Two notes: 1. Special thanks to Laura Bartlett at Tyndale for sending me preview copies of the NLT SB and the Chronological Bible. 2. My review of this resource will not relate to the NLT as a translation, but rather the NLT edition as published in this format.
Appearances can be deceiving. When I opened the box, I was disappointed and thought this is not a resource I would regularly use. Other reviews suggested using it for travel. I travel a lot, but this clearly was not something I could see myself using on flights. The size, especially the thickness (2”), and overall dimensions (5.5” x 7”) fooled me into assessing this as an awkward resource; I don’t have any other book like it, except a smaller version for Rockwell paintings. Even a quick glance at the font (an important factor in Bible readability) reinforced my initial reluctance to consider this edition.
So what happened to change my mind? My goal was to look at it, maybe use it for a few days and then put it away. I set it on the coffee table beside my recliner and started the readings for the day. In that setting I found the size to be just about right (however, I still will not take it with me on trips). Not only that but I began to appreciate the design aspects of this Bible.
The Scripture readings are based on one view of chronology relative to when each book was written. While I might disagree with a few time relationships, the presentation is defensible and well done. Contrary to other such attempts, this edition incorporated the Psalms into their historical contexts. This works well both ways – it shows the liturgical element of life events in the historical books (perhaps unintentional side affect) and the historical context of the liturgical life. Also, the editors inserted in chronological order Biblical references of later writings that refer to the specific event (i.e. Gen. 11 and 1 Chronicles 1, p. 18). And it was good to see Job between Genesis and Exodus, often conjectured, but seldom seen in practice; nice to see in this edition. The Scripture references (verse numbers) were small and not noticeable to me most of the time. Well done.
Comments on specific features:
General Timeline (pp. A15-18): very helpful because it puts the date and specific event with the page number. The page reference in the Introduction on p. A10 is wrong because it indicates that the Timeline begins on p. A9, instead of p. A15.
One Year Reading Plan: obvious use for a chronological Bible. Each day is marked in the text to aid the reader without turning to another page. Better integrated and less intrusive than I have seen in other such Bibles.
Transition Statements: Thankfully these are short and hence non-intrusive to the reading plan (this isn’t a study Bible, after all), and in a different but readable font. These little notes prove useful in reading the text quickly and just getting enough information to cause the reader to think, “Yes, okay, that helps me understand the background”.
Chronological Dating: Dates are included in the subheadings throughout the text, very well thought out design to aid the reader.
Daily Reading Guide: This feature complements the in-text reading guides. At the back of the Bible, each day is listed with Biblical readings by text reference. For a comparative reading, this would assist the person to use a traditional Bible. Well done.
Scripture Index: helpful tool for traditional comparisons and quick reference. Personally I wouldn’t find much use for it in this type of Bible.
Verse Callouts: For some people these generate a sense of “speaking to me.” In this kind of Bible reading plan, I find that it is not all that helpful. But that is a personal choice.
Historic Christian Symbols: “Each month a new symbol is introduced with an explanation of its significance” (p. A11). The publishers commissioned an artist to provide these, and each page of the month’s reading has that symbol. They are faint, so they don’t overwhelm the text. Coming from a liturgical and visually oriented background, I find these kind of assets of great value in teaching the faith and engaging all the senses. Well done!
While I study the Biblical text primarily in the original language texts, I use English translations routinely for all aspects of my devotional and pastoral tasks. Thus, I try to expose myself to several translations in different settings: personal reading, family devotion, sermon prep, teaching prep, publication prep, etc., rotating the translations used. Thus, one year I might read ESV for one part, GW for another, NAS for another. This does not mean I always think a specific translation is best, but such a process gives me a feel for how well a translation works in a specific context.
In 2009, I have decided to use two new resources. For devotional reading, this One Year Chronological Bible (24/7 NLT) will be my resource (while at home). I find the Bible’s arrangement, aids, and ease of use worthwhile to encourage me in this type of reading.
This review has taken longer due to the amount of material surveyed. Obviously even now, this review only looks at a sampling.
In my first review I noted many positive features. Here the focus is on the content. The book introductions provide enough information to grasp the general thrust of the book. The setting is perhaps the most important factor because this gives the reader a chance to identify time and place; obviously this blends well with the included timelines. Depending on the level of someone’s knowledge of the Bible, it seems that the introductions to the prophetic books are particularly useful, otherwise the prophetic message can “hang suspended in time.” Of course, no study Bible can prevent misuse of the message, but at least an appropriate context for the original audience sets the writing in place.
