Why I Switched to the New Living Translation

by Pastor Allen Colemen

This was first published on allencoleman.com. We are thankful to Pastor Allen for letting us share his story here.

After fifteen years of utilizing the English Standard Version (ESV), I have begun using the New Living Translation (NLT) in my public ministry.

Why the switch now?

As I’ve gotten older, my priorities in preaching have shifted ever so slightly. My priority as a preacher used to be information. Therefore, I wanted people to have an accurate, word-for-word translation to accommodate this misguided emphasis. (The emphasis is misguided, not the translation.) However, my priority has shifted to transformation as I have matured as a Bible teacher. Information doesn’t mean anything, with respect to the Bible anyway, if it doesn’t bear fruit in people’s lives. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not equating a particular translation of the Bible to faithful life transformation over another. This is more about a very personal decision with very public implications for me. So, for me, part of what it means to preach each week with an emphasis on transformation is to eliminate obstacles to the text and, therefore, to the gospel itself, as I see it. So what matters to me when choosing a Bible translation?

Comprehension

I want my messages to be accessible. Not just to the mature believer, but to those new in the faith or not in the faith at all. Therefore, the older I get, the simpler I get. The more accessible I want my preaching to be. Which means I want the text to be more accessible as well.

The readability of the NLT is the first thing I noticed when I began investigating a new Bible translation. It’s smooth, baby. The word order doesn’t feel like driving through a parking lot with speed bumps, like other translations. It reads like plain English, which is exactly the kind of Greek the New Testament was written in . . . plain. For example, as you compare some of your favorite Bible texts, notice the well-paved, open highway. Without sacrificing meaning, small word choices end up making a huge difference:

  • “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Philippians 1:21, nlt)
  • “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, esv)

Hopefully you’ll notice that the NLT is written in updated language for modern readers. The ESV still, at times, has a lot of KJV-style language, making the reading experience more challenging. By contrast, the NLT largely does away with old-school language that makes you feel like you’re reading Hamlet. Personally, I think this makes the Bible more enjoyable and raises comprehension for any reader. I think it’s a safe bet that New Testament authors didn’t talk like old British scholars.

For example, “thus” appears 8 times in the NLT but 691 times in the ESV. “Lest” appears 0 times in the NLT and 186 times in the ESV. “Shall” shows up 43 times in the NLT and a whopping 4,144 times in the ESV.

  • “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” (Hebrews 11:14, esv)
  • “Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own.” (Hebrews 11:14, nlt)
  • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1, esv)
  • “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1, nlt)
  • “. . . but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17, esv)
  • “. . . except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (Genesis 2:17, nlt)

With the NLT, my ministry won’t require a seminary degree to read on Sundays or in the home. These kinds of updates have me stoked about the NLT! I think you’ll find it easier to read and understand, which will encourage you to take up and read God’s Word even more. Isn’t that the point, after all?

Precision

Accuracy to the original languages doesn’t have to be sacrificed for readability. Approximately 90 biblical scholars worked on the NLT during the foundational work of the translation to ensure accuracy of the text.

The translators first struggled with the meaning of the words and phrases in the ancient context; then they rendered the message into clear, natural English. Their goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful. . . . All of the Bible scholars and stylists involved in this work are Christians who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Most of the translators are professors in seminaries or universities, and all of the translators have written books and/or scholarly articles regarding the specific books of the Bible for which they did their translation work. They represent a rich variety of theological and denominational backgrounds, united by the common conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and that all people should have a translation of Scripture that they can really understand. (Source: https://www.tyndale.com/about-the-nlt)

Inclusion

I’m not talking about cultural inclusion for inclusion’s sake. Certainly not at the expense of a particular text’s meaning. I’m talking about inclusion that actually clarifies the meaning of a text and, at the same time, includes the reader.

I think it’s critical that the NLT makes a translation choice that includes “brothers and sisters” rather than just “brothers.” Much of the time, the Greek word that is literally translated as “brothers” is intended to include our sisters in Christ. This is huge, given that most churches have more women than men. Using “brothers and sisters” is a welcome translation decision because I worry that newer Bible readers won’t know that Paul is speaking to the women in our churches too. We should all want the ladies in our churches to plainly hear God addressing them without having to continually remind themselves, “‘Brothers’ means me, too!”

