Yesterday, we drove off to a nearby state to visit a friend who is starting a new ministry as rector of a church. After a tour of the rectory, we were given a tour of the lovely church.
As I sat in a pew to take in the architecture and the stained glass, I found a NLT Bible. Every pew had several. Of course, it's a good thing to find bibles in pews and not that common in Episcopal Churches. And yet, this particular translation is a disappointment. Here's why.
Take the NLT translation of Romans 16:1-2, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God's people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.
This description of Phoebe, "for she has been helpful" doesn't do her justice. Look at the NRSV:
"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well."
The translation "benefactor" from the the Greek word prostatis is a Latinism, the Greek rendering of the Latin word patrona, the feminine form of patronus. How should we render this? Both diakonos and prostatis contains a dimension of "assistance" as well as a dimension of authority and leadership. Perhaps we can say that Phoebe in her role as diakonos of the church of Cenchreae fulfilled a leading role in that community. As for prostatis, this word connotes "patron" or "protector." In the passage then, Phoebe is a sister, deacon and a benefactor of the ekklesia at Cenchreae. Now the NLT transmits two out of three terms but obscures the third. And if it does this in regard to one prominent woman, are we not justified in being suspicious of the work of these translators?
Other scholars have noted that the NLT is not a new translation but rather a revision of the 1971 Living Bible translation. One of the scholars who worked on it, Craig Blomberg says of this translation (in 2003):
Years later I relished the chance to work on the NLT (New Living Translation) team to convert the LBP into a truly dynamic-equivalent translation, but I never recommend it to anyone except to supplement the reading of a more literal translation to generate freshness and new insights, unless they are kids or very poor adult readers.