The New Living Translation
Dynamic Word Studies

Is the NLT (or any dynamic equivalent translation) good for serious Bible study?

I have often heard people say that the NLT is great for daily reading, but it shouldn’t be used for serious Bible study. Why? There are probably several reasons, but I think one major factor behind this thinking relates to word study.

Word Studies
David Ker made this comment on Rick Mansfield’s recent post on the NLT:

“I wonder how easy it would be to use as a preaching/teaching Bible. Because preachers and teachers tend to do a lot of word studies they might feel lost using NLT.”

I think the primary factor in helping pastors and Bible teachers use a translation for word studies is related to the tools available for word study, not the translation itself. (This is something that Rick also points out in the comments on that post.) When I was first learning Greek and Hebrew, I did most of my word studies using the KJV and NASB. Why? Because the bible software program I was using was set up to make the connections between these translations and the original language explicit. And when I didn’t have my computer handy, Strong’s Concordance made the KJV an easy choice for word study.

The NLT is well on its way to having these kinds of tools available. James Swanson, a senior editor for Bibles and Bible reference at Tyndale, has been working tirelessly to support the creation of these tools. Jim is the one who created the Tyndale-Strong’s numbering system that is in use for the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series and will be the basis for printed tools, as promised in the front matter of each CBC volume.

Aside on the Tyndale-Strong’s numbering system
What exactly is the Tyndale-Strong’s numbering system (hereafter TS)? It is an adaptation of the Strong’s numbering system to include more up-to-date lexical research than was available when Dr. James Strong originally created his system.

The Strong’s numbers have proved tobe an invaluable tool for helping English-speaking students of the Bible get access to the words used in the Hebrew and Greek originals. But, from a scholarly perspective, it does have some problems. Sometimes, he lumped words together because they share the same Hebrew root, even though they are used as different words. There are also cases where homonyms were lumped together rather than being treated as distinct words. Some other issues could be mentioned, but Tyndale decided that there was no need to completely throw out his system and reinvent the wheel. Instead, the TS system retains all of Strong’s original numbers, and adds new entries where necessary without affecting the Strong’s numbers at all. Most often, this is done by adding letters to the numbers, so 1350 would become two entries: 1350 and 1350A.

In this way, the TS numbers will still be useful for connecting with older tools that use the Strong’s system exlusively, but Tyndale’s forthcoming word study tools will be able to connect with more up-to-date lexical scholarship via the new system with its finer distinctions.

The tools will be out there, and I really think that word study can be very illuminating when focusing on a dynamic translation. The NLT brings out shades of meaning in ways that more concordant translations can sometimes obscure. Which is more helpful in illuminating the shades of meaning in a word like the Greek sarx, a translation that always offers the English “flesh,” or a translation that renders it differently according to how it is being used in context?

This year, a taste will be available with the original language word study system in the NLT Study Bible. In the NLT Study Bible, readers will have the opportunity to do limited word studies without needing to go to any other tool. By following the word study chain throughout the Old or New Testament, they will be able to see a single Hebrew or Greek word in multiple contexts and examine how it is translated in each verse. In some cases, we went beyond just words and tracked some important phrases, like ‘arek ‘appayim in the Old Testament. This tool, and the accompanying index with an explanation of how to do word studies (and how not to do word studies) and brief lexicon, will whet the appetites of serious Bible students to go even farther with effective word study. And it highlights the fact that the NLT is indeed uf great use in original language word studies.

Is the NLT good for serious study?
For word study, absolutely. The tools that are already published, and more that are coming in the future, will make the process of doing serious study with the NLT easier for busy pastors and Bible teachers. And the translation philosophy behind the NLT will help to highlight some of the differences between the English we speak today and the languages of the Bible, helping pastors and Bible teachers to do good word study and accurately communicate the meaning of the Scriptures.

But there is more to serious Bible study than word studies, and I’m sure people have other objections to the use of the NLT for “serious study,” and I’d love to think about them and discuss how we can address them.

What other objections do you have to using the NLT for serious study? Post them in the comments and I’ll address them in a future post.

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