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How did we get the NLT - New Living Translation

Updated: Feb 13

The Bible Translation Blog Series 

Episode 2: The New Living Translation



Welcome back to our Blog Series devoted to helping you navigate the sea of Bible translations!  In our first blog post, I touched on the pressures people can feel when it comes to choosing a version of the Bible.  Based on your family or church tradition it can feel like you have to read a certain version only.  If you’re brand new to the Bible it is very common to feel overwhelmed with the vast array of options when it comes to all the different Bible translations. This series aims to provide clarity and guidance through the maze of translations, breaking things down in plain english. The upcoming posts will delve into the origins of popular English Bible translations, the teams behind them, and the financial support that brought them to life.



Last week, in our first post in the series I touched on:


  • The importance of making informed choices, debunking myths, and equipping oneself to guide others through the diverse landscape of translations. 

  • Introduced you to the basics of Bible origins—written by multiple authors over various times and places, capturing different genres and writing styles. The content, often in the form of scrolls or letters, served various purposes, from poetic expression to explicit instructions for God's people.

  • I introduced you to the fundamental philosophies guiding Bible translation efforts. Translators faced challenges in converting the original languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek) into modern English due to vocabulary differences, cultural nuances, and the spiritual weight of the text. 

  • You learned about the three common translating philosophies—the Literal Funnel, the Meaning Funnel, and the Paraphrase Funnel— shedding light on the diverse approaches taken by translators.


As we keep going with this series, we're gonna dig into popular English Bible versions in each blog post. We'll see what we can learn about the person or team that translated them, check out their history of edits and updates, see where the money came from, and learn which translating funnel they used. The big idea here is to help you, whether you're new to this or a seasoned believer, figure out which Bible is the right fit for you. We'll give you the lowdown on good picks and steer you away from ones that might trip you up, especially if you're just starting your Bible-reading adventure.


With that in mind it's time to dive into our first Bible Translation, the New Living Translation. 


The order in which I go through the translations is not meant to say which is best or worst.  To be honest I’m starting with the NLT because it is one of the Bible translations that I use most often in my daily reading.  Years ago I attended Bible College classes that explored the different translations and I came to incorporate the NLT as one of my go-to translations for readability.  As with many things I’ve learned over the years, I only retained bits and pieces and wanted to take a deep dive back into this subject for several reasons.  One is for the reasons stated in the first few paragraphs of this post.  Two, as a Bible teacher and preacher I want to be better informed as I guide others toward their choice.  Three, I want to revisit my earlier convictions and see if I still land in the same place or adjust my Bible Translation of choice after a deeper look.


The Birth of NLT:


To understand how the New Living Translation (NLT) came about, we have to take a detour back to another version of the Bible published back in 1962.  This version was called The Living Bible.  It was written by Bible Scholar, Dr. Taylor as a paraphrase of the Bible.  


Dr. Taylor initially started paraphrasing the Bible to make it more accessible for his own children, aiming to capture the meaning of the biblical text in clear and contemporary language.


As he worked on this project, Taylor's paraphrased version gained popularity beyond his family. Recognizing the potential impact of this more readable Bible translation, he sought to publish it more widely. In 1962, Tyndale House Publishers was established in Wheaton, Illinois, to publish "The Living Bible."


"The Living Bible" was published in stages, starting with individual books of the New Testament and later the entire New Testament. The complete Living Bible, covering both the Old and New Testaments, was released in 1971. It became one of the best-selling English Bibles of its time, particularly appealing to a broad audience, including those who were new to the Bible.


Tyndale House Publishers expanded beyond "The Living Bible" to publish a variety of Christian books, devotionals, and other literature. The success of "The Living Bible" paved the way for Tyndale to become a prominent Christian publishing house, with a continued commitment to producing accessible and impactful Christian literature. The New Living Translation (NLT) of the Bible, which was first published in 1996, further solidified Tyndale's role in making the Bible understandable to contemporary readers.


What started off as one man’s paraphrase of the Bible eventually led to a desire by the Tyndall Publishers to transform Taylor’s paraphrase into a more accurate translation of the Bible into contemporary English.  This was the birth of what we now know as the New Living Translation of the Bible.


Translating, updating, and updating again:


Translating the Bible is no walk in the park. The original team that Tyndall put together essentially set out with two efforts in mind.  One was to use Taylor’s existing “Living Bible” paraphrase and edit it to become more accurate.  Secondly, they intended to look again at the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts and apply a Meaning for Meaning Funnel or some call it a thought for thought method.  


This initial transformation of the Living Bible into the first edition of The New Living Translation took over a decade to complete.  In the end, they did accomplish their goal of creating a more accurate version of the Bible in contemporary English.  However, that early edition was highly criticized by Biblical Scholars who highlighted the many poor interpretations and excessive liberties taken by the NLT team.


Over the years, Tyndall Publishers sought to refine the NLT again, this time with a larger team and even more care to edit and adjust the translation toward a more Biblically accurate translation.  The revised version came out in 2004 and again, it was met with mixed reviews and plenty of criticism from Biblical scholars.  However, many who criticized it also gave credit to many of the corrected translations seen in the previous edition.


Finally, Tyndall Publishing determined to set forth a massive effort to revise the NLT yet again.  This time assembling a very large team of well-known and well-respected Biblical Scholars and experts in their various areas of linguistics.  After tremendous time and expense, the current version of the NLT was published in 2007.  Speaking of expense, it is said that the NLT is the most expensive translation ever undertaken to date.


A word from the translation team, 

“As we submit this translation for publication, we recognize that any translation of the Scriptures is subject to limitations and imperfections.  Anyone who has attempted to communicate the richness of God’s Word into another language will realize it is impossible to make a perfect translation.  Recognizing these limitations, we sought God’s guidance and wisdom throughout this project.  Now we pray that he will accept our efforts and se this translation for the benefit of the church and of all people.  


We pray that the New Living Translation will overcome some of the barriers of history, culture, and language that have kept people form reading and understanding God’s Word.  We hope that readers unfamiliar with the Bible will find the words clear and easy to understand and that readers well versed in the Scriptures will gain a fresh perspective.  We pray that readers will gain insight and wisdom for living, but most of all that they will meet the God of the Bible and be forever changed by knowing him.”


- The Bible Translation Committee, October, 2007


Scholarly Perspectives:


While the 2007 NLT has garnered widespread acceptance, like any translation, it's not without its critics. Some scholars appreciate its approachable language and clear communication of biblical truths, while others argue that the dynamic equivalence method (AKA the thought for thought or meaning for meaning funnel) may sacrifice some nuances present in the original texts. It's always a good idea to explore different perspectives and understand the strengths and limitations of any translation.


Publishing Dynamics:


One intriguing aspect of Bible translations is how publishing works. In the case of the NLT, Tyndale House Publishers holds the copyright. However, they have allowed other publishers to use the NLT, resulting in various editions with different covers, study notes, and additional features. This openness has contributed to the widespread availability of the NLT across different formats and contexts.


Final thoughts and recommendations:


The NLT available today is a far cry from Taylor’s old New Living Bible Paraphrase and that’s a good thing.  The current NLT is a blessing and benefit to many.  Accomplishing what the transaction team set out to do - Make the Bible approachable and readable while bridging the gap between ancient cultures and languages.  All while remaining true to the original Word of God.  It’s not perfect, but no modern translation is.  


This is a great Bible translation for teens and anyone new to reading the Bible.  As you learn and grow I would suggest that the NLT be one of maybe 2 or 3 versions that every believer should have at hand as they read and study.  Which brings up the next question… what are the other 1 or 2 versions I would suggest every believer have on hand to read and study alongside the NLT?  Don’t worry we’ll get to those soon.


For now, I hope this has helped you learn more about the history and transformation of the New Living Translation of the Bible out now.


Next week I’ll tackle the most popular English translation of all time, The New International Version, or what most people refer to as, The NIV Bible.


Did you know we make awesome YouTube Videos to teach the Bible as we travel all over the United States and Canada?


Here are a couple of episodes from our Sermon on the Mount Series we filmed while traveling in the Canadian Rockies and Yukon Territory this last summer!








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