Reviewing the NLT Translation

Summary: not for serious Bible study, but worthwhile for general comparative reading

The New Living Translation is a dynamic-equivalence translation (thought-for-thought, interpreting for the modern reader in a more easy to read style) rather than a literal (word for word) translation. However, in my opinion (as evidenced below), the NLT is too dynamic to be used as a primary study Bible. In places where the meaning of the text is uncertain, the NLT will often give the translators’ interpretation for the sake of readability rather than leaving the ambiguity (though footnotes are sometimes used to give the literal rendering where it varies significantly). Word studies using the New Living Translation are difficult because it does not follow a word for word approach. However, the NLT does make the text come alive to the modern reader and is generally an accurate representation of the meaning behind the original manuscripts in today’s English.


First published in 1996 by Tyndale. As of 2023, it was last edited in 2015, which is the edition referenced here.

Manuscripts used:

Old Testament: Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible as represented in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977), but also referencing  the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint and other Greek manuscripts, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, among others, for difficult passages.

New Testament: The Greek New Testament, published by the United Bible Societies (UBS, fourth revised edition, 1993), and Novum Testamentum Graece, edited by Nestle and Aland (NA, twenty-seventh edition, 1993). (These have the same text but have different punctuation and notes.) Significant variants from this text are noted in the textual notes of the NLT.

The NLT uses a “critical text” that sometimes differs from the Textus Receptus, which was used in the King James Version translation. See this page for a discussion on the differences in manuscripts. (In my humble opinion, the manuscripts used do not need to influence which translation one uses.)

Committee Composition

More than 90 scholars representing a broad spectrum of denominations, theological perspectives, and backgrounds within the worldwide evangelical community were involved in the translation. These worked alongside English stylists. The Bible Translation Committee jointly reviewed and approved every verse of the final translation.

Use of Footnotes

Footnotes are used to literally render translations that are especially dynamic, alternative renderings, significant variants from the standard Greek/Hebrew texts, Old Testament quotations, cultural/historical information, and selected meanings of proper names.

Capitalization of pronouns for God

Except for a few special editions, the standard text of the NLT does not capitalize “He”, “Him”, “His”, etc. when the pronoun refers to God. The NKJV and NASB versions use capitalization to express reverence, though it is acknowledged that the original manuscripts only used capital letters (no lower case). There are enough cases where the pronoun could refer to God or someone else that the translators thought it best to leave everything lower case rather than decide for the reader.

Gender-neutral language

The NLT uses gender-neutral language in places where the translators interpreted that it was relevant. The original manuscripts use the masculine gender when the gender can be either male or female. For example, “brothers” is more literal than “brothers and sisters”, but “brothers and sisters” may convey the actual meaning better to modern readers and prevent misunderstandings. The downside to this approach is that the translators must come to a determination of when a word only applies to males and when it includes females as well. The reader then doesn’t know whether the feminine words are in the original or not. (The NLT does not include italicized words to indicate words added by the translators.)

Advantages / Strengths

The NLT would be easier for someone off the street to follow and understand without having a background in the Bible. It is very readable, flows well, and thus is very enjoyable to read. If we were comparing this translation to anything other than the Bible, we might call it a better translation than others that are more literal. However, when it comes to Bible study, it lacks the exactness that is needed in order to understand what content was actually in the original and what was supplied by the translators for better understanding or clarity to modern readers.

Examples of Translation Choices:

Currency: Matthew 20:2

NLT He agreed to pay the normal daily wage[a] and sent them out to work.
NASB1995 When he had agreed with the laborers for a [a]denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.

NLT footnote: Greek a denarius, the payment for a full day’s labor; similarly in 20:9, 10, 13.

Measurements: Luke 24:13

NLT That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] from Jerusalem.
NASB1995 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was [a]about seven miles from Jerusalem.

NLT footnote: Greek 60 stadia [11.1 kilometers].
NASB1995 footnote: Lit 60 stadia; one stadion was about 600 ft

Cultural: Luke 23:48

NLT And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.
NASB1995 And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, [a]beating their breasts.

NLT footnote: Greek went home beating their breasts.
NASB/NASB1995 footnote: I.e., as a traditional sign of mourning or contrition

Metaphors: Ecclesiastes 12:3

NLT Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.
NASB1995 in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through [a]windows grow dim;

NASB footnote: Or holes

Gender: Galatians 5:11

NLT Dear brothers and sisters,[a] if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.
NASB1995 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.
NASB But as for me, brothers and sisters, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been eliminated.

NLT footnote: Greek Brothers; similarly in 5:13.
NASB places “and sisters” in italics to show it isn’t in the original text.

Gender: Proverbs 22:6

NLT Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
NASB1995 Train up a child [a]in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Theological terms: 1 Corinthians 6:11

NLT Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
NASB1995 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Significant deviations from the text

In my opinion after reading the New Testament in the NLT, the following verses are the ones I noticed as the least faithful to the original text and also contain a potential theological interpretation that some could disagree on.  This illustrates why I would not use the NLT for careful Bible study but prefer a literal translation instead. However, the NLT could be used as a reference like a commentary while studying. Below, the NLT is compared to NASB1995 (an accurate, literal version). Words and phrases particularly in question are highlighted.

