Bay Hills Church

Why We Use The New Living Translation?

The article appears at for public use at:


Some of you may have noticed that after 20 years of preaching from the English Standard Version (ESV), I have begun using the New Living Translation (NLT) in my public ministry.

So why did I  switch to the New Living Translation of the Bible? And why now?

First, let me say that if it’s good enough for Chuck Swindoll, then it should be good enough for me! No matter what you think of Pastor Chuck, even if he’s not your cup of tea, it would be unfair to diminish his decades of clear and faithful Bible teaching. Someone with his track record of clear and compelling Bible exposition makes for quite the spokesperson. That said, he’s not the actual reason for my switch (although his endorsement didn't hurt).

The Real Reason For The Switch

The actual reason for my decision has to do with time, experience, and the Bible itself. As I’ve gotten older, the Bible has brought balance to the priorities of my teaching ministry. When I was younger, I placed great emphasis on right informationConsequently, I favored more rigid word-for-word translations at the expense of things like readability. While accurate information should be a priority within all good preaching and teaching, it should not be the only priority. Observe:

"But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it." (James 1:22-25)

And so, over the years, my focus has shifted equal weight to the priority of life transformation. In other words, when it comes to the Bible, information doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t bear fruit in people’s lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not equating a particular translation of the Bible to faithful life transformation over another. Instead, this is a very personal decision with very public implications. Part of what it now means to teach week in and week out is to give a high degree of thought to eliminating obstacles to the text and, in doing so, to the Gospel itself.

So what mattered to me when choosing a Bible translation, and how did it impact my decision? In the end, it came down to four primary considerations. I will use the remainder of this article to examine each of them.


I want a simple and accessible teaching ministry. Now, by simple, I don't mean less challenging; by accessible, I don't mean more compromising—quite the contrary. By simple, I mean clear, and by accessible, I mean engaging with everyone. This includes both the mature believer and those new in the faith (or not at all). And when simplicity and accessibility intersect, comprehension skyrockets. This means I want my Bible translation to be just as simple and accessible.

For me, a simple and accessible Bible translation means readability is essential. And the readability of the NLT was the first thing I noticed when I began investigating a new Bible translation. It’s smooth, baby. The word order doesn’t feel like driving through a parking lot full of speed bumps as it does with other translations. It reads like plain English, which, for the record, is the kind of Greek the New Testament was written in...plain (koine). For example, as you compare some of your favorite Bible verses, notice the well-paved, open highway. Without sacrificing meaning, small word choices end up making a huge difference:

  • “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)
  • “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Philippians 1:21 NLT)

Hopefully, you’ll notice that the NLT was written in updated language for modern readers. The ESV still, at times, has a lot of King James-style language, making the reading experience more challenging. By contrast, the NLT essentially does away with language that makes you feel like you’re reading Hamlet. I think this makes the Bible more enjoyable and raises comprehension for any reader.

For example, “thus” appears eight times in the NLT but 691 times in the ESV. “Lest” appears 0 times in the NLT and 186 times in the ESV. “Shall” shows up 43 times in the NLT and a whopping 4,107 times in the ESV.

  • “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” (Heb. 11:14 ESV)
  • “People who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own.” (Heb. 11:14 NLT)

  • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1 ESV)
  • “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1 NLT)

  • “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17 ESV)
  • “except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (Gen. 2:17 NLT)

I think it’s a safe bet that New Testament authors didn’t talk like old British scholars. With the NLT, it won’t require a seminary degree to follow along on Sundays or to study alone at home. These kinds of updates have me so excited about the NLT! I think you’ll find it easier to read and understand, which will encourage you to take up and read God’s word even more. Isn’t that the point, after all?


