English Bible translations tend to be governed by one of two general translation theories. The first theory has been called “formal-equivalence,” “literal,” or “word-for-word” translation. According to this theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into English and seeks to preserve the original syntax and sentence structure as much as possible in translation. The second theory has been called “dynamic-equivalence,” “functional-equivalence,” or “thought-for-thought” translation. The goal of this translation theory is to produce in English the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original- language text, both in meaning and in style.
Both of these translation theories have their strengths. A formal-equivalence translation preserves aspects of the original text—including ancient idioms, term consistency, and original-language syntax—that are valuable for scholars and professional study. It allows a reader to trace formal elements of the original-language text through the English translation. A dynamic-equivalence translation, on the other hand, focuses on translating the message of the original-language text. It ensures that the meaning of the text is readily apparent to the contemporary reader. This allows the message to come through with immediacy, without requiring the reader to struggle with foreign idioms and awkward syntax. It also facilitates serious study of the text’s message and clarity in both devotional and public reading.
The pure application of either of these translation philosophies would create translations at opposite ends of the translation spectrum. But in reality, all translations contain a mixture of these two philosophies. A purely formal-equivalence translation would be unintelligible in English, and a purely dynamic-equivalence translation would risk being unfaithful to the original. That is why translations shaped by dynamic-equivalence theory are usually quite literal when the original text is relatively clear, and the translations shaped by formal-equivalence theory are sometimes quite dynamic when the original text is obscure.
The translators of the New Living Translation set out to render the message of the original texts of Scripture into clear, contemporary English. As they did so, they kept the concerns of both formal-equivalence and dynamic-equivalence in mind. On the one hand, they translated as simply and literally as possible when that approach yielded an accurate, clear, and natural English text. Many words and phrases were rendered literally and consistently into English, preserving essential literary and rhetorical devices, ancient metaphors, and word choices that give structure to the text and provide echoes of meaning from one passage to the next.
On the other hand, the NLT translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader’s understanding. The translators first struggled with the meaning of the words and phrases in the ancient context; then they rendered the message into clear, natural English. Their goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.
More than 90 Bible scholars, along with a group of accomplished English stylists, worked toward that goal. In the end, the NLT is the result of precise scholarship conveyed in living language.
All translations use a combination of formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. A good way to demonstrate this is to look at how the King James Version translates the phrase mee genoito in Paul’s epistles. A literal rendering of this phrase is “may it not be.” The KJV is generally quite literal, but it consistently renders this phrase “God forbid.” That’s very dynamic!
Conversely, there are many places where the NLT is quite literal in its renderings. After all, there’s no reason not to be literal if a literal translation communicates clearly to the English reader. For example, Psalm 118:1 is translated very literally in the NLT: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”
The New Living Translation was first published in 1996. Shortly after its initial publication, the Bible Translation Committee began a process of further review and translation refinement. The purpose of this revision was to increase the level of precision without sacrificing the text’s easy-to-understand quality. This revision is notable in several ways:
The NLT second edition represents a new benchmark in dynamic equivalence. Since it is not possible to translate literally every Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word into English, the vast majority of Bible scholars embrace the principle of dynamic equivalence--rendering the actual meaning of an ancient phrase or passage in its closest English equivalent. The NLT second edition carefully takes into account both literal and dynamic renderings. This balance of living language and precise scholarship sets a new standard for Bible translations.
All of the Bible scholars and stylists involved in this work are Christians who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Most of the translators are professors in seminaries or universities, and all of the translators have written books and/or scholarly articles in the specific books of the Bible where they did their translation work. They represent a rich variety of theological and denominational backgrounds, and they came from various geographical locations where English is the primary language: the United States (in all major sectors), Canada, England, and Australia. (Click here to see the list of names of The Bible Translation Team.)
The translators of the Old Testament used the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible as their standard text. They used the edition known as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977) with its up-to-date textual apparatus, a revision of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart, 1937). The translators also compared the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint and other Greek manuscripts, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and any other versions or manuscripts that shed light on textual problems.
The translators of the New Testament used the two standard editions of the Greek New Testament: the Greek New Testament, published by the United Bible Societies (fourth revised edition, 1993), and Novum Testamentum Graece, edited by Nestle and Aland (twenty-seventh edition, 1993). These two editions, which have the same text but differ in punctuation and textual notes, represent the best in modern textual scholarship.
