Most Christians view the Bible as a holy book—the Word of God. But what exactly is the Bible? Is the King James Version the Bible? Is the New International Version the Bible? Is the New Living Translation the Bible? Is the Chinese Union Version the Bible? Is the Reina-Valera the Bible? The answer is YES.
The Bible has been translated into several thousand languages around the world. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that all of these translations are indeed translations from the original texts. We are so accustomed to the various English translations of the Bible that we sometimes forget that our favorite English text is not the original.
Whether the translation is the work of one individual or a team of scholars and linguists, each translation has been guided by the translation philosophy of the translators. This is admittedly simplistic, but in general there are two main philosophies of translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.
The Formal-Equivalence Philosophy of Translation
Some Bible translators attempt to maintain a word-for-word correspondence between the original Hebrew or Greek words and the English translation. This can be valuable for study purposes, but the end result is often a stilted style of English. All too often, readers react by saying, “Just like I thought—I can’t understand the Bible.”
The Dynamic-Equivalence Philosophy of Translation
Another philosophy is to focus first on the meaning of the original text, then to replicate that meaning as naturally as possible in the receptor language. Here the translator is less concerned about the individual Greek or Hebrew words and more concerned about the overall meaning of the text. The best-known translation in this category is the New Living Translation.
The Mission and Impact of the New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT grew out of The Living Bible (TLB), which my father paraphrased and published in 1971. The TLB was phenomenally popular in the 1970s. Most Protestants were still using the King James Version (KJV), which was challenging to read. So the TLB represented a whole new way to read and understand the Bible. As Billy Graham often said, “It reads like today’s newspaper.” Tyndale House (@TyndaleHouse) sold more than 40 million copies of the TLB, and I like to think that it paved the way for the explosion of new translations that have been published since then. In particular, I think The Living Bible paved the way for the New International Version (NIV) to become so popular when it was published in 1978. The King James was formal and hard to read; The Living Bible was folksy and easy to read, but it was created by one man rather than by a team of translators. So the stage was set for the NIV to chart a course midway between the KJV and the TLB.
In the late 1980s, Tyndale House pulled together a team of 90 Greek and Hebrew scholars and English stylists. (I served as Chief Stylist and a member of the central Bible Translation Committee.) Tyndale’s challenge to that group was to revise The Living Bible wherever the meaning could be made more accurate in relation to the original texts. Most significantly, we challenged them to maintain the easy readability of The Living Bible. We wanted them to maintain the dynamic-equivalence philosophy of translation.
As the project moved forward, we realized that we were doing far more than revising The Living Bible. We were creating an entirely new translation—not a paraphrase—that retained the strengths of the TLB and minimized the weaknesses of the TLB. We called the project the New Living Translation (NLT). It was first published in 1996—exactly 25 years after the first publication of The Living Bible.
Almost immediately, pastors and scholars and laypeople became enthusiastic about the NLT. In contrast with most other translations, the NLT is truly easy to read and understand. We heard variations on this story over and over:
When I started to read a familiar passage in the NLT, I said, “Wow, I never really understood this passage before. It’s now so clear. But is this really what it means?” So I went to my other translations and compared them to the NLT. And I could see, yes, this is what the passage means, but I just couldn’t figure it out when reading my other Bibles. Thank you for making the Bible so clear!
Well, that was our goal—to make the text of the Bible so clear that anyone can understand it. Based on the responses we’ve received from readers over the past 20 years, we think we have been successful in making the Bible truly easy to understand. The NLT was the #2 translation in Bible sales in 2017, largely because readers recommend it to friends.
In addition to English, Tyndale House has sponsored NLT-like translations in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Afrikaans, and Chinese. The translators in these languages use the same dynamic-equivalence philosophy—translating the Bible into the everyday language of the people. Together, these languages are spoken by 35% of the world’s population. It’s wonderful to think that more than one in three people have access to this kind of easy-to-read Bible.
The NLT is resonating in people’s hearts all over the world. Many pastors prefer to use the NLT as their preaching text because they don’t have to explain the meaning of the text. Instead, they can encourage their listeners to apply the Bible to their everyday lives. From cathedrals to prisons, the NLT is bringing the Word of God into the hearts of the people. May God continue to bless the reading of his Word.
Bio: Mark D. Taylor is the Chairman/CEO of Tyndale House Publishers. Tyndale is one of the largest Christian publishers in the USA. The company was founded by his parents in 1962 to publish Living Letters, the first part of what eventually became The Living Bible. Tyndale continues to publish Bibles, but it also publishes a wide array of fiction and non-fiction titles. Mark served as Chief Stylist for the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (English). He also serves as President of Tyndale House Foundation. The foundation makes grants to many non-profit organizations around the world.
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