Friday, September 2, 2011

NLT Study Bible

Recently I received a review copy of the NLT Study Bible. The NLT is probably one of the most popular dynamic-equivalence Bible translations in English, certainly for Protestants. Most NLT discussions on this blog have been centered on the now out-of-print NLT Catholic Reference Bible. An edition that apparently never received the OK from the USCCB. However, unlike almost all editions of the NLT since, it did include the Deuterocanonicals.

This edition of the NLTSB contains the Protestant canon and is certainly intended for a Protestant audience. So, my brief remarks on the NLTSB will mostly be concerned with the layout and study tools available in this edition. That being said, the NLTSB is a beautiful study Bible. Many of the online reviews that I have read about it tend to compare it with the ESV Study Bible, which came out the same year. The NLTSB contains all the elements that you would expect to find in a quality study Bible. There are extensive introductions, commentary and notes that often take up half a page, charts and maps in the text where appropriate, mini-articles dispersed throughout, and an index and concordance (along with some additional color maps) in the appendix. All of these study tools are integrated nicely in this volume.

On the positive side, the commentary tends to be moderately conservative, but not without reference to various historical-critical findings. I have found that most of the comments would be quite helpful to most Catholics. Even in a number of areas where there may be dispute between Protestants and Catholics, like John 6:53-58, the commentary acknowledges that "Some Christian traditions see the bread as Christ's literal flesh broken for us and the wine as his literal blood poured out for us (NLTSB 1782)." Of course, I have not read all possible passages where there is disagreement, but generally this seems to be the tone found in the commentary for these types of "disputed" passages. In addition, the NLTSB does a great service, IMHO, by placing the cross-references at the side of the page. I find it easier to navigate when they are placed there.

On the negative side, it would be nice to see the NLTSB come in an edition with the Deuterocanonicals. While the NLT has been updated a few times since the mid-90's, the publishers have a translation of the Deuterocanonicals available if they choose to use it. It certainly doesn't have to be called a "Catholic" NLTSB, but one that simply contains the Deuterocanonicals. Also, I could mention that it would be nice to see more color in the many maps and charts that are in this Bible, but this would mostly be due to the beautiful layout of the ESVSB, which in many ways is the paragon of modern study Bibles. However, I am not going to hold that against the NLTSB, since there are no Catholic study Bibles that even come close either.

Overall, the NLTSB is a truly beautiful Bible with some fine study tools. The issue of whether it will ever gain any popularity in the Catholic community is doubtful, particularly without the inclusion of the Deuterocanonicals. However, it still can be a helpful reference for your Bible study library.

**Thank you to Laura, from the NLT Study Bible Facebook page for sending me a review copy**


Anonymous said...

Is this a new edition? The one I'm familiar with dates from 2008.

Diakonos said...

Do you find that even in a moderate-position Protestant study Bible, it is the notes for much of Pauline theology of salvation where we Catholics would take issue? This is what typically prevents me from buying this or any other edition. The only exception I have made is for the NLT Recovery Bible since we Catholics do not have anything even close which applies the Scriptures for those whose spirituality is 12-step oriented. Even this bible is unacceptable in some of its book intros and character studies when dealing with Our Lady and the truth of her perpetual virginity. For example the intro to James makes much of Jesus as his older brother in the flesh.

Timothy said...


Yes, this would be the 2008 edition.

Timothy said...


I left the NLTSB at school, so I will double check the Pauline letters next week for you. I think whenever you use a Protestant SB, you are just going to have to accept certain interpretations on certain issues, like the 'brothers' of Jesus. We don't have to agree with them, but it doesn't mean the SB doesn't have any other usefull study aids.

Theophrastus said...

As the blogger Lingamish pointed out to me a few years ago, here is the note in the NLT Study Bible to Genesis 19:26:

19:26 looked back: The verb indicates prolonged, intense gazing toward the world she loved, not a curious glance (15:5; Exod 33:8; Num 21:9; 1 Sam 2:32; cp. Exod 3:6). Lot’s wife was too attached to Sodom to follow God’s call of grace, so she was included in the judgment as she lingered on the valley slopes. Christ’s return to judge the world will be as sudden and devastating as the destruction of Sodom (Luke 17:32–37). Those who crave the life of this wicked world will lose this world and the next.

