Book Review: NLT Illustrated Study Bible

9781496402035The means by which one encounters the Scriptures are formative and important. That is to say, the Bible that you use—read, study with, take to Church, consult when times are tough—helps shape who you are as a Christian. Choosing the right Bible(s), then, can be a very important decision. But so many of the Bibles available today seem bland or boring, especially when compared to the increasingly technological and visual culture of the 21st century. Not so Tyndale House’s latest edition of the New Living Translation, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015).

The New Living Translation attempts to transition the Scriptures into the language of today, making easily understood the messages of God to humanity and the history of His actions in the world. This Illustrated Study Bible builds upon that principle, attempting to make visually stimulating and alive the words of God for today’s readers. Color and illustrations are used throughout, for section and book headings as well as insightful charts and features. In stark contrast to the often black-and-white pages of Bibles, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible and its vivid imagery draws readers in through splashes of color. The enlivened study materials effectively and efficiently point readers to the Truths of Scripture and help make sense of how contemporary readers may best approach the Bible.

2755736Of particular importance are the consistent calls to theological, reflective, thoughtful, and contextual readings of the Scriptures. One of the great leaps forward by Study Bibles in recent decades has been the integration of mindful and academic into commonly accessible Bibles. The NLT Illustrated Study Bible stands in this tradition by providing helpful study notes and also moves the tradition forward through the utilization of images and charts. In addition to section introductions outlining the basics of the genre, history, and background of the books being read, each biblical book comes with its own summary, overview of meaning and message, and contextual outline. The timeline of Biblical and world history in the front matter stands out, as do many of the features and charts within. Two of this reviewer’s favorites are the color coded and size-indicating “Types of Psalms” chart and the “Harmony of the Gospels” comparison.

For those unfamiliar with the process of Bible translation or the dynamic translational principles employed in the NLT, the explanation of translational approach will prove helpful. Additionally beneficial are the various end matter components, especially the features index, notes index, and extensive dictionary/concordance. All of this material—as well as the slightly thicker paper used to incorporate the colored printing—makes the NLT Illustrated Study Bible quite large. Though far from light, the binding and cover of this Bible are well constructed, making it likely to endure for some time.

Context is EverythingPerhaps most valuable in the presentation of this Bible is the emphasis placed on reading and interpreting the messages of Scripture contextually. Throughout the NLT Illustrated Study Bible there are numerous study notes, insights into the background history and context of the Biblical books and biblical world, and suggested resources for further study. These dual emphases of context and resources for further study form perhaps the best study helps that this reviewer has seen in a contemporary Bible. Less helpful, however, is the selection of Hebrew and Greek word studies included in the end matter. As anyone familiar with translation will know, the meaning of words connects strongly with those words’ contexts—to yank a word from its broader scriptural context often does more harm than good when trying to make sense of passage. While the impulse behind these studies remains valid—trying to get readers interested in the Hebrew and Greek—this type of approach is ultimately problematic.

Overall, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is a remarkable read, both in terms of content and presentation. Although not a huge fan of the NLT in general, this reviewer found this particular Bible engaging and useful. In general, the best Bible Study involves consultation of original languages and multiple translations, and this Bible will certainly find a place for those taking this approach as well as those simply seeking an “everyday” Study Bible. Thus, it comes highly recommended for anyone seeking a Study Bible with an eminently readable translation.


I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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