NLT Study Bible: Initial Observations

NLTSB.jpgHarrison, Sean A., ed.

NLT Study Bible

Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. Pp. xl + 2486. Hardcover. $39.99.

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I just received an advanced copy of the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) courtesy of Laura Bartlett at Tyndale House (many thanks!).

My initial reaction is that it is both heavy and beautiful.  I don’t know the exact weight of this Bible but it’s quite thick at 2486 pages.  I haven’t gotten into the text yet, but from a cursory glance here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • Beautiful thick glossy dust jacket, with a matching hardcover underneath.
  • Parallel texts are noted at the beginning of sections (e.g., the parallel pericopae between Kings and Chronicles or Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
  • The study notes are in a triple column format so as not to blend in with the main text which is in a two column format.
  • There are “Person Profiles” interspersed throughout the text, e.g., Balaam [p. 288]; Ezra the Scribe [p. 800].
  • The words of Jesus are in red lettering.  I know this bothers some people but I don’t know why.
  • There are color maps in the back and black and white maps scattered throughout.
  • A Bible reading plan (although I’m not sure if this is meant to be a plan to read through the Bible in a year). [p. 2209-2213]
  • A nice dictionary and index for Hebrew and Greek word studies. [p. 2215-2226]
  • A delighfully long and detailed subject index. [p. 2227-2368]
  • Another delighfully long dictionary/concordance. [p. 2369-2486]
  • Extremely thin paper which allows for some bleed-through.
  • And the most amusing feature, a single page (front and back) for taking notes at the back of the Bible.

I’m sure there’s a ton of features that I haven’t gotten to, but I’ll discover them over the weeks as I work with this Bible.  Look forward to subsequent reviews.

BTW, the letter they sent was awesome because at the end of it there was a hand-written message from Laura herself saying that that she saw a midnight showing of The Dark Night and I quote: “There will never be a better Joker.”  I quite agree Laura, I quite agree!

Be sure to check out the NLT Blog as well as general editor Sean Harrison’s blog.


42 thoughts on “NLT Study Bible: Initial Observations

  1. TC: I’ll try to take some pics and post them tomorrow.

    Brian: Yeah, I put in my request like a couple of minutes after they posted about handing out review copies. The Many Gospels of Jesus looks excellent. Let me know how you like it.

  2. Brian: Well for church my primary Bible is going to be a KJV as long as that’s what my pastor preaches from. As far as study bibles go, this will probably be the first I consult because I like the focus on Biblical studies, and it’s the most up-to-date study Bible I have. Plus I really like the NLT as a translation.

  3. Excellent! I look forward to hearing what your impressions are as you look through it. I’m eager to look at a copy of it myself, not only because I have a soft spot in my heart for the NLT, but because I believe that, if this does have a “biblical studies” rather than “doctrinal” emphasis, it could well serve readers far beyond the Evangelical constituency, but who share with Evangelicals a high view of Scripture. That, my friend, would be very exciting indeed!

  4. Some reasons for not liking the words of Jesus to be in red:

    1) It suggests a special status for the words of Jesus as more authoritative or important than the rest of the Word of God, theologically a highly controversial idea.

    2) It introduces into the translation a distinction not made in the original text, in the process making some controversial interpretive decisions.

    3) It makes the text harder to read, especially in poor light or for those with less than perfect eyesight.

    4) It must also make printing significantly more expensive and so be a waste of money which could better be spent on making the Bibles cheaper or subsidising editions for the poor and for evangelism.

  5. I would also like to see some pictures if you can manage it. As far as red letter editions go, I have a harder time reading the red print sometimes, but also I just prefer all of the text to be black.

  6. Peter: #1 doesn’t bother me, I’m going to have to disagree with #2 (obviously when the Greek says ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς [Mat. 4:7] it’s a distinction made in the text that Jesus is speaking), #3 is valid, and I’m not so sure about #4 (why must red ink be more expensive than black?)

    Nathan: I’ll try to get a few posted today. And I have fairly poor eyesight, so I stay close enough to the book that red lettering is just as readable as black.

  7. Nick, the problem with my #2 comes with passages like John 3:10-21, which clearly starts as Jesus’ words, but when do his words end?

    As for #1, I find very strange your lack of concern for this serious matter of doctrine, in someone who seems to see doctrine rather than relationship with God to be the primary distinction between a true Christian and an adherent of another religion. It is a cultic heresy to believe that the actual words of Jesus are more authoritative than the rest of the Bible. Doesn’t this heresy worry you?

  8. Peter: #1 doesn’t bother me because I find such a description to be dubious. And which “cultic heresy” is it exactly that you’re talking about?

  9. Why wouldn’t the words of Jesus be more authoritative? I mean unless you hold to inerrancy and the view that everything in the Bible is in complete agreement then it seems at some point you will need to give hermeneutical priority to something and why not make it the words and deeds of Jesus?

    That just to say I’m completely fine with red letter bibles.

    I’d also be interested in hearing what cult this is that you speak of. I think there is a difference between giving the words of Jesus more weight and with giving the words of Jesus the only weight.


  10. I’m not sure what it is about the color of the type and paper, but it affects my comprehension. A great example of this is found on many blogs. I find a blog that is white type on black background very hard to read. And if the text is in a color like green or pink or orange it is very difficult to read and I usually skip right past it. A really dark background can sometimes make it hard to read, especially if the text conflicts somehow. I mostly prefer white background and black text, or a neutral tan or off-white background with dark text. Something about colors just makes it hard for me, and perhaps it’s because I’m slightly color blind, but I don’t think it is the reason.

    For example, the green text on the right column at my blog is hard for me to read and so I seldom use the columns. If it weren’t for the neutral background and black text in the posts I’d probably use another theme. The most annoying part of my own blog theme is the light green hyper-text links because I find it hard to read on my background color. Okay, enough from me on this.

