NKJV vs. NLT: Comparing Bible Translations

The New King James Version (NKJV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) are two distinct Bible translations that offer unique approaches to presenting the biblical text.

The NKJV, published in 1982, seeks to update the King James Version (KJV) language while maintaining its traditional and formal style. It prioritizes accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

On the other hand, the NLT, first published in 1996, aims to provide a contemporary and easily understandable rendering of the Scriptures. It employs a dynamic equivalence approach, focusing on readability and clarity.

Also, see Is the NKJV a Good Translation? to learn more.

New Living Translation
Is the NLT easy to read? See below

The NLT Prioritizes Ease of Reading

The aim of the descriptions below is to help people choose the one that aligns with their reading preferences and needs.

Translation MethodEssentially Formal EquivalentDynamic Equivalent
Language StyleFormal and retains traditional languageBalanced and more conversational
ReadabilityGenerally easier to read, similar to KJVGenerally easier to read and understand
AccuracyEmphasizes word-for-word accuracyEmphasizes thought-for-thought accuracy
Word UsageRetains traditional languageParaphrases and clarifies meaning

What’s a word-for-word Bible translation?

The terms “word-for-word” and “thought-for-thought” describe different philosophies used in Bible translation.

Word-for-word, or formal equivalence, strives to maintain a direct correspondence between the original language and the translated text. This approach aims to be as literal as possible, preserving the original sentence structure and phrasing without sacrificing clarity.

The advantage of this method is that it can provide a closer look at the text as it was originally written, proving beneficial for in-depth study and analysis. However, these translations can be more difficult to read as they may not flow as naturally in the target language.

What’s a thought-for-thought Bible translation?

Thought-for-thought, or dynamic equivalence, prioritizes conveying the intended meaning of the original text rather than maintaining a strict word-for-word correspondence.

This approach attempts to translate the ideas and thoughts expressed in the original language into equivalent expressions in the target language to make the text more understandable and accessible for modern readers.

While these translations can be easier to read and comprehend, they sometimes involve more interpretation from the translators, which can lead to slight variations in how certain passages are presented.

Also, see Is the NLT a Good Translation? to learn more.

New King James Version
What is the Textus Receptus? See below

The NKJV Utilizes the Textus Receptus Manuscript

The Textus Receptus, Latin for “Received Text,” is a Greek text of the New Testament that served as the basis for many early modern translations, including the Bible’s King James Version (KJV). It was compiled and edited by the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus in the 16th century.

Manuscript BasisDraws from Textus Receptus (NT)Draws from a variety of manuscripts
Inclusive LanguageLess inclined toward gender-neutralMore likely to use inclusive terms
Denominational UsePopular among conservative denominationsWidely used across various groups
Study ResourcesOffers a variety of study editionsOffers a variety of study editions
PopularityKnown for its similarity to KJVKnown for its readability and accessibility

What is the Textus Receptus?

Erasmus aimed to create an updated and reliable Greek text by comparing various Greek manuscripts available to him at the time. His work included using several Greek manuscripts, most of which were relatively late and of the Byzantine text type.

The Textus Receptus became highly influential in the Protestant Reformation and subsequent centuries, as it was the Greek text used by many translators, theologians, and preachers. It played a significant role in developing the English Bible and other vernacular translations in Europe.

What is Inclusive Language in Bible Translation?

Inclusive language in Bible translation refers to an approach that seeks to use language inclusive of all genders and avoids bias or exclusion based on gender.

It aims to present the biblical message in a way that recognizes and represents both men and women equally. Inclusive language translations may use gender-neutral terms or phrases to refer to humanity or mixed-gender groups.

The goal is to ensure that the Bible is accessible and relevant to all readers, promoting equality and inclusivity in portraying individuals and their relationships with God and each other.

Christian Bible
What is the history of the NKJV? See below

What Is the History of the New King James Version?

The NKJV of the Bible is an English translation published in 1982. It was a revision of the KJV, aiming to update the language while preserving its traditional style and fidelity to the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

The NKJV project was initiated in 1975 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, who assembled a team of scholars and translators to revise. The translation process involved comparing the KJV with other reliable manuscripts and utilizing more recent scholarship in textual criticism and biblical languages.

The committee responsible for the NKJV sought to maintain the literary beauty and reverence of the KJV while addressing some of its archaic language and obscure phrasing. The goal was to provide a modern, readable translation that would appeal to contemporary readers.

The NKJV was released in stages, beginning with the New Testament in 1979. The complete Bible, including the Old Testament, was published in 1982.

It gained recognition and popularity among Protestant and evangelical Christian communities and became one of the widely used English translations.

Since its initial publication, the NKJV has undergone various revisions and editions, such as the 1984 edition, which included minor modifications to the text for improved clarity and accuracy.

The NKJV continues to be valued by readers who appreciate the traditional language of the KJV but desire a more accessible and contemporary version. It has been recognized for balancing readability and faithfulness to the original biblical texts.

What Is the History of the New Living Translation?

The NLT is a modern English translation of the Bible that originated in the 1980s. Kenneth Taylor, the founder of Tyndale House Publishers, oversaw the translation project. Taylor had previously worked on the Living Bible, a popular paraphrase of the Bible.

However, recognizing the need for a more accurate and reliable translation, he assembled a team of biblical scholars and linguists to create a new translation that would maintain faithfulness to the original text while using contemporary language.

The NLT translation project involved over 90 scholars representing various Christian denominations. The team worked on translating the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books.

The first edition of the NLT, known as the New Living Translation New Testament, was published in 1996. It was followed by the release of the complete Bible in 1996 (NLT First Edition) and subsequent revisions in 2004 (NLT Second Edition) and 2007 (NLTse).

The NLT aimed to balance accuracy and readability, employing a thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalence approach. It sought to convey the original text’s meaning in clear and contemporary language, making it more accessible to a wide range of readers.

The NLT has gained popularity and is widely used by individuals, churches, and Christian organizations. It has been praised for its readability, clarity, and ability to communicate the biblical message effectively in a modern context.


In conclusion, the NKJV and the NLT are two distinct Bible translations that offer different approaches to presenting the biblical text.

The NKJV, as a revision of the King James Version, seeks to update the language while maintaining its traditional and formal style. It prioritizes accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

In contrast, the NLT aims for contemporary and accessible language, utilizing a dynamic equivalence approach to convey the meaning of the biblical message in a conversational style.

The choice between them depends on individual preferences, with the NKJV appealing to those seeking a more traditional rendering and the NLT catering to readers desiring a more contemporary and readable experience.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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