Is the New Testament for Everyone by N.T. Wright a trustworthy translation of the Bible?
I am extra careful when I evaluate new Bible translations, as well as when I review a Bible, and even more so when I am reviewing a Bible that is not typical. The New Testament for Everyone by N.T. Wright checks all of those boxes. It is a newer, less common translation, it is a Bible, but it is what I would label an abnormal Bible. On top of all of those factors, the New Testament for Everyone was translated by one person on their own. If you are like me, that’s a bonus item added to the “reasons to be skeptical” list.
With that said, this translation is published by Zondervan, a trusted Bible publisher, and is now available on the top Bible website, BibleGateway.com. That should add some credibility to the material, right? Well, let’s walk through the New Testament for Everyone by N.T. Wright with a look into N.T. Wright, a peek at how he translated the NTFE translation, and then a comparison of the NTFE to other popular translations.
Who is N.T. Wright?
Nicholas Thomas Wright, known as N.T. Wright, is an English New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian, and has served as the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He has written over 70 books, and has his own translation of the New Testament, the Kingdom New Testament, which later bred the NTFE (New Testament for Everyone). You can find more than 30 online courses, certifications, ebooks, and blog articles on his website (also available on a new site) where it states that believers can “Learn from the world-renowned Prof. Wright by engaging a variety of resources”. His works have been controversial to the degree that other renown Bible scholars, such as John Piper, have written their own books to dispute the teachings of N.T. Wright.
A red flag for me is that no matter what I look up concerning N.T. Wright, I find complaints, controversy, and warnings. There is not a lot of material that defends Wright and his works. Of course, this does not mean that all of the complaints and warnings are accurate, but anytime I find a lot of controversy around a Bible scholar I stop and ask some questions, as should we all.
How and why did N.T. Wright Translate the New Testament?
N.T. Wright translated the New Testament from the original Greek into “easily readable modern English, aiming for both accuracy and accessibility.” (BibleGateway.com). Wright used his own study and understanding of the New Testament as a Bible scholar and theologian to translate the New Testament for Everyone Bible translation. Usually, Bible translations are completed by a team of scholars translating together based on an agreed upon goal, set of translation “rules”, and principles.
Wright’s philosophy for translation is that each generation should have a new translation while also taking into account previously completed translations. In the Preface of the New Testament for Everyone, he gives credit to one of his “lifelong heroes, William Tindale” and then goes on to explain what kind of translation NTFE is by saying;
“Some have been quite strict translations, almost word for word; others have been paraphrases, trying to convey the message in a looser, less formal way. Two questions, then: is this new version really a translation, or a paraphrase? And why do we need yet another one?”
He then states plainly that the NTFE is a translation, not a paraphrase. For those of you who don’t know, William Tyndale was responsible for beginning the work of translating the Bible into English when Henry VIII was King of England and had separated England from the Roman Catholic Church making himself the Head of the Church of England. Tyndale began a dangerous project of secretly translating the scriptures into English, which was forbidden by the Pope, but eventually opened the door for common people to read the Bible for themselves for the first time. N.T. Wright sees what Tyndale did, and seems to desire to carry the torch onward for common people to have a translation they can easily understand, just as Tyndale worked at providing a Bible in English so the common people could understand the Word of God in their own language.
N.T. Wright points out time and again how language evolves over time, making new translation important to the development of our culture, so that there is always a translation that each generation will be able to read and make sense of without deciphering outdated linguistics. The NTFE translation is designed to be as word-for-word as possible, but with first-century Greek being so vastly different from modern English, he basically explains that there is no way to match it up word-for-word at all, let alone in a way that would make any sense. So, he veers away from the literal verbatim translation in order to capture what the original writer seems to intend to say. With this, I give him credit for his honesty in disclosing that no translation of the Bible is truly “safe”, and that all of them are “risky” – but that it is a necessary risk so that we can understand God’s Word.
How is the New Testament for Everyone meant to be used?
One thing I want to mention is that the goal of the New Testament for Everyone by N.T. Wright is to provide a fresh, modern translation of the Bible in English. It is intended to be used alongside other translations, but namely it was originally designed, per the Preface of the New Testament for Everyone, to accompany N.T. Wright’s commentary series’ on the New Testament which was made for people who have no intention of reading Bible commentaries. This is not a translation that is acclaimed to be the end-all for believers – it is intended to be a companion translation, but again namely a companion to Wright’s own commentaries.
N.T. Wright encourages Bible readers to go beyond the translations we have grown comfortable with, and step into a new way of wording the same message. With that, though, Wright does not want you to stop here with the NTFE – he makes it crystal clear that as the world changes, and the English language evolves, translations should evolve as well to ensure that we have a Bible in our own language that makes sense to us at any point in history.
Additionally, the New Testament for Everyone is also designed to be read more like a novel. I actually really appreciate that this Bible is laid out in a way sort of halfway between novel, which lacks verse references etc, and a traditional Bible with all the references. It has verse numbers and subtitles to guide readers, but it is still setup to flow like a novel. It makes me think of the Eternity Now: New Testament Series. Eternity Now is the Bible, but legitimately in novel form.
Layout of the NTFE
NTFE’s layout and style is a mesh of this and a traditional Bible, which gives you a different experience while reading it. I can sit and read it like a novel with less distraction, and less of a temptation to stop at breaks I normally would in my Bible, but I can also use the verse numbers and subtitles to guide me and reference where I am. The intention behind this is to give the Bible reader a flexible reading experience, which also enables us to study scripture with more flexibility and ease.
NTFE vs. NKJV
One way I find helpful to evaluate a translation is to compare to other translations. The NKJV (New King James Version) is my favorite primary translation. As we are approaching Christmas, I wanted to take a look at Luke 2 and read about the birth of Jesus Christ. The very first thing I noticed is that Luke 2:1-2 already differs from a variety of other translations I checked. (Emphasis mine.)
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. Luke 2:1-2 NKJV
At that time a decree was issued by Augustus Caesar: a census was to be taken of the whole world. 2 (This was the first census, before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) Luke 2:1-2 NTFE
While every translation I read (NLT, ESV, NIV, KJV, CSB, AMP, NET) stated that the census was WHILE Augustus Caesar was governor, NTFE states that it was “BEFORE the one” when he was governor. Maybe not a huge deal, not worth splitting hairs over maybe, but this now changes the timeline of events a bit and strikes me that it is a small detail that is clearly different than so many other translations.
In Luke 2:10, the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds and speaks to them. This shows us another noticeable difference for the NTFE, which is again translated more as a novel. Where there are conversations, they will read more like you would read a conversation in you favorite novel than what you are accustomed to in scripture. Additionally, frequently where you would read “Christ” in most translations, the NTFE reads as “Messiah”, which Wright points out in the Preface is how Christos is literally translated.
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:10-14 NKJV
10 “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to them. “Look: I’ve got good news for you, news which will make everybody very happy. 11 Today a savior has been born for you—the Messiah, the Lord!—in David’s town. 12 This will be the sign for you: you’ll find the baby wrapped up, and lying in a feeding-trough.”
13 Suddenly, with the angel, there was a crowd of the heavenly armies. They were praising God, saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and peace upon earth among those in his favor.” Luke 2:10-14 NTFE
Right away, there are some pretty noticeable differences. Of course, the point of new translations is to be different in some way or another, while holding true to the original message as much as possible. The New Testament for Everyone has the flow and style of a novel, but it also changes some things that are most often translated particular ways. Sometimes this may be a bigger issue while other times, like above, it is not something I would quantify as a salvation issue.
Another noteworthy verse, though, is Matthew 18:11 where Jesus is telling the parable of the Lost Sheep. Verse 11 is included in many translations, yet is left out in the NTFE. This verse, I would argue, is important because it does talk about salvation. So, its exclusion is something to dive into.
10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:10-14 NKJV (Emphasis mine.)
10 “Take care not to despise one of these little ones. I tell you this: in heaven, their angels are always gazing on the face of my father who lives there.
12 “How does it seem to you? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off and goes missing, what will he do? He’ll leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go off after the one that’s missing, won’t he? 13 And when, eventually, he finds it, I’ll tell you the truth: he will celebrate over that one more than over the ninety-nine who didn’t go missing! 14 It’s the same with your father in heaven. The last thing he wants is for a single one of these little ones to be lost.” Matthew 18:10-14 NTFE
Matthew 18:11 is said to have been added here from the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10. Some manuscripts have it in Matthew here, and some do not. This leads to some translations including it, and some not. The main thing here is that yes, this verse is in other places in scripture, and the message and lesson is in other places in the Bible. It is difficult for translators to determine what manuscripts to go by, and what ones not to. The Preface of the NTFE explains a bit more about how N.T. Wright made these difficult calls, as well as why there are no footnotes to let us know when something has been left out like many other translations include. Essentially, it boiled down to lessening distractions, and going with what appeared to be the most reliable manuscripts available to date – not all of which were available when many of the translations we have in English were being translated.
Do I recommend the New Testament for Everyone?
Personally, the NTFE feels so deprived of the deep, poetic language of most translations of the Bible that the modernization of the English used in the NTFE feels overly casual. I find it hard to take it as seriously as I do many other translations, and where N.T. Wright’s goal was to better capture the original meanings of what was being written it feels more like he took much of the meaning and significance away from the Word. It is so “modernized” that it reads with even less depth than translations intended for children, such as the ICB or the ESV.
Overall, the New Testament for Everyone is designed to be used by those who need the Bible in very modernized, easy-to-read language and reading style. It is meant for those who have a hard time reading other modern translations, or who want some help studying the Bible for the first time. The NTFE is a translation might be helpful to someone who is just starting out with the Bible and is reading at a lower reading level, but I want to stress that you should eventually “outgrow” this translation and move up to a more literal translation that better captures the depth of the original scriptures.
I would not recommend the NTFE as a primary translation, a solo translation, or your final translation of choice. Finally, the New Testament for Everyone is a Bible translation I would label as “proceed with caution” and would not personally recommend, but I also see it as a potentially helpful companion study resource alongside other translations that have gone through what I would refer to as a more trustworthy vetting and research process, and are more literal and go deeper than the NTFE.
Where can you find the NTFE?
If you would like to check out the New Testament for Everyone for yourself, I encourage you to find it at the following places online: