“Why on Earth are you using the New Living Translation!?” said many a friend of late. This question is asked for good reason. Being an ardent believer in expository preaching, a functional equivalent translation does not seem to fit that belief. Personally, I even questioned the ability of a functional translation to handle effective expository preaching. In reading theBible and studying church history, I believe accuracy of the Bible is about readability more than anything. For my present ministry, the NLT is the most accurate.
Intelligence is vast
There are many areas of intelligence. In a discussion with an intellectual from a particular viewpoint, I asked him how he would feed thousands of people, annually, and stay sane. Eating, after all, is necessity of life. Or, how he would have his work places HVAC system operate sufficiently to not cause distraction. While incredibly intelligent, the person was clueless when it came to farming or things of a mechanical nature. While different fields may not be linguistically advanced, such does not mean they are any less intelligent. Too often churches make the Bible and theology a measure of linguistic intelligence. Bible study is less accurate when one is not gifted or equipped linguistically. Discernment is applied less when one cannot understand what is being said. Reading is also less.
Accessibility is the pattern
The Bible, when written, spoke in the common language of the day. The Bible of Jesus and the Apostles was the Septuagint, a common Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Bible was translated into Latin as it was a more accessible language. The word Vulgate is a derivative of the word vulgar, meaning common in that era. The battle of the reformation starting with Wycliff and followed by others was about the accessibility of the Bible to common people. This moving target, as language changes, was also a concern with the King James Bible. In this process what was common became sacred and thus needed to be protected before giving way to being common again. Biblical Christianity is not anti-intellectual, but it is not anti-commoner either. Plainly read and understood is the pattern historically.
Mark Driscoll, in his work Doctrine, named theologic categories based on what it says about God rather than traditional vocabulary. Borrowing from that in my doctrinal defense and church statements of faith took a similar tact. Much of theological vocabulary is not divine, and language is moving target and language changes over time. This muddying of language was caused by God in Genesis with the tower of Babel. Pastorally my concern is not to make seminary students of the congregation, but of the congregation to know their theology well enough to apply daily discernment and be able to evangelize. This makes a readable Bible translation more important than a more formal one.
Spiritual gifting means collaboration
As each Christian is a part of the body of Christ, the idea of gifting is to build one another up by what each part supplies. The job of the eye is not to make the other parts of the body an eye, but for the eye to do what it can only do. There is a dire need for advanced scholarship in the church. Readable Bible translations do notate well as language changes. This requires linguistically gifted saints to regularly supply each generation with their ”vulgate.” It requires theologians to articulate Biblical doctrine in a way that is understandable. Simplicity is not the lack of complexity, but the ability to make the complex accessible.
Greek and Hebrew are essential
I more and more believe it is required of pastors to have as best an understanding of Greek and Hebrew as possible. I also agree with my mentors (professors) that Greek and Hebrew are for the pastoral study and not the pulpit. The lack of scholarship of many pastors hurt the church. In utilizing the NLT I greatly appreciate the work the translators did. At times I get frustrated with the NLT as I am used to more formal translations. More and more I am impressed with how they take one generation’s language and idioms and make it accessible to today’s generation. This allows for more time for other critical aspects of preaching, like context, biblical theology, apologetics, and training how to share what the Bible says. This increase of available time comes from a trust in the NLT. That trust comes from working with the original languages.
No perfect translation
No translation is perfect, but there are translations that are less usable. For pastoral ministry I would say the most readable translation is the most accurate one for church use. This is a marked changed in my ministry. What I also find is that those who want more will not be satisfied with the NLT and will want to use another translation, namely a formal one. Such people are often gifted in teaching. Truly, if one does not have an understanding in biblical languages, multiple translations in their language is helpful.
The street test
Those who know me understand I am no fan of the KJV. Used nightly by God, it is time to retire the transaction like we would a sports jersey. Why? English has so changed that it is largely not an accurate translation for today’s English speaking world. A roommate of mine greatly disagreed. He also served on an evangelism team. My challenge to him was simple this: The average person in New York City will not understand King James English, so why have it be a barrier to the Gospel? Coming back from a week in NYC, he slammed his Bible on desk, told me to not say a word, and went to the bookstore for modern translation. Train in the translation that the average person on the street can understand, and supplement with a translation that is more formal.
The meat is discernment
Solid meat is discerning between good and evil through constant practice. Pastors need to do the hard work to make this more accessible to people in their congregation so that the congregation can provide what God gifted them with. Doing this means pastors need to be stronger in their scholarship or the church will become nearsighted. The goal of such is not to make our congregations seminary students, but to make the complex accessible. Concise is only good if it is also precise. The NLT is a helpful tool in that endeavor.
What the best translation is for a church is best determined by what kind of intelligence they poses, and what is accessible to the average person on the street. Linguistics is only one form of intelligence. The purpose of the Bible is God making himself known. If you are a pastor that values the Bible, the translation that will fit both of these criteria will be more functional than you like. Remember, it is your job to jump into the complexity and make it accessible. Be effective at your role in the church, and the congregational will become effective in theirs.