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Reproduced below is the “Note to Readers” and the Introduction to the first edition of the New Living Translation (1996)
With 40 million copies in print, The Living Bible has been meeting a great need in people’s hearts for more than thirty years. But even good things can be improved, so ninety evangelical scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations were commissioned in 1989 to begin revising The Living Bible. The end result of this seven-year process is the Holy Bible, New Living Translation—a general-purpose translation that is accurate, easy to read, and excellent for study.
The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts as accurately as possible to the modern reader. The New Living Translation is based on the most recent scholarship in the theory of translation. The challenge for the translators was 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. In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English. The end result is a translation that is easy to read and understand and that accurately communicates the meaning of the original text.
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.
There are two general theories or methods of Bible translation. The first has been called “formal equivalence.” According to this theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into the receptor language and seeks to preserve the original word order and sentence structure as much as possible. The second has been called “dynamic equivalence” or “functional equivalence.” 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 three different 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.
A thought-for-thought translation prepared by a group of capable scholars has the potential to represent the intended meaning of the original text even more accurately than a word-for-word translation. This is illustrated by the various renderings of the Hebrew word hesed. This term cannot be adequately translated by any single English word because it can connote love, mercy; grace, kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty. The context—not the lexicon— must determine which English term is selected for translation.
The value of a thought-for-thought translation can be illustrated by comparing 1 Kings 2:10 in the King James Version, the New International Version, and the New Living Translation. “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (KJV). “Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David” (NIV). “Then David died and was buried in the City of David” (NLT). Only the New Living Translation clearly translates the real meaning of the Hebrew idiom “slept with his fathers” into contemporary English.
It is evident in Scripture that the biblical documents were written to be read aloud, often in public worship (see Nehemiah 8; Luke 4:16-20; 1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:3). It is still the case today that more people will hear the Bible read aloud in church than are likely to read it for themselves. Therefore a new translation must communicate with clarity and power when it is read aloud. For this reason, the New Living Translation is recommended as a Bible to be used for public reading. Its living language is not only easy to understand, but it also has an emotive quality that will make an impact on the listener.
The translators of the Old Testament used the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible as their standard text. They used the edition known as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977) with its up-to-date textual apparatus, a revision of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart, 1937). The translators also compared the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint and other Greek manuscripts, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and any other versions or manuscripts that shed light on textual problems.
The translators of the New Testament used the two standard editions of the Greek New Testament: the Greek New Testament, published by the United Bible Societies (fourth revised edition, 1993), and Novum Testamentum Graece, edited by Nestle and Aland (twenty-seventh edition, 1993). These two editions, which have the same text but differ in punctuation and textual notes, represent the best in modern textual scholarship.
The translators have made a conscious effort to provide a text that can be easily understood by the average reader of modern English. To this end, we have used the vocabulary and language structures commonly used by the average person. The result is a translation of the Scriptures written generally at the reading level of a junior high school student. We have avoided using language that is likely to become quickly dated or that reflects a narrow sub-dialect of English, with the goal of making the New Living Translation as broadly useful as possible.
But our concern for readability goes beyond the concerns of vocabulary and sentence structure. We are also concerned about historical and cultural barriers to understanding the Bible, and we have sought to translate terms shrouded in history or culture in ways that can be immediately understood by the contemporary reader. Thus, our goal of easy readability expresses itself in a number of other ways:
• Rather than translating ancient weights and measures literally, which communicates little to the modern reader, we have expressed them by means of recognizable contemporary equivalents. We have converted ancient weights and measures to modern English (American) equivalents, and we have rendered the literal Hebrew or Greek measures, along with metric equivalents, in textual footnotes.
• Instead of translating ancient currency values literally, we have generally expressed them in terms of weights in precious metals. In some cases we have used other common terms to communicate the message effectively. For example, “three shekels of silver” might become “three silver coins” or “three pieces of silver” to convey the intended message. Again, a rendering of the literal Hebrew or Greek is given in textual footnotes.
• Since the Hebrew lunar calendar fluctuates from year to year in relation to the solar calendar used today, we have translated Hebrew dates in a way that communicates with our modern readership. It was clear that we could not use the names of the Hebrew months, such as Abib, which are meaningless to the modern reader. Nor could we use a simple designation such as “first month,” because the months of the Hebrew lunar calendar do not correspond with the months of our calendar. Thus, we have often used seasonal references to communicate the time of year when something happened. For example, “the first month” (which occurs in March and April) might be translated “early spring.” Where it is possible to define a specific ancient date in terms of our modern calendar, we use modern dates in the text. Textual footnotes then give the literal Hebrew date and state the rationale for our rendering. For example, Ezra 7:9 pinpoints the date when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem: “the first day of the fifth month.” This was during the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign (Ezra 7:7). We translate that lunar date as August 4, with a footnote giving the Hebrew and identifying the year as 458 B.C.
