New Living Translation, second edition (2004)

Mark R. Norton, ed., Holy Bible, New Living Translation. 2nd edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2004.

This is a revision of the New Living Translation that was published by Tyndale House in 1996. 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 Holy Bible New Living Translation, was first published in 1996. It quickly became one of the most popular Bibles in the English-speaking world. While the NLT's influence was rapidly growing, the NLT Bible Translation Committee determined that an additional investment in scholarly review and text refinement could make it even better. So shortly after its initial publication, the committee began an eight-year process with the purpose of increasing the level of the NLT's precision without sacrificing its easy-to-understand quality. This second generation text was completed in 2004 and is reflected in this edition of the New Living Translation.

The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning and content of the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts as accurately as possible to contemporary readers. The challenge for our translators was to create a text that would communicate as clearly and powerfully to today's readers as the original texts did to readers and listeners in the ancient biblical world. The resulting translation is easy to read and understand, while also accurately communicating the meaning and content of the original biblical texts. The NLT is a general-purpose text especially good for study, devotional reading and to be read aloud in public worship.

Three years ago I published a review of the 1996 New Living Translation, in which I pointed out some of the more important inaccuracies of the version. The problems were considerable, even to the extent that one of the NLT's own translators had written, "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." I am glad to report now that in the 2004 revision most of the problems I identified and discussed in my earlier review have been rectified. There is a substantial increase in accuracy throughout the version, and the version's "schmaltzy" quality has been toned down quite a bit also. The editors at Tyndale house are to be commended for this improvement, which will contribute to a more accurate knowledge of the Word of God among those who use the New Living Translation.

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 with randomly selected passages:

Genesis 3:14-24

New Living Translation

14 Then the LORD God said to the serpent,

"Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild.

You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live.

15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike* your head, and you will strike his heal."

16 Then he said to the woman,

"I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.

And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."*

17 And to the man he said,

"Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,

the ground is cursed because of you.

All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.

18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.

19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat

until you return to the ground from which you were made.

For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return."

Paradise Lost: God's Judgment

20 Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.* 21 And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

22 Then the LORD God said, "Look, the human beings* have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever! 23 So the LORD God banished them from the garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.


3:15 Or bruise; also in 3:15b. 3:16 Or And though you will have desire for your husband, he will rule over you. 3:20 Eve sounds like a Hebrew term that means "to give life." 3:22 Or the man; Hebrew reads ha-adam.

English Standard Version

14 The LORD God said to the serpent,

"Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring 1 and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

16 To the woman he said,

"I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

Your desire shall be for 2 your husband, and he shall rule over you."

17 And to Adam he said,

"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,'

cursed is the ground because of you;

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

20 The man called his wife's name Eve, 3 because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.


1. Hebrew seed; so throughout Genesis.

2. Or against.

3. Eve sounds like the Hebrew for life-giver and resembles the word for living.

In Genesis 3:14 the NLT has the serpent "groveling in the dust" instead of literally "eating dirt," correctly interpreting this dirt-eating as a figure for humiliation. But the figure of speech here is easily recognized as such, and it ought to be translated literally, because this curse is a result of the serpent's tempting the woman to eat the forbidden fruit. The expression "eat the dirt" is meant to indicate that the serpent's punishment fits his crime. Poetic justice.

Likewise in verse 17 the sentence against Adam, "in pain you shall eat of [the ground's produce] all the days of your life" is poetic justice, because his crime was eating the forbidden fruit. The NLT obscures this by paraphrasing the sentence "All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it," omitting the key word "eat." Also in verse 17 the NLT translates the word עצבון (meaning "painful labor") as "struggle," after having translated the same word as "pain" in the sentence on Eve in the preceding verse. This obscures the fact that both man and woman are being sentenced to "painful labor" in 3:16-17.