  11. Bryan: I think the argument would be something along the lines of it’s the Gospel author recording the words, so they’re the same as all the other words the Gospel author records. Plus they’re all given by inspiration, etc… Whether or not we view the words of Jesus as more authoritative (which in reality they are; forget what that says about the Bible), I don’t see what red lettering means for this.

    Nathan: I have the same problem. I hate dark backgrounds with light text. In fact I read most blogs through my RSS feed just so I don’t have to deal with that.

  12. Bryan L, I had never heard of a cult who actually believed this heresy until I read your comment! But it is just the kind of heresy around which a cult could form. Do you fancy being its leader? ;-)

    A red letter edition is likely to be more expensive because polychrome printing is always more expensive than monochrome, for obvious reasons.

  13. More seriously, I think that at least some within the Anabaptist tradition tend to privilege the words of Jesus over the rest of the Bible. I’m not sure if this is a formal doctrinal position or just a tendency. I wouldn’t call these people a cult but I do think this is wrong teaching. On the other hand I also reject as wrong the tendency of many evangelicals to privilege the epistles, and especially those of Paul, over the rest of the Bible – and the tendency of dispensationalists to reject the teaching of Jesus as not applicable today.

  14. Sure Peter. I’ve always wanted to start my own cult and be the leader. They get all kinds of chicks! I’ll definitely make polygamy one of the central beliefs of our cult.
    ; )


  15. Nick some people are also color blind and reading read is liked reading invisible ink.

    the whole red letter thing was simply a marketing ploy to get people to buy Bibles way back in the day.

    I know very few people (none in fact) who say the red letters of Jesus are more important than other words in the Bible. But then, I might be ignorant too.

  16. Peter: You keep calling it a heresy, but why? What is the name of this heresy and when was it originally condemned? That’s what’s confusing me.

    Bryan: Yeah, but the chicks are usually missing teeth and have really bad skin. Plus they all wear long jean skirts all the time… eww…

    Brian: Another valid objection to red ink. And I’m with you, I don’t know anyone who thinks that the red makes the words more special.

  17. Nick, have your redefined “heresy” as an error which has already been named and officially condemned and appears in history books. To me, a heresy is any serious theological error, new or old, named or unnamed, condemned or uncondemned. But if you prefer “error” to “heresy”, maybe that would be less misleading.

    But I don’t think this is a new error. It seems to be a variant of the error of not believing that the Bible is the word of God, that only Jesus speaks authoritatively for God and that what the apostles said is simply human opinion.

    Brian F, let me introduce to you Bryan L, the first person you know who says that the words of Jesus are more important than the rest of the Bible.

  18. Peter: So in other words, it’s not a heresy, old or new, you’ve never seen it in practice, you have no basis on which to call it a heresy, and you can’t really explain how or why it would be heresy? That’s pretty much what I thought, thanks.

  19. How is it a serious theological error?
    How did you see it in practice from me. All I did was state that I give hermeneutical priority to the words and deeds of Jesus and didn’t give any specific examples. I’m a bit troubled that you think I’m committing heresy… but not too troubled.

    Bryan EL

  20. Bryan, I consider it a serious theological error to give a priori hermeneutical priority to the words of Jesus or any other part of the Word of God over any other part – with the exception that I would allow a general hermeneutical priority of the New Testament over the Old.

  21. I guess maybe we have different views of the nature and inspiration of scripture.

    Still what’s so special about the New Testament that would make you want to give it a general hermeneutic priority over the OT? I see no reason to differentiate.


  22. Bryan, that’s a good question of what is special about the New Testament. I might start to argue my position from 2 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 8-10. But I really don’t think this is the place to go into this in detail.

  23. But isn’t that sort of circular? You are making a case for why you give the NT hermeneutical priority from the NT. You trying to reason from the NT as to why it should have hermeneutical priority over the OT is the very thing we are questioning.

    Either way I am just having some fun. : )

    I give hermeneutical priority to the NT over the OT but it’s precisely because Christ is the person and event that causes us to reread the OT. And Christ is the reason for the rest of the NT. No Christ no NT and no OT.

    Actually I used to be in agreement with you on this subject until I listened to Richard Burridge give a course on his recent book “Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics” in which he argued for giving hermeneutical priority to Jesus words and actions in NT ethics and he made a pretty good case. So I’ve been thinking recently on this topic.



  24. So Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College London, is the heresiarch and cult leader then? ;-) He’s an Anglican, like me, so no surprise!

    I can see his point. Indeed I am all for imitating Jesus as being at the centre of ethics. But that is not consistent with giving hermeneutical priority to his words over his actions. And red letter Bibles especially emphasise that contrast as his actions are on the same pages as his words but less prominent.

  25. I thought I was gonna be the cult leader. Dang it Richard Burridge!!!

    “But that is not consistent with giving hermeneutical priority to his words over his actions.”

    I agree and I have consistently stressed that I give hermeneutical priority to the words and actions.

    I’m not sure though that “Red Letter Christians” actually in practice give more priority to the words over the deeds. I think they just give priority to Jesus. However I really don’t know any (at least none that self identify themselves as RLC’s) so I can’t really say.


  26. Well, I usually do not make emotional statements but in this instance I can’t help. I LOVE THE NLT STUDY BIBLE!!! esp. my black, bonded leather edition. To use popular language, it’s off da hook! I was wondering if I could have your permission to use your outline for a week-long review of my one.

  27. I dunno. Just opened the package and found a black bonded leather edition in the box, and I’m not complaining ;). I’ll take some photos as well – it is a beauty.

    Thanks for the permission as well :)

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