The character and theme inserts were well done and add perspective when studying. But see below for the negative side of such a feature.
1. Lord’s Supper: The footnote for Matthew 26:26-29 (p. 1633) lists three positions regarding the Lord’s Supper. But the second option really includes two separate options. The Reformed view is “spiritual presence” and refers to “the real presence of Christ.” Often the word “symbolizes” or “represents” is used to refer to the words of institution (as noted in footnote Mark 14:24, p. 1686). However, the Lutheran view (“in, with, and under”) refers tothe real presence of Christ’s body and blood, but the word “consubstantiation” is not used by Lutherans. So there are four views.
Further, while the theology of the footnote authors/publisher is expected to show, evenhandedness would have done better in Luke 22:19-20 (p. 1755). The footnote only gives the “symbolic” view (“using the bread and cup as symbols of his body and blood”), but with no reference to the Matthew/Mark passages for alternative views. A simple note could have been included: “For further discussion see parallel passages (p. 1633, 1686).”
2. Justification: In Romans 3:22 NLT (p. 1897) has: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” I have always opposed such a translation, because it makes faith as the active agent rather than the passive receptor, contrary to the emphasis in the Greek. This rendering changes the emphasis from the Greek, which is on the righteousness of God. Interestingly the footnote gets it right, “the way God puts people in a right relationship.”
The wealth of information contained in the character and theme inserts provides value for the student. However, because they take so much space I found that they were actually hindering my study. I would have preferred to have a companion booklet with all the character and theme inserts (separate sections for each). This would have allowed the additional space to be used for both cross references and for more footnotes. A study Bible needs to focus on tools that help study the text, not be a systematic theological resource.
One further surprise concerns the Ephesians study helps. There are many good statements that summarize the theme and aspects of the letter. But I found no hint about the importance of the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalents: “in him”); these occur 37 times in the short letter. Yet the footnote for Eph. 1:1 (p. 1998) notes the letter has “frequent emphasis on “the will of God” (which occurs only 6 times total!). In contrast, “in Christ/in him” occurs 13 times in chapter 1 alone. This seems like an oversight that should be rectified for the next edition.Conclusion
Any Study Bible that provides a service for understanding God’s Word is worth considering. So, how does this stack up against other Study Bibles I have and use? The layout, maps, timelines, etc. are some of the best I have seen. Will I use this Study Bible? Not as my primary one, but I frequently examine it to see how both the NLT renders the original language text and to compare footnotes and study aids with other sources.
The first liturgical text I will examine is the Lord’s Prayer, found in variant forms in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Probably along with Psalm 23 no text of the Bible is more well known. This is great, but it also raises concern when looking at translations to flow within the liturgy. Liturgically, the Lord’s Prayer is used in every worship service; for communion services, it occurs within the “Service of the Sacrament” immediately following the Sanctus (Lutheran Service Book [LSB], p. 195-196), and for non-communion services at the end of the Prayer for the Church (LSB, p. 193/196).
It appears that the liturgical development of the Lord’s Prayer became a synthesis of the two accounts in Matthew and Luke. For instance, in Matthew the text reads, οφειληματα, “debts” but in Luke the text reads αμαρτιας, “sins” or sometimes “trespasses.”
Of course, the primary textual issue concerns whether the ending is in fact part of the original text (“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. “). For this study, I will not pursue that point, except to note that the evidence suggests that the ending was not original to the texts in Matthew/Luke, but became canonical because of its incorporation into the liturgy as such. Interestingly, within Lutheran liturgy, there is recognition of the difference between the ending and the rest of the prayer in the “Service of the Sacrament”, in which the pastor prays/chants the prayer itself, and the congregation responds/chants with the last line as an appropriate doxological response. Musically, theologically, and emotionally a very powerful combination! For me this is the most significant musical memory of the entire liturgy from 50+ years ago.
The first rendering is from the traditional liturgy as (LSB, pp. 196), which follows the KJV.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
- Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
- “Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
- “‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
- Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
- Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor
Come and set up
so that everyone on earth
will obey you,
as you are obeyed
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.
- Our Father in heaven,
let your name be kept holy.
Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done on earth
as it is done in heaven.
