The NLT: Good For Study? A Response

Sean Harrison at the NLT Study Bible blog posted his arguments for why the NLT should be worthy for in-depth Bible study, not just for Bible reading. You can read his post here. At the end of the post he asks for thoughts about using the NLT in study.

So, I thought I would use myself as a case study. What is it about the NLT that prevents me from using it in my studies and in my preaching? Why do I only feel comfortable reading from the NLT? Here are some of my reasons (understand that these may not be good reasons, but these are barriers I am encountering).

An Issue Of Trust. I do not trust the NLT yet. While the NLT has come a long way from being a paraphrase, it is hard to erase my previous judgment. I saw the NLT as a paraphrase and dismissed it outright. I would not call the NLT a paraphrase any longer because of the 2007 revisions, but simply a good use of dynamic equivalence. But every time I read the NLT and come across a reading that sounds “off” or “different,” I immediately consult a more literal translation to see how it reads comparatively. I think with time that trust will come.

Now, to be fair, I approach all new translations with a measure of skepticism. I double checked the “different” readings of the ESV, NRSV, and HCSB when they were released until I became comfortable with their accuracy. But, because the NLT does not attempt “word-for-word” translation, I am more nervous about its accuracy. Again, to be fair, I treat the TNIV and NIV the same way since they are built on a more dynamic method of translation. If the 2007 NLT had come out under a new name and did not have its previous “bloodlines,” I think I would have been more open to its accuracy. But since I did not feel the 1996 NLT was trustworthy, being too free in many places (like Acts 2:38), I still seem to approach the 2007 NLT with a degree of skepticism.

Getting Used To Common Language. Growing up with the Bible means that I am used to a particular sound and style. Some have termed this Bible English as “biblish.” I am used to words like “justification,” “propitiation,” “sanctification,” and the like. So when these words are missing, it is easy to feel like something in the scriptures is missing. I know that this is not necessarily true. In fact, it is good to have the Greek and Hebrew translated in a more clear fashion. The average person unfamiliar with the scriptures does not know the meaning of these words in the scriptures and finds the Bible difficult to understand when such words are encountered. We need the Bible to be accurate, but also understandable. There is no communication if the words said or read cannot be understood properly. The point is that I agree with the intent of the NLT in using common language. In fact, the New Testament was written in the common Greek language, not with classical Greek. But I am still getting used to the Bible in common English. Allow me to use John 1:12-13 as an example:

But to all who did receive him,who believed in his name,he gave the rightto become children of God, who were born,not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn–not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (NLT)

When I first read the NLT here, I thought that the NLT had really strayed because it sounds nothing close to how I remembered the text. But after further examination, I think the NLT is stating in a clearer way exactly the intent of the text. I admit that it is hard for me to get over the style of formal translations that I have used for my whole life. But the NLT is saying the same thing as the ESV, but in a clearer way.

Most Church Members Do Not Use The NLT. While I do not have official numbers, I am pretty confident in my assessment that most people in my congregation do not use the NLT. They bring NASB, NKJV, NIV, or ESV Bibles with them to services. Therefore, if I were to preach or teach from the NLT, I would need to place the text in the powerpoint because they would not be able to follow along very well from their translations. Since I put the scriptures in the powerpoint slides regularly, this is not an issue for me. But this may be a barrier to other preachers and teachers.

I am glad that I have tried the 2007 NLT because I have been pleasantly surprised. I use the NLT daily, rather than just on the occasion when a literal translation is difficult to understand or communicate. I think the folks at Tyndale are doing a good job getting the message out that the 2007 NLT is accurate and can be used for more than reading. I think it is just going to take some of us a bit of time to get used to the common, simple language NLT and build a trust for its accuracy.