Three weeks ago, I received in the mail an advanced copy of the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) from Tyndale House Publishers to review and have finally gotten around to writing this review. The NLTSB is scheduled for official release on September 15, 2008 and I’m sure many people will be impressed by it. I have found it to be an excellent study bible. Any time now in August, the NLT Study Bible website will be launching a fully searchable online version of the study bible with a free 30-day trial.
The slogan Tyndale has given the NLTSB is The Truth Made Clear. I do not think that this quickened sense of clarity in the bible’s truth is necessarily all attributable to the tools in this study bible. Even though the tools in the NLTSB are top-notch, this study bible can compete almost head-to-head in understandability with other study bibles. What really makes this slogan ring true, I believe, is the readability of the New Living Translation itself. The NLT is the most easy-to-read English bible translation available today. Most people will find it more readable than the TNIV, ESV and NRSV because it takes the dynamic approach in translation philosophy. Perhaps its increasing demand for such a translation is an indication that what readers want is a simple, easy-to-understand translation. But, different strokes for different folks. If I may, back in March 2007 I stated that the NLT had the potential to “breakout of its current status of alternate translation to the NIV” and that it also had “the potential to compete head-to-head with the NIV as the first bible of choice.” Today, based on CBA’s unit sales for September 2008, the NLT translation has surpassed the NIV in unit sales and will likely improve upon this trend. So kudos to the NLT and Tyndale on your big gains in readership! Based on the current demand for the NLT translation and based on the NLTSB’s own merits as a high quality study bible, I believe it would be safe to predict that the NLT Study Bible will become one of the most popular study bibles in the next decade to come.
The historical-critical stream within evangelical biblical scholarship seems to be more evident in the NLTSB. If you are familiar with the dating of Isaiah, you might chuckle at how the introduction to Isaiah attempts to satisfy all views:
The book of Isaiah addresses three different historical situations, two of them beyond the prophet`s own lifetime. As a result, some critical scholars have argued that the prophet Isaiah could not have written the entire book, a view that has prevailed since the mid-1800s. However, if we assume the reality of God`s inspiration, predictive prophecy is a reality, so it should not present a problem that parts of the book address what was in the future for Isaiah. Furthermore, the book displays a remarkable literary unity (p.1106).
This comment on the authorship of Isaiah carefully tries not to alienate those who adhere to the older view that it was the prophet Isaiah who wrote the entire book of Isaiah.
A literary approach to biblical scholarship is also evident in the pages of the NLTSB. It speaks of literary genres, imagery, patterns, etc. Although the NLTSB is not trying to become like the ESV Literary Study Bible, it has not neglected the increasingly significant literary aspect within modern biblical scholarship.
The amount of study notes in the NLTSB is quite immense. It competes with the NIV Study Bible. The study notes discusses not only the facts but also what the message means to the reader. So perhaps I should also attribute the contents of the study notes toward the fulfillment of the NLTSB’s slogan The Truth Made Clear. The size of the NLTSB amounts to a massive 2486 pages (not including the colorful maps in the back). The expanded notes bring out insightful details into words, people, themes, and topics.
The feature of Hebrew and Greek word studies is an invaluable feature, especially to those preparing bible studies and for pastors preparing sermons. It follows Strong’s numbering system and uses the transliteration instead of the Greek spelling so as to not exclude ordinary people cannot read or understand biblical Greek. Tyndale has done a great job because it keeps in mind the interests of ordinary people whom they know are non-readers of the original biblical languages. Here is an example of a Greek word study on repentance:
metanoia (3341): repentance. This noun means the action or condition of change, especially of behaviour and opinions. In the NT it usually refers to changing from a sinful state to a righteous standard. Repentance is not merely regret about something, it is a change of perspective that results in changed actions. See Mark 1:4; Luke 3:8; 5:32; 24:47; Acts 11:18; 20:21; Rom 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; Heb 6:1; 2 Pet 3:9.
The introductions of each book includes the historical setting, maps, outline, timeline, summary, authorship, date and other historical issues, meaning and message. As much as I appreciate the historical setting, the timeline in each introduction also allows me as a reader to have a better idea when the events in a particular letter or book occurred. Many ordinary readers like me can appreciate such timelines because it helps me place the text in its proper chronological context. Note, there is also a master timeline at the beginning of the NLTSB. An outline in each introduction is also a helpful tool. Although I would have appreciated a more detailed outline for each book, the basic outline provided here manages to suffice my need for visual aids. Moreover, many other study bibles do not even provide an outline for each book. The visual aids of timelines, charts and maps scattered throughout these pages are extremely helpful. As far as I’m concerned, these visual aid tools should be in all study bibles because they help the reader simplify potentially complex things. Furthermore, I have found that the maps within the NLTSB is more numerous than in most study bibles. I have always loved maps because they help visual learners like myself visualize where the events took place.
Personally, I also like reference bibles. The cross-reference system is a very helpful feature that I use all the time in bible study. It think this feature is often under-rated and under-used by many people. Another feature in the NLTSB that is very useful is the parallel passages (e.g., Lk 28-36; Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10). I like them because I like to do critical comparisons of parallel passages. This feature will save me time having to search through the Harmony of the Four Gospels and cross-references. I have seen this feature in only a few bibles so I am glad to see this in the NLTSB.
Most of the articles in the NLTSB are quite brief. These include the introductions to the OT and NT; introduction to the four gospels; chronology of the life of Jesus; the introduction to the time after the apostles; and the historical background of the intertestamental period. My favourite and briefest article is the Historical Background of the Intertestamental Period. I have always been curious about the period between the OT and the NT. This article nicely ties the two together. It fills in the gap explaining the periods of the Persian Empire, Greek rule, Egyptian rule of Ptolemies, Syrian rule of the Seleucids, the self-rule under the Maccabees or Hasmonean dynasty, and the Roman rule. This section is appropriately placed in between the OT and NT.
As for reference helps, there is a comprehensive subject index and a dictionary-concordance in the back of the study bible. The NLTSB has done a fairly good job with this because it is sufficiently large enough. The bible that I feel that has done the all-time best job at this is the topical index found in Nelson’s New Open Bible. If Tyndale can develop something like that, it would be even better.
The NLT Study Bible not only has up-to-date scholarship, but it remains firmly grounded in a piety that many evangelicals love and appreciate. Some study bibles that neglect Christian piety, and approach the biblical text from a purely scholarly/critical point-of-view are not designed for ordinary people but only for a narrow stream in the academic world. In contrast, I would consider piety in the NLTSB as a feature. Its scholarly contributors speak with strong pious convictions about our Christian faith, and its study notes are geared help the average bible-reader or seeker to understand the bible and learn about what God is seeking from his people. This makes the NLT Study Bible very accessible to a broad range of people who wish to nurture their faith. This is an excellent study bible I highly recommend it as a faith-building tool.
Finally, I wish to thank Laura Bartlett of Tyndale for sending me an advanced copy of the NLT Study Bible to review.