Give us our daily bread today.
Forgive us as we forgive others.
Don’t allow us to be tempted.
Instead, rescue us from the evil one.
Apart from the “understandability” of the words, I am focusing on the use of this within the context of liturgy. I think that God’s Word is the easiest to understand in contemporary English, although NLT and CEV would be second. Obviously, the NKJV most closely reflects the KJV and liturgical text. In the case of the Lord’s Prayer, however, there is another factor to keep in mind, the synthesis of two different texts. So a proposal to the Lord’s Prayer to modernize it would go like this:
Liturgy Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Notice that this involves changing only five words, but retaining the cadence of the original liturgical text. This means that those who learned the traditional wording and those who used the “modernized” text can speak it together without an interruption or disturbance. I have experimented with this, having ½ of the congregation speaking the traditional words and the other ½ of the congregation speak the modernized text (then we switched sides). They were pleasantly surprised that it worked so well and they appreciated that either would be acceptable.
This might be a help for those who look for a translation that will engage everyone in the memory of Scripture texts, especially those who learned using the KJV. I found that when getting the congregation to memorize together, the NKJV worked the best.
Psalm 136 Refrain
As a beginning point for liturgical use of Scripture, I begin with cadence/rhythm of language. Specifically I explore how English can provide an appropriate spoken cadence, while still doing justice to the Hebrew.
Derek Kidner offered these words at the beginning of Psalm 136. “Our versions of this psalm are mostly cumbersome: they lack the swiftness which should rid its repetitions of their tedium. The six Hebrew syllables of the response have their happiest equivalent in the Gelineau version of Psalm 118:1 (117:1 in Gelineau’s numbering): ‘for his love has no end.’” I have included several translations of that refrain with the number of syllables in parentheses.
Obviously, one concern is how to translate הסד, ranging from “love” (1) to “lovingkindness” (4). As Kidner notes, if the context of the Psalms are noted, then the concept of “covenant faithfulness” can still come through in the translation “love.” A second problem concerns whether the Hebrew supports the idea of “endures” or is better rendered with the implied “is”; which is Kidner’s choice. finally how do we translate לעולמ as “forever” or “eternal” or “everlasting,” which adds 3 or 4 syllables. Also, do we translate the conjunctions כי and לֹ, and if so, how? For those that translate כי, it is either “for” or “because”; about half of these translations leave it untranslated. Yet it seems necessary within the context of antiphonal reading.
My concern isn’t as much on the theological choices in each case (there is a definite need for that!), but rather how does this affect the oral cadence of the choices. In order to evaluate each, I had to speak them out loud several times to see whether the cadence was consistent and sustainable. The CEV is shortest in terms of syllables, but the possessive “God’s love” seems almost awkward in such a short sentence, especially after a few repetitions. The more formal equivalent (word-for-word) translations include the conjunction “for,” which is needed and seems appropriate. On the other hand, the desire to expand on הסד also increases the length of the response, which seems contrary to the sense of the Hebrew six-syllable structure.
For those translations remaining, NIV/TNIV have a good sound, but lack the conjunction, which loses something of the connection of the response to the preceding statements. Also, both use “endures” (as do most of the translations), rather than “is.” Surprisingly, HCSB provides the same six-syllable structure of the Hebrew “ His love is eternal.” The one draw back is that the first three words are monosyllabic, whereas the last word is trisyllabic. This means that the syllable count is correct, but is a little jarring to the oral sense of the response. It appears that Kidner’s approval of Gelineau is the best, “for his love has no end.” In this case, the six-syllable structure is maintained, and each word is monosyllabic.
Now, obviously not every passage in English will be able to sustain the same syllable count as the Hebrew. But in the case of an oral response, there is something to be said for the terseness of this translation. As a suggestion, perhaps the reader can experiment with a group of people. Use three or four of the translations (each with a different syllable count, i.e. don’t use NIV and TNIV, or KJV and ESV) and antiphonal speak 6-8 verses. Then try using Gelineau’s translation. See what impact it has on the group. Notice whether the interest flags with the longer response line.
As we explore liturgical use of translations, we can see the importance of oral cadence in that process.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: A Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, edited by D. J. Wiseman, Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975, p. 457.
A ministry focused 21 day trip (3,400 miles, 10 congregations), and now I am suffering with severe head cold and chest congestion.
