The New Living Translation (1996)

Mark R. Norton, ed., Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1996.

The New Living Translation is an extensive revision of Ken Taylor's Living Bible (published by Tyndale House in 1971). It was designed to improve the accuracy of Taylor's paraphrase. The origin of the version is described in a press release from Hannibal-LaGrange College, where one of the version's "reviewers," Robert Bergen, serves on the faculty:

In 1989, ninety evangelical scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations were commissioned to revise the Living Bible. According to Bergen, the project began with the purpose of merely correcting parts of the Living Bible. However, as the 100 scholars began to work, the decision was made to complete an entirely new translation. Taylor, the original author of the Living Bible, approved this decision, and plans were made for Tyndale Publishing House to print the New Living Translation. The purpose of the New Living Translation (NLT) was to make a translation that is accurate with the original languages, yet lively and dynamic. Bergen and the other translators worked independently to correct the Living Bible or produce new translations, then worked together to produce a joint translation. Every book of the New Living Translation was reviewed by three or four people, then rated in the areas of accuracy and clarity. The scholars would debate their opinions, informally vote on the best wording, and the editorial board would decide the final translation. Each work of translation went through the channels of critique by the individual, a book committee, a general reviewer committee, and back to the individual. In 1994, the translators gathered again to make the revisions determined by the reviewers. Because of the extensive efforts of world-class Bible scholars, the New Living Translation is the most expensive translation project in the history of Bible translation.

Another of the reviewers, Craig Blomberg, has described the procedure very differently:

With the New Living Translation, the Bible was divided into sixths, with a scholar appointed general editor over each large chunk. Then individuals books of the Bible (or small collections of books) were parceled out to three experts (I worked on Matthew), who compiled long lists of suggestions for revising Ken Taylor’s original Living Bible Paraphrased. We ranked these in terms of priority, sent them to the general editor over our part of the Bible, who synthesized a selection of them, interacted with a Tyndale House stylist, and sent a draft back to us for us to repeat the process. Eventually the full translation emerged. (1)

This leaves us with the impression that the "reviewers" did not meet to discuss the revision and vote on changes, as the press release quoted above says, but merely sent suggestions to the editors. The press release also says that the NLT is an "entirely new translation," but an examination of the version shows that it inherits many renderings of the Living Bible which would probably not have been used by the NLT reviewers if they started from scratch. This can be seen plainly enough in any given chapter. For example, we randomly choose the first chapter of Job, and find that in verses 8-11 about two thirds of it (printed in red here) is inherited from the Living Bible:

Literal translationLiving BibleNew Living Translation
8 And Jehovah said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?"
   9 Then Satan answered Jehovah and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face."
8 Then the Lord asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a good man who fears God and will have nothing to do with evil."
  9 "Why shouldn't he, when you pay him so well?" Satan scoffed. 10 "You have always protected him and his home and his property from all harm. You have prospered everything he does—look how rich he is! No wonder he 'worships' you! 11 But just take away his wealth, and you'll see him curse you to your face."
8 Then the LORD asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil."
  9 Satan replied to the LORD, "Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! 10 You have always protected him and his home and his property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11 But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!"

Obviously this is not a new translation, but a revision of the Living Bible. But why should it be denied? In a "Brief History of the New Living Translation," Mark Taylor (president of Tyndale House) explains that one of the problems he encountered as publisher of the Living Bible is that "despite its popularity ... it never received wide acclaim by pastors and scholars. Too often it was dismissed as being 'just a paraphrase.'" (2) So apparently the claim that the New Living Translation is a "new translation" is designed to prevent the version from being viewed as a "revised paraphrase." The revision has instead been presented to the public as a new "dynamic equivalence" version.

Dynamic Equivalence

Like the Good News Bible, the preface of the NLT states that the translation was done in accordance with principles of 'dynamic equivalence.' It explains that "the goal of this translation theory is to produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text—both in meaning and in style. Such a translation attempts to have the same impact on modern readers as the original had on its own audience ... the New Living Translation seeks to be both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful." The problems inherent in this method of 'dynamic equivalence' are well known — they are discussed in the essay "Against the Theory of Dynamic Equivalence" on this site, and we will not dwell on them here. It would be useless to criticize the version for specific non-literal renderings when the editors have renounced literal accuracy in principle; but it would be pertinent to ask whether the version is a good one according to its own stated goals, and so we will do this under the several headings below.

Gender-Neutralism and Egalitarianism

In line with the recent trend in Bible and book publishing, the NLT carefully avoids the use of "male-oriented" language. In Bible translations this involves a suppression of the male-oriented language in the original text by means of various circumlocutions and paraphrases. We may suppose that in the NLT this was done in a late editorial stage of the version's production, because it is evident from the press release quoted above that it was done without the cooperation or approval of some of the scholars who worked on the version. Bergen, at least, did not agree with the use of gender-neutral language:

Bergen noted that in the Hebrew society, men were dominant, thus biblical writers employed male language. In Bergen's translation of the book of Exodus, he retained the original language. "I'm not going to recreate ancient Israel into a sexless society," he said.

Nevertheless, the finished product was made to be thoroughly genderless by Tyndale House editors. They seem not to have paid any attention to the Hebrew and Greek texts in this editing, because early printings of the New Living Translation gave unisex renderings for the Greek word ανηρ (which corresponds to the English word "male"), as in Acts 1:21, "So now we must choose someone else to take Judas' place." In later printings this particular blunder was corrected to read, "So now we must choose another man to take Judas's place."

The preface of the NLT is less than frank about the reasons for this gender-neutral language. It claims that this style is necessary "to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males" and that it is "driven by the concern to reflect accurately the intended meaning of the original texts." As one example of the style it cites Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go," which in the NLT reads, "Teach your children to choose the right path." But it is hard to see how the literal rendering here (or anywhere) could possibly be misunderstood as applying exclusively to males. Who would ever interpret "train up a child in the way he should go" as if the instruction were only for boys? The fact is, ordinary people have no trouble at all with generic masculine pronouns. The gender-neutral language policy is not driven by any legitimate requirement of "dynamically equivalent" accuracy or by any desire to help people understand the text. It is driven by the usual desire of commercial publishers to avoid offending feminist sensibilities.

In connection with this we notice that in the "Tyndale Bible Verse Finder" included in most editions of the NLT the editors have carefully avoided the subject of womanly submission, despite the fact that this is a "hot topic" and highly interesting to most of the people who will be using such a topical index. We would expect to find under a suitable heading references to the pertinent verses, such as 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and 1 Peter 3:1-6. But under the headings "Family," "Marriage," and "Women" there is no mention of this topic at all, and under the heading "Submission" we read, "Marriage calls for mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21-33)." (3)

Colloquial Simplifications

In the preface of the NLT we read that one goal of the editors was to "produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text—both in meaning and in style," But when we examine the version it seems that there was no real attempt by the NLT editors to reproduce the style of the original, or even the meaning of the text beyond a very basic and simplified level. Rather, it appears that the main idea was simply to make the version easy to read at all costs. It should be understood that the "dynamic equivalence" approach to translation does not in itself require such a reductionistic treatment of the text. The simplifications are a consequence of the self-imposed “common language” level of the version, not "dynamic equivalence" per se. But as New Testament scholar Vern Poythress observes, "At times it seems that dynamic equivalent translation has become a broad umbrella. It can cover at one end the meticulous attempt to reproduce as far as possible every nuance of meaning. But it can also be used as a fig leaf to cover questionable practices that appear to ignore anything beyond a minimal core meaning." (4) The "fig leaf" comes in when editors claim to have adhered to principles of dynamic equivalence when in fact they have merely simplified the text, without any intention of presenting its full meaning at a linguistic level corresponding to the original.

The Bible in its original languages is a powerful book, not only in its message but also in the ways it presents its message. Much of it is written in poetic form or in exalted prose, in keeping with its noble themes. It is well-designed to make an impression upon its hearers. It is full of sophisticated rhetorical devices--irony, hyperbole, allusions, metaphors, and so forth. Some English versions have been very successful in representing these features of the original. But the NLT is not one of them. The literary quality of the NLT is uniformly low, and often very far from being "idiomatically powerful." There are many places in which the informal language of the version is so obviously out of keeping with the subject that it produces a faintly comical 'let-down' effect. An example of this may be seen in Matthew 7:21-23.

Literal translation

21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I profess unto them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

New Living Translation

21 Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as 'Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22 On judgment day many will tell me, 'Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' 23 But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.'

Verse 21 is (in the literal translation) one of the most impressive and convicting sayings in Scripture. We wonder how anyone could think that the NLT's rendering of this verse, which falls flat by comparison, is more 'idiomatically powerful.' In verse 23 the NLT's 'Go away; the things you did were unauthorized' (besides being exegetically questionable) is strangely anticlimactic, when we consider that with these words Christ is sending the false professors into hell. The language is just not suitable at all to the gravity of the situation, and it does not reflect the solemnity of the Greek diction here. The NLT's "I will reply" does not even attempt to capture the irony and impressiveness of the word ὁμολογησω "I will profess." The use of the contraction in "they still won't enter" is also a needless lowering of the style in this passage, which is meant to be impressive, not chatty. It seems that the NLT is not really trying to produce the 'equivalent effect' which is the basic idea of the dynamic equivalence theory of translation, but simply imposing a colloquial style on the material, without any regard for the style of the original text.

The 'let down' effect of the NLT's incongruous colloquialisms is also noticed by Paul Gray in his review of the New Living Translation, published in TIME magazine:

In Genesis, when God discovers that Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, the King James conjures up a roar of rebuke: "And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done?" The Deity in the New Living Translation sounds like a parent scolding a child who has just tracked mud into the kitchen: "How could you do such a thing?" (5)

We note that the NLT's "How could you do such a thing" in Genesis 3:13 is not a new translation, but carried over from the Living Bible. Taylor may have given this rendering instead of the literal "What have you done" because he thought some readers might not realize that it is a rhetorical question, and they might think that God did not know what the woman had done. His treatment of the Lord's question to Adam in 3:2 is similar. Instead of the literal "where are you?" he gave "why are you hiding?" The NLT revisers have changed 3:2 to "where are you?" but have allowed "how could you do such a thing" in 3:13 to stand. So it seems that the NLT revisers had no particular concern about misunderstandings of the text. If indeed they have taken care to revise every verse, it seems that they have preferred to leave 3:13 as it was for stylistic reasons.

