Why do we need another study-format Bible? Is there really a need for a new Bible on the shelf? Honestly, these are valid questions. If you already have a half-dozen, then you probably should walk away from this post and go read one of the Bibles you already own. If you find yourself in need of a new Bible, though, let me highlight one of the newer ones on the market.
The New Living Translation (NLT) IllustratedStudy Bible is a new release from Tyndale Publishers. It’s available in hardcover, leather, imitation letter, and someday probably in digital. Mine’s a hardcover, which causes it to weigh in at about five pounds. That’s enough to hurt your foot if you’re not careful!
First, let’s take a look at the translation. The NLT was published in 1996 as an update to the Living Bible, with an effort to improve the accuracy of the translation while maintaining the easy reading style of the original. There have been some updates and revisions, including one this year (2015). Overall, the translation is generally reliable. I have a few reservations about the NLT; for example, if you don’t want to use “brothers” for “adelphoi”, my preference would be “fellow believers” (See Colossians 1:2). That captures what we tend to think Paul meant without adding a word that isn’t there. That’s the most glaring, but overall it’s a good translation.
On to the study notes. As always, one must remember that the study notes are the words of men placed beside the Word of God. For the most part, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes lean toward factual items, but have some interpretative and application notes. In other words, most notes give the reader background on the verse or a linking to historical events that make it easier to dig out the meaning. Some notes give a fairly direct message, while others provide a definite fulfillment to a prophecy. (Jeremiah 51:20 is an example of this last.)
In these notes, the editors and authors strive for balance among the major Christian views without taking sides. This makes some notes (like those in Revelation) a bit long, but keeps the Bible from falling into a niche too small to have value. There’s nothing extraordinary about these study notes, not particularly amazing or bad. Good, solid, and helpful just as I expected from Tyndale.
The verse-linked study notes are not the only study feature. It is in the larger study profiles that this printing of the Bible shines. For example, as Revelation is working through events that link well to the Roman Empire, the reader finds a timeline from Augustus Caesar through Domitian. (Yes, they’re all “Augustus” and “Caesar,” so from Octavian, then.) This features images from Roman art and a brief sketch of their life. Other areas feature full-color photos and illustrations, including useful charts and diagrams.
While the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is helpful throughout, I found the chart showing the lives and ministries of Israel's prophets was the "open my eyes" graphic for me. Full-color throughout, but this showed not only the years of each prophet's work, but helped to line up the global events with the times of the prophet's words. Seeing which prophets overlapped also opened my eyes to how they may have interacted.
In all, a great study and learning tool for digging deeper into Scripture.