This sort of note is typical of the excesses of this study Bible -- hyperbole ("prolonged, intense gazing toward the world she loved"), extensive use of homiletic material ("Those who crave the life of this wicked world will lose this world and the next"), wild jumping to conclusions ("Lot’s wife was too attached to Sodom to follow God’s call of grace"), random insertions of Christological material ("Christ’s return to judge the world...").

If that's the type of Bible notes you want, then this might be the volume for you. But it is certainly not an academic volume, nor one that brings one closer to the academic literature, nor one that is particularly accurate or restrained. This is really an easy-reading translation with devotional notes -- and so I disagree with Timothy's statement that this is useful as a reference source.

rolf said...

Some of the Protestant Study Bibles that I have looked at (including; NIV and NIV Archaeological Study Bible) are loaded up with pictures, graphs, maps and other information and then the text of scripture is tiny and light, almost like it was added as an after thought. I think the ESV does do a better job. I think that when you put a lot of info on a page, the single column print format holds up a lot better, it is easier to read which allows you to concentrate on the passage of scripture without as much distraction.

Chrysostom said...

\\For example the intro to James makes much of Jesus as his older brother in the flesh.\\

How does this work? Don't even Protestants believe that she was a virgin when she conceived our Lord, even if they don't believe in the truths of the Immaculate Conception or Perpetual Virginity?

If Jesus wasn't born of a virgin, he was conceived in sin ("For in sin my mother conceived me, and I was brought forth in iniquity"), and the whole atonement falls apart. I don't know if the substitutionary atonement doctrine of Protestants stands up to such blasphemous mangling of the facts of our Lord's life and his Holy Virgin Mother.

The only exceptions I could see to that are in quasi-Christian religions that are super "sex-positive" as they call it (essentially, insofar as it pertains to ecclesiastic matters, the opposite of Priestly celibacy, i.e. the more carnal the better), such as Mormonism, where celibacy is looked upon as a handicap of some sort instead of a freedom and joy.

I was, for one, glad to escape the religions that attempt to demand such and make it "healthy" and "natural", which in the state of fallen Man, it can never be.

Also, I thought "recovery Bibles" were "recovery" in the sense of "recovery of ancient Christianity", i.e. Christian Reconstructionism and similar movements, not recovery in the sense that I'm in recovery from dope addiction. It's a neat idea, at least, to have a Bible tailored to twelve-step spirituality within whatever denomination one belongs (AA/NA seem to be pretty hostile to Catholics in my experience).

Although I never found the twelve-step religion to be helpful and oft found it to be harmful (albeit some do seem to find it genuinely helpful, "diffr'nt strokes" I suppose), I would check one out, just because it seems as if it would be more faith-affirming, like the Navarre Bible, when one doesn't want to go through the intellectual rigours of reading Father Brown & Company's agnostic kind of commentary, which is, if not faced with full faculties at one's command, faith-challenging, and thus is often tiring or draining to read - and is the standard mode of modern Catholic commentary.

I sometimes like Protestant commentary for that reason - conservatism and faith-affirmation, as the few "disputed verses" are pretty easy to ignore compared to an onslaught of suspicion-hermeneutic historical-critical redaction criticism "Essays on why St Mark isn't the author of St Mark" type stuff.

Theophrastus said...

Chrysostom --

You parsed Timothy's statement incorrectly. The belief is that Jesus is James older brother. See here for Wikipedia's discussion (take with a grain of salt.)

I don't think you would like the NLT Study Bible because it uses source criticism in the NT -- for example it does support the Q theory and Markan priority.

Chrysostom said...

I'm well-versed in the text and higher critical methods, it's just nice to have a break from it sometimes.