In verse 16 it is said that the woman's תשוקה (teshukah, "eager desire") shall be toward her husband. This is the same word as in Gen. 4:7 and Song 7:10, and in all three places the NLT interprets it as a desire to control or capture. But this is very questionable. The word in itself means "eager desire," and here (as in Song 7:10) it would be most naturally understood as conjugal desire. The recurrence of the phrase in 4:7, in which it is used in a figure comparing sin to an animal, suggests that there is a connotation of appetite in the word. If so, we would have here a word that fits in with the "eating" theme of the passage. In any case, it seems best to render it simply "desire," as in the ESV and most other versions, and to give a footnote on the possible meanings of the preposition אל in this context. The basic meaning of the preposition אל is "toward," and it may be interpreted as "for," "against," or "according to." One possible meaning of the saying here is, "the fulfillment of your desire shall be according to your husband's will." As John Gill puts it in his commentary, "this is to be understood of her being solely at the will and pleasure of her husband; that whatever she desired should be referred to him, whether she should have her desire or not, or the thing she desired; it should be liable to be controlled by his will, which must determine it, and to which she must be subject." This is the interpretation found in the Latin Vulgate (sub viri potestate eris, et ipse dominabitur tui, "you shall be under the man's power, and he shall have dominion over you"), and the translators of the King James Version indicated it in a marginal note: "Or, [thy desire shall be] subject to thy husband." It is likely that the sentence against Eve makes mention of her "desire" because it was her covetous gazing upon that "desirable" tree (3:6) that led her into sin, and so God puts her "desire" under the control of her husband. The interpretation adopted in the NLT is not found in the older commentaries, nor is there any support for it in the standard Lexicons (Brown-Driver-Briggs and Koehler-Baumgartner), and I think many people who read this in the NLT will get the impression that God is putting enmity between the man and the woman in the same way that he put enmity between the woman and the serpent. That would be an unfortunate misreading of the text. It was good for God to put enmity between the woman and the enemy of her soul, who so cruelly manipulated her; but it would not be good for him to put enmity between her and her natural "head" (Ephesians 5:23). The word translated "rule" here (משל, mashal) does not connote an overbearing tyrannical rule. (The Jerusalem Bible's "he will lord it over you" is unjustified.)

Also in verse 16, note the ironic contrast of "I will surely multiply your painful labor" (the verb here is רבה) with the blessing in 1:28, "be fruitful and multiply" (רבה again). This verbal connection really should be preserved in a translation for the sake of those who are reading closely. What we have here in "Eve's curse" is an ironic use of the formulaic language of a blessing. The NLT's "I will sharpen the pain" does not show this verbal feature, but the ESV's "I will surely multiply your pain" does.

One thing the revised NLT is to be commended for in this passage is the formatting. Verses 14-19 are formatted as poetry, with line breaks and indentations. In the original NLT this passage was formatted as prose. The presentation of Hebrew verse is really much more important than many people think it is, because with the proper line breaks the reader can immediately see the parallelisms, and can know that he is reading poetry. When we read English literature we do not read poetry with the same expectations that we bring to prose; when we encounter poetry we slow down and we look for more significance, and we expect to find an artful use of words. Likewise one should not read Hebrew poetry as if it were prose. In poetry there is a difference in the way language is used, and a difference in the way it should be interpreted. Many of the poetic features in Bible passages are lost even in the best translations, but a good literal translation can preserve some of them, such as the ones I have indicated here.

In verse 20, it seems that the NLT revisers could not decide whether to use "the man" or "Adam" for האדם (ha-adam), so they give both: "the man—Adam—named his wife..." This is rather awkward, and the reason for the double translation is not clear to me. At this point in the narrative "the man" can only refer to Adam, because there is no other man. It would have been better to give one or the other (the original NLT had just "Adam"). A much-needed improvement has been made with the rendering "the mother of all who live." The original NLT had "the mother of all people everywhere," but this obscured the whole purpose of the verse, which was to make a connection between the name of Eve and the Hebrew word for "the living."

In verses 22-24 the NLT's translation is distorted by an attempt to make the language explicitly gender-inclusive. In the Hebrew the sentences in this paragraph are not gender-inclusive; they speak of Adam (cf. the ESV for the literal translation). Of course we are to understand that Eve was driven out with him; but the narrative focuses on the man, as it often does in Scripture. If the NLT revisers felt that they must have a neutralized translation in this paragraph, they should at least have indicated the correct translation of these verses in the margin, because the focus on the man is significant. Although Eve was the first in sin, God's attention is primarily upon Adam, because he alone is the covenant head of the race, representing all mankind—as his name also indicates.