  • “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, esv)
  • “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, nlt)

The NLT does a good job of keeping gender intact when the context matters but being more inclusive with the text when it is clearly directed at both men and women.

Mission

My final thought is this: I want to feel like I can hand a Bible to someone who has never read the Bible. With the NLT, I can do so knowing comprehension and inclusion won’t be further obstacles when they don’t need to be. I should point out that I’m a minority. And for other minorities who want an English Bible but whose first language is not English, the NLT is a ministry Godsend.

For more mature Christians, the accuracy we care about remains intact. However, I have always said that we should have other Bible study tools at our disposal for a more advanced understanding of the text anyway.

Lots of faithful, transformative preachers will continue to use the ESV (and other translations) in their public ministries to great success. My thoughts here are in no way intended to diminish their conviction in doing so.

28 thoughts on “Why I Switched to the New Living Translation

    1. I totally agree, very clear and informative thank you. I also found it easier to read and understand NLT.

  1. I use NLT in my personal Bible Study and I give the NLT Daily Bible to everyone, including people who have never read the Bible. I am 80 years old and I love Jesus talking to me personally instead of KJV which I grew up with and forced myself to read.

    1. Thank you for sharing God’s Word with everyone you meet. This is such and encouragement and inspiration!

  2. I will be 78 in early May and was saved at age 27 just after the birth of my 4th child. My Lord talked to me all the time in the beginning for I was in a “speckled bird” church as pastor said where hair jewelry clothes and damnation were the main focus every service which we attended as a family not long after my salvation. Sitting on the 1st pew no distractions listening closely. I became a Sunday School teacher immediately and took it very seriously, only Bible accepted in our church was KJV. I switched to NLT about a year ago and since then everything has become more clear and interesting. I taught from Kindergarten and last was Adults 20 to 40 years old. I studied with commentaries every day for my next lesson, I opened my mouth and Jesus spoke His message through me not what I studied. Being a vessel for Him is the greatest privilege. Sunday evening I had a class before service for teens but people of all ages came to listen. I testified in the spirit often shaken by the spirit and followed His course. After 7 years we moved to a much further home and moved again into our new home we had built in a new state. However reading NLT is the most informative and plainly written and enjoyable read ever. It’s like reading a great novel so interesting and informative and I am closer to my Lord than ever in my very long life. I love this NLT version and enjoy it every day. I highly recommend NLT to everyone of all ages who are serious about their walk with Christ and all the people in the Bible. Eyesight is failing so I read on my laptop and has audio which I like to read and hear all at the same time, sinks in better. Thank you for this wonderful version I appreciate so much every day!!!

  3. This was a great and informative article humbly written by a pastor who obviously has a very close relationship with the Lord. His comments and logic make so much sense, especially as Pastor Allen reminds us that the scriptures were written in the languages of the writers at the times they were on this earth. Too often we caught up in the old fashioned formalities & traditions that man invents and that then cause him to lose sight of the objective of the Bible, which is to bring man into knowledge of his Lord & Saviour so that he can be saved and have a close personal relationship with Him BECAUSE God loves us so much!

  4. I studied under a pastor who preached out of Ken Taylor’s Living Bible for 25 years, for many of these reasons. It wasn’t perfect, but people understood the words clearly. In the 1990s, Ken came to our church to introduce the new NLT. He was so excited about it! I bought a copy that morning and got him to sign the flyleaf. I agree with the author above. The NLT is a far better and more accurate version than the Living Bible paraphrase, yet it manages to be at least as clear and readable. Quite the accomplishment. The NLT remains my favorite translation now, 25 years after that introductory Sunday.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! What a wonderful experience to meet Dr. Taylor! We pray that we continue his legacy of excitement and reverence for God’s amazing Word to us!

  5. I have been teaching adult Bible study classes for 50 years. NLT is my translation of choice. I have tried other translations, but keep coming back to the NLT. This is the translation I recommend to everyone seeking an accurate, understandable Bible.