Daniel Taylor, an English professor at Bethel College in Minnesota and one of the stylists for the version, has explained that the committee was under some "pressure" to simplify the text, and has acknowledged the drawbacks of this in an article published in Christianity Today:

In contemporary Bible translations, ours included, the pressure generally is to seek the widest possible audience and to do whatever is necessary stylistically to reach that audience. Nevertheless, if a translation allows the least literate, least educated, least churched, least inquisitive, least motivated reader to become the de facto norm, it not only will fail to do justice to the text but also will alienate many other potential readers. (6)

'Heart' Language

Advertisement for the New Living TranslationIn recent years many people associated with the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the American Bible Society have been talking about the need to translate the Bible into the 'heart language' of all peoples. Hyatt Moore, the former U.S. Director of the Wycliffe organization, evidently regards the NLT as an example of this, because he has endorsed the NLT with the words, "I'm grateful for a modern translation of the Scriptures like the New Living Translation. This is the word of life, so it has to be given in the language of the people—their heart language—in clear, understandable, accurate words." (7) When Eugene Habecker, President of the American Bible Society, was asked in a 1998 interview to explain what is meant by the phrase 'heart language,' he replied, "It's the language that people use to communicate not only intellectually, but emotionally. It doesn't take as much work and effort to understand, as a second language would." (8)

This desire to communicate on an emotional level is evident in the NLT, which tries to evoke an emotional response by various rhetorical means: the frequent insertion of such words as "wonderful" and "wonderfully," "marvelous," "dear" and "dearly;" the overuse of "very;" the use of the more personal direct address instead of indirect statements, and so forth. Most of this derives from the Living Bible, and it is toned down somewhat in the revision. In the Living Bible, the Gospel of Mark is introduced with the words "Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah," and in the NLT this becomes "Here begins the Good News about Jesus the Messiah." But the striving for a personal and emotional effect is still very much overdone in the NLT, and it has an unpleasant cloying effect in many places, such as in Romans 1:6-7.

Literal translation

... including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints ...

New Living Translation

You are among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ, dear friends in Rome. God loves you dearly, and he has called you to be his very own people.

Again, much of this is carried over from the Living Bible, but the NLT's gushing style does not reflect the tone of the original here, which is really quite formal and declamatory. The NLT is merely following Taylor's lead in this respect, trying hard to make the English text emotionally warm, personal, and informal. This will of course make the version appealing to those readers who want their emotions massaged, but it is not 'dynamic equivalence.'

After God's own heart

One of the phrases often misunderstood by readers of the Bible who are not familiar with the "Bible English" of literal versions is the phrase "a man after [God's] own heart," spoken of David in 1 Samuel 13:14, and alluded to in Acts 13:22 ("a man after my heart"). This phrase is commonly thought to mean that David was always chasing after God's affection, doing things to win his love, etc. The misunderstanding arises from the fact that we use the word "heart" to refer to emotions, especially love; but in Hebrew and in Biblical Greek the words for "heart" (לֵב and καρδια, respectively) are not used with any particular reference to the emotions. In these languages the words for "heart" are used in reference to the mind in general. So when the Bible speaks of God's "heart" it means his thoughts or his intentions, not his emotions. When the Biblical authors wanted to refer to the emotions they used words corresponding to our words for lower organs—the intestines and kidneys—not the heart. For example, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to "put on bowels of mercies" in Colossians 3:12, by which he means "compassionate hearts." Now, in a version which aims to give idiomatic and dynamically equivalent renderings, we can all see easily enough that "bowels of mercies" is out of place, and for that reason one never sees this literal rendering in versions like the NLT, but it must also be recognized that it is wrong to translate the Hebrew לֵב or Greek καρδια as if they corresponded in meaning with our English word "heart" when in fact the mind is meant by these words.

Another problem arises from the use of the word "after" in this phrase. This is an archaic usage of the seventeenth century, at which time the word "after" was often used in the sense "according to." That is the meaning of the Hebrew particle כְּ used in 1 Samuel 13:14 and of the Greek preposition κατα used in Acts 13:22—"according to, corresponding with." In idiomatic modern English the phrase must be translated something like, "a man who will do according to what God has in mind." In other words, David was the King who would accomplish the will of God. That is what this phrase means in the original languages.

Unfortunately many pastors and authors who should know better have based whole sermons and study guides upon the highly "preachable" misunderstanding of the phrase. This is a good example of the pitfalls of literal translation and archaic English for people who interpret such language as if it were idiomatic modern English. The main justification for the "dynamic equivalence" method of translation is that it anticipates and prevents such errors of interpretation. In the Good News Bible at 1 Samuel 13:14 we read "the kind of man [the Lord] wants," which gives the meaning well enough in idiomatic English.

But the NLT is disappointing here. In 1 Samuel 13:14 we read, "a man after his own heart," and in Acts 13:22 it is, "a man after my own heart." This is not what we would expect in a version which claims to give the "closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text" in such vernacular Engish that "readers unfamiliar with the Bible will find the words clear and easy to understand" (NLT preface). Under this method of translation "a man after my own heart" in Acts 13:22 is no more suitable than "bowels of mercies" in Colossians 3:12. Readers of literal versions who have gained some familiarity with biblical idioms and are alert to the fact that what they are reading is not idiomatic vernacular English are not so likely to misunderstand this language, but in a version such as the NLT the reader has no reason to think that the words mean something completely different from how they are used in vernacular English. How could the reader of the NLT know that in these two verses the word "after" is being used in an archaic sense? We can find no other place in which the NLT uses "after" in the archaic sense "according to," as a translation of the Greek preposition κατα. Its use here is simply anomalous.

