Examining the Bible Versions

New Living Translation (1996/2004)

The New Living Translation or NLT is a translation of the Bible into an easily readable form of modern English. It is a revision of The Living Bible. This translation follows the dynamic equivalence or “thought for thought” method of translation rather than a more literal method. The goal is “to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers” (quoted from A Note to Readers).

A team of eighty-seven translators worked on it; the process began in 1989, and the translation was completed and published in 1996. A revision of the NLT was released in 2004. A “Note to Readers” in the second edition explains that the main purpose of the revision was “increasing the level of the NLT’s precision.” It claims that the revised NLT is now a “general-purpose text especially good for study.” The 2004 revision has cleaned up a lot of the problems that were found in the original 1996 version. However, it must also be said that the revised NLT continues to be much less accurate than other versions commonly used in American churches (including even the New International Version), and it does not rise to the level of accuracy that readers need for serious study or appreciation of the Bible’s details. I can illustrate the shortcomings of this version through the following passages:

BETTER THAN BEFORE:

A comparison of one of the passages as translated in the original 1996 New Living Translation and the 2004 revision of the New Living Translation will show the vast improvements that have been made in the revision.

1 Corinthians 11:3

NLT 1996: “But there is one thing I want you to know: A man is responsible to Christ, a woman is responsible to her husband, and Christ is responsible to God.”
NLT 2004: “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

Romans 6:3

NLT 1996: “Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him?”
NLT 2004: “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?”

One can readily see that the 2004 revision has translated these passages more literally than the original 1996 edition. There are many instances like this where the 2004 revision is a vast improvement over the 1996 edition. Anyone who has ever remotely liked the 1996 NLT should immediately replace it with the better translated 2004 revision. The only way to know which edition you have is to look at the copyright dates on the first page. Even though the NLT has made vast corrections in the 2004 edition, the NLT still shows significant problems.

EXAMPLES OF PROBLEMATIC TRANSLATION:

1 Peter 1:2

NLT 2004: “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace.”
NKJV: “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

While not nearly the paraphrase that the original 1996 NLT was, one can still see that the revised NLT still has the tendency to paraphrase the scripture rather than give the actual meaning of the Greek or Hebrew words. The NLT makes it sound like that a person can only obey Christ after being made holy by the Spirit and called by God. But the NKJV shows that this is not the intention of Peter in this text.

Psalm 51:5

NLT 2004: “For I was born a sinner–yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.”
ESV: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

We have mentioned throughout these articles that many modern translations “interpret” Psalm 51:5 rather than translate it. The NLT is the worst interpretation of the text and is nowhere near the original Hebrew language, as seen by the ESV’s literal translation.

Sinful Nature

Throughout the NLT, the translators have decided to interpret the Greek word sarx as “sinful nature” in the same way that we noted with the NIV (cf. Romans 8:3; Galatians 5:17-18). “Flesh” is the proper translation of the Greek word as most major translations follow.

Conclusion

The NLT has a very limited value to the Christian. The NLT certainly cannot be recommended for Bible study because the translators openly admit that they are using a “thought-for-thought” philosophy rather than attempting to translate the text as literally as possible. There are many instances where the NLT is an interpretation of a text does not faithfully represent the original words of the author. I personally cannot think of any reason for using the NLT. If one is willing to sacrifice accuracy for readability, then use the NIV which is far closer to a translation of the original than the NLT.

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