I want to thank Laura Bartlett and Mark Taylor for sending me a review copy of the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB). My review will actually take several posts. This first post will look at the physical aspects of the book, typography, arrangement, layout, etc. Later posts will look in detail at the content in the study notes and reference tools. At this early stage I am impressed with what the NLTSB offers students of the Bible.
1. Physical Characteristics
Overall, I am impressed with the physical setup of NLTSB. The size of NLTSB clearly indicates it is a study Bible, and so it will not be one to carry around. That is to be expected; I compared it to a regular on my shelf, the Concordia Self-Study Bible (CSSB), which is identical in size and weight. The binding seems to be good for this size book, but it will remain to be seen how well it holds up under regular use.
The font choices are pleasing. Sometimes in study Bibles the text size is too small for both the Scripture text and the footnotes because the editors want to cram so much in a limited space. Not so with NLTSB, which appears to use a heavier weight of the fonts (than CSSB) which makes both sets of texts readable even at the smaller size. The negative of such a choice is that there is bleed-through from the other side of the page (note intro page to Joshua, p. 372), but no more so than CSSB. For my use I prefer what NLTSB has done with the font choices. I like that the Scripture text is serif, and the study notes are sans serif which makes both readable but distinguishable. Well done!
The placement of the cross-references, on the center binding, left something to be desired. I tend to like them on the outside of the page but then that relegates the Scripture text to an inner portion near the binding. There probably is not an easy usable system for those.
2. Front Matter
The Table of Contents is good, font choice and size. But I found it a little disconcerting that a little is left at the top of the next page. I would have preferred to have the Intro material (10 lines below word Contents) as one line, and then used the extra space to give the entire Old Testament and New Testament items. The introduction to the NLTSB is excellent, but can only be appreciated when actually looking at the portions in the study Bible. How to Study the Bible with the NLT Study Bible provides a quick introduction to study techniques, all very helpful for new students.
The NLTSB Master Timeline is excellent, giving all significant events from 4,000 BC to AD 330. Including the post New Testament era is perhaps the best study help for students, new and old. Too often we lose sight of the connection between the New Testament and the Early Church. This timeline bridges the gap nicely. Well done! The Overview Maps are a good idea, but with only two, they are too selective in time to be good overview maps – what names are to be used? Given the constraints, this is probably as good as can be expected. See my other very favorable comments about Maps in NLTSB.
It was nice to see the Contributors listed right after the Study Bible segments. Then when the NLT is introduced, the translators are listed immediately following. Good approach for both. One surprise, but very welcome feature, was the table noting Ancient Texts and Archaeology (pp. 8-10). It is especially helpful because it includes dates, sources, and Old Testament parallels. This will prove beneficial for longer term study and reference. Certainly the Old Testament has the most to gain by such tools, but it was surprising that a similar table was not included for the New Testament.
3. Study Features
The NLT Study Bible Features Guide (pp. A8-A9) provide a helpful introduction to each of the features mentioned. However, the actual pages in the study Bible are better than this overview shows. I had seen the features online, and in the seminar, but they do not do justice until you actually open the study Bible to a Book Introduction. The physical layout is superb. The map is well placed and is the right size with corresponding caption that gives map references to place names in the current book under study. The Timeline on the far-right column provides the appropriate information to place everything in historical context. The barebones Outline offers another aid in gathering information quick. Setting and Summary round out the typical first glance (two-page spread) of the book, with some books requiring more information in each, which pushes these to the next (i.e. Jeremiah, pp. 1204-5). This two-page introduction for the first encounter with a book is excellent, far better than the samples and demos indicated. For someone new to the book, this provides significant detail in a compact way.
The other book introductory material fills gaps in the first two-page view. Author, Date, and Other Historical Issues and Meaning and Message are typical of all study Bibles, so I would have expected such. They seem well placed and sufficiently abbreviated so as not to overwhelm the student. But the other three features that set this study Bible apart are the Chronology Articles, Epigraphs, and Further Reading. The Chronology Articles (i.e.2 Kings p. 649) are extremely helpful in the lesser known historical books (among many lay students). Even for experienced students of the Word, a simple refresher on the chronology is a welcome treat. When I first learned that there would be epigraphs I almost cringed because unless great care is taken, these often become nothing more than worked over devotional mush. So far in my use of the NLTSB I have found the Epigraphs to be high quality, insightful, and theologically significant. Well done to the editors for choosing appropriate quotes!
Theme Notes, Person Profiles, and Cross-reference Systems are standard fair for study Bibles. NLTSB does a workable job, except I was disappointed in the number of cross-references. I expected to see many more. The CSSB offers significantly more references. For a student, cross-references can be the most valuable tool for long term, in depth study; granted, a complete/exhaustive concordance will fill that need. But the NLTSB seems to be inadequate at this point. Note: I am not referring to whether the actual cross-references are good choices, only on the lack of extensive cross-references.
4. After Matters
The NLTSB Reading Plan follows many study Bibles, but with one welcome twist. The introductory matter for each book is included as a separate reading item. This helps in reading in an informed way, and as a refresher for the next time through the reading plan. The only caution is for everyone to realize that the introductory material is not Bible Reading Plan, but a Study Bible Reading Plan, subtle, but important distinction.
Dictionary and Index of Hebrew and Greek Word Studies (pp. 2215-2226) offers a good starting point for investigating the original language texts. There are approximately 200 words that are annotated in this section. Again, I am not commenting on the content, but the presence of this tool. Especially helpful for new students are the guidelines and cautions about fallacies when studying the Bible (pp. 2215-2216). These words are then linked to Strong’s Numbers for reference to more advanced study. Also, in the cross-references in the Biblical text, each of these is noted and then linked to the next (major) occurrence of the word in the chain. A fine tool that could lead to further in depth study.
The Subject Index is helpful because it includes the reference tools in the lists with a two level division (sub divisions of each major word). The reference provides both the Biblical text and the page number. It is very helpful to have the PROFILE identified in the lists, for easy refreshing of memory on a person. Likewise, map references are included that avoids another index, the Map Index, found in many study Bibles.
The NLT Dictionary/Concordance blends two tools into a serviceable reference for someone wanting a summary view of the word. Again, the references are not extensive, but sufficient to get a sense of how it used in various contexts. After each word (non-people, non-place names) the words are identified according to English usage, noun, verb, adjective, adverb. For more advanced students this should not be necessary, although I found seminary students 25 years ago who couldn’t identify parts of speech, but for new students, this is another minor, but helpful aid in studying the Bible.
5. Maps and Timelines
For my use and preparation for classes, maps and timelines are critical. Maps can make or break a study Bible. I was pleasantly surprised by the maps in NLTSB, both the color maps at the end and the black and white maps throughout the text. I realize that the maps were made for the NLT1 and revised for NLTse, but it still impacts how they are used in this study Bible.
Color maps present some unique challenges that few Bible publishers get right. NLTSB offers the best color maps I have seen. The color combinations are not so overwhelming to the eye, and they do not overpower the text. The font choices for the maps is ideal because they are clear and readable even at a quick glance. The only minor exception is the blue font against a green or dark brown background (i.e. Jabbok River on map 1). The “direction of View” inset at the top of most maps is very helpful especially when the map itself shows only a portion of a larger area of interest. These are some of the most readable and usable maps I have encountered. Well-done.
The black and white maps maintain a readable format, thus being useful for glances in reference. I think it is very positive to have a map at the beginning of every book with a historical background. Another positive feature of these book maps is the references to places in the text. Again, well-done!
The timelines throughout the NLTSB make this another strong feature in a study Bible. I particularly like that the timeline ultimately extends to the Council of Nicea (p. 2203). This gives an excellent framework to put the New Testament authors and events as well as the Apostolic Fathers and Early Church Fathers. Most study Bibles ignore the importance of this feature; I am happy to see what NLTSB provides in this.
6. Conclusion – so far
Overall, this is the best study Bible I have used in terms of layout, design, and usefulness. From the standpoint of these features alone, this study Bible ranks as one of the best study Bibles I have ever used. Even the paucity of cross-references, while regrettable, does not detract from this conclusion. Granted, I have not yet begun an evaluation of the content of these tools, but first impressions have me recommending the study Bible as a valuable tool for learning and growing in the understanding of the Word of God. Thus, while I highly recommend the NLTSB from a design/layout perspective, this does not reflect any final evaluation and recommendation of the Study Bible.
The approach and features of the NLTSB reflect careful thought and planning on the part of the Study Bible team. They demonstrate concern for the average Bible reader who wants to know more, but does not know how to do that. They definitely have improved many features from previous study Bibles. Well done!