Because the correct interpretation of this phrase is well-known to all competent scholars, it seems incredible that the scholars involved in the making of the NLT are responsible for the problem here. Nor can it be explained as a carry-over from the Living Bible. Although the Living Bible did use the expression in Acts 13:22, in 1 Samuel 13:14 it read, "the Lord wants a man who will obey him, and he has discovered the man he wants." So we suspect the hand of an incompetent editor in the NLT, someone who was loath to give up the popular phrase "a man after God's own heart" because of its popular misinterpretation.

The Arminian Spin

In general, the NLT is much more accurate than the Living Bible. Many bad renderings have been corrected. We are especially glad to see that Taylor's indefensible Arminian glosses on Acts 13:48 and Romans 8:28-29 have been eliminated, and in other places the theological bias of the Living Bible has been toned down, if not entirely neutralized. But there are some parts of the NLT in which it seems that the revisers have been lax, making only some spot corrections of Taylor's paraphrase when a fresh translation was in order. We may take 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 as an example, in which there are some very questionable renderings carried over from Taylor.

Literal translation

6:1 Working together [with him], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

New Living Translation

6:1 As God's partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God's great kindness. 2 For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.

In 6:1 the NLT carries over Taylor's "marvelous message of God's great kindness" as an interpretation of χαριν του θεου ("the grace of God"), and in keeping with this, εις κενον ... δεξασθαι "receive in vain" has been rendered "reject" (Taylor had "toss aside" here). Thus Paul's appeal is interpreted as a "gospel invitation" to the Corinthians, as if they had never accepted the basic gospel-proclamation described in 5:21, and might even reject it now. But surely this is not right. Paul's words "receive the grace of God in vain" presuppose that God's grace has been received by them, not merely offered. The problem for the interpreter is to decide what is meant by "in vain." Most commentators conclude that to "receive the grace of God in vain" here means to neglect the use of gifts or the cultivation of holiness. This interpretation is supported by various considerations. There is a close verbal parallel in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Also, there is the consideration that Paul is writing these words to a gathered congregation of Christians, and it seems unlikely that he would suddenly begin speaking to them as if he thought they were unbelievers. Paul never does this in his epistles. And the whole context of the statement shows that Paul's main concern is their immaturity, their lack of Christian growth and testimony. He reminds them that "the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17), that Christ died "that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him" (15:15), and he goes on to say, "Let us cleanse ourselves ... bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (7:1). This understanding of the verse might be difficult for those who think only of forensic justification when they hear "salvation" (6:2), but it must be understood that Paul does not ordinarily use the word σωτηρια "salvation" in such a narrow sense. He uses the word in reference to the whole process of salvation, from justification through sanctification to glorification. Likewise the words "be reconciled to God" in 5:20 may be understood as an exhortation to those who are not walking in the Spirit, and who consequently are in a sense not truly reconciled with God. (9) In any case, the interpretation which regards 6:1 as a call to spiritual improvement or perseverance, by the power of the grace which they have received in Christ, is the interpretation favoured by most scholars. We see this interpretation in other 'dynamic equivalence' versions, such as the New English Bible, which reads "you have received the grace of God; do not let it go for nothing," and similar renderings are given in the Good News Bible and in the Contemporary English Version. What we have in the NLT is an interpretation arbitrarily favored by Taylor, and at the very least the NLT revisers should have added a footnote advising the reader of the interpretation favored by most scholars.

In 6:2 the NLT carries over Taylor's "right now ... today" as an interpretation of Paul's νυν ... νυν "now ... now." This rendering suggests a picture of Paul standing before them in a camp meeting and urging them not to "put off the need of salvation," and so forth. Certainly this is how most people will understand the NLT's rendering, and there can be little doubt that this is how Taylor meant people to understand it, especially after the plea not to "reject" the "message of God's great kindness" in the preceding verse. Yet this is not the meaning. When Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8 and says "now" is the "day of salvation" he means that the time for the fulfillment of God's promise has arrived. The "favorable time," when God's grace is poured out so abundantly upon his people, is here. By "now" he means the new age that began with the resurrection, the period of his ministry. The New English Bible captures the sense here: "The hour of favour has now come; now, I say, has the day of deliverance dawned." Paul is urging the Corinthians to take full advantage of these days of abundant grace.

The Arminian spin on the passage comes out clearly with the paraphrastic rendering "God is ready to help you," which, taken together with the other interpretions here, suggests a synergistic doctrine of salvation. If in this passage Paul is urging unregenerate Corinthians to accept Christ as their savior, in this context "God is ready to help you" implies that God is merely waiting for them to take the first step towards salvation, by "making a decision." This is contrary to Paul's doctrine. Elsewhere he consistently teaches that God is the one who takes the first step, in regeneration. We are glad to see that the NLT has toned down the blatantly Arminian rendering of Taylor here. The Living Bible rendered verse 2,

For God says, 'Your cry came to me at a favorable time, when the doors of welcome were wide open. I helped you on a day when salvation was being offered.' Right now God is ready to welcome you. Today he is ready to save you.

The NLT has pruned away the most flagrant parts of Taylor's interpretation, such as the phrase "when the doors of welcome were wide open." But there is a residue of Taylor's interpretation in the NLT's "God is ready to help you."