(But I do categorically reject the hypothetical, so-called Gospel of Q - which some [Elaine "I hate the Christian Establishment and love fanciful Alternate Histories" Pagels] go so far as to say is essentially the Quasi Gnostic Gospel of Thomas - and Markan priority, sticking with a traditional, modified Augustinian two-gospel approach with Matthean priority [as most recently and eloquently defended by William Farmer of Farmer's Commentary fame]. However, I wholeheartedly believe in the JEDP theory of the Pentateuch - I suppose it has to do with historical possibility and plausibility and the degree of improbability and ridiculousness required: believing Moses penned the Pentateuch by hand - or indited it - is not any more believable or plausible than a Young Earth Creation, unless Moses lived for a thousand years and had split personality disorder and a bad memory: and, to disbelieve in a Young Earth Creation requires knowledge of the natural sciences, whereas any literate reader of the Bible can see the Five Books of Moses weren't written by a single person. I think I'm also alone in the hypothesis that Judas Maccabeus collected the first thing recognisable as a canon for the first time...)

And there's nothing more annoying than the worst of both worlds - pseudo-scholarly crap that co-opts hypotheses and presents them as fact (the infamous "many scholars"), or just presents them poorly or mis-represents them.

The NAB is a prime example of representing poorly, the Life Application Study Bible series a perfect example of where scholarly stuff shouldn't be at all and misrepresenting. In my opinion there's far too great a preponderance of historical-critical study Bibles on the market compared to what should be - devotional ones. Honestly, how many historical-critical Bibles are needed? They all say essentially the same things, and different editions just repeat them, the "scholarly consensus"; whereas there are huge ranges of unexplored, relatively obscure material that would be great for devotional purposes, but is either buried in a large collection of somewhat useless writing or untranslated all together - one could write ten devotional Bibles without copying a single comment once.

Quit stuffing the same commentary in every Bible edition put out there! It's already collected completely in the "New Jerome" for Catholics and in the "New Interpreter's" for Protestants, in much greater detail, and much more well-presented, than any study Bible. Just put out one Bible in every edition, called "The Basic Historical-Critical Middle of the Road Scholarly Consensus Study Bible" and then introduce something fresh.

Chrysostom said...

I think I can sum it up - essentially, I want a Bible in my Bible (with alternate readings), and a Biblical Commentary in my Biblical Commentary. That way I can choose if I want to do lectio divina, or study the Scriptures as Scriptures, or read it as a story, or study it as an exegete, using one translation or several, by choosing the commentary I read with it.

I can see why a "beginner" would want the full apparatus in a Bible, starting maybe even with the commentary of the NJB (the translation I love), but better one that goes all the way like the New Oxford Annotated, not a half-ass "Introduction" (a proper "Introduction" is Fr Brown's "Introduction to the NT") as is found in many of these "study Bibles"; it's the "enough knowledge to be dangerous" area.

It reminds me of the Luther Bible:

"Luther's New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity."

And it's re-hashed, sometimes verbatim or the next closest thing, in almost every single Bible that comes out with no appreciable difference (and decently bound text-only versions for many translations are hard to find - generally crappy paperbacks, maybe a hardcover here or there), and some Bibles even demand the notes come with the translation (NAB, I'm looking at you)!

Dusty said...

Hi Timothy,

Its very interesting.
Please, can you email me all other comments where there may be dispute between Protestants and Catholics (like John 6:53-58) have you found?
My email:

Its very helpful. Thank you very much:)

Dusty said...

Please, Timothy,
I really need to see some other comments in NLT Study Bible like this. Please communicate.

Christopher L. Scott said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective on the NLT Study Bible from a Catholic perspective. It is nice to know that some of the comments and study notes are generic and conservative enough to meet catholic standards.

Like you mention in your post, I too have greatly appreciated the study helps and notes in the NLT Study Bible. Many of them are helpful to understand some of the verses and passages that need to be "unpacked." Even though the NLT Study Bible is large and cumbersome to carry around, it is a tremendous study reference I always keep within arms reach.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Where can I find a free Catholic bible