There is a footnote on the phrase "human beings" in verse 22 ("Or the man; Hebrew reads ha-adam"), but this footnote gives the erroneous impression that "the man" is only a possible alternative rendering. It should read, "Hebrew, the man," or indicate by some other means that the Hebrew word actually means "the man" here, and that the pronouns in verse 23 which refer back to this word are singular and masculine, not plural. The paragraph does not make sense in the Hebrew if we try to read it as if the word adam meant an individual generic "human being," and the word cannot be construed as a collective singular adam, because in verse 23 it becomes clear that a particular adam is in view, namely Adam, who was expelled "to work the ground from which he was taken" (compare 2:7, 2:22, and 3:16-17). But it seems that this footnote is designed to mention the correct translation of adam without admitting that the rendering in the text is a gender-neutralizing paraphrase. Frankly, I suspect that this note was written by an editor who had no real knowledge of Hebrew. If it was written by a scholar, I would have to call it either careless or disingenuous. There is no way that the singular adam denotes "human beings" anywhere in this narrative. The singular form may be used in the collective sense of "mankind" (e.g. Genesis 1:26-27), but when it is used as a common noun in reference to an individual human being, as it is here, it can only mean "man."

The NLT revisers would have done well to imitate the NRSV here, which refrains from neutralizing the language in 3:22-24. I do not in general support the gender-neutral language movement in Bible translations, but I observe that among the gender-neutralizing versions the NRSV consistently handles this matter with more care and more scholarly integrity than the NLT and TNIV.

Regarding the translation of the interjection הֵן (hen) in verse 22, I will say that there is no better English equivalent for it than "Behold." The problem with "Look" is, it gives the impression that God is saying to the heavenly council "Look there," Look at that," etc., but that is not the meaning of הֵן. The meaning of the word is more along the lines of "consider this." In most cases it is used simply as a way of indicating that the following words give some important fact upon which action is to be taken, or a premise upon which some conclusion is to be based. For example, in Genesis 4:14 Cain says to God, "Behold (hen), you have driven me from the land ... and so anyone who finds me will kill me." The word "Look" is also used in this way in current English, but when it is used in this way it has a sarcastic or disrespectful tone: "Look, you have driven me from the land," etc. The inappropriateness of this is so obvious in 4:14 that the NLT simply omits any rendering of the interjection. But it is just as inappropriate to use "Look" in 3:22, because there hen has the very same meaning as it does in 4:14. Why not use the word "Behold" for this? It seems that recent translations avoid this word only because it sounds old-fashioned, but there is no other English word that will serve the purpose of accurate translation. The idea that everything must be modern-sounding and colloquial really interferes with the ability of translators to give us accurate renderings, and it ought to be discarded.

In the second half of verse 22, the NLT's rendering—"What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!"—is very inappropriate in tone. Here God seems to be in a panic about what could happen next. This will not do at all. Surely the ESV's literal "Now, lest he reach out ..." more accurately conveys the thoughts of our sovereign and omniscient God. Here again it seems that a desire to make the style colloquial is at fault.

Matthew 1

NLT: This is a record of the ancestors

The Greek says Biblos geneseos, the "book of the genesis" (origin) of Jesus Christ, not the book of his "ancestors." This phrase — which is not an ordinary Greek way of referring to a genealogy — derives from the Hebrew expression sefer toledot "book of the generations," used in Genesis 5:1, translated biblos geneseos in the Septuagint (which also uses the phrase in Genesis 2:4). It is an instance of the Hebraic "biblical Greek" style of the New Testament. Probably Matthew used it as a literary echo of the language of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is interesting to note that he begins the Gospel account with a phrase that recalls the genesis (beginning) of all things, as recorded in the first book of the Bible. The NLT has interpreted it as a sentence which refers to the genealogy that follows. Actually, it is a caption, like the caption that the translators have supplied in italics above it ("The Ancestors of Jesus the Messiah"), and not a complete sentence, because in the Greek there is no "This is ..." I see no reason why it should not be translated as a caption, or why the abstract noun genesis should not be more accurately translated. "Ancestry" would have been better than "ancestors." It seems, however, that the word "ancestors" appears here because in the Living Bible the caption is translated "These are the ancestors ..." The NLT revision of the Living Bible changed "These are" to "This is a record of," but left the inaccurate rendering "ancestors" untouched.

of Jesus the Messiah

Greek, Jesou Christou, "of Jesus Christ." The NLT's introduction explains that "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.'" (p. 16.) But it does not explain why this was done. Evidently the editors felt that "Messiah" (a transliteration of the Hebrew word משיח, lit., "anointed one") would convey the sort of Jewish attitudes or expectations about Christ which were suitable for contexts in which Jews are addressed. However, there is no basis for any distinction between a Jewish "Messiah" and a "Christ" for Gentiles in the original text, nor is there any basis for this distinction in orthodox Christian theology. One of the authors of the New Testament, the Apostle John, does use the Hebrew word "Messiah" twice (transliterated μεσσιας in John 1:41 and 4:25), but in these places he is quoting others verbatim, not making some adjustment for the sake of Jewish readers or contexts. And strangely enough the Hebrew word משיח is not rendered "Messiah" in the NLT's Old Testament where it actually does occur (e.g. Psalm 2:2, Daniel 9:25, 26, where the NLT has "anointed one"). Doesn't the context assume "a Jewish audience" in these places?

