The New Living Translation
How are the NLT Study Bible and Illustrated Study Bible Different?

One of the most common questions we hear is, “How are the NLT Study Bible and the Illustrated Study Bible different?” Kevin O’Brien, who helped develop the Illustrated Study Bible and oversees Tyndale’s study Bible and reference books, helps us understand the difference between the two Bibles.
ISB and NLT Study Bible side by side

The NLT Study Bible serves as the base for the Illustrated Study Bible. From a textual standpoint they are probably about 85% the same. The differences come in to play in several areas:

  • Book and Section introductions – in some places these have been editorially “tightened” to fit the new format. We also greatly increased the Intertestamental Period section adding a profile of Antiochus IV and a 2 page explanatory article on the Maccabees.
  • Study Notes –both the Illustrated Study Bible and the new edition of the NLT Study Bible incorporate the latest (2015) edition of the NLT text. These textual changes did affect a small number of study notes. Further, the textual notes that are part of the NLT text itself (these include things such as textual variants or alternate translations of words and phrases) are handled differently in these two products. The Illustrated Study Bible treats them as footnotes below the Bible text but above the study notes. The NLT Study Bible incorporates them into the study notes. This leads to some minor differences in wording.

NLT and ISB interior side by side

  • Charts, Maps and Illustrations – All of the charts were reconfigured for the Illustrated Study Bible, most as infographics and many incorporated into the Theme Notes or Profiles that they were supplementing. Maps were all colorized reconfigured for greater precision. We also commissioned new illustrations for the tabernacle, temple, Jerusalem at different points in time as well as a first century synagogue and house. Timelines have been colorized to for easier reading (and the one at the beginning has been completely redone to make it easy to see how the books of the Bible map onto history). In addition you will find photos of ancient artifacts that could not be included in the NLT Study Bible.

ISB Pauls Journey

  • Profiles and Theme Notes – perhaps the biggest overall content difference between the two products. We updated many of these short articles when we created the Illustrated Study Bible. A few articles of each kind were dropped and several more were added.
    • Profiles – for major figures such as Moses or Abraham multiple pieces were often consolidated and reconfigured. For example, in the NLT Study Bible the profile of Moses at Exodus 2 takes up a single page. There is a small chart on the following page breaking down Moses’ life. In the Illustrated Study Bible, this has become a 2 page feature with a larger timeline and a family tree. The text of the article changed slightly to fit the space and to reflect the images. Additionally, we created a new set of profiles for the nations that play major roles in the Biblical narrative (Egypt, Babylon, Rome, etc.). Most of these are illustrated and often take up two pages. This content is entirely new.
    • Theme Notes – here the process of illustrating the content of the Bible had perhaps its most significant impact. The process of illustrating the text led us to remove a few Theme Notes that overlapped and to add a significant number where we realized illustration would greatly enhance understanding. Several examples include adding a note on Citizenship in the Kingdom at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, articles about the major cities in the letters addressed to the Churches there (e.g., Ephesus), and the article on Jewish society at Matthew 22. We also added articles which help readers to get a sense of the realities of everyday life in the world of the Bible – fishing in first century Galilee, kinds of plants and animals in ancient Israel or what a 1st Century Jewish home would have been like and more. Many of these kinds of articles and illustrations simply aren’t possible in the non-illustrated version.

ISB I AM Sayings of Jesus

An additional note on the illustrations in the Illustrated Study Bible: We made a very conscious effort to only include color if that color actually made a significant contribution, not simply as “eye candy”. We wanted to make sure that the color actually communicated meaning; if you look at the bottom of the page, for example, you will find a colorized section indicator bar that tells you what section of the Bible you are in. Each photograph or painting was chosen to help you understand the story better, to help you visualize what was going on by seeing a place or evoking an emotion. We tried to keep images of modern people to a minimum (except in places like Proverbs where a principle or idea was primary) because we wanted to help readers enter into the world of the Bible. Even when we included classic paintings of Biblical characters or stories we tried to present them in interesting ways so that the emphasis was always on seeing something about what the Bible communicates, not on the piece of art itself. There is a very practical reason for this – most western Christian art is European, therefore biblical characters and places show up looking very European and that wasn’t the case at all so we worked hard to avoid unintentionally making it seem like they were.

ISB Outside NLT SB 1

At the end of all of this you may well be wondering why anyone would choose the NLT Study Bible over the Illustrated Study Bible? I have two reasons. First, the NLT Study Bible is smaller, and significantly lighter. Chances are you won’t be carrying the Illustrated Study Bible to church, but the NLT Study Bible is quite portable. Second, many people find the visuals distracting and simply want the study text without it. I totally understand this. While I really love the visuals (I helped figure out what we should illustrate and was involved in working with the design team to find a good direction to go in so I better love them!), sometimes when I study I need to cut the distractions back and just read. The NLT Study Bible allows me to do this. Either way, both Bibles have great study resources that will help you to understand both the words and the world of the Bible, allowing you to more clearly understand in be changed by God’ message.

One Response to “How are the NLT Study Bible and Illustrated Study Bible Different?”
29th December, 2017 at 6:08 pm

I would buy a copy of this study bible in a heartbeat if you offered the hardcover in a sewn binding. I was told by “” that this study bible has a glued binding.

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