The New Living Translation
My NLT Odyssey: A Bible translation story
*Warning: Long navel-gazing post below. Proceed with caution.

I love the NLT. It is one of my primary translations at home and at church, but this wasn’t always the case.

The first Bible I ever used with any regularity was an NIV. The small Christian school that I attended in first through fourth grade allowed us to memorize Scripture from either the NIV or the KJV, and I went with the NIV since it was the pew Bible at my church. When I was in high school and began to get “serious” about Bible study, I made the switch over to the NASB. I also used other translations, including the NIV, NKJV, and KJV. In the church circles I was running in, literal was best. And it didn’t get more literal than the NASB.

I got a lot of mileage out of the NASB, and in fact I still have the leatherbound, ultrathin reference edition that my future wife gave me for my birthday in 1998, all marked up from my first couple of years in Bible college.

I don’t remember when I first learned about the NLT, but I do remember when my wife discovered it. She was in a study group, reading through the entire Old Testament for a survey class in our first semester at Moody Bible Institute. One of her friends had an NLT, and the group quickly decided to simply pass the NLT around rather than having everyone read from their own translation. She took note and made sure that her next Bible purchase would be an NLT. Despite her enthusiasm, I still wasn’t convinced, and I stayed with the NASB. This was in the fall of 1998, and she has been an NLT gal ever since.

The first time I actually used the NLT for more than checking a verse occasionally was in the spring of 2001, when my wife and I led an evangelistic Bible study through the Gospel of John. Everyone in our college ministry was able to invite their friends to come and read through John together, one chapter each week, to discover Jesus for themselves. We chose the NLT as our group text, and the church generously provided a complete copy of the NLT for everyone that attended the study. It was a fun, and fruitful, experience.

While we were leading this group through John, I was also flexing my new–and still somewhat awkward–Greek skills by translating through myself, along with the NLT, NASB, NIV, and D.A. Carson’s commentary. I certainly didn’t agree with the NLT everywhere, but often I found that I agreed with the NLT over against another translation in a particular reading. By the end of the 21-week session, I was quite pleased with the NLT. I still didn’t switch to it as my primary Bible translation, but I had very positive feelings about it. In fact, we used it again for a new group the next year.

Through my study of Greek, I spent a lot of time in class and on my own thinking and reading about translation and language. More and more, I became disillusioned with the way I used to read a “literal” translation, under the impression that I had virtually unfettered access to the Greek and Hebrew original. As a result, I was “converted,” and became a very strong advocate of dynamic equivalency. I returned “home” to the NIV, looking forward to the publication of the TNIV.

At this point, I went through a stage in my journey where I was harshly critical of more formal translations. I took every opportunity to criticize the “poor English” of the NASB. I was vocally critical of the “essentially literal” argument surrounding the (then) new ESV. This was a time when my voice was changing, and I probably should have kept my mouth shut.

In retrospect, I realize that the problem was with the way I had understood the NASB, not the translation itself. I was overconfident in the ability of any English translation to give me a transparent view of the original text, right down to words and grammar. I took my erroneous assumptions about how to use such a translation and compounded the error by blaming the translation itself.

I was just getting settled with using the TNIV when I became aware of an open position on the Bible editorial team here at Tyndale House Publishers. My wife had been using the NLT as her primary Bible (and therefore my secondary Bible) for several years, and so I was excited by the opportunity. I came in for my interview and was surprised to learn that the NLT had received a facelift. In 2004, a second edition had been released, of which my wife and I were completely unaware. We had been reading the 1996 edition. I left that interview with a copy of the new edition and burgeoning interest in the NLT.

I went home that afternoon and spent several hours poring over the NLT second edition: comparing specific passages with the 1996 edition (and my TNIV), reading Galatians straight through, checking individual verses against the Greek and Hebrew, noticing that poetry was now set as poetry, etc. I was impressed. It seemed like every verse had been gone over with a fine-toothed comb and improved where necessary. Whether I got the job or not, I became an “NLT guy” on that day.

The picture on this post is of my Bible shelf at work, and you can probably identify several of the Bibles I mentioned thoughout the post. I carry an NLT and my Reader’s Greek NT to church with me on most Sundays (so they’re not in the picture), but I also make regular use of the NRSV, I listen the the TNIV on my iPod, and I read the KJV in my pocket edition of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. So even if I am an NLT guy, I’m not an NLT-Only guy.

What’s your story?
Post your story in the comments. Or, if you have a blog, write up a post about it and give us a link in the comments.

One Response to “My NLT Odyssey: A Bible translation story”
3rd October, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Wow, any guy who reads out of the NLT and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is my kind of guy! I don't use the 1662, but I do use our synod's BCP and I am in the process of using the NLT with people in my congregation!

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