a descendant of David

The Greek has "Son of David." This has Messianic overtones, because "son of David" may be understood as a Messianic title. That is, Jesus is not merely "a descendant of David," but "the son of David" appointed to sit on the throne. It is rather puzzling to find this translation after the NLT has shown such a desire to emphasize "Jewish" expectations by using the word "Messiah" instead of "Christ." But "a descendent of" was the rendering in the Living Bible, and so here it is. Probably Taylor thought that "son" might be misunderstood in a strictly literal sense here, as if Matthew were saying that Jesus was the son of a man named David. Yet he allowed the angel in verse 20 to address Joseph as a "son of David," and the revisers have let that stand. Evidently they recognized that people are not so stupid as to take this expression literally when it makes no sense to do so. Why the avoidance of "son of David" in verse 1, then? There really is no need to translate it otherwise. The second edition of the NLT does deserve credit however for adding a footnote here, "Greek, Jesus the Messiah, son of David."

1:2. Abraham was the father of Isaac

The Greek says, "Abraham egennesen (begat) Isaac." The verb refers to the father's procreative role and action, by which the son is conceived. Abraham was not merely "the father of" Isaac, he begat Isaac, and Isaac in turn begat Jacob. Matthew is therefore indicating a series of actions through which the line of biological descent continues down to Joseph. Unfortunately the word "begat" has dropped out of common usage in English (too indelicate for mixed company?), and so the NLT along with most modern versions has the vague expression "was the father of." However, the word "begat" continues to be understood by English readers, and a more modern equivalent is available in the word "fathered." Among recent versions an accurate translation of this word is to be found only in the New King James Version ("begot"), and in the margin of the New American Standard Version ("fathered"). The English Standard Version uses "fathered" in the genealogies of the Old Testament, as a translation of the Hebrew word yalad, but not for egennesen in Matthew.

1:3 whose Mother was Tamar

The Greek says, "Judah begat ... by means of Tamar." So also in verses 5 and 6. See the explanation above.

1:17. All those listed above include fourteen generations

The Greek says that for each of the three periods, "all the generations ... were fourteen generations." The NLT seems to be fudging a bit here, because an accurate translation raises difficulties. Some generations are missing from the genealogy. And so instead of asserting that there were fourteen generations for each period, as the Greek text does, the NLT says that those listed include fourteen generations for each period, without the implication that the genealogy enumerates all the generations. This may be a true interpretation of Matthew's intent, but it is not what he actually says.

1:19. Joseph, her fiancé

The Greek says, "her husband (aner)." The Jews made no distinction between a husband and a fiancé. The betrothal was itself tantamount to marriage, and legally binding. The NLT's use of fiancé here is anachronistic and misleading, because it implies that the author made such a distinction. This is a good example of why it is impractical to try to translate the Bible into a form of English which is entirely natural for "today's readers ... while also accurately communicating the meaning and content of the original biblical texts." A modern and familiar style is suitable for modern and familiar ideas. But very often the ideas of the biblical text are not modern, and they are unfamiliar to modern people who have not received any prior instruction in the historical background of the text. It would be better to translate the word aner accurately as "husband" and to provide the explanation in a footnote.

There are other places in this version where the marriage customs have been accidentally modernized through the use of modern expressions. In ancient Israel, a girl was "given" to a husband in a match arranged by the fathers of the couple, usually when the girl was about sixteen years old; and so in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 7:3 Jewish fathers are instructed, "You shall not give your daughter to [a Canaanite's] son, nor take his daughter for your son." But the NLT paraphrases this sentence, "Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters," as if the father had only to "let" a son or daughter marry. Now, presumably the NLT translators had the Hebrew text in front of them and were able to read it, and yet they chose not to translate it literally. Why? Is it because they felt that modern readers would not be able to understand what is meant by "giving your daughter"? This seems unlikely, because we all know what it means when a father "gives a daughter" in marriage, and we even make fathers go through a ritualistic giving of the bride in our wedding ceremonies. The expression may be old-fashioned, but it is understood. It seems that the NLT translators avoided the literal rendering here because they wanted to use a more modern-sounding and idiomatic expression. "Do not let your daughters and sons marry ..." is more idiomatic in modern English, to be sure, but there is a cultural reason why this is more idiomatic today: it reflects modern Western realities of courtship, engagement, and marriage.