Both the NLT and NIV are excellent modern-language translations that display a balance between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The NLT, however, leans more toward dynamic equivalence when passages demand a thought-for-thought translation to make the meaning of the passage clear to modern readers. This is especially true in the Epistles, where the NIV tends toward a literal translation that is sometimes hard to understand. The NLT, by contrast, consistently leans toward a dynamic rendering that presents the meaning of the text simply and clearly.
For example, in Romans 3:25, the NIV reads: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” By comparison, the NLT reads: “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past.”
In the NIV, this verse is difficult to understand. What does “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement” mean? Where does one place the phrase “through faith in his blood”? In the NIV, it is ungrammatically joined with “God presented” as though God were the one practicing faith! And what does it mean to have “faith in his blood”? Then follows a very enigmatic statement: “in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”
The NLT presents a much clearer picture. Instead of “sacrifice of atonement,” the NLT reads, “sacrifice for sin.” The NLT then makes it clear that it is people who need to have faith in Jesus’ sacrifice: “they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.” Finally, the NLT elucidates what the NIV leaves opaque: “This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past.” Thus the NLT presents the meaning of the original text in clear English.
The NLT, like most modern versions, is more accurate than the KJV in several ways. First, knowledge of Hebrew was not very advanced when the KJV was translated. The Hebrew text they used (i.e., the Masoretic Text) was adequate, but their understanding of the Hebrew vocabulary was insufficient. Second, the Greek text underlying the New Testament of the KJV is an inferior text. The KJV translators used a Greek text known as the Textus Receptus (commonly abbreviated as TR), which came from the work of Erasmus, who compiled the first Greek text to be produced on a printing press. When Erasmus compiled this text, he used five or six very late Greek manuscripts dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. These manuscripts were inferior to earlier manuscripts that were unknown to Erasmus.
After the KJV was published (in 1611), numerous earlier New Testament manuscripts were discovered—manuscripts that began to show deficiencies in the TR. Around 1630, Codex Alexandrinus (dated c. 400) was brought to England. In 1859 a German scholar named Constantin von Tischendorf discovered Codex Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery located near Mount Sinai. The manuscript, dated c. 350, is one of the two oldest vellum manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. The earliest vellum manuscript, Codex Vaticanus, had been in the Vatican’s library since at least 1481, but it was not made available to scholars until the middle of the nineteenth century. Codex Vaticanus, dated slightly earlier (c. 325) than Codex Sinaiticus, is one of the most accurate manuscripts of the New Testament in existence.
At the end of the nineteenth century, two British scholars, Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort, produced a volume titled The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881). Along with this publication, they stated their position that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, along with a few other early manuscripts, represent a text that most closely replicates the original writings. In the twentieth century, many second- and third-century papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered. Most of these papyrus manuscripts have a text that is very similar to Codex Vaticanus and to Codex Sinaiticus.
One of the most noteworthy papyrus manuscripts is P75, a copy of Luke and John dated c.175-200. It is universally recognized as a very accurate manuscript and one that bears extremely close resemblance to Codex Vaticanus. This shows that a pure line of textual transmission was preserved from the middle of the second-century to the fourth century. The papyrus P75 and several other papyrus manuscripts have helped twentieth-century scholars produce a Greek text that is even closer to the original text than that of Westcott and Hort. This most recent edition is commonly known as the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament.
The upshot of the nineteenth-century and twentieth-century discoveries and publications of better Greek texts is that we now have a Greek text that is far more accurate than the Textus Receptus. Subsequently, English versions (like the NLT) that are based on the better Greek manuscripts are superior to the KJV, which is based on the Textus Receptus.
As far as modern readers are concerned, one of the most obvious textual differences between the KJV and modern translations like the NLT is that the KJV (following the TR) includes several passages that most contemporary scholars believe were not in the original text. These differences are reflected in the KJV (and NKJV) versus what is usually printed in modern translations. The extra verses in the KJV and NKJV are as follows: Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; 27:35b; Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 9:55b-56a; 17:36; 23:17; John 5:3b-4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:6b-8a; 28:29; Romans 16:24; 1 John 5:7b-8a. Most modern versions, including the NLT, exclude these verses from the text and then provide a note about each exclusion in deference to the KJV tradition.
