NLT Study Bible: focusing on historical context

Posted: 23rd July 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

Sean Harrison has written a short post on the NLT Study Bible blog about “How is the NLT Study Bible Different?” In it, he makes statements that are music to my ears:

Basically, the NLT Study Bible focuses on the meaning and message of the text as understood in and through the original historical context. […] In many passages, we don’t discuss the theological implications “for us” in our culture, where it is different from the biblical world. We simply discuss what the text meant in the original context and let people extrapolate from there. […] We don’t try to take the place of the Christian tradition/community in providing a systematic doctrinal understanding of Scripture. […] What we are trying to do is supplement that understanding, deepen it, and (on occasion) challenge it in light of a contextual reading of Scripture.

It’s refreshing to read about a study Bible that is not focused on specific doctrinal systems (cf. Scofield), topical subject matter (cf. HCSB Apologetics Study Bible), personal life keys (cf. the Life Application Study Bible), literary forms analysis (cf. ESV Literary Study Bible) or study methodologies (cf. the Inductive Study Bibles), but simply provides foundational context for more intelligent growth in any of those areas if a reader so chooses.

  1. Thanks for bringing this up.

    I’ve preordered the ESV Study Bible and am wondering if I’d like to get the NLTSB also. I still don’t have an NLT on paper and wonder if I should wait and get this.

    I will be interested in reading comparisons, not see which one people think is ‘better’ but to see how they are different and how they compare in content.

    Since I won’t be buying a commentary of every book of the OT, I wonder if study Bibles in addition to the older out of copyright commentaries that are online may fill the gap.

    The only study Bible I’ve had is the NIV Thompson Chain Reference but never used the features. I just like regular hard cover pew Bibles.

  2. I would think that if you don’t have a printed NLT yet, this could be a great “all-in-one” resource. I’m not normally a “study bible guy” so I’m still on the fence about getting these, but if I get the chance to review this one, I’m hoping to compare it to my Oxford REB Study Bible, my wife’s NLT Life Application and the ESV SB samples online. Plus all the aesthetics stuff that I like writing about.

    I just like regular hard cover pew Bibles.

    Me too. I’ve been trying to simplify my bookshelf and text-only pew Bibles are the way to go, in my opinion.

  3. tc robinson says:

    El, thanks for the CT link. I was surprised to learn from R. Mansfield that the NLT has been tweaked in 2007.

    I’m really looking forward to the NLT SB.

  4. @Scripture Zealot: Yes, you should definitely order the NLT Study Bible as your one true copy of the NLT. 🙂

    @ElShaddai: Several years ago I set out to get the ultrathin reference edition of most Bible versions, so I have a shelf of these ultrathin Bibles — some genuine, some bonded, a couple of imitation leather. These are consistently my favorite text Bible editions, the quality of the paper and typesetting is usually higher than for pew Bibles, and it’s pretty easy to carry a stack of them from my shelf to my desk and back. Plus its easily the most impressive-looking 1.5 ft of my bookshelf. 🙂

  5. Sean, thanks for stopping by. You should take a photo of that bookshelf and post it!

    I will admit to having several leather/bonded leather editions myself, so my shelf is not entirely a row of hardbacks. However, I would have to say that the 2004 NLT Text Edition (ISBN 0842384898, yellow cover with the darker red ink) is one of the best NLTs I’ve seen – I would love to have that in one of your imitation leather bindings!

  6. @TC: I was surprised to learn from R. Mansfield that the NLT has been tweaked in 2007.

    I read that earlier on the NLT blog and it was news to me as well. I might have start browsing some of the new titles and see if something strikes me. I’d love to see their text edition format with a cross-reference column and/or wide margin…

  7. I saw a guy named Sean posted and then realized it’s that Sean. Since I asked here, according to Prov 19:20 it looks like I will be getting one.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to say that it’s great to have people like Keith and Sean out there posting on blogs. And I think marketing is a good thing, especially the way you’re doing it and not making grand claims (we’ll leave that to TC). I wish the HCSB publisher would do more.
    Jeff, eschewing smilies

  8. tc robinson says:

    The NLT has taken the Bible World by Storm!

    I’d love to see their text edition format with a cross-reference column and/or wide margin…

    Not bad! Do you mean genuine leather too? 🙂

    Jeff, I don’t make grand claims. 🙂

  9. Nice post. TC = The Claimster – he’s good at what he does.


    I think it’s good to just put out a hardcover. Is anyone going to want a 25lb floppy leather study Bible? And Bible bashing is better with a hardcover. But we’ll leave that to the ESVonlyers.

  10. @TC: Do you mean genuine leather too?

    Naw, I’m not hung up on leather, especially for reference volumes. A sturdy hardback is just as good, if not better since it won’t warp on the shelf. If there’s going to be any “luxury” put into the materials, I’d rather it be for a sewn binding.

  11. tc robinson says:

    Jeff, I wasn’t speaking of the Study Bible. I had a thinline or something like that in mind.

    El, I was referring to a slimline/thinline. Yeah, I rather hardback for this type of Study Bible. But if it’s a Bible I’m gonna be traveling with or using in the pulpit, then slimline/thinline genuine leather. 🙂

  12. Brian says:

    Well, I think a great combo would be the NLTSB with the Inductive Study Bible. Why, with one you study the text for yourself to see what it says, the other will give solid background info to help set things in context. But then again, this is my opinion as I am quite supportive of inductive study of the Bible and knowing its context.

