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NLT for Academic Study

Chris Heard asked via Twitter whether the NLT was suitable for academic study.  T. C. Robinson has given an answer:

Concluding thoughts: The NLT, New Living Translation, is simply too loose to be considered a serious academic Bible.

While I have some sympathy with this point, I have to ask just what the definition of “serious” and “academic” are in relation to a particular Bible translation.  Most of my teaching has been of lay people, and thus I’m probably not looking for a serious academic Bible however those labels are defined.  Nonetheless it seems to me that this is too broad an answer to a question that needs a bit of definition.

For example, what are these serious academic students doing with the particular Bible?  If they are doing exegesis suitable for scholarly publication, or perhaps for training in order to do scholarly publishing, then I would argue that no translation is sufficient to the task.

On the other hand if they are doing a survey type of study, the NLT might be a quite workable option.  I would especially recommend it for reading whole books.  I should note here that even when teaching lay people I’m in the habit of asking for such shocking things as reading of an entire book, and not the book of Philemon.  Try Ezekiel or Isaiah.

In reading a whole book I find such translations as the NLT, CEV, TNIV, and a few others quite helpful.  Personally, I like to read a book through in several versions as I follow the 12x reading recommendation I learned from my mother.  I find it difficult to maintain concentration when reading something 12 times from the same version, so I’ll use a variety.  For that purpose, the NLT is certainly helpful.

I also find the NLT very useful in comparison with my own translations.  Normally if I’m going to preach or teach a text I will do a written translation of my own.  I then like to compare that translation to a range of versions.  Normally I prefer to teach from an English version which is available to my class, provided there are not too many variations in the way I read the text.

I don’t know whether I agree with T. C. or just how I’d answer Dr. Heard’s question.  I have a hard time conceiving of recommending any single English translation for serious academic study.  But perhaps I’m thinking of something other than what was intended in the question.

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  1. Thanks for your reflections, Henry. My question reflects a desire for my students to use a translation less formal (by which I mean, more natural-sounding English) than the NRSV, but with less theological bias than I perceive in the TNIV. I do want all my students to use the same translation, so that we’re not constantly having to deal with translation issues. I don’t want to hide important translation issues from my students, but I don’t want to get bogged down over unimportant ones.

    1. The problem I would see here would be getting a translation that is both readable and less theologically biased than the TNIV. I think I’d have to do precisely what you say in your next comment – read and compare all the passages you’re going to assign.

      I would also consider an edition of the NET with all the notes. I haven’t used it enough as a reading text to have a valid opinion on the main translation, but I think the notes are impressive as English translation notes go.

  2. Oh, I should probably mention that we’re talking about first-year students in a general education class, not Bible majors.

    The only way I’ll ever really know is to read for myself all the passages we use in class.

    I am thinking that an easier-to-read version could very much help students read longer passages, just as you suggest.

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