    1. Thank you for sharing this and your ministry in teaching a Bible study for 50 years! What a wonderful legacy!

  6. It was reading the New Testament in Greek that pushed me towards the NLT. I began to see more clearly that the Greek word order and forced vocabulary choices of the ESV impeded understanding the meaning of the underlying text. After serving as a pastor, Bible school professor and missionary for many years, I have seen the NLT communicate the truth to many who otherwise miss it. This is especially true for those who have less than a college education and those who speak English as a second language. I have read most of the available English translations, as well as several German and Albanian translations. The NLT is remarkably accurate as well as accessible!

    1. Thank you for sharing this! Love to hear how God is using the NLT and thank you for your ministry!

  7. I had global head injuries in 1991 and had to learn to read, write, think, and spell again. The Living BIBLE was a boon not only in the ease of language but the print type. I am now able to read almost anything but this took a long time. Thank you for this WONDERFUL BOOK! I now have the Chronological NLB. I do not have seminary training but am able to run circles around preachers, etc. Praise GOD!

  8. My husband recently came to accept Christ, and I wanted to buy him his own Bible. I have always used the NIV, but after much investigation I bought him the NLT Life Application bible because it is so easy to read and understand.

  9. Reading Pastor Allen’s story was like reliving a new life. I purchased a secondhand copy of the NLT Bible in a Turkish restaurant in Tottenham, London in 2010. I was a newly baptised Christian, and seeing a copy of the Bible in a restaurant among a handful of other old books intrigued me. When I asked the proprietor whether I could have the Bible he said, yes. He gave it to me for £3! Later, when I read the NLT alongside the NIV (the preferred version of the church I belonged), I found the NLT enthralling. When I read the whole of 2 Peter in the NLT, I knew in my heart that God had put this translation of His Word into my hands. Bible study through the NLT has changed my understanding of the Scriptures and changed my life. I have since recommended it to every single person I’ve shared God’s Word with. Thank you Pastor Allen, for sharing.

  10. Thank you so much for such information. I have been wondering which bible version is easy and simple.

  11. thanks again and a lot, because it’s making my relationship with Christ very unique , I mean it’s very understandable

  12. I’ve been trying to decide whether to choose CSB or NLT as a family devotional and reading bible and one I can get for my kids to read on their own too. Both have a somewhat lowered reading level compared to ESV which has been my standard for a long time.

    In general from more difficult to less difficult I would rank ESV -> CSB -> NIV -> NLT in that order. I do fear NLT may have taken a few too many liberties for the sake of readability, lowering the reading level so much that some of the richness of language is gone. I really like the readability of NIV, it also feels very smooth and natural to me. But CSB gets high praise, similar to NLT, while diehard NIVers tend to not like newer revisions and stick to the 80s revisions which I don’t fully understand.
    So then, I’m still left contemplating CSB versus NLT and I’m open to anyone’s particular viewpoint on that.

    1. To help make translations choices there is a wonderful book published by IVP “One Bible, Many Versions” It is extremely helpful in better understanding Bible translation.

  13. WOW! It was a joy to come across this article. I’m now 78 yrs old. Started out in teens w/The King James Bible, reading, studying, memorizing and using to witness. I loved what I had because I believed it was the Word of God. A lot of years went by that the KJV language and understanding of it were an obstacle to it blessing me. I came across “THE BOOK”, a translation that was so understandable and enjoyable and just looked at it to find that it was special addition of the NLT, 1998. Then in 2019, purchased the “LIFE APPLICTION STUDY BIBLE” (NLT) with cross-reference verses and foot notes. WOW, WOW, WOW, – JOY, JOY, JOY. I enjoy it so much and feel it has helped grow me Spiritually in ways I would have loved to have had help me when I was younger. It is the “Holy Word of God” but also a tool, an instrument thru which the Holy Spirit can work – even more so the better I understand it. I write other cross-reference verses, and notes in the margins. I underline in red and blue ink for verses and thoughts that speak to me so I can easily spot them. I don’t worship it, but my God and Savior that the NLT so wonderfully reveals to me.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story!! We love how God draws people closer to him through the NLT!

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