  13. I’d love to do an edition of the NLTSB on much larger paper (margins!), with a Smyth-sewn binding, in buttery calfskin. I can dream.

  14. Sean, is that confirmation that the NLTSB has a glued binding and is not sewn?

    Also, I asked this question over on your blog, but it was buried in the comments and somewhat unrelated to the post topic, so I’ll repeat it here:

    I’d be curious to get more of your thoughts on the decision making of the text layout, especially comparing what you’ve chosen for the NLTSB against the “Discover God” SB, which used a single column text block and, except for some of the typeface choices, was very attractive, in my opinion.

  15. Sorry, that was cryptic. It’s not a confirmation — I’m just telling you what I’d like, and I’m really not in a position to discuss Tyndale’s packaging decisions (because I’m not involved in them). Sorry about that.

    Re/layout, my reply in the comments to K-Funk here says everything I know about the layout decision. I’m not sure what further information you’re looking for.

  16. Okay, ElShaddai, I put some more thoughts over yonder in answer to your question.

  17. Thanks, Sean. I wasn’t sure to what level you were involved in Tyndale’s production of the NLTSB, so I appreciate all the great info you’ve already provided.

    I’m not sure what further information you’re looking for.

    In your comment to K-Funk, you mentioned the 75 character rule of thumb for line width. Obviously that can be achieved several ways by varying the font size, which then affects the number of verses and corresponding study notes shown on each page.

    I guess I was most curious if (A) preferred text sizes or (B) the amount of information contained in the study notes was the primary determining factor in whether you use a single-column layout (as in the Discover God SB) or a double-column layout (NLTSB) for the scripture text.

    If that’s handled in a different department, then I do apologize for pestering you on this and again appreciate what you’ve been able to share.

  18. Sean wrote:

    I initially asked for a design that would allow us to pack as much content in as possible, given a page count target of 2,500 pages. Two-column text is generally more efficient with space. Even at that, the NLTSB design has an “openness” in its look that belies its density. Tim Botts, the interior designer, is a genius.

    Thanks, Sean.

  19. Hey ElShaddai,

    it’s been a while but I am done teaching my theology class at church so I am somewhat active again. For a while at least. Next semester should be a lite one for me, but come next year I will be tacking the subject of Salvation, so I may disappear for a while again.

    I pre-ordered the ESV study bible and I am thinking of getting this one as well. I had stopped buying study bibles, mostly because I found very little use for them. But these two new ones have ignited a renewed interest.

    Why do I have to enter my info? Aren’t you still using WordPress?

  20. Robert – thanks for stopping by! A month or so ago, I moved this blog from to my own hosting platform, so everyone got reset as an “approved” commenter. You’re good to go now…

    I had stopped buying study bibles, mostly because I found very little use for them. But these two new ones have ignited a renewed interest.

    I hear what you’re saying about study bibles, especially since most of them are skewed to one particular theme or topical interest. I find it more convenient to find a book in that area rather than buy *another* Bible. But if the NLTSB and ESVSB are as balanced in their approaches as promised, then I could see them being great foundational resources.

    In addition to the NLTSB Genesis sampler, I’ve really enjoyed reading Sean’s exploration of the study notes on Ruth and the concept of a kinsman (“family”) redeemer. It echoes everything I’ve been taught and I found myself nodding along with his comments. Ruth is a magnificent book on the theme of grace and covenantal provision.

  21. ElShaddai,

    They do look to be something to consider. The ESV is also offering all of their notes on line, and you can add your own notes, and what not. That is what tipped it for me.

    Although I have moved more away from the ESV, and reading the HCSB as my primary bible. Also I am really considering the NLT, since reading Rick’s notes on it this morning, I have to take a hard look at it again, but I will wait until the revised version is released and hopefully buy the study bible.

  22. You’ve got the idea. If you make the typeface bigger to keep the character count per line down, you end up with a longer Bible. We wanted to pack a lot into 2,500 pages, so that pushes you in a certain direction.

    No need to apologize.

  23. Thanks, Sean. I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of page count being the primary factor… but I should have been from my days managing software products and their associated Help manuals.

  24. Iyov says:

    E-S: I appreciate your listing the quote. However, I would think that the quote you gave could equally be given by the editors of the New Oxford Annotated Bible or the HarperCollins Study Bible. Indeed, those Bibles attempt to be even more neutral in their point of view — not necessarily assuming a Christian or even a theistic audience.
    Now, I haven’t seen the NLT Study Bible — I can imagine that it might be addressed at a less educated audience than the New Oxford or HarperCollins — or perhaps, despite the quote you gave, the NLT Study Bible incorporates more of a devotional tone. But I do not think that the goal you quote above is unique to the NLT Study Bible.

  25. Thanks for the note, Iyov. I agree that the approach might be shared by the more critical study Bibles that you noted.

    I actually received a review copy of the NLTSB on Friday and spent some time with it this weekend while my family and I were out of town. I plan to post some reviews, hopefully including a side-by-side comparison with a few different SB types, throughout the week.

  26. Iyov, you are right that there are some similarities in tone between the NLT Study Bible and the Oxford and HarperCollins Study Bibles. I included those Bibles in my initial review and wanted to achieve a similar tonal level, but within an explicitly evangelical framework (Scripture as divinely inspired, Scripture as historically accurate, etc.). That said, there is probably a more “devotional” feel to the NLTSB, because we do make theological implications explicit — we don’t stop with historical scholarship. However, it is not what is commonly called a “devotional” Bible.

    But let’s see what more objective reviewers have to say.

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