The Roast Of The NLT
I have encountered problems with the
New Living Translation (NLT) and its use in churches. Here
I will attempt to outline my complete review of the NLT, New
Testament only. I will also discuss my opinion on Bible
translation in general. I'm basically taking the "NLT
dare" every day with Bible study to see what I find.
I am not here to sell myself as a Bible translation expert. I am not. I have been around Bible scholars and studied the Bible all my life, but if you're looking for a (false) appeal to authority based on credentials here, you won't find it. I am just a well-read individual, if even that. I'm human. But I have studied a lot, and what is contained here is my opinion. I find in real life that someone's credentials do not make them right, or wrong. It's in the facts. So here I will make my best logical argument for why the NLT, though good, is not the best translation, and why dynamic equivalence is not a perfect concept in practice.
This will take place with the New Testament of the NLT as I am going about my daily Bible reading, reading through the Bible in a year. So this page will be a work in progress in my life in this year, 2015. So check this page for updates as I go along. It may be that at the end of this research project, I may like the NLT. Really, I don't hate it, either, but I prefer a different version to this one. But keep in mind that human beings change but the Bible does not, so who knows where I may end up at the end of this research project?
Attitude of This Document
This document is not written out of pride or
a feeling of superiority. It is also not written in the
mode of a Pharisee. I am not perfect, so if you find a
problem with my document, please contact
me. I am not above correction, nor above learning. I
have not arrived, or will I ever consider myself to have
This document isn't here to cause controversy or upset people. However, I have written what I feel is right. May God reveal to me any place I have made a mistake.
This document isn't here to advocate arguing with people in church over which translation is better. Sorry to say this, but no translation is perfect. As such, I recommend that churches decide on a version of the Bible to use from the pulpit and in teaching and use that. Arguments over "well what does your translation say?" or "well MY Bible says..." only waste time and detract from the message. It is far more important to live and know what the Bible says than to be in possession of the "right" translation. Or to be in possession of several (such as parallel translation Bibles containing more than one translation of the Bible). You can study the Bible forever and still not know it all. The lost aren't looking to see what translation of the Bible we use, but they're looking at our lives for proof of the love of God.
Purpose of This Document
This document is not meant to turn people
away from using the NLT, but rather to point out that it is not
a perfect translation. However, no translation is
perfect. The autographs (the originals hand-written by
Paul, Matthew, Peter, etc) are inspired. I believe the
copies were protected from scribal error by God, for the most
part, and where they aree is where I beleive we find the
originals. Translations, however, are not inspired, though
I believe God guides translation teams. But they are not
perfect, nor can they be.
What is the NLT?
The New Living Translation, per the
claims to be a blend of the two concepts of formal equivalence
(word for word literal) and dynamic equivalence (thought for
thought). I can respect that. Without going into
either concept in depth, I believe both are very valid and very
good modes. However, to me, the proof of how accurate the
NLT is lies not in its scholarship or its philosophies (on these
fronts the NLT is very good) but in how it actually renders the
text. However, you may read more about the two concepts at
page on these concepts.
My Beliefs On Translation
I believe that God cares about every word
and even every marking in His word. Jesus is the word made
flesh (John 1), so the Bible I believe takes on a divine
element, having been breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
God through Paul made a complete theological argument out of one
word being singular or plural (Galatians 3:16). That is
not to say that formal equivalence is somehow holy and dynamic
equivalence is somehow sin. There are plenty of web pages
and print articles written on this subject, and I am going to
side-step the argument beween the two concepts by saying that
what matters is where the rubber meets the road.
I do not believe that either dynamic equivalence or formal equivalence is bad in and of itself. I measure results on pages, not thought and intent.
I do not believe that dynamic equivalence is bad because it is new any more than I believe formal equivalence is bad because it's not new enough. Often I feel that translation teams seem to be pressured by the need to be new, hip, relevant, etc. Honestly, the problem with that is human beings: God has said the same thing in the Bible on many subjects repeatedly. The need for newness isn't one of it being a holy concept, but because we're human beings. We're stubborn. We need to attack our humanity on various fronts and in various ways because we get stuck in ruts. I do not believe a "new" way of phrasing anything in the Bible is absolutely necessary (because it does this on its own), but I don't think a "new" way of phrasing anything is wrong by default.
I believe that in translation, one should not add one's own opinion or any outside document into the text. I believe the place for these is in translator notes.
I believe that, where dynamic equivalence doesn't work or can't be used, or results in a mis-translation, formal equivalence should be used.
I believe that people should not pick a translation of the Bible based on how well they like the way it reads. The English language has synonyms and antonyms, and many don't take away or stray from the truth of the text when used in translation. However, picking a Bible should be about accuracy and how easy it is to comprehend and read, for the individual, not about only a shallow "well I like how it reads." This is why I personally believe there are so many translations: people are moved to get a Bible they like, not one they can learn and obey. It's nice when the Bible is easy to read and you like how it sounds, but the most important part of Bible reading is accuracy, so that you can align yourself to God's word, not align God's word to yourself. The market is flooded with translations of the BIble, and with Christians who dream of making their own because they have an axe to grind. It's not about grinding your own axe, but receiving the sword God gave you to use.
I believe that it is vanity, waste of time, and shallowness to try to make the Bible's text more dramatic than it already is, if it leads a translation team to twist, modify, or add to the text. It's not the Bible's fault that we don't fully grap the weight of what it's teaching us: it's our own fault. In my own private study, I don't need the text to cause concepts and thoughts to "jump out" at me: the Holy Spirit does that for me.
On To The Roast
Here I will simply list, verse by verse, the places I find where the NLT goes astray. I don't expect it to be a lot of verses, but there are some.
- Matthew 18:15 "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back." This is incorrect (Strongs 191): the word ἀκούω means to hear or listen. To confess and to listen are entirely different things.
- Matthew 18:17 "If the person still
refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he
or she won’t accept the
church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt
tax collector." The first word is (Strongs 3878) refuse
to hear, disobey, or disregard. This is not an error,
but enables (with unruly Christians) arguments over "define
accept" or "define listen." "I accepted what you said
but I will not obey." "I listened but I didn't think
you were right." Breaking this word down further, it's
"to hear in a contrary (flawed) way." So I don't think
it's about acceptance, but obedience. The second word
is more accurately rendered "foreigner". The third
word, "corrupt", is not in the text at all, and was entirely
added. Here, I think the lack of no positive
denouncement of the job of tax collector as being evil is
enough: we don't need to add words here, thinking we're
clarifying something. I think they're trying too hard
to paint this as oppressive, using "pagan" and "corrupt tax
collector": Jesus isn't advocating a negative response, in
my opinion, as He socialized with everyone. I think
Jesus is instead instructing an "outsider" approach to how
we treat them. He doesn't say to physically kick them
out of chuch or do not allow them entry or fellowship, so
much as to create (social) space. However, there are
others who think that Jesus may be commenting here on how
the Jews of the day treated gentiles and tax collectors,
almost like a back-handed reprimand to their treatment of
these two groups. But this is one of those opinion
versus fact type of things. My opinion is that both of
these possibilities (merely creating social space, or a
reflection of their mistreatment of outsiders) are entirely
valid thoughts, but neither really find definitive proof
from merely the text. And as such, the job of a
translation isn't to inject historical opinions into the
text, but I don't mind such being translator notes and
margin notes. Again, are we injecting the Jesus we
want or the Jesus who is?
- Matthew 18:28 "He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment." This word is not in the original Greek, and was added.
- Matthew 18:30 "But his creditor wouldn’t
wait." The Greek text
doesn't say anything about time or waiting.
- Mark 2:1 "When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home." Yeah, those three words mean "after some days it was heard." See this link for the interlinear. I don't know why the NLT is trying to "jazz it up" here, but there's nothing that states that the Bible has to impress or surprise anyone.
- Mark 2:2 "Soon
the house where he was staying was so
packed with visitors that there was no more
room...." Again with the injection of a time reference
where there isn't one. The Greek word here is only
"gathered", not "soon." Also, they morph "gathered"
into "packed" in light of the passage, which is tolerable,
but it's not the original word.
- Mark 2:7 "“What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!" This isn't an error, but it is a shameless dramatization of the text. Who are we to add drama where there is none?
- Mark 2:12 "And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers." Again more drama being added for no real reason. This Greek word doesn't say "jump", simply "rise up". It's not an error, but it demonstrates a tendency by the translating team to dramatize for no apparent reason.
- Mark 2:19 "Jesus replied, “Do wedding
guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast
while the groom is with them." Another thing I don't
like is how the NLT tries to answer rhetorical and
thought-provoking questions of Jesus and others. The
original text doesn't do this. Sometimes it's best not
to answer rhetorical questions: it's best to just let the
person think about what you have asked. There are many
other places where the NLT does this, and they bother me
because they demonstrate a clear and obvious tendency of the
NLT to add text where there's no need to do so. In
fact in this scenario Jesus himself already says this right
after with "As long as the groom is with them, they can't
fast." So they added a whole sentence where one wasn't
- Mark 3:1 "Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand." Per Strongs and others, it's "withered" or "dried up." Sure, in general, that would mean, generally speaking, it's deformed, else why heal it? But if we weren't there, we don't know if withered is a better word or not for the deformity at hand, hence I think the more accurate word, withered, would make more sense.
- Mark 3:4 "Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil?" The greek just uses the word "them". Seeing as He had entered the synagogue, "them" could just as easily refer to everyone in the synagogue, not just His critics. Another case of the NLT adding its opinion.
- Mark 3:13 "Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him."
- Mark 3:20 "One time Jesus entered a house...." This is correct. In fact, ESV and a few others get it wrong.
- Mark 3:27 "Let me illustrate this further. " Yeah, not in the original. It's trivial, but it's worth noting.
- Mark 3:27 "Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house." Yeah, that's also not in the original text. What if Jesus meant to make a general statement, and not "like Satan"? IN that case, you'r eadding to His words. Rather, a translator's note "Jesus is probably still referring to Satan, but making a general statement" would've been much more appropriate, in my opinion.
- Mark 3:29 "This is a sin with eternal consequences.” Negative. The verse doesn't say "consequences", it says "an eternal sin." Sin and consequences are separate ideas, though one usually follows another, and as such, this is a mistranslation.