was a good man, and did not want to disgrace her publicly

The Greek says he was dikaios, a "just" or "righteous" man. Here the first edition of the NLT had "a just man," but the second edition has been changed to "good." Why? Apparently the revisers interpreted this sentence as if Matthew meant that Joseph's "righteousness" was the "goodness" of a man who would not expose his wife to public disgrace, even for adultery. But the word dikaios is not equivalent to agathos ("good"), and it certainly did not have such a vague humanitarian meaning among the Jews (see Luke 1:6). The true interpretation is, Joseph was "righteous" in that he was a respectable observer of the Law of Moses, and as such he could not simply forgive adultery in his wife. The idea here is that Joseph thought that he must divorce her as a matter of principle (hence the rendering in the New English Bible, "being a man of principle"). Actually, the Mosaic Law stipulated that an adulteress must be stoned to death by the community (see Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:20-24), and "so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel." So Joseph was bound to divorce her, at the very least, if he knew that she was guilty. Yet he had in mind to do it quietly because he did not relish the prospect of her becoming a public example. 1

he decided to break the engagement

The Greek here uses an expression meaning "divorce." Joseph was minded to put her away (apolusai auten). Again, the Jewish custom whereby the betrothal is legally equivalent to marriage is indicated in the original text, while the NLT makes a modern distinction. The second edition does add a footnote, "Greek, to divorce her."

1:20 take Mary as your wife

Greek, take Mary your wife, that is, take her into your home. In this sentence "your wife" is in apposition to "Mary." She is already his wife. The question is, shall he bring her into his house or send her away?

the child within her was conceived

The Greek is literally, "that which is begotten in her." Among modern versions only the New American Standard Bible indicates the correct translation, in a footnote.

The odd thing about the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel in the NLT is that the translators have tried to give it a "Jewish" tincture by using the word Messiah instead of Christ—an artificial device for which there is no warrant in the text—but they have actually painted over Jewish features which are in the text. The Hebraic idiom "son of David," the frank emphasis on the biological process of descent and its importance, the use of rounded and symbolical numbers (fourteen), the traditional Eastern customs of marriage and divorce, the Torah-based understanding of "righteousness," all of these things are quite Jewish. But they cannot be seen by the reader of the NLT. Probably the most serious error here is the misinterpretation of dikaios in 1:19.

These two passages I have examined in the version (Genesis 3:14-24 and Matthew 1) were chosen at random, not because anything especially bad in them caught my attention. There are some significant weaknesses here, but nothing unusually bad. I think the inaccuracies pointed out here are typical of the version, and of the dynamic equivalence versions in general. Much more should be said about it in a comprehensive review, but I think this suffices to show that the version is not "especially good for study," as the "Note to Readers" claims. Nor do I think it is especially good for "devotional reading and to be read aloud in public worship." It is not clear to me how the NLT's paraphrastic renderings can be seen as very helpful (let alone necessary) for the common reader of the Bible, and the bland and overly colloquial tone of the version will work against any proper feeling of devotion in those who take up the sacred text for daily reading.

Michael Marlowe
July 2005

1. I notice that Weymouth gave a similar rendering, “kind-hearted,” and in a note he refers to Edwin Hatch’s Essays in Biblical Greek (Oxford, 1889). Hatch states that "sometimes, where δικαιοσύνη is used to render חֶסֶד, no other meaning than 'kindness' or 'mercy' is possible," and gives as examples the use of δικαιοσύνη in Gen. 19:9 and 24:27. He then extends this meaning to Matt 6:1, and says that "it gives a better sense than any other to the difficult statement about Joseph in S. Matt. 1.19 ... 'Joseph her husband, being a kindly man, and since he was not willing to make her a public example ..." (pp. 50-51.) But this precarious line of semantic analysis depends upon a misapprehension of the meaning of חֶסֶד (chesed), which never means simply 'kindness' or 'mercy.' Among English versions the only others that I am aware of which have "a good man" in Matt. 1:19 are the Contemporary English Version and John Henson's Good As New paraphrase. Probably the NLT revisers made this change under the influence of the CEV.

UPDATE: Between 2004 and 2007, a number of small changes were made in printings of the second edition of the New Living Translation. A list of all changes in the text and footnotes up to 2007 has been provided by the publisher, and is reproduced here. None of the renderings discussed in my review of the second edition were changed, and the few changes that were made do not substantially increase the accuracy of the version. —M.D.M.