New Life Version: Simplified Vocabulary

One way to get my checkbook or bank card out nearly every time is to present me with a substantially new edition, or a new translation of the Bible. A substantial part of my bookshelves is occupied with these various versions and editions. The majority of them even get read on a reasonably frequent basis.

I picked up a copy of the New Life Version (NLV) several months ago, and even added it with very brief notes to my Bible Version Selection Tool. Today I grabbed it for my daily lectionary reading, in which I’m reading the texts for the third and fourth Sundays in Lent for cycle A. This is a good way to improve my impression of the version.

A key goal of this version is simple vocabulary and readability especially by those for whom English is a second language. My overall impression is that the task of simplifying the vocabulary is well done. At the same time, I thought that the syntax was not nearly as well done. I don’t mean it was choppy or too simple stylistically, but often excellent vocabulary choices were embedded in difficult sentences. Perhaps some folks with more experience in English as a second language teaching or related work might comment. Are the examples I provide below actually easy to follow? In any case, the simplified vocabulary is quite worthwhile.

Two additional points that do not relate to either of these two issues. The common standard of translating YHWH as LORD is abandoned. It is translated Lord throughout. That probably is in accord with the desire to simplify. Also, poetry is not broken out into lines. That is also probably part of the simplification.

First, here are some examples of simplified vocabulary. Note that I will present these in two columns, with the more common rendering first. The “more common” rendering is in no way intended as a standard, nor as a better translation. It’s just for comparison. Note also that the reference given is just as an example. The word may be used in many other verses.

Common Term NLV Term Reference
murmur or complain argue Exodus 17:2
Stone throw stones at Exodus 17:4
Rod special stick Exodus 17:5
Sacrifice give a gift 1 Samuel 16:2
Anoint pour oil on 1 Samuel 16:13
Kneel get down on ___ knees Psalm 95:6
Wilderness place where no people live Psalm 95:8
Ancestors early fathers Psalm 95:9*

* I have to wonder about this one. It makes sense to me, but does it work in the English as a second language setting? I can only assume the translators are better acquainted with the need than I am.

Second, syntax issues. The following sentences seem more clumsy than necessary to me:

He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah because of the arguing of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” — Exodus 17:7

In this case the normal pattern of shortened sentences seems to be abandoned, and the syntax seems much more complex to me than the vocabulary.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you be filled with sorrow because of Saul, since I have turned away from him being king over Israel? — 1 Samuel 16:1

I would note particular “turned away from him being king.” I wonder how easily speakers of English as a second language would understand it. I have to think about it myself.

I was angry with the people of that day for forty years. — Psalm 95:10

I hate putting this one down because I’m not sure how I would rephrase it, but again, I’m not sure it is all that easy to read.

They said to the woman, “Now we believe! It is no longer because of what you said about Jesus but we have heard Him ourselves. We know, for sure, that He is the Christ, the One Who saves men of this world from the punishment of their sins. — John 4:42

This one could do with some more use of the short sentences used elsewhere in the NLV, or so it seems to me.

I think that gives enough of the flavor. This version seems to me to make an excellent effort to fill a need, but I’m not sure that the syntax doesn’t work against the valuable work on simplifying the vocabulary.

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