The Living Bible Reborn: Tyndale's 50th Anniversary
The appearance of the NLT raises questions both among longtime readers of the Living Bible and among Bible readers in general. How does this new version relate to the Living Bible? Why was revision needed? And what does the NLT distinctively offer in comparison with the most widely used general-purpose translations already available?
Like the KJV, which was explicitly commissioned as a revision of the Bishops' Bible of 1568, the NLT is both a revision and a translation in its own right. Each book of the Bible was assigned to three scholars (many of whom, representing a wide variety of evangelical denominations, have published commentaries on the books for which they were responsible). They compared the Living Bible verse by verse with the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, submitting suggestions for revision to a general reviewer, who prepared a first-draft translation. After further rounds of scholarly review and stylistic revision, the new translation was submitted to the Bible translation committee, which was responsible for additional revisions and final approval of the text. A comparison of the Living Bible with the NLT shows that the changes were extensive.
Why did the Living Bible require such substantial revision? Ken Taylor's work has been labeled a paraphrase, in contrast to a translation. In fact, as many scholars have noted, the distinction between paraphrase and translation is not at all clear-cut (see, for example, Robert G. Bratcher's review of the Living Bible, CT, Oct. 7, 1971, pp. 16-19), and it is more helpful to regard the Living Bible as a free translation that seeks to convey the meaning of the original text in idiomatic English. That is the aim of the NLT as well. So what is at issue in the revision of the Living Bible is not a fundamentally new or different approach but (1) greater accuracy and (2) stylistic changes, very much in the spirit of Taylor's enterprise, intended to make the translation even more readable.
With regard to accuracy, many small changes simply reflect advances in scholarship, while others correct a tendency noted even by friendly critics such as Bratcher (see above) for the translator to impose a theological agenda on the text, sometimes to smooth over "difficult" passages. So, for example, compare Matthew 24:34 in the Living Bible ("Then at last this age will come to its close") with the more accurate rendering in the NLT ("I assure you, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place"). Similarly, the alleged anti-Semitism singled out by hostile critics of the Living Bible (see, for example, Barry Hoberman's cover story, "Translating the Bible," in the Atlantic, Feb. 1985, pp. 43-58) has been addressed in the revisions for the NLT.
Evaluating fully the accuracy of a new translation is a long process conducted by the scholarly community and demanding expertise that this reviewer does not possess, but first impressions suggest that the NLT will score high on this scale.
Even more impressive, however, is the style of the NLT. Other versions, such as the NIV and the NRSV, have been acclaimed by consensus for their accuracy, but none of the leading general-purpose translations can match the clarity, rhythm, and readability of the NLT.
Many of the changes from the Living Bible to the NLT are small but deft revisions of wording that enhance the readability of the text. Compare, for example, 1 Corinthians 4:1 in the Living Bible ("So Apollos and I should be looked upon as Christ's servants who distribute God's blessings by explaining God's secrets") and in the NLT ("So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God's secrets"). Such differences may seem insignificant, but cumulatively they contribute to a clearer understanding of Scripture; they also facilitate memorization and reading aloud.