings of the LB
have been softened: 1 Sam 21:30, for example, is rendered in an appropriately
harsh but less offensive way. Various texts in the NLT are translated more
literally than in the LB (John 1:1-5 is one). And like the New Revised
Standard Version, the NLT seeks to avoid expressions that are gender-specific
where the original is not (Gen 1:26 uses "people" instead of the traditional

All of these features make the NLT a marked improvement on the LB. But
problems still crop up. The attempt to make figures of speech clearer to
readers has perhaps in some cases made the text more obscure or suggested a
debatable interpretation. In this regard I would note "he will have a
multitude of children, many heirs," for "he will see his offspring," in Isa
53:10; "even to the Gentiles," for "even to those who are far off," in Acts
2:39; and "Jerusalem" for "the great city" in Rev 11:8. On the other hand,
terms which have been used traditionally in English versions but which are
unfamiliar or misleading for modern readers are often retained in the NLT:
some examples include "serpent" (Gen 3:1), "jealous God" (Exod 20:5; LB has
"very possessive"), "fear God" (Prov 31:30),"manger" (Luke 2:7), and
"tribulation" (Rev 7:14). The use of modern equivalents for units of measure
is a welcome feature of the NLT, but rendering expressions like "the ninth
hour" as "three oclock" (Luke 23:44) probably suggests a degree of precision
not possible for ancient people who reckoned time by the sun instead of a
wristwatch. The contextually sensitive rendering of repeated terms in usually
welcome: "Christ" becomes "Messiah" in texts which have a Jewish setting, for
example. But, to the readers confusion, some expressions are translated
inconsistently for no apparent reason: the use of "O the joy," "happy," and
"God blesses" as various translations of the Hebrew and Greek terms
traditionally rendered as "blessed" has little relevance to the contexts and
seems to reflect only the different preferences of different translation

Many accused the LB of theological bias in its rendering of certain texts, and
many of their concerns have been addressed in the NLT. The LBs grammatically
impossible and theologically charged rendering of Eph 2:8 ("And even trusting
is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God") has been corrected ("And you
cant take credit for this; it is a gift from God"). But other renderings that
suggest Calvinistic interpretations persist. In Ps 51:5 "born a sinner"
appears where "born in sin" would be more literal and theologically neutral.
Similarly "born with an evil nature" in Eph 2:3 is a highly interpretive
rendering of a Greek expression which is literally "by nature children of
wrath." As with the New International Version, the NLT commonly renders the
Greek term sarx as "sinful nature" in Pauls letters; one might have hoped for
something like the Contemporary English Versions more neutral and lucid
"selfish desires." On the other hand, critics should not conclude that the NLT
is a Calvinist tour de force: it changes only slightly the LBs remarkably
non-Calvinistic rendering of Rom 8:29. Curiously the NLT still follows the LB
in rendering Luke 24:32 in a way that strongly suggests John Wesleys
experience at Aldersgate Street: "didnt our hearts feel strangely warm." Those
who have waited for a translation that will use "immerse" instead of "baptize"
will have to keep waiting. However, the NLT has generally rendered baptismal
passages faithfully, though "appeal from a good conscience" in 1 Pet 3:21 is
less accurate and less coherent than "appeal for a good conscience" would have
been. In short, Bible readers of every theological persuasion will find
something objectionable but much to like in the NLT.

Aside from the LB, the NLT is probably most similar to the Contemporary
English Version (CEV) of the American Bible Society. A selective comparison of
the two suggests that the audience for whom both versions are intendedpersons
interested in the Bible but generally unfamiliar with its mode of
expressionwill find the CEV easier to understand and sometimes more accurate.
However the NLT, as a product of evangelical scholarship, reflects a "higher"
view of Scripture at some crucial points (compare the CEV at Isa 7:14) and so
will be preferable for many readers. For more serious study, more literal,
formal-equivalent translations like the New American Standard Bible or even
the New International Version are better choices. But for those who seek what
the NLT attempts to offer, a more accurate but still readable alternative to
the LB, it succeeds admirably.

Jon Weatherly
Professor of Biblical Studies
Cincinnati Bible Seminary