A Week With the NLT Study Bible

NLT Study Bible

NLT Study Bible

It has been one week since I received my New Living Translation Study Bible from the NLT Bible Giveaway, and I want thank Tyndale and the NLT Blog for the free NLT Study Bible.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to repent of my earlier prejudice against the New Living Translation. Perhaps a short confession is in order.

To say that I had a bad first impression of the NLT is an understatement. My first encounter with the NLT was not in a bookstore, or a review, or an online version, or even in church, my first experience with the NLT was at a friend’s house.

My wife and I were ministering one evening to friends who had recently experienced personal tragedy, and, in response to the discussion we were having, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to read Romans 12:20 (the “hot coals” verse):


We had been ministering to our friends regularly, and I always carried my Bible with me for just such an occasion. However, for some reason, I left my Bible in my car, so I asked my friend for his Bible. He has a New Living Translation Life Application Study Bible. I turned to Romans 12:20, and it wasn’t there, at least the Romans 12:20 I new wasn’t there. The Romans 12:20 I was reading said,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” (NLT 1996).

Rather than recognize that the translation was simply different, I was completely distracted, thinking I had the wrong verse. I was flummoxed. I spent the next 30 minutes looking through this unfamiliar Bible for a verse I knew was there somewhere. Alas, the ministry opportunity was lost, I was upset, and I blamed the NLT.

Well, I repent. I should not have been distracted by something so minor, and I should not have been so eager to place blame elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt either that Romans 12:20 in the NLT now reads:

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. (NLTSB)

Close enough. I assume this revision occured in the 2004 second edition (NLTse), but I’m not absolutely positive about that.

Back to my review, such as it is. Well, not really a review, per se, but my thoughts. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a black, bonded leather NLTSB which, according to the NLT Study Bible site wasn’t due to be available until September 8 (the day I received it). So, a big thumbs up for the softcover.

I am probably not the best person to comment on Bible extras because I read thinlines primarily, I pull out the big guns when necessary, but I prefer to read small, text-only (or text-and-little-else) Bibles. The NLTSB is certainly not that, but as far as study Bibles go, it is quite remarkable. I very much appreciate the thorough treatment of the Hebrew in the study notes, the in-depth people profiles, and the multi-faceted timelines.

Admittedly, I have only been reading this Bible for a week, but from what I have been able to glean, there appear to be few, if any, doctrinally interpretive study notes apart from an overall Christian perspective. In other words, it is not apparent from the study notes that the scholars or editors are denominationally or theologically aligned – although I recognize that such an observation might, in itself, suggest something theologically.

The introductory material to the books of the Bible and Old and New Testaments is well written and forthcoming with possible alternatives. Where a particular authorship or historical fact might be in question, the positions taken are well defended. Even though this is a study Bible, the language of the extra-textual writings and notes is highly readable and understandable, appropriate for teenagers and above.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to congratulate the editors for the inclusion of two, yes two, bookmarking ribbons. I think this was a stroke of genius. Now that I have a Bible with multiple ribbons, however, I would suggest the appropriate number should be three. This is not a criticism of the NLTSB, quite the contrary (I feel spoiled by the two), but three would seem ideal. I personally am not a fan of Bible reading plans, but most suggest Old and New Testament daily readings (ribbons 1 and 2), and most readers I know read both anyway, but that leaves the reader without a ribbon for his or her own personal reading. So, if I could construct the ideal Bible, it would have three bookmarking ribbons.

The primary criticism (if you can call it that) of the NLTSB is not with the study aspect, but rather with the translation. I still have a repentent heart, and now that I have had time with the NLT, I am growing to appreciate the translation. I understand the need to render the text into “modern English.” And I note this from the NLT FAQ page:

On the one hand, they translated as simply and literally as possible when that approach yielded an accurate, clear, and natural English text. (…)

On the other hand, the NLT translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording.