The Arminian obsession with "free will" and "choice" may be seen in many places throughout the NLT, which injects libertarian buzzwords like "free," "freedom," "choice," and "choose" into verses quite gratuitously, often in ways that vitiate the teaching of the original text. In Romans 6:14, for example, where Paul writes "sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (ὑπο χαριν), the NLT has "you are free by God's grace" instead of "you are under grace." Likewise in verse 15. Paul's expression "you are under grace" is meant to express the condition of those who are under the compelling influence of God's sanctifying grace, not a condition of "freedom," as one can plainly see in the verses that follow. (10) Those who are "under grace" are indeed "set free from sin," but by the power of God they will be "slaves of righteousness." The NLT not only substitutes the notion "free by God's grace" for "under grace" in verses 14 and 15, it goes on to insert the word "choose" three times in verse 16, where no word meaning "choose" appears in the Greek text.

Another example of this tendency may be seen in Proverbs 22:6, where the NLT reads, "Teach your children to choose the right path." We have already noted how the NLT editors congratulate themselves for eliminating the offensive masculine pronoun in this verse, but now we notice something that has been added—the word "choose." In the Hebrew the first clause of this sentence is literally, "train (habituate) a child in accordance with his way." There is nothing said about a child "choosing" the way. On the contrary, the whole point of this saying is that the way should not be left to choice or chance, but instilled by careful and early training. Morality must be a habit formed by careful inculcation, so that it becomes second nature. This is the way to insure that "even when he is old he will not turn aside from it," as the second half of the proverb goes. The proverb really excludes the idea that moral character is a matter of "choice." Nevertheless, in the NLT it is the child's ability to "choose" the right path which becomes the focus of attention. This rendering, which also derives from Taylor, expresses something very different from the Hebrew.

We do not suppose that Taylor or the NLT revisers of his work consciously chose to inject their theology into the version. Nor do we doubt that they sincerely wished to make the Bible easy to understand. We prefer to say that, under the license of "dynamic equivalence," they have failed to practice self-restraint, and have ended up presenting their own theological notions as the inspired word of God.

Meddlesome Interpretations

Aside from any theological bent, the NLT presents numerous questionable and even peculiar interpretations. These are apparently designed to prevent the reader from misunderstanding the text where a literal rendering would leave room from misinterpretation, but in many cases they are more meddlesome than helpful. For example, Matthew 7:1-2.

Literal translation

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you give you will be judged.

New Living Translation

Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them.

Here again, the NLT is basically following Taylor's interpretation (LB, "Don't criticize, and then you won't be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them"). But this is very strange. Is not the meaning rather, as in the Good News Bible, "do not judge others so that God will not judge you. For God will judge you in the same way you judge others"? We naturally think of this in relation to the teaching in the previous chapter, "if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you" (6:14). The NLT adds a footnote here giving the alternative interpretation, but obviously the literal rendering leads to no confusion or misinterpretation. It would have been better to give a literal rendering and allow the reader to interpret.

Further comments on specific renderings in the New Living Translation are given in the article on Dynamic Equivalence.

There may be a place for this version in the education of children, but we conclude that it is not suitable for use by adults in the Church. The version carries over too much of the unsound paraphrasing of the Living Bible. The attempt to provide a blanket justification for this paraphrasing by calling it "dynamic equivalence" is a mere fig leaf, as Poythress aptly calls it. It was a mistake to have used such a problematic version as the basis of the NLT to begin with. The "reviewers" would have done much better, no doubt, if they had produced a fresh translation. In addition, there obviously has been a good deal of editorial meddling for non-scholarly reasons, in connection with the "inclusive language" and other things. Moreover, even if we were to grant that dynamic equivalence is the best method to use in translating the Bible (which we do not), we find that other versions have made a much more successful application of its principles at every point where we have compared them with the NLT.

Finally, we note that Craig L. Blomberg of Denver Seminary, who was a reviewer for the NLT's Gospel according to Matthew, has explicitly stated that this version is not suitable as a regular Bible for adults. Responding to criticism of the NLT, Blomberg explained that the version is for "kids or very poor adult readers," and he suggested that readers of the NLT should move on to a more accurate version when they are able:

I relished the chance to work on the NLT (New Living Translation) team to convert the LBP into a truly dynamic-equivalent translation, but I never recommend it to anyone except to supplement the reading of a more literal translation to generate freshness and new insights, unless they are kids or very poor adult readers. My sixteen- and twelve-year old daughters have been weaned on the NLT and have loved it, but both already on their own are now frequently turning to the NIV. (11)

UPDATE (June 2005). A major revision of the New Living Translation—called the New Living Translation second edition—was published in 2004. The text of the revised edition is much more literal than that of the first, and several of the problems noted in the foregoing review have been corrected. —M.D.M.

The NLT "Bible Translation Team"

The following list is copied from an edition of the NLT published in 1996, in which it appears under the heading "New Living Translation Bible Translation Team." It is to be noted that the scholars listed here are described as "reviewers" rather than "translators." I have added some notes to the list, in square brackets.

July 8, 1996
Contact: Kate Vanskike, public relations staff writer, ext. 256


Hannibal, MO—Hannibal-LaGrange College professor Robert Bergen recently served on a team which designed a new Bible translation that is to be released this month. Bergen is associate professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages and director of the Fewell Study for the Study of Technology in Ministry at HLG.