The NLT is an excellent translation for serious Bible study because at every turn of the page the NLT provides illuminating renderings of passages that are difficult to understand in other versions. The most common response we hear from those who read the NLT is: “I’ve read that passage before and never really understood it. Now that I’ve read it in the NLT, I understand what the Bible is saying.“
We live in an age where there are multiple translations of the Bible in English. Many of these are very similar to one another—especially those produced according to the formal-equivalence (or word-for-word) approach. There are only so many ways a text can be translated literally. The advantage of a dynamic-equivalence (or thought-for-thought) translation is that it can provide fresh insights into Bible texts. Therefore, serious students of the Bible will benefit from use of the NLT along with various word-for-word translations to gain a fuller grasp of the meaning of Scripture.
To aid people in their studies, the NLT has several kinds of textual footnotes: on all New Testament passages that clearly quote from the Old Testament; on cultural and historical information that may be obscure to modern readers; on variant readings in ancient manuscripts; on alternative renderings (these are prefaced with the word “Or”); and on certain translations that depart from long-standing tradition.
Tyndale offers a variety of commentaries, reference books, and Bible studies for scholarly, pastoral, and popular usage.
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series provides up-to-date, accessible, evangelical scholarship on the old and New Testaments. The Life Application Bible Commentary series provides personal help, teaching notes, and sermon ideas that address needs, answer questions, and provide help for daily living. Single volume commentaries include the New Testament Text and Translation Commentary and Life Application New Testament Commentary.
We offer reference books to aid your study and sermon preparation. The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament, Personal Size and Word Study Greek-English New Testament are excellent word study resources. The Origin of the Bible, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, Willmington’s Bible Handbook, and Ryken’s Bible Handbook are great resources for sermon preparation and general study.
If you are looking for a Bible study, Tyndale offers the NLT Study Series and Life Application Bible Studies. The NLT Study Series is based on the NLT Study Bible and provides an in-depth study of a particular book of the Bible. The Life Application Bible Studies give you everything you need for understanding God’s Word and applying it to your life.
To learn more about the resources mentioned above, visit Tyndale.com.
One challenge the translators faced was in determining how to translate accurately the ancient biblical text that was originally written in a context where male-oriented terms were used to refer to humanity generally. They needed to respect the nature of the ancient context while also trying to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males. Often the original text, though using masculine nouns and pronouns, clearly intends that the message be applied to both men and women. One example is found in the New Testament epistles, where the believers are often called “brothers” (adelphoi). Yet it is clear that these epistles were addressed to all the believers—male and female. In such contexts the NLT translates this Greek word “brothers and sisters” in order to represent the historical situation more accurately. The NLT is also sensitive to passages where the text applies generally to human beings or to the human condition. In many instances the NLT uses plural pronouns (they, them) in place of the masculine singular (he, him).
It should be emphasized that all masculine nouns and pronouns used to represent God (for example, “Father”) have been maintained without exception. The translators believe that essential traits of God’s revealed character can be conveyed only through the masculine language expressed in the original texts of Scripture.
It is evident in Scripture that the biblical documents were written to be read aloud, often in public worship (see Nehemiah 8; Luke 4:16-20; 1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:3). It is still the case today that more people will hear the Bible read aloud in church than are likely to read it for themselves. Therefore, a new translation must communicate with clarity and power when it is read aloud. For this reason, the New Living Translation is recommended as a Bible to be used for public reading. Its living language is not only easy to understand, but it also has an emotive quality that will make an impact on the listener. The NLT speaks right to the heart and minds of listeners because they immediately understand its message without having to process technical biblical language.
Tyndale House Publishers has a significant tie with Wycliffe Bible Translators. A percentage of the sales of all NLT Bibles goes to support this organization. Also, sales of the NLT provide funding for Tyndale House Foundation, which helps underwrite Bible translation work in languages all around the world.
The New Living Translation follows a dynamic-equivalence translation philosophy. As a result, it differs in style from other modern versions that follow in the venerable tradition of the King James Version—namely, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New King James Version, and the English Standard Version. The New Living Translation also differs from other literal translations (such as the New American Standard Bible and the Holman Christian Standard Bible) and from versions that are denominationally based (such as the New Jerusalem Bible and New American Bible, both Catholic versions). The New Living Translation is a fresh translation produced by translators with divergent denominational ties, and it is a translation that seeks to communicate the meaning and content of the original biblical text in language that English readers will readily understand.