I can appreciate this sentiment. However, I think the priority, then, should remain on translating as literally as possible, and not dynamically rendering things for dynamic rendering’s sake. The example I have chosen is Joel 2:1 which reads in the NLT:

Sound the alarm in Jerusalem! Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the LORD is upon us. (NLTSB/NLTse).

Most, if not all, translations however translate Joel 2:1 as:

Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near… (NASB).

I do not mean to nit pick here, but “Blow a trumpet in Zion,” is accurate (“shofar” is more exact than “trumpet,” but close enough), it seems clear and quite natural. In any event, I don’t think it can be fairly said that the NLT’s translation is more clear or natural. This would appear to be the perfect place for the translation to be accurate and a study note applied to offer any explanation the editors saw fit.

This is not the only example, but it is representative. This is a matter of personal preference, though, and I recognize this completely. On the whole, I have found the NLT to be extremely readable, and I continue to find my initial distaste melting away. In fact, I have encouraged my wife to read the NLT to see if she finds the language to her liking as I have.

I do not foresee the New Living Translation replacing my NASB as my primary reading and study Bible, but I would encourage anyone to experience how pleasantly it reads. I can easily see reading the Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon out of the NLT regularly. I haven’t yet, but I also want to study the treatment of Revelation and Daniel in the NLT.

Apart from the study-Bible aspect, the NLT is a phenomenal reading Bible. With the study Bible additions, NLT readers may no longer need to supplement reading the NLT with a more literal translation. I fully anticipate the NLTSB will be a huge hit. The popularity of the NLT has exploded, and the primary knock on the NLT has been that it sacrifices accuracy for readabilty. I think critics may find this problem resolved in the study notes.

With the NLT Study Bible you get free access to the NLT Study Bible online, a nice perk. If you’re not convinced just yet, no worries, you can try out the NLT Study Bible online free for 30 days here.

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  1. #1 by Scripture Zealot on September 15, 2008 - 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the review. I am also a repentant NLT reader. Right now I’m reading Psalm 119 side-by-side with the HCSB and NLTSB.

  2. #2 by petermlopez on September 15, 2008 - 1:42 pm

    Thanks, Scripture Zealot. Excellent choice. Psalm 119 is one of my favorites because of the Hebrew structure. Enjoy.

  3. #3 by Sean Harrison on September 16, 2008 - 10:24 am

    Hi, Peter! I came to the NLT from the NASB, too, and still use both regularly.

    Your comment on Rom 12:20 points to exactly the kind of thing that the BTC (Bible Translation Committee) was trying to accomplish in the NLT second edition. In the first edition, many of the metaphors had been translated to omit the metaphor (burning coals) and just give the point (they will be ashamed). In the second edition, the committee tried to reintroduce the metaphors without getting rid of the interpretive “aid” to help understand the metaphors (here, burning coals of shame).

    Another example of this kind of thing is when John the Baptist says, “I’m not worthy to untie his sandals.” The NLT1 (first edition, 1996) says, “I am not even worthy to be his slave” (Matt 3:11), with a textual note, “Greek to carry his sandals.” The NLTse combines the metaphor with the interpretive “aid” and says, “I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals” with no textual note.

    The example you gave from Joel 2:1 looks like a situation where the committee could have reintroduced the idea of a trumpet in the second edition but didn’t. It might simply have been an oversight, or there might have been a reason they chose not to — hard to say.

  4. #4 by petermlopez on September 16, 2008 - 10:42 am

    Thanks, Sean. I appreciate your honest response – for those who may be unaware, Sean Harrison is a Senior Editor at Tyndale House and an editor for the NLT Study Bible. He also writes the NLT Study Bible Blog.

    Thanks, too, for the free Bible, it’s great. You and your staff did a wonderful job on the production of the NLTSB. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to add to their Bible study library. Keep up the good work.

    …any chance on the NLT producing a Bible with 3 ribbons? :)

  5. #5 by tc robinson on September 23, 2008 - 1:13 pm

    Peter M, a bit of confession is good for the soul. The NLT as a translation is wonderful.

    Thanks for this review.