Tyndale House Publishers asked Bergen to join the translation team for the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. He worked with two other scholars on translating the Old Testament book of Exodus. Ninety scholars served as Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew translators. With other scholars serving as reviewers, the team for the New Living Translation included over 100 top biblical experts.

Bergen was asked to serve as a translator for the NLT because he is known throughout the country for his dissertation on Hebrew Discourse Linguistics, discourse analysis computer program, and papers on the Hebrew in Exodus. He has presented these studies at meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Evangelical Theological Society. He also holds a Ph.D. specializing in Torah Hebrew.

Many people are familiar with the Living Bible (a paraphrase) which Ken Taylor published in 1971. It is a combination of several works Taylor wrote to convey messages of the Bible in an easily understood manner. Though the Living Bible has been effective in communicating many biblical truths, the paraphrase contains inaccuracies and is not sold by some Bible retailers. In 1989, ninety evangelical scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations were commissioned to revise the Living Bible.

According to Bergen, the project began with the purpose of merely correcting parts of the Living Bible. However, as the 100 scholars began to work, the decision was made to complete an entirely new translation. Taylor, the original author of the Living Bible, approved this decision, and plans were made for Tyndale Publishing House to print the New Living Translation. The purpose of the New Living Translation (NLT) was to make a translation that is accurate with the original languages, yet lively and dynamic.

Bergen and the other translators worked independently to correct the Living Bible or produce new translations, then worked together to produce a joint translation. Every book of the NLT was reviewed by three or four people, then rated in the areas of accuracy and clarity. The scholars would debate their opinions, informally vote on the best wording, and the editorial board would decide the final translation. Each work of translation went through the channels of critique by the individual, a book committee, a general reviewer committee, and back to the individual. In 1994, the translators gathered again to make the revisions determined by the reviewers. Because of the extensive efforts of world-class Bible scholars, the NLT is the most expensive translation project in the history of Bible translation.

Some of the inaccuracies in the original Living Bible are found in lists which do not agree. For example, Exodus 28:17 and Exodus 39:10 contain a list of stones. In the Hebrew text, the words in each list are identical, but in Taylor's translation, they differ. In addition to some inconsistencies, the Living Bible also contains biases because it was one person's interpretation.

The NLT is predicted to be a success primarily because it will not have such theological slants. According to Bergen, having a team of scholars helped the translation to have less bias and more accuracy. "[I believe] it will float to the top as the most acceptable, easy-to-read version, on the strength of the scholars behind it," he said.

One example of the clarification the NLT attempts to provide is found in Exodus 3:14. In the King James Version of the Bible, this verse is rendered, "And God said to Moses, 'I AM that I AM, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, 'I AM hath sent me to you'.' " The title of God, "I AM," is translated in the Living Bible as "the sovereign God." To make clear the full meaning of "I AM" in Hebrew, the NLT translators have rendered it "I Am the One Who Always Is."

Other issues addressed by NLT translators were that of God's name and gender issues. Many Bibles translate God's personal name (transliterated from Hebrew asYHWH or JHWH, and commonly pronounced "Yahweh" or "Jehovah") as "the Lord." However, the original language at times uses God's personal name in order to create a definite distinction between Him and other gods. Bergen and other scholars chose to use "Yahweh" in place of "the Lord" when it was necessary.

The trend for contemporary versions of the Bible is to change gender specifications. Where the Bible (in its original language) would use "man" in a generic sense, modern translations use "humanity" or "people." Bergen noted that in the Hebrew society, men were dominant, thus biblical writers employed male language. In Bergen's translation of the book of Exodus, he retained the original language. "I'm not going to recreate ancient Israel into a sexless society," he said.

Bergen said it was a privilege to work with scholars of the highest caliber on this project. "It was gratifying to have input in shaping a version [of the Bible] that will impact many believers," he said. He added, "It was a challenge to create a text that reproduced both the emotions and insight that the original Hebrew text produced."

The New Living Translation of the Bible will be released this month in a basic text-only format. A complete Study Bible, Deluxe Text Edition, Life Application Bible, New Believer's Bible, One-Year Bible, Touchpoint Bible, and Bible on cassette, all in the New Living Translation are expected to be released before Christmas. All will be priced comparably with other versions.

The Tyndale House Publishers state, "We believe that this new translation, which combines the latest in scholarship with the best in translation style, will speak to your heart. We present the New Living Translation with the prayer that God will use it to speak His timeless truth to the church and to the world in a fresh, new way."

The following "Brief History of the New Living Translation" written by Mark Taylor (son of Kenneth Taylor and president of Tyndale House Publishers) was found here on the World Wide Web.

A Brief History of the New Living Translation

Mark D. Taylor, Chief Stylist

In some respects, the New Living Translation had its origins in 1940, when Ken Taylor was a young staff member of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. In his autobiography, My Life: A Guided Tour, Ken writes:

One afternoon I was in my room, studying the Bible in preparation for leading the weekly student meeting that evening. I found myself baffled about the meaning of a chapter in Ephesians, on which I had been asked to speak. I read the chapter several times, without much comprehension. Then I read it slowly, a verse at a time, with no better results. I could understand the words, of course, but I just could not understand the significance of the teaching or make any useful application to my life or the lives of the students.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the realization that my Bible reading in the New Testament letters had ever been thus. All my life I had wrestled in vain to understand them. Others could grasp the meaning; why couldn't I? Was I more stupid than my friends who gloried in reading the Word? Frustrated and ashamed, I exclaimed to the empty room, "Why can't somebody translate the Bible so a person like me can understand it?" (p. 96)

That same yearning found another expression fifteen years later when Ken's ten children had the same trouble understanding the King James Version that he had always had.

Ken and Margaret Taylor had family devotions each evening after supper, but when Ken asked the children a few questions to make sure they had understood the day's Bible reading, he was often met with blank stares. So Ken would restate the meaning of the passage in simpler terms. In his autobiography he describes a poignant moment that brought back his own frustrations: "I remember that after I had explained the meaning of one particular verse from the King James Version, Janet, then about eight, said, 'But Daddy, if that's what it means, why doesn't it say so?'"

One Saturday morning, Ken was puzzling over how to communicate the meaning of that evening's Scripture passage to his children. He decided to write out a simpler version of the passage in advance. It worked, and from time to time he used that method of paraphrasing the Scripture passage for the family. Eventually he decided to paraphrase the entire book of Romans, followed by the other epistles of the New Testament.

Ken thought other families might also find his paraphrase helpful, so he sent the manuscript to several publishers. They all turned him down, but he was undaunted, so he decided to publish it himself. He called the book Living Letters and arranged for 2,000 copies to be printed. He named his tiny company Tyndale House Publishers in honor of William Tyndale, the sixteenth-century translator who translated the Bible into English and was burned at the stake for his efforts.

Living Letters was published in 1962, and within a few years it was followed by a series of books containing other portions of Scripture paraphrased into modern English. By the time the complete edition, The Living Bible, was published in 1971, the paraphrase had become phenomenally popular. Over the next twenty-five years, more than 40 million copies of The Living Bible were sold in dozens of different formats. Despite its popularity, however, Ken Taylor and his colleagues at Tyndale House were frustrated that it never received wide acclaim by pastors and scholars. Too often it was dismissed as being "just a paraphrase."

In the summer of 1986, Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale House, and Ron Beers, the senior editor of the Life Application Bible (and later Editor-in-Chief at Tyndale House), were discussing ways in which The Living Bible might be made more acceptable to pastors. They concluded that pastors' perspectives on various translations are established during their seminary years, so Mark and Ron asked themselves how The Living Bible could be made more acceptable to seminary professors. This line of reasoning led to the conclusion that a group of seminary professors should be invited to assist in revising The Living Bible. If The Living Bible were revised by an independent group of scholars, it would be easier to convince other seminary professors to see it as a bone fide translation.

In October of 1987, Tyndale held an initial conference with several professors of Old Testament and New Testament to explore the possibility of revising The Living Bible. The first step was to form the Bible Translation Committee, which included six general reviewers:

Each general reviewer was responsible for five major sections of the Bible (individual books or groups of books), and each was given the task of finding three world-class evangelical scholars to assist him in each section. They put together a "dream list" of scholars who had written major commentaries on the respective books in their lists, and then they invited those scholars to participate in the process of reviewing and revising The Living Bible. Most of the scholars they contacted accepted the invitation, so the final list of 90 scholars is a world-class group of evangelical scholars.

In the early stages, the revision task was seen as simply correcting any words, phrases, or verses where The Living Bible's exegesis (interpretation) was judged to be faulty. As the project unfolded, however, the translation team came to see that they were creating a new translation from the Hebrew and Greek (rather than simply a revised paraphrase) that followed the dynamic equivalence theory of translation. The goal of this translation theory is to produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text—both in meaning and in style. Such a translation attempts to have the same impact on modern readers as the original had on its own audience.

A dynamic-equivalence translation can also be called a thought-for-thought translation, as contrasted with a formal-equivalence or word-for-word translation. Of course, to translate the thought of the original language requires that the text be interpreted accurately and then be rendered in understandable idiom. So the goal of any thought-for-thought translation is to be both reliable and eminently readable. Thus, as a thought-for-thought translation, the New Living Translation seeks to be both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.

In making a thought-for-thought translation, the translators must do their best to enter into the thought patterns of the ancient authors and to present the same ideas, connotations, and effects in the receptor language. In order to guard against personal biases and to ensure the accuracy of the message, a thought-for-thought translation should be created by a group of scholars who employ the best exegetical tools and who also understand the receptor language very well. With these concerns in mind, the Bible Translation Committee assigned each book of the Bible to the three team scholars. Each scholar made a thorough review of the assigned book and submitted suggested revisions to the appropriate general reviewer. The general reviewer reviewed and summarized these suggestions and then proposed a first-draft revision of the text. This draft served as the basis for several additional phases of exegetical and stylistic committee review. Then the Bible Translation Committee jointly reviewed and approved every verse in the final translation.

As a result of this intensive team process, the final translation is precise in its rendering of the meaning of the original and is even more readable than its predecessor, The Living Bible. Tyndale House and the Bible Translation Committee decided to call the translation the "Holy Bible, New Living Translation" to show that this translation is built on the heritage of The Living Bible but is also a translation in its own right.

The translation work was finally completed in 1995, and five different editions were typeset and released in 1996: the Deluxe Text Edition, the TouchPoint Bible edition, the New Believer's Bible, The One Year Bible, and the Life Application Study Bible. Other editions followed in subsequent years, including the Large-Print and Giant-Print Editions, the Reference Edition, the Student's Life Application Bible, The Daily Walk Bible, The Praise and Worship Study Bible, The Daily Study Bible for Men, and The Daily Study Bible for Women.