Can we really increase readability without sacrificing scholarship? That question, more than any other, concerned me the most. Imagine my enthusiasm when the answer to this question was a resounding 'yes!' Approximately 90 Biblical scholars worked on the NLT during the translation's foundational work to ensure just that. Don't take my word for it; here it is straight from the horse's mouth:

“All of the Bible scholars and stylists involved in this work are Christians who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Most of the translators are professors in seminaries or universities, and all of the translators have written books and/or scholarly articles regarding the specific books of the Bible for which they did their translation work. They represent a rich variety of theological and denominational backgrounds, united by the common conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and that all people should have a translation of Scripture that they can really understand…the translators first struggled with the meaning of the words and phrases in the ancient context; then they rendered the message into clear, natural English. Their goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful. ”

This means the NLT isn't just great for readability but also study. As you use the NLT to dive into God's word, you can be confident the meaning of the original text remains intact. That being said, I have often said we should have other Bible study tools at our disposal for a more advanced understanding of Scripture. In other words, rigorous Bible study should not be the driving force behind your translation choice because no translation, ultimately, is sufficient for the task on its own. 


I’m not talking about inclusion, for inclusion’s sake. I certainly don't mean the kind of inclusion that sacrifices Biblical fidelity. I’m talking about inclusion that clarifies the meaning of a text and, at the same time, includes the intended reader.

I think it’s critical that the NLT makes translation choices that include “brothers and sisters” rather than just “brothers.” The Greek word literally translated as “brothers” often intends to include our sisters in Christ. This is huge, given most churches have more women than men. Using “brothers and sisters” is a welcomed translation decision, as I worry that newer Bible readers won’t know Paul is also speaking to the women in our churches.  We should all want the ladies in our church to plainly hear God addressing them without having to remind themselves, “‘Brothers means me, too!

  • “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)
  • “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT)

The NLT does an excellent job of keeping gender intact when the context matters but is more inclusive with the text when it is clearly directed at both men and women.


I want to feel like I can hand a Bible to someone who has never read it. With the NLT, I can do so knowing comprehension and inclusion won’t be more of an obstacle than necessary. I should also point out that I’m a minority in a highly diverse church context. In this setting, the NLT is a ministry Godsend, particularly for those who want an English Bible, but English may not be their first language. More formal translations aren't going to cut it in places where the minority population is only increasing year-over-year (I'm looking at you, Bay Area). This means that the NLT is not only for serious Bible students but also for those with little to no experience with the Bible whatsoever. The NLT is truly a Bible for everyone!


In summary, the NLT's balance of comprehension, precision, inclusion, and mission are what made it the obvious choice for my ministry going forward. However, it should go without saying that many faithful, transformative teachers will continue to use the ESV (and other translations) in their public ministry to great success. My thoughts here are in no way intended to diminish their conviction in doing so. Whatever translation one opts for, I pray it is done prayerfully, carefully, and deliberately.

"Open my eyes so that I may see great things from Your Law." (Pslam 119:18)


Mariann Andronico - April 23rd, 2024 at 8:04am

Thank you so much for this explanation. I've been very skeptical of newer translations. Being raised in the church, it's hard to hear memory verses I've memorized since I was a child read differently. I get it now and you're absolutely right! Simple language to share a beautiful gospel message. Thank you!

Matthew Christn - May 11th, 2024 at 12:57am

There are actually significant concerns pertaining to the NLT and the LT (from which the NLT was mostly copied from). It seems to be a rewrite of the Bible for the purposes of appealing to feminist sensibilities.

n "The Bible in its original languages is a powerful book, not only in its message but also in the ways it presents its message. Much of it is written in poetic form or in exalted prose, in keeping with its noble themes. It is well-designed to make an impression upon its hearers. It is full of sophisticated rhetorical devices--irony, hyperbole, allusions, metaphors, and so forth. Some English versions have been very successful in representing these features of the original. But the NLT is not one of them. The literary quality of the NLT is uniformly low, and often very far from being "idiomatically powerful." There are many places in which the informal language of the version is so obviously out of keeping with the subject that it produces a faintly comical 'let-down' effect. An example of this may be seen in Matthew 7:21-23.


nLiteral translation


n21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I profess unto them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'


nNew Living Translation


n21 Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as 'Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22 On judgment day many will tell me, 'Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' 23 But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized."