Thursday, January 22, 2009

NLT Study Bible - Review 2

This review has taken longer due to the amount of material surveyed. Obviously even now, this review only looks at a sampling.


In my first review I noted many positive features. Here the focus is on the content. The book introductions provide enough information to grasp the general thrust of the book. The setting is perhaps the most important factor because this gives the reader a chance to identify time and place; obviously this blends well with the included timelines. Depending on the level of someone’s knowledge of the Bible, it seems that the introductions to the prophetic books are particularly useful, otherwise the prophetic message can “hang suspended in time.” Of course, no study Bible can prevent misuse of the message, but at least an appropriate context for the original audience sets the writing in place.

The character and theme inserts were well done and add perspective when studying. But see below for the negative side of such a feature.


As I began using the SB I noticed several features that were less than satisfactory. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the scarcity of cross references. I realize that comprises had to be made (font size, other material, spacing, etc.). But given that this is a study Bible, my expectation is that extensive, but good cross references are at the heart of the study.

The footnotes were adequate. But I found two issues that showed 1. inconsistency between footnotes and, 2. inconsistency between the footnotes and the NLT text.

1. Lord’s Supper: The footnote for Matthew 26:26-29 (p. 1633) lists three positions regarding the Lord’s Supper. But the second option really includes two separate options. The Reformed view is “spiritual presence” and refers to “the real presence of Christ.” Often the word “symbolizes” or “represents” is used to refer to the words of institution (as noted in footnote Mark 14:24, p. 1686). However, the Lutheran view (“in, with, and under”) refers to
the real presence of Christ’s body and blood, but the word “consubstantiation” is not used by Lutherans. So there are four views.

Further, while the theology of the footnote authors/publisher is expected to show, evenhandedness would have done better in Luke 22:19-20 (p. 1755). The footnote only gives the “symbolic” view (“using the bread and cup as symbols of his body and blood”), but with no reference to the Matthew/Mark passages for alternative views. A simple note could have been included: “For further discussion see parallel passages (p. 1633, 1686)."

2. Justification: In Romans 3:22 NLT (p. 1897) has: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” I have always opposed such a translation, because it makes faith as the active agent rather than the passive receptor, contrary to the emphasis in the Greek. This rendering changes the emphasis from the Greek, which is on the righteousness of God. Interestingly the footnote gets it right, “the way God puts people in a right relationship.”

The wealth of information contained in the character and theme inserts provides value for the student. However, because they take so much space I found that they were actually hindering my study. I would have preferred to have a companion booklet with all the character and theme inserts (separate sections for each). This would have allowed the additional space to be used for both cross references and for more footnotes. A study Bible needs to focus on tools that help study the text, not be a systematic theological resource.

One further surprise concerns the Ephesians study helps. There are many good statements that summarize the theme and aspects of the letter. But I found no hint about the importance of the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalents: “in him”); these occur 37 times in the short letter. Yet the footnote for Eph. 1:1 (p. 1998) notes the letter has “frequent emphasis on “the will of God” (which occurs only 6 times total!). In contrast, “in Christ/in him” occurs 13 times in chapter 1 alone. This seems like an oversight that should be rectified for the next edition.


Any Study Bible that provides a service for understanding God’s Word is worth considering. So, how does this stack up against other Study Bibles I have and use? The layout, maps, timelines, etc. are some of the best I have seen. Will I use this Study Bible? Not as my primary one, but I frequently examine it to see how both the NLT renders the original language text and to compare footnotes and study aids with other sources.