Romans 15:20

NLT My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.
NASB1995 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation;

Notes: NLT interprets what it means to “build on another man’s foundation” and adds the idea of starting a church.

1 Corinthians 6:11

NLT Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
NASB1995 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Notes: NLT interprets that they were made right with God by means of calling on the name of the Lord Jesus while NASB gives the literal rendering “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus…”. NLT also substitutes phrases for theological terms such as “sanctified” and “justified” which have richer meanings than “made holy” and “made right with God”.

1 Corinthians 11:13

NLT Judge for yourselves. Is it right for a woman to pray to God in public without covering her head?
NASB1995 Judge [a]for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Notes: NLT adds “in public”, but the words are not in the Greek text. The situation for head covering is a debated topic, but the NLT decides for the reader without adding a footnote.

1 Timothy 5:15

NLT For I am afraid that some of them have already gone astray and now follow Satan.
NASB1995 for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.

Notes: Saying they now follow Satan is drastically different than saying they are following Satan’s [snare] to marry an unbeliever or leave their previous pledge of singleness.

Hebrews 6:11

NLT Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.
NASB1995 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence [a]so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,

Notes: The NLT seems to say that we get to heaven by loving others, and we can only hope to get there, whereas an interpretation gathered from the NASB might be that we should serve and love others to show that we have full assurance and expectation in the promises of God.

Hebrews 12:24

NLT You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
NASB1995 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Notes: This shows how NLT adds explanations to the text at times to aid the reader, even though those ideas are not in the text itself. While the explanation may be accurate, it is interpreting the text for the readers instead of allowing them to come to that conclusion themselves.

James 1:18

NLT He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
NASB1995 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

Notes: Here, the NLT interprets “firstfruits” as “prized possession” rather than allowing the readers to decide for themselves what God is saying and connecting the symbolism with Old Testament imagery of first fruits.

1 John 5:6

NLT And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross[a]—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony.
NASB1995 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not [a]with the water only, but [b]with the water and [c]with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Notes: Here at least the NLT acknowledges they are making a significant interpretive decision and specifies in the footnote: Greek: This is he who came by water and blood.

Revelation 5:14

NLT And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.
NASB1995 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Notes: Who did the twenty-four elders worship? NLT interprets that they worshiped the Lamb, but that is not in the text. Verse 13 indicates they were praising both God and the Lamb.

Other references for review

The following references are verses that could lead to wrong interpretation of a passage, or demonstrate the interpretive liberties that were used in the NLT. This completes my summary of the verses which I noticed to be least faithful to an accurate translation of the text. Click the reference to see it compared with the NASB1995 at Bible Gateway.

Matthew 6:17 – “comb your hair” vs. “anoint your head”
Matthew 9:10 – It doesn’t say Matthew invited Jesus to his home
Matthew 16:18 – Peter’s name is defined with “rock” instead of “stone,” which might make it seem that Jesus is saying He will build upon Peter
Luke 5:32 – “those who think they are righteous” vs. “the righteous”
Luke 8:18 
Luke 9:33
Luke 11:28 – Jesus didn’t comment on His mother being blessed here.
Luke 13:15 – Jesus didn’t say that they worked on the Sabbath.
John 1:17
John 1:51
John 3:8
John 3:31
John 4:30 – “came streaming from” vs. “went out”
John 5:43 – changes the singular to plural
John 6:7
John 11:27 – Did Martha say she had always believed He was the Messiah?
John 11:33 – Deep anger vs. deeply moved. (This may be a matter of interpretation and weighing the context.)
John 17:3 – Is it the means of obtaining eternal life, or the state of having eternal life?
John 17:6 – were they always God’s?
John 18:23 – Did Jesus say they had to prove it, or did He simply ask what He had wrongly said?
John 20:31
Acts 2:42
Acts 3:1 – It does not say that they went to take part in a prayer service, but that they went at the hour of prayer.
Acts 5:25
Acts 6:7 – “converted” vs. “obedient to the faith”
Romans 1:20
Romans 3:31 – a lot of interpreting going on here.
Romans 5:1
Romans 5:6 – “us sinners” vs. “the ungodly”
Romans 5:11 – rejoicing in our relationship or exulting in God? “friends of God” vs. “reconciliation”
Romans 11:4-5 – “a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful” vs. “a remnant”
1 Corinthians 3:15 
1 Corinthians 11:30 – “died” vs. “sleep” – the symbolism is lost.
1 Corinthians 15:2,14
2 Corinthians 3:18
2 Corinthians 5:21
2 Corinthians 13:6
Galatians 6:3
Galatians 6:12
Ephesians 6:19 – extra interpretation, and “mysterious plan” doesn’t convey a proper connotation in today’s English.
Colossians 4:3
1 Timothy 5:22
2 Timothy 4:17
Hebrews 1:3  – “cleansed us from our sins” vs. “made purification of sins” — He hadn’t cleansed us yet.
James 2:10
James 2:18
1 Peter 3:18
1 Peter 3:20
1 John 2:19-20 – “left our churches” vs. “went out from us”
1 John 5:21
Revelation 2:4
Revelation 14:12
Revelation 22:16


Copyright statements:
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible® are Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Last edited 1/29/23