In the first ten years of publication more than 14 million copies of the New Living Translation have been sold.

When the NLT was first published in 1996, the Bible Translation Committee said, "This translation is so good, it's a shame not to make it even better." So Tyndale House encouraged the outside scholars to undertake a review of the entire text. The challenge was to raise the level of precision of translation without losing the dynamic qualities that were already making the NLT very popular. An example of improved precision is that the poetic passages of the Old Testament were recast into a poetic format rather than using the prose format of the original NLT translation. The entire revision process took six years, and the second-edition text of the NLT was launched in 2004. Over a period of several years Tyndale House will be replacing all first-edition formats with the second-edition text.

Through the publication of The Living Bible and then the New Living Translation, Ken Taylor's dream has been realized: "Someone has finally translated the Bible so a person like me can understand it"!

Mark D. Taylor
July 1997
Updated March 2006


1. Craig Blomberg, "Demystifying Bible Translation," accessed 6 March 2009.

2. Mark D. Taylor, "A Brief History of the New Living Translation" (dated 2006), posted online at The claim that the NLT is an "entirely new translation" is also made by another of its translators, Eugene E. Carpenter, in his article "Translating the New Living Translation," Reflections (a publication of the Missionary Church Historical Society) vol. 5, no. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 8-12. Carpenter writes, "Since some of the roots of this translation go back to the popular Living Bible paraphrase, some persons have mistakenly thought that the NLT is a paraphrase. But while the NLT does try to retain some of the emotive quality of the earlier Living Bible, it is not a paraphrase, but an entirely new translation of the Bible. The NLT is based upon a careful examination of the original and most important Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the sacred texts. It has proven to be an accurate, authoritative, viable devotional and study Bible with clear and emotive language that one reviewer calls a 'can't-put-it-down' quality." This paragraph (which reads more like a blurb from the marketing department of a publisher than the comments of a scholar about his work) clearly indicates that the "entirely new translation" claim was designed to promote the idea that the NLT is "not a paraphrase" like The Living Bible.

3. The "mutual submission" interpretation of Ephesians 5 is egalitarian, and it is not hard to see why the editors have omitted references to the other key passages on the topic, which can in no way bear an egalitarian interpretation. There are other problems with this topical index which we might mention, such as the citation of Colossians 3:25 under the heading of "Discrimination." Next to the citation the editors indicate that the verse teaches, "God will judge those who discriminate." Indeed he will judge those who judge others unfairly, as we may learn from Matthew 7:2 and other passages. But Colossians 3:25 is not saying anything along that line. Rather, this verse teaches that God will judge the misbehavior of disobedient subordinates who will not obey their earthly masters, and the "no partiality" mentioned in the verse refers to God, who will do this judging without any partiality towards the subordinates. There is nothing here about God punishing "those who discriminate." Perhaps a Tyndale editor who wanted to include a reference to this teaching hastily 'found' it in Colossians 3:25 after discovering that in the NLT it is absent from its place in Matthew 7:2. We might also question the use of the ideologically-loaded word "discrimination" in connection with this teaching. This word brings to mind government regulations about "discrimination" against persons on the basis of race, age, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and so forth, which stem from an egalitarian political ideology quite foreign to the Bible. We notice also that several verses are arranged under the heading "Self-Esteem," an utterly unbiblical concept of modern pop psychology.

4. Vern Sheridan Poythress, "Gender and Generic Pronouns in English Bible Translation," in Language and Life (Dallas: SIL International and The University of Texas at Arlington, 2003), p. 371.

5. Paul Gray, "The Power of Babble," TIME, September 9, 1996.

6. Daniel Taylor, "Confessions of a Bible Translator," Christianity Today, October 27, 1997.

7. Quoted from the Tyndale House website.

8. Quoted from an interview by Joel L. Rissinger, "Giving the World the Word," The Plain Truth, November-December 1998.

9. Another interpretation understands Paul's 'be reconciled to God' in 5:20 not as an appeal to the Corinthians but as descriptive of his apostolic proclamation of God's offer of reconciliation in Christ in general. Most English versions supply a "you" after "we implore" here, but the Greek text does not have the pronoun. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, "We Plead on Christ's Behalf: Be Reconciled to God: Correcting the Common Mistranslation of 2 Corinthians 5:20," The Bible Translator 48 (1997), pp. 328-31. This interpretation has been adopted in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which reads "we plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.'"

10. Frederick Godet in his commentary on the epistle draws attention to Paul's use of the preposition ὑπο "under" here, and asks, "why [does Paul] use the preposition υπο, under, and not the preposition εν, in, which seems more suitable to a notion like that of the state of grace? Is grace, then, a yoke, as well as the law? Is it not, on the contrary, an inner life, a power? In other connections Paul would certainly have made use of the preposition εν, in, with the word grace. But the idea of the whole passage about to follow is precisely that of the decisive control which grace exercises over the believer to subject him to righteousness with an authority not less imperious, and even more efficacious than the law (vv. 15-23). And it is this idea which is expressed and summed up by the preposition υπο, under. (Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, by F. Godet, translated by Rev. A. Cusin and revised by Talbot W. Chambers [New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883], p. 252.)

11. Craig Blomberg, review of The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken, Denver Journal: An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies, volume 6 (July 2003).