This isn’t easy for me to write. I have said in the recent past that I like, even love, the NLT. And the people I have met at Tyndale have shown me they really care about giving the people an accurate Bible they can understand.
I have said that the NLT is beautiful in the Old Testament narratives, through the Pentateuch, the history books, the wisdom books, the Psalms and the Prophets. My favorite passage in the NLT is from Isaiah 53, which is the very best rendering of that chapter I have ever read.
The NLT does a wonderful job with the Gospels and Acts. Once again, those are narratives, and the NLT makes them easy to read and understand, yet they remain quite accurate when compared to the original languages. Tyndale is to be commended for the way they have translated these books. They are easily understandable for everyone, from children to adults, and while the children understand, these books are also deep enough that spiritual adults can see the theological truths they contain. I have recently been recommending the NLT to readers of all ages.
But alas, there is a fly in the ointment. There is an area in which, in my humble opinion, the NLT falls down, in fact, it falls flat on its face. That area is the Epistles.
After cruising along in the rest of the Bible, all of a sudden you hit the Epistles, and the language that was so natural and easy to understand becomes short and stilted, almost as if it has been translated for people who are not native speakers of the English language, people for whom English is a second language. In the interests of making the scriptures understandable, it seems they have over-simplified. A prime example is the first few verses of Romans 1:
1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. 3 The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
Do you see what I mean? It’s simplified to the point of being annoying. And it’s not just Romans, but it’s pretty much all the Epistles, Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s, James’, Jude’s, and even Hebrews. (I haven’t read much of Revelation yet.)
I have read comments from our dear friends at Tyndale explaining why they translated these letters in this way, and I suppose it does fit with their translation philosophy. But it seems to me that the deep theological concepts of the Epistles have been chopped up into bite-size pieces, when they should have been left as whole pieces of “meat” for the mature believer to digest as he is able.
Perhaps it was inevitable that this should happen in a Bible that is supposed to be easy to read and understand. But perhaps the Bible isn’t really meant to all be easy. To my mind this is a serious weakness, and while I still am willing to recommend the NLT to younger readers (younger in age as well as spiritual maturity), I have to add a caveat for the more mature believers. They might be better off with something a little more traditional, like the NIV/TNIV, even the NASB or NKJV.
As for me, I have left the NLT for my study of the Epistles, and am reading them in the TNIV. I find them much more enjoyable in that version. I am also expecting the new NIV 2011 to continue at the same reading level for the mature believer.
And my apologies to my friends at Tyndale.