  6. #6 by petermlopez on September 24, 2008 - 11:33 am

    Indeed, tc. Thanks.

  7. #7 by Robert Jimenez on September 24, 2008 - 4:25 pm


    me too, I must confess. I am a repentant NLT reader. After reading what many of the blogs I visit I must say that I had to take a second hard look at the NLT. I still read the Holman CSB, but I am making a very dedicated effort to read the NLT.

    Thanks for the overview!

  8. #8 by petermlopez on September 24, 2008 - 4:33 pm

    I like the HCSB too. My personal favorite is the NASB, but the HCSB, ESV and NIV are all close seconds for me.

  9. #9 by Chris Engler on December 3, 2008 - 11:11 pm

    Hi Peter. Thanks for your NLT review. I enjoyed reading it. How do you think the TNIV and NLT stack up against each other? I’ve been a big fan of the NLT, but always default to the TNIV (or NASB) for reading out loud in Church. I do this because I’m always concerned about the NLT reading so differently than what people are used to reading or hearing that the message get lost. I’m wondering if it is finally time to use the NLT on a more consistent basis?

  10. #10 by petermlopez on December 4, 2008 - 2:45 pm

    Hard to say, Chris. My default reading Bible is the NASB, and I have zero experience with the TNIV (although I use the NIV a fair amount). I think the NLT is a great read, but when I have read passages aloud to my wife, she’s always like, “Huh, I’ve never heard that before,” and she will go get her NIV and read it in the language she knows. I think that would be a problem regardless of which translation you use. My pastor just recently started using the NKJV (after using the NASB) for so long, and it took some getting used to for me. I finally gave in and started carrying a NKJV to church. All of that is to say, I have no idea. But, I trust your decision will work out well.

  11. #11 by James on January 22, 2009 - 12:34 pm

    Well, I’m glad everyone is in love with the NLTse. However, I think the se took a step backward. I am one who believes that the 1996 edition was better. Not better for people who were reading NASB or NKJV or NIV or whatever. It was better for people who weren’t familiar with the bible at all. As Sean Harrison indicated above, the 1996 edition took out the metaphors that really made no sense to people who were unfamiliar with the biblical text. I wonder what would have happened if Tyndale continued to publish the 1996 edition alongside of the se? Were they concerned that the se would not sell as well? I felt like the 1996 was the best version available. I was a NASB fan for many years and then switched to NIV because that was the version most people carried. But when the NLT 1996 edition came out I began to use it. I felt it was the easiest and most clear and faithful translation available. Then the 2004 edition came out and I felt like they took a big step backward in terms of understandability for the novice. If you have a copy of the 1996 edition, compare Romans 3:20-28 with the 2004 version. I rest my case. The 1996 version was a beautiful, clear, and compelling translation. Unfortunately it does not exist any longer. So, I’m back to the NIV.

  12. #12 by petermlopez on January 22, 2009 - 2:36 pm

    I am still an NASB fan, and I don’t think any translation will supplant that for me. However, my only experience with the 1996 is as described above, so my preference for the NLTse is completely a matter of personal taste and experience. I bet you can still find 1996 editions online even if not in the local bookstore. I have no convenient way to look at the 1996 version of Romans 3:20-28. However, if you would be so kind as to email it to me, I will gladly compare the verses. Thanks for stopping by, James.

  13. #13 by Robert Anderson on April 3, 2011 - 1:27 am

    If I am going to sit down at my desk or the kitchen table and “study” the Holy Bible, I use an ASV 1901, NASB, and the new ESV because they are “word for word” translations, but if I just want to sit and reed the Bible for enjoyment I like the NIV and the NLT. I believe the number one important thing is understanding what the Holy Bible has to say. If you do not understand what you are reading what good is it going to do for you to read it. For myself after I reed the NLT and a have a general understanding of what a passage is saying, I then go to a “word for word” translation to dig deeper. I believe the helps in the NLTSB are very good and easy to understand. I believe this Bible will be a help to many people who desire to know what the Holy Bible has to say.

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