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#67 - An evaluation of the New Living Translation
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Currently I'm reading the One Year Bible (New Living Translation, Tyndale Press). I didn't find it on your list concerning more reliable Greek texts vs Textus Receptus and would like to know how it rates for translation and reliability.
Christian Book Distributor's catalog describes the New Living Translation (NLT) as follows:
The New Living Translation is a dynamic equivalence translation prepared by 90 leading Bible scholars working from the original Hebrew and Greek text.
Detailed information about NLT is not found in any of the resources I currently have in my library. What I do know is that Kenneth Taylor, the paraphraser of its predecessor, The Living Bible (LB), actually created Tyndale House Publishers in 1962 for the specific purpose of publishing the LB. That Bible version is not considered a translation, because it is not a translation from the Hebrew and Greek texts, but is only a paraphrasing (or rephrasing of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV). Kubo and Specht (So Many Versions? Twentieth Century English Versions of the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975, pages 181-182) comment:
A few of the passages in the NT [New Testament] that are of doubtful authenticity and were therefore removed from the ASV text and placed in footnotes are restored to the text by the LB (see Matt. 17:21; 18:11; Mark 15:28; John 5:3b-5; Acts 8:37; 24:6b-8a; Rom. 16:24).
It should be noted that the NLT does eliminate the above referenced passages "that are of doubtful authenticity."
I have used the NLT to some extent. It has some insightful renderings, but I have also been disappointed in places where it was adding in what the original text does not intend to say, or where it was not including what the original text does intend to say.
In this same context, the Oxford Companion to the Bible (edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993, page 571) comments about the LB (the NLT's predecessor) as follows:
The most popular English Bible paraphrase of all times is Kenneth N. Taylor's The Living Bible Paraphrased (1971). In his preface he explains that, in attempting to be faithful in paraphrasing the text, he has been guided by "the theological lodestar [of] a rigid evangelical position." It must be stated, however, that Taylor's penchant for adding to or deleting from the texts, without any justification other than what is dictated by his "rigid evangelical position," effectively removes The Living Bible from being regarded as a trustworthy rendering. It is not that every passage in his paraphrase is tainted (in fact, some are very well done, e.g., 1 John 2:16); it is that readers who are not acquainted with the biblical text will too often be misled by Taylor's handling of it.
The Good News Bible (Today's English Version) is authentically a genuine translation. It is based upon the best available Hebrew and Greek texts, the same texts that are also used to translate the New Revised Standard Version. In my estimation the Good News Bible is the most insightful and easy to understand modern English translation that is genuinely faithful to the original texts. (For more info on the Good News Bible, see http://www.bibletexts.com/reviews/index.htm.)
As a result of your email, I have updated the bibliographic listing of English Bibles athttp://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/01bib-e.htm. Both the LB and the NLT are now included in the column of those based upon better texts, but both are also noted to be paraphrases.
The LB is clearly a paraphrase of the 1901 ASV, and the NLT is a paraphrase of some form of the Hebrew and Greek texts. The NLT seems to be very similar to the Contemporary English Version in both its very loose translation and in its theologically conservative interpretive renderings.
Response from a browser at a theological seminary
I have just read the answer to a question regarding the New Living Translation, http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa067.htm and I have found it less than satisfactory.
The question was: "Currently I'm reading the One Year Bible (New Living Translation, Tyndale Press). I didn't find it on your list concerning more reliable Greek texts vs Textus Receptus and would like to know how it rates for translation and reliability."
The gist of the reply seemed to be that the writer didn't know much of anything about it except that the Living Bible was its predecessor.
While this is true, the fact of the matter is that the Living Bible was a paraphrase written by Kenneth Taylor from the American Standard Version for his children, and he never consulted the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts. Thus, you are right in that the Living Bible is indeed a paraphrase and not a translation. I believe that this was groundbreaking in that it was the first of its kind.
The New Living Translation, on the other hand, uses the original texts. The quote inside the jacket of my bible says, "Ninety leading Bible scholars worked together to produce the New Living Translation. The scholars began their work by comparing the text of The Living Bible with the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Through this method, the scholars produced a translation that impacts you in much the same way the bible impacted its original audience. The result is a translation that is easy to understand and accurate for study."
There is a very long introduction in my NLT bible, which explains that it is a dynamic-equivalence, thought-for-thought translation and how/why they translated the text in certain ways. It is misleading to call the NLT a paraphrase because it is indeed a translation. The fact that the LB was its predecessor has no bearing on this. Kenneth Taylor is listed as a "Special Reviewer," but was not responsible for any of the translations. While it is true that the NLT used the LB for sylistic purposes, this is not uncommon, as many translations were written with the King James in mind (NKJV, RSV to name a couple).
I was mainly disappointed that 75% of the reply was about the Living Bible and very little was said about the actual translation in question. I would be appreciative if a more researched reply was made to the question (such as examples where "it was adding in what the original text does not intend to say, or where it was not including what the original text does intend to say").
Response from BibleTexts.com
Thank you for taking the time to explain your conclusions regarding the New Living Translation. I have appended your comments to my http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa067.htm webpage reply, to which you referred in your email.
My conclusions about the NLT really are not far different from yours, though we may place different shades of meaning on words such as "paraphrase." I don't consider "paraphrase" as a negative term. In this case it simply was intended to describe a further step away from the more literal translations, such as the NRSV or NASV. In my initial evaluation, the NLT was even less literal than the TEV, which I consider a phrase by phrase translation. I felt that in some cases the NLT interpretted into the text words and meaning that were not necessarily intended by the original writer and which the original Greek text does not necessarily justify.
(I am uncertain of which representation of the original texts the NLT translators utilized. The NRSV, TEV, and many other translations have considered the United Bible Societies' Hebrew and Greek texts as definitive, as do I. This is always worth mentioning, because some translations do not seem to practice textual objectivity.)
On the other hand, my answer to the question did dwell more about its predecessor, the Living Bible, more than on the NLT. For that I apologize.
In light of your comments and as time permits, sometime in the future I will try to take a fresh look at the NLT and append my fresh conclusions to the aforementioned webpage reply.
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Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer