Re: New Living Translation

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed Mar 26 1997 - 14:43:12 EST

Micheal Palmer wrote:

>>The New Living Translation can best be appraised through its chapter
>>entitled "Introduction to the New Living Translation." The N.L.T. is
>>portrayed as a "...dynamic-equivalence translation...a thought for
>>thought translation...both exegetically and idiomatically powerful."
>>--The New Living Translation of the Holy Bible, Wheaton, Illinois:
>>Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, p.
>I don't know if this is mentioned in the Introduction to the New Living
>Translation, but the translators were chosen carefully to represent a
>conservative evangelical standpoint. I know one of the translators and
>respect him, but I think one should be wary of any translation done by any
>group with a particular prearranged theological perspective since that
>perspective, no matter how good it might be, can cause translators to
>mistranslate (unintentionally) passages which might question that
>theological stance.
>I come from a fairly conservative background (though many of you would no
>doubt conclude that I left it behind some time ago) and even in my most
>conservative periods I have felt more at ease with translations done by a
>group of scholars representing as wide a range of theological perspectives
>as possible so that the different members of the committee can challenge
>each other's theologically biased work. In such a context each translator
>must defend his or her work by appeal to the text, the grammar, evidence of
>usage of the same words elsewhere, etc., not by appeal to the desired
>theological outcome. This helps keep the work honest.
>Now... Does that mean that translations done by 'stacked' translation
>committees are of little value? NO! It just means that the reader should be
>AWARE of the perspective which the translation is designed to represent,
>and read the translation critically (not negatively), knowing that there
>may be places where the preagreed theological stance may have influenced
>the wording of the translation (intentionally or otherwise).
>I have not read the New Living Translation enough to have found any such
>places in that translation, but given the restricted nature of the
>translation team, I would not be shocked to find some in the future.
>Please do not hear me as criticising or opposing the particular theological
>perspective of this translation team. I would offer the same comments about
>a translation done by a group of scholars chosen because they were all
>liberal, or Presbyterian, or North American, or Hispanic, or Baptist, etc.

I wholeheartedly agree with Michael; this is one of the things I try to get
across to all of my students, and recommend to all of them, esp., the
English-only Bible students, that they need to study from multiple
translations (I recommend the 8 Translation NT). I suggest for their
special edification reading the (New) Jerusalem Bible; that group of
translators don't have "our" (ie., my students' and my conservative)
presuppositions and sometime are more "honest" with the text; eg., they
virtually alone have IMHO understood Heb 4:1,2 correctly.

Let me suggest an example of this kind of problem in NLT; Heb 3:1 reads
"...are bound for heaven..." translating the (literal) phrase:
"partners/partakers of a heavenly calling" (KLHSEWS EPOURANIOU METOXOI).
There is only one way an English only reader can understand the passage,
namely that it is referring justification/regeneration. However METOXOI is
translated by the NRSV at this spot as "partners" no doubt looking at its
previous use in 1:9, where the Davidic King/Messiah has "partners" (BTW,
IMHO, the NLT completely misses the point of the use of the OT at that
point with their translation "more than on anyone else."; its a theological
setup for the later uses of METOXOS, i.e., the Messiah has "partners" in
His Kingdom), and, needless to say, I agree with the NRSV. Secondly, KLHSIS
can not only have the meaning "invitation (to heaven)" but also "station in
life" i.e, job, occupation (cf BAGD, 1Cor 7:20). If "partner" and "job" are
correct, then this passage is not discussing "going to heaven" but the
"job" believers share with the Messiah, the founder of the Kingdom of
"Heaven", which seems to me to much more consistent with the previous and
following context in which Jesus as the Pioneer of the faith is portrayed
going down the pathway of suffering to glory first among the many sons who
are to follow His example, and then following 3:1 He is portrayed as the
Apostle and High Priest whom we should very carefully observe as he does
his job (making 3:2 a new sentence IMHO is wrong and misses the point; we
are to observe Him as he performs His job, not simply understand that He
has already finished it; but again that's a whole 'nother story).

My point is not that interpreters are not permitted to read the passage
that way, or that they are untrained in Greek, biased, have excessive
theological hormones, stupid, prejudiced, etc., or anything else; but
simply that a (naive ?!) English-only reader can only read the passage ONE
WAY, and I think that does a great disservice to the serious Bible reader.

The moral of the story....LEARN TO READ GREEK (and Hebrew) !!! If you
learn (know) Greek and you agree with the NLT rendering of Heb 3:1, I say,
"Fine !"; but at least you had the chance to make the choice. The
English-only reader of the NLT (and the NIV, etc) of the passage had no
such opportunity. That is why I teach my Bible courses from the NASB; I'm
not constantly explaining that the passage could be translated a different
way...student can pick up the ambiguity of the passage generally from the
NASB rendering I read, even if they are looking at an NIV.

Lest you think I'm too hard on the NLT, I always tell my Bible student that
I'm an equal opportunity basher of translations; I think what the NLT has
done in 1John 1:5ff is quite good; and the NIV has its good moments and its
bad ones as well...all translations do, including the NASB!! That's why you
should look at several from different theological and methodological
approaches when you evaluate a passage or your understanding of the Greek

End of sermon #436.... (-:


Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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