What is the New Living Translation (NLT) Bible?

Posted by Aaron Lewendon  ·  1 visitor comment

Finding the right Bible isn’t easy. There are dozens of translations and hundreds of editions to choose from. Our new series of guides is here to answer your questions about the different Bibles on offer today.

What is the NLT Bible?

 Every Bible translation is pulled in two directions: whether to be accurate or to be clear.

The very act of Bible translation is itself a careful balance. There's a fine line between achieving word-for-word accuracy and authentic thought-for-thought contemporary meaning. The New Living Translation (NLT) of the Bible gives you a modern English translation that is accurate in meanings while keeping to the form and structure of the original scriptures.

History of the NLT

Almost every English language Bible has its origins in another translation that went before it. This chain stretches back for hundreds of years. For the New Living Translation, the clue to its predecessor lies in the name. The New Living Translation is a new edition of The Living Bible...or, it was supposed to be. 

The Living Bible was written in 1971 in response to the difficulty that comes with reading the King James Bible (1611). ‘Thee’ and ‘thou’ and regular words with an ‘eth’ attached to them (for example, ‘goeth’, ‘runneth’ and ‘overfloweth’) are not as easily-understood today. It's been almost 400 years since such words were in use. English, as with most other things lasting such a length of time, has changed a lot in four centuries.

For publisher and writer Kenneth N. Taylor, the KJV's difficulty was becoming an obstacle to faith for too many people. In a Christianity Today article about The Living Bible, Kenneth Taylor wrote that:

The children were one of the chief inspirations for producing the Living Bible. Our family devotions were tough going because of the difficulty we had understanding the King James Version [...] I would ask questions to be sure the children understood, and they would shrug their shoulders—they didn't know what the passage was talking about.

NLT Bible

In having to explain to children what each passage meant, Kenneth found himself rewording whole segments of the Bible so that it made sense. That’s when the idea hit him. He could create a paraphrase Bible. A Bible whose language was informal, inspired by the original message but free to reword it for contemporary audiences to better understand. A living Bible.

But, as we’ll soon see, the New Living Translation isn’t a paraphrase Bible.

What changed? 

The NLT always had the goal of using contemporary English. Unlike with a paraphrase, the translators of the NLT still wanted to keep the original scriptures as close-by as possible. When work on the NLT started in 1989, 18 years after the publication of The Living Bible, the project was called the New Living Version. This was soon changed to avoid confusion. The process of a complete revision was so in-depth and performed by such a large team that over time the NLT became less a revision of The Living Bible and more a new translation in and of itself.

How Was It Translated?

You can tell a lot about how and why a Bible was translated by looking at the team picked for the task. For the NLT, that pool of experts was a broad one. The range of scholars and theologians chosen for the translation didn’t come from any singular denomination or background. Though broadly Evangelical, the translators were picked for their expertise in exegetical and contextual matters. Amongst these respected Christian thinkers were skilled English stylists whose job was to shape the language used into something altogether closer to contemporary English.

The team working on the Old Testament used as their primary sources the Masoretic Text, which is the authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Hebrew Bible. As well as those, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint and a selection of Greek and Latin were consulted.

For the New Testament, the Greek New Testament and the Novum Testamentum Graece (a critical edition of the New Testament in Greek) were employed.

Some of the changes made in the name of readability included:

  • Converted weights into modern measures

  • Currencies were changed from locally-used names to more general terms for the period's various monies (for example, using pieces of silver as a unit of currency)

  • Ancient dates converted to be as close as possible to the Gregorian calendar

  • Modern times of day used

  • Explanations of word meanings that are important to the text

Throughout the process, the translators would hew close to the scriptures, but make sure never to stray from the common understanding of the modern reader. The use of close scripture reading mixed with modern interpretation is dynamic equivalence. This is where the closest equivalent of a word from one language to another is used as the basis for translation, but the language of the intended reader is also taken into strong consideration. It's close to the source, but also relevant to a contemporary reader. 

How Accurate is the NLT Bible?

The NLT uses dynamic equivalence in its translation, but how far from literal is that?

Before answering, it helps to know two key terms used when discussing how accurate a Bible is. Whenever someone discusses Bible Translation accuracy, they will most likely draw a line in the sand between Bibles which are “word-for-word” and Bibles which are “thought-for-thought”.

Word-for-word Bibles present as directly as possible the text in the original scriptures. As the scriptures come from a culture far removed from our own, their texts are harder to understand and so any direct translations themselves require of the reader a sharp eye and working knowledge of the context from which the Bible came.

Thought-for-thought Bibles operate under a different approach. They employ a greater level of textual interpretation throughout their translation process. This includes taking in wider contexts and meanings as a guide to what the original text meant and how that text would appear in today’s language.

If word-for-word is akin to Google Translate, operating with as little human interpretation as possible, then thought-for-thought is like a poem translated from another language, where meaning and form carry greater emphasis.

But where does the NLT Bible sit on the spectrum?

The New Living Translation is a thought-for-thought Bible translation. This is because it was translated with a dynamic equivalence approach. The original meanings of the text are translated with a greater priority than the word-for-word, literal translations. 

Bible Translation Continuum

How Easy is the NLT to Read?

The NLT Bible is written at a 6th Grade Reading Level. This means that readers from the ages of 11 and up should be able to confidently read the majority of the NLT text and roughly understand what it means.

What determines this level is the total number of unique words and sentences, as well as sentence length and the length of the words themselves. Other grammatical features also carry weight in the score. The reading level doesn’t take into account any understanding of history and context. Just the words and grammar of the text.

As an example, this sentence you are currently reading would score at a Grade Nine on the readability test.

This sentence would be at Grade Two.

Common uses

Because of how accessible the New Living Translation of the Bible is, upon release it grew to overtake the NIV Bible in the USA, becoming the number one Bible of choice. More recently, the two have swapped positions again. Being the second most read and purchased Bible still puts it in the hands of a huge number of people.

What has helped the NLT Bible’s popularity is its ability to reach a wide variety of ages and demographics. The NLT speaks as clearly to new Christians as it does to children. It would seem the NLT Bible didn’t stray as far from Kenneth Taylor’s aim for The Living Bible as previously thought. It just took a different road to get there.

The NLT has also been used for Churches, small groups, outreach, personal study and life application.

Different editions

The NLT has undergone a number of changes since publication. In 2004 the second edition of the NLT Bible was released, eight years after the original’s publication. That updated edition was created in the name of accuracy and precision. This included some fine-tuning of key words and phrases. It meant changing the very form some of the passages took, going from prose style to poetry. This was in light of new understanding about the original manuscripts. Marginal notes were also added to help the reader better understand what happened in translation. Some literary devices were reinstated as well. Where before rhetorical tools such as repetitions (also known as epizeuxis) were condensed, they now found themselves restored.

After this, a 2015 update was also released. This newer version made a small number of minor changes to some verses. These changes have been a mix of word deletions or substitutions.

All in all, there are three main editions of the NLT Bible.

Example verses from the NLT Bible

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. - Jeremiah 29:11

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:32

Versions you can Buy Today

NLT Inspire Colouring and Journaling Bible

A blend of study Bible and adult colouring books, the Inspire Bible range offers space to creatively write, colour, draw and journal. The first of its kind, the Inspire Bible offers women of all ages a place to draw inspiration and creativity from time spent in the Bible. 

NLT Life Application Study Bible

Discover all the ways the Bible speaks to life. The ever-popular NLT Life Application Study Bible is now in its third version, with even more notes and extras that connect your story with that of God’s.

With a fresh two-colour interior design and meaningfully updated study notes and features, this Bible will help you understand God's Word better than ever. It answers the real-life questions that you may have and provides you with practical yet powerful ways to apply the Bible to your life every day.

NLT Outreach edition

NLT Outreach Edition

Whether you want to simply give the NLT a try or are seeking an accessible evangelism resource, the outreach edition of the NLT provides you with an affordable way to do just that. Featuring the whole text of the New Living Translation Bible, this paperback edition is clear and even features a 365-day reading plan. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Every day, people turn to the Bible for questions about faith, life, meaning, Christianity and countless other topics. But as well as having questions for the Bible, there are also many questions asked about the Bible. Here we’ll try to answer some of those most asked questions.

Is the NLT a paraphrase?

Though originally intended to be an update to a paraphrase Bible, the NLT is not a paraphrase Bible.

Is the NLT Catholic?

Catholic versions of the NLT Bible are available.

Is NLT a study bible?

Though a thought-for-though translation, there is a range of study versions of the NLT Bible available. These study Bibles are either personal study Bibles or Life Application study bibles, rather than academic study bibles. 

Whilst there are study editions of the NLT available, the NLT in itself is not traditionally a study Bible. 

Other Bible Translations:

Click on any of the images below to learn all about the stories behind some of the world's most widely-read Bible translations.

What is the KJV Bible?

What is the NIV Bible?

English Standard Version Bible

Your guide to the NKJV Bible

What is the CSB Bible?
What is the Good News Bible?

What is The Message Bible?

17th February

February 17th, 2020 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon

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Posts: 1

Thanks - NLT has been my preference for over two years now. I am still checking it out with the NIV and the KJV as well but I recommend everyone get one of these because it seems true to the message and cohesiveness of meaning throughout the Bible and it's just easy to understand and apply to myself and life today. So here's a big THANK YOU to the team and the effort and, of course, first of all to the Lord, who sponsored it! Additionally, the explanation, here and information is excellent!!

Sunday, 12th February 2023 at 5:36PM

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