The Study Bible Wars: NLT 1, ESV 0

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I wanted to highlight just a few things about the NLT Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible as a point of comparison. This post is not meant to be all incluvise or even a review.

In Genesis 1.26, the NLT Study Bible reads,

Let us make is more personal than the remote “Let there be” (e.g., 1.36). The plural us has inspired several explanations:

  1. the Trinity;
  2. the plural to denote majesty;
  3. a plural to show deliberation with the self; and
  4. God speaking with his heavenly court of angels

The editors answer these objections, and I’ll skip most of what they say. No doubt the editors, translators and others who worked on the NLT Study Bible, the scholars anyway, are devout ‘orthodox’ Christians believing in the Trinity. Yet here, they allow for a more scholastic approach which keeps the integrity of the passage free from later dogmatization. They note, “The concept of the Trinity – one true God who exists eternally in three distinct persons – was revealed at a later stage in redemptive history, making it unlikely that the human author intended that here.” They conclude the note by stating that option 4 is the the most likely answer. And indeed, it is. This is the position of ancient Jewish interpreters as well, as demonstrated in the Jewish Study Bible.

The ESV Study Bible notes that the “text does not specify the identify of the “us” mentioned here.” Ahh… the false notion of Scripture interpreting Scripture. A starting point for the interpretation of Scripture cannot be Scripture, as it allows for circular logical to act as the foundation of the loudest voice being right. The ESV Study Bible Editors goes on to note what the NLT Study Bible does, that the ‘us’ (as it is in other places in the OT) is the heavenly court. Yet, they end by stating,  “Many Christians and some Jews have taken “us” to be God speaking to himself, since God alone does the making in Genesis. 1.27 (cf 5.1); this would be the first hint of the Trinity in the Bible (cf. 1.2).”

But it’s not. It is actually the heavenly court which was the understanding of the people who first read this passage. While it is easy for us to sit here today and reread the original works, the Scriptures were not created in a vacuum. The writers used the lexicons and encyclopedias of the day so that those who heard them then would understand the meaning of the text. How arrogant of us to think that the people for whom it was written didn’t understand it, and yet, we do.

Overall, I like the ESV Study Bible notes, but in several areas, the NLT Study Bible remains intellectually honest.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,109 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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2 thoughts on “The Study Bible Wars: NLT 1, ESV 0

  1. The NIV Study Bible appears to have a similar interpretation as the NLT Study Bible, that the Genesis 1:26 ‘us’ and ‘our’ means ‘announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court’. But then has ‘us’ in Isaiah 6:8 meaning ‘divine council’, which as I read that cannot mean angels as they are not divine, so the NIV ‘divine council’ has to mean God in a plural sense.

    John 1:1-5 states that all creation was made through Jesus – that Jesus was the Creator. Maybe Jesus was talking in Genesis 1:26.

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