• Since ancient references to the time of day differ from our modern methods of denoting time, we used renderings that are instantly understandable to the modern reader. Accordingly, we have rendered specific times of day by using approximate equivalents in terms of our common “o’clock” system. On occasion, translations such as “at dawn the next morning” or “as the sun began to set” have been used when the biblical reference is general.
• Many words in the original texts made sense to the original audience but communicate something quite different to the modern reader. In such cases, some liberty must be allowed in translation to communicate what was intended. Places identified by the term normally translated “city” for example, are often better identified as “towns” or “villages.” Similarly, the term normally translated “mountain” is often better rendered “hill.”
• Many words and phrases carry a great deal of cultural meaning that was obvious to the original readers but needs explanation in our own culture. For example, the phrase “they beat their breasts” (Luke 23:48) in ancient times meant that people were very upset. In our translation we chose to translate this phrase dynamically: “They went home in deep sorrow.” In some cases, however, we have simply illuminated the existing expression to make it immediately understandable. For example, we might have expanded the literal phrase to read “they beat their breasts in sorrow.”
• Metaphorical language is often difficult for contemporary readers to understand, so at times we have chosen to translate or illuminate the metaphor. For example, the ancient poet writes, “Your eyes are doves” (Song of Songs 1:15). To help the modern reader, who might be confused or distracted by a literal visualization of this image, we converted the metaphor to a simile to make the meaning immediately clear: “Your eyes are soft like doves.” Here we also added the modifier “soft” to help the modern reader catch the significance of the metaphoric expression. A few chapters later, the poet writes, “Your neck is like the tower of David” (Song of Songs 4:4). We rendered it “Your neck is as stately as the tower of David” to clarify the intended positive meaning of the metaphor.
• We did not feel obligated to display all Hebrew poetry in English poetic form. Only the book of Psalms is set entirely in poetic lines. Other books, though poetic in nature, are set in prose for the sake of easier reading. Nonetheless, these prose renderings reflect the poetic language of the original Hebrew. Where a portion of text is explicitly said to be a poem or song, however, it has usually been set as such.
• One challenge we faced was in determining how to translate accurately the ancient biblical text that was originally written in a context where male-oriented terms were used to refer to humanity generally. We needed to respect the nature of the ancient context while also trying to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males. Often the original text, though using masculine nouns and pronouns, clearly intends that the message be applied to both men and women. One example is found in the New Testament epistles, where the believers are called “brothers” (adelphoi). Yet it is clear that these epistles were addressed to all the believers—male and female. Thus, we have usually translated this Greek word “brothers and sisters” in order to represent the historical situation more accurately.
We have also been sensitive to passages where the text applies generally to human beings or to the human condition. In many instances we have used plural pronouns (they, them) in place of the masculine singular (he, him). For example, a traditional rendering of Proverbs 22:6 is: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” We have rendered it: “Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older they will remain upon it.” At times, we have also replaced third person pronouns with the second person to ensure clarity. A traditional rendering of Proverbs 26:27 is: “He who digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.” We have rendered it: “If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will roll back and crush you.” All such decisions were driven by the concern to reflect accurately the intended meaning of the original texts of Scripture.
We should emphasize, however, that all masculine nouns and pronouns used to represent God (for example, “Father”) have been maintained without exception. We believe that essential traits of God’s revealed character can only be conveyed through the masculine language expressed in the original texts of Scripture.
For the sake of clarity, we have maintained lexical consistency in areas such as divine names, synoptic passages, rhetorical structures, and nontheological technical terms (i.e., liturgical, cultic, zoological, botanical, cultural, and legal terms). For theological terms, we have allowed a greater semantic range of acceptable English words or phrases for a single Hebrew or Greek word. We avoided weighty theological terms that do not readily communicate to many modern readers. For example, we avoided using words such as “justification,” “sanctification,” and “regeneration.” In place of these words (which are carryovers from Latin), we provided renderings such as “we are made right with God,” “we are made holy,” and “we are born anew.”
