Bible Translation: GNT & NLT

What are thought for thought translations?

This week shifts focus from word-for-word bible translations into thought for thought. According to, “thought-for-thought Bibles seek to express the meaning of each sentence or paragraph from the original language in simple up-to-date English without being tied to translating every word.” The way in which these Bibles vary from the word-for-word translations is that they seek to express the meaning within the Biblical text by summarizing full sentences or paragraphs, providing an overarching idea, as opposed to expressing the message within by a literal translation of each word.

The editors of liken this approach to the difference between an inkjet printer and a laser printer. Inkjets produce results by laying out one line at a time in order to form a complete picture while laser printers produce the entire picture all at once. In thought-for-thought translations, the translators deviate from the attempt at offering direct word for word replacements which, even to the most thorough translation, lack full meaning from the original manuscripts and can be burdensome to read, in exchange for summarized sentences and paragraphs which make it easier for the reader to grasp the concept of the biblical passages. It is also worth noting that most of these thought-for-thought translations are written between a 4th and 7th grade reading level making comprehension of the text easier for most people.

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The publication of the Good News Translation (GNT), or as the Good News Bible as it was formerly known, is a bit more complicated than most. Published on January 1, 1966, the Good News Translation was a response to a request made in 1961 by American Bible Society field translators on the continents of Africa and Asia for a Bible that was easier to read due to their own lack of proficiency in the original manuscript languages. Inspired by a Spanish translation for Latin Americans, Eugene Nida, who served as the Executive Secretary for the American Bible Society’s Translation Department, envisioned a Bible translation that would be available to the people and offer “dynamic equivalence” which was another phrase used to describe a “thought-for-thought” presentation of the Biblical message.

While the official first publication is listed in 1966, the GNT took form over the course of thirteen years as it was rolled out in three parts. The New Testament, following the lead of Robert Bratcher, who tackled the book of Mark, saw its initial publication on the January 1st publication listed above. A decade later, in 1976, the Old Testament saw its completion and was added, followed by the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books three years later in 1979.

The popularity of this version was immense. It has been used across many Christian denominations and even saw an endorsement from Billy Graham for use of certain portions in his evangelistic crusades. In 2008, this version was referenced in order to provide the basis for a film adaptation of the Gospel of John.

This version, like many others has its strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, it’s ease for reading and understanding makes it a popular translation to use for children’s Bible’s as well as for those who are just learning English. On the other, critics shy away from its use as it often sacrifices exegetical accuracy in favor of an easier to understand reading of scripture.

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The New Living Translation (NLT) finds its origins in a bit of a different way. Starting out as an attempt at revising The Living Bible, a version that will be covered in a later post, this version found its creation as that work evolved into something completely different.

Utilizing texts from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, scholars from across many denominations came together in order to collaborate on this project. Their motivation stemmed from the thought that more people would hear the word of God spoken to them in church than would read it for themselves. This factor led them to provide a translations which could be heard and comprehended clearly based on a more day to day language.

The project took seven years to complete and included the work of ninety scholars. It began in 1989 and concluded in 1996, twenty five years after the publication of the Living Bible, and uses modern day ideas to convey the messages from when the texts were written. Some of those examples include replacing monetary terms and weights with present day terms that can be easily understood while still placing the original units of measure in the footnotes.

The popularity of the NLT was massive. In 2008 it surpassed the New International Version (NIV) as the top selling Bible by unit and as of 2014 it is the second most popular translations based on unit sales and fourth based on sales numbers.

While this translation has great popularity, it does have some drawbacks that keep serious scholars from using it. Due to its thought for thought style, it makes use for serious Bible study questionable. In all, it makes for a good translation to read to others for comprehension sake but for personal study it may not be ideal without the use of another translation beside it. The ultimate value for this translation comes in the philosophy that motivated the writing in the first place which was to provide a translation that is best understood when read aloud much like what was done in the early church.

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