The New Living Translation (second edition, abbreviated NLTse) at times is a good translation. It provides an accurate reflection of the underlying original language text and does so in understandable English. But then… there are times when I shake my head and want to throw it all out.
Take Mark 1:1-8, the Gospel lectionary for yesterday, the 2nd Sunday in Advent. After doing my own translating of the Greek, I began comparing translations, specifically on 1:4. I looked through a few translations of differing methods. First, three from formal equivalence method (sometimes called word-for-word):
New American Standard (NAS95) John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins
New King James (NKJV) John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Then four from functional (dynamic) equivalence method (sometimes called phrase-for-phrase):
New Internal Version (NIV 1984, so also NIV 2011) John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
God’s Word (GW) John the Baptizer was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
New Century Version (NCV): John was baptizing people in the desert and preaching a baptism of changed hearts and lives for the forgiveness of sins.
New Living Translation (NLTse) This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
Notice that six of the translations (as well as many other translations) follow the same basic rendering of the Greek. NLTse, however, changes the entire sense of the verse by its rendering in two ways: 1) Baptism is no longer left to its own force, not even connected to forgiveness of sins and 2) there is nothing to baptism except that it is a sign of something the people have done, namely repent of their sins. But is that what Greek text states? Not at all. Even a literalistic translation of βαπτιζω as “baptism“ is better than importing a different theological concept.
Just to note: Common English Bible—CEB and Everyday Reading Version—ERV follow the same direction as NLTse.
This is not a case of the translation trying to make the underlying Greek easier to understand, but rather of changing what the Greek text does say. This translation imports a specific theology contrary to what the text is saying (in Greek, as well as in most English translations). On this specific text, the NLTse/CEB/ERV would receive a grade of F for accuracy and reliability. And here is a case where NLTse’s normal “understandability” is not helpful, because it presents an understanding different than the original text.