Many individuals in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, are known by more than one name or by a number of variant names (e.g., Uzziah/Azariah). For the sake of clarity, we have tried to use a single spelling for any one individual, footnoting the literal spelling whenever we differ from it. This is especially helpful in delineating the kings of Israel and Judah. King Joash/Jehoash of Israel has been consistently called Jehoash, while King Joash/Jehoash of Judah is called Joash. A similar distinction has been used to distinguish between Joram/Jehoram of Israel and Joram/Jehoram of Judah. All such decisions were made with the goal of clarifying the text for the reader. When the ancient biblical writers clearly had a theological purpose in their choice of a variant name (e.g., Eshbaal/Ishbosheth), the different names have been maintained with an explanatory footnote.
All appearances of ’el, ’elohim, or ’eloah have been translated “God,” except where the context demands the translation “god(s).” We have rendered the tetragrammaton (YHWH) consistently as “the Lord,” utilizing a form with small capitals that is common among English translations. This will distinguish it from the name ’adonai, which we render “Lord.” When ’adonai and YHWH appear in conjunction, we have rendered it “Sovereign Lord.” This also distinguishes ’adonai YHWH from cases where YHWH appears with ’elohim, which is rendered “Lord God.” When YH (the short form of YHWH) and YHWH appear together, we have rendered it “Lord God.” The Hebrew word ’adon is rendered “lord,” or “master,” or sometimes “sir.”
In the New Testament, the Greek word Christos has been translated as “Messiah” when the context assumes a Jewish audience. When a Gentile audience can be assumed, Christos has been translated as “Christ.” The Greek word kurios is consistently translated “Lord,” except in four quotations of Psalm 110:1, where it is translated “Lord.”
The New Living Translation provides several kinds of textual footnotes:
• All Old Testament passages that are clearly quoted in the New Testament are identified in a textual footnote in the New Testament.
• Some textual footnotes provide cultural and historical information on places, things, and people in the Bible that are probably obscure to modern readers. Such notes should aid the reader in understanding the message of the text. For example, in Acts 12:1, “King Herod” is named in this translation as “King Herod Agrippa” and is identified in a footnote as being “the nephew of Herod Antipas and a grandson of Herod the Great.”
• When various ancient manuscripts contain different readings, these differences are often documented in footnotes. For instance, textual variants are footnoted when the variant reading is very familiar (usually through the King James Version). We have used footnotes when we have selected variant readings that differ from the Hebrew and Greek editions normally followed.
• When the meaning of a proper name (or a wordplay inherent in a proper name) is relevant to the meaning of the text, it is illuminated with a textual footnote. For example, the footnote at Genesis 3:20 reads: “Eve sounds like a Hebrew term that means ’to give life.’” This wordplay in the Hebrew illuminates the meaning of the text, which goes on to say that Eve “would be the mother of all people everywhere.” If the meaning of the name is more certain, it is stated more simply. For example, the footnote at Genesis 16:11 reads: “Ishmael means ‘God hears.’” In this case, Hagar named her son Ishmael after realizing that God had heard her cry for help.
• When we translate the meaning of a place-name that is often simply transliterated from the Hebrew or Greek, we provide a textual footnote showing the transliteration that appears in many English translations. For example, the name usually transliterated “Havvoth-jair” in Judges 10:4 has been translated “the Towns of Jair,” with a footnote that gives the traditional transliteration: “Hebrew Havvoth-jair.”
• Textual footnotes are also used to show alternative renderings. These are prefaced with the word “Or.” On occasion, we also provide notes on words or phrases that represent a translation that departs from long-standing tradition. These notes are prefaced with the words “traditionally rendered.” For example, a footnote to the translation “contagious skin disease” at Leviticus 13:2 says, “Traditionally rendered leprosy.”
As we submit this translation of the Bible for publication, we recognize that any translation of the Scriptures is subject to limitations and imperfections. Anyone who has attempted to communicate the richness of God’s Word into another language will realize it is impossible to make a perfect translation. Recognizing these limitations, we sought God’s guidance and wisdom throughout this project. Now we pray that he will accept our efforts and use this translation for the benefit of the Church and of all people.
We pray that the New Living Translation will overcome some of the barriers of history, culture, and language that have kept people from reading and understanding God’s Word. We hope that readers unfamiliar with the Bible will find the words clear and easy to understand, and that readers well versed in the Scriptures will gain a fresh perspective. We pray that readers will gain insight and wisdom for living, but most of all that they will meet the God of the Bible and be forever changed by knowing him.
The Bible Translation Committee
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