TC over at New Leaven writes today about Choosing a Pew Bible. He gets into a discussion of the TNIV vs the NLT, and the discussion gets going pretty well in the comments section of his post. It appears that there are a lot of people looking seriously at the NLT these days. Rick Mansfield even announces there in the comments that he has officially switched from the TNIV to the NLT as his main Bible.
Well, I guess I like the NLT well enough. It’s certainly easy to read. But I want to let you all know that there’s one thing about it that gives me pause. Take a look at Romans 6:1-4 in the NLT:
1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (emphasis mine)
Notice those bolded words. They may not bother a Baptist or Church of Christ member, but they bother me as a Methodist, and they should bother us all who are interested that the Bible be translated accurately. And I think this is one place where the NLT translators missed the mark.
Let’s take a look at the same passage in a more literal translation. I’m using the NASB for comparison, but this is true of all the more literal translations including the TNIV:
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (emphasis mine)
Do you see the difference? The point of this passage isn’t water baptism at all. The fact that the Greek word for baptism is used doesn’t make it so, because the Greek word actually means “to immerse”. This is a totally dry baptism Paul is talking about here. When the believer puts his faith in Christ for salvation, the believer is “immersed” into Christ. And by being “immersed” into Christ, that person is “immersed” into his death. “Joined” is another good word for this, but it doesn’t quite say it as well, or as accurately, as “immersed”. You could say we are joined to Christ when we are immersed into him.
The NLT translates this passage so it appears to teach that we are joined to Christ by being baptized. The NLT Study Bible also clearly teaches this concept, although they make it clear that the baptism must be accompanied by faith to be efficacious. Even so, that’s really not what’s being said, and I think this is an error that must not be taught to believers, especially the new believers who are the most likely to be reading the NLT.
So while I agree the NLT is a fine, clear, easy-reading translation, I’m afraid I have to classify this passage as an error in translation (but I’m no expert!), and to my mind it is serious enough that I can’t give the NLT my total endorsement.
(But at least now you know why.)