Defending the Deity of Christ with the New Living Translation (NLT)

This week, we are examining key Christian doctrines with the New Living Translation. The most important doctrine of all is the doctrine of the deity of Christ. This doctrine separates and divides, and most be guarded as the paramount doctrine of the Church. Before we talk about the various understandings of the Godhead, we must first agree that Christ is God, not merely a high angel, or a god among gods, but God.

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is the Christ hymn found in Philippians 2.5-8, in which Paul is writing about humility, compassion and love, but in doing so, he speaks volumes of theology as well.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 KJV)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT1)

Once the NLT was published, it created a firestorm – as all versions are apt to do – among the KJVO’ers with the NLT charged with denying the deity of Christ because they removed the word ‘equal’ in the above passage. They would change this in the 2nd Edition, but I find the 1st here much more palatable than any other translation. It clearly affirms that Christ is not some mere ‘form’ of God, but is God, and thinking not that His divinity was something to be held so tightly to that humanity was not worth saving, He made himself nothing.

When I have to explain this passage of Scripture, I first turn to the NLT, because in the end, it the wooden literalism of the KJV which forces the full Godhood away from Christ while making Him subordinate to another.

Another verse that KJVO’ers use to deny the use of the NLT is Colossians 2.9, which reads

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2:9 KJV)

For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body, (Colossians 2:9 NLT)

While many complain that ‘Godhead’ is removed, the Greek θεότης signifies ‘everything that is God.’ As one commentator put it ‘ it is the divine nature.’ While the KJV is literal, the NLT points to the very real fact of the Incarnation, and speaks of it more clearly. In the flesh of a certain Jesus, everything that is God lived.

Turning to Romans 9.5, we see that the KJV actually obliterates the deity of Christ, while the NLT rescues it:

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:5 KJV)

of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. (Romans 9:5 NKJV)

Their ancestors were great people of God, and Christ himself was a Jew as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. (Romans 9:5 NLT)

Is Christ God-blessed for ever? Or is Christ God to be blessed for ever?

Turning to 2nd Thessalonians 1.12, the KJV separates God and Lord, God and Jesus Christ into two. The KJV reads:

That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:12 KJV)

Then everyone will give honor to the name of our Lord Jesus because of you, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the undeserved favor of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:12 NLT1)

Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ*. (NLTse, but the * is a note, which reads, Or, of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.)

It is clear that the NLT1 and the note of the NLTse understands Paul to refer to Christ fully concerning the Grace, following certain rules present in the Greek. (For those that use Young’s Literal, the last clause reads, grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ).

In the KJV Titus 2.13, we find another obliteration of the deity of Christ, demoting Him to Saviour alone while separating Him from God,

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13 KJV)

while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. (Titus 2:13 NLT)

While the NLT is not perfect – I have yet to find a translation that truly is – it provides a sure foundation, and in some cases, a more sure foundation for the deity of Christ.

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23 Replies to “Defending the Deity of Christ with the New Living Translation (NLT)”

  1. (1) Roy Hoover in his classic “The Harpagmos Enigma” article (Harvard Theological Review, 1971) argues in favor of a translation from Philippians 2:6 to the effect that Christ did not consider equality with God “something to use for his own advantage,” a phrasing closer to the NLT’s “did not demand and cling to his rights as God” than to the other translations you mention. I agree with semantics expert Moises Silva of Westminster Theological Seminary in concluding that Hoover’s argument “has settled the matter.” I found Hoover’s argument persuasive. The phrase is to be taken as idiomatic rather than literally (the latter of which can land one with the word “grasped” as a translation for “harpagmos”).

    (2) Differences of opinion on whether or not “God” in Romans 9:5 refers to Christ in the same verse are not dependent on textual variants. They are expressed as differences in punctuation. The difficulty here is that punctuation post-dated Paul. Contextual clues and Pauline “blessings” patterns and theology lead me to side with the minority of committee members (Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary …). I think “God” does refer to “Christ” here (so Doug Moo, Romans).

    (3) See Murray Harris: Jesus as God (if still in print) for a thorough treatment.

    (4) I think it is a mistake to judge a translation based largely on one’s theological preference. More to the point is whether the translation accurately represents the original language. The original is the standard for theology. Of course, the theological bias of the translator has some effect on translation, and the reader’s theology has some valid role in determining which translation to read, although I think most serious English translations are close enough to the original that a reader can get the main points.

    (5) The NLT’s “Their ancestors were great people of God” (Rom 9:5) injects a bit too much interpretation for my taste. I prefer to leave the textual interpretation responsibility more with the reader than with the translator. On the other hand, if the literalness or wooden-ness loses the responsible reader, minor accommodation to the translated tongue may be warranted. Idiom or colloquialism may be a clear examples.

    (6) Modern English translations may differ from older ones in part based on textual variants or (with respect to older translations) archaic wording and grammar. Since the KJV too, advances have been made in understanding certain words in the originals based on various archaeological discoveries.

  2. All great points, Peter. Not sure if I clarified this, but I am doing this in part, in large part, because of many KJVO’ers who state without evidence that, ‘All modern versions removed or diminish the deity of Christ.’ I wish I had more time to go into the finer details of the translation, and variants, but alas, I do not, which is why comments such as yours are so important.

    1.) I agree. I think that the wooden literalism which even Christ Himself escaped at times, diminished the Christ Hymn’s impacting statement of humility.

    2.) I agree that punctuation is a key in translation, but again, I refer back to the point that the NLT highlights more the deity of Christ than the KJV did here, especially at this particular verse. Again, this is why comments like yours make the post infinity better that I ever could.

    3.) I’ll do that

    4.) I would agree, but in dealing with the theology of the KJVO’er, I feel that I have to make sure that I can show that modern versions do not diminish their theology. This is a major point of the KJVO’er (I was once one.)

  3. Hi P

    I do not understand. How is that the KJV does not support or strongly advocate the deity of Christ? There are clear references to the deity of Christ through-out the KJV.

    And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. 1 Timothy 3:16 KJV

    Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28 KJV

    Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 KJV

    One thing that the KJV does not do is support the teaching that the Word is God the Son and that he is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

    My question to you is,do you now believe that the Son of God is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father? Or that the Word was God the Son?

  4. Hi again Polycarp!

    If your point was to offer counterarguments to what you call KJVO’s wrt the Deity of Christ, then I understand your perspective rather better.

    I have not followed the debate in some years, but my last understanding was that the position is generally not taken seriously by competent scholars that hold to a high view of Scripture. Further, the arguments I have come across from the KJVO position I find very strained, unfair, or just plain odd.

    Some (though not all), for example, seem to argue that the KJV (or at least the updated revision popular since about the middle of the 19th century) are to be considered more authoritative than the manuscript tradition from which the KJV was derived. More popular esp. wrt the NT seems to be that the Byzantine textual tradition (or rather the representative fraction that reached Erasmus) is more authoritative than all the other manuscripts combined that originated from geographical locations and ecclesiological variations outside Byzantium. That in spite of the fact that KJVO people generally follow a theology of Jesus and the Trinity much closer to the Western than Byzantine/Eastern Orthodox church tradition. In my experience, the KJVO position flies in the face of a variety of historical, exegetical, and textual evidence.

    The only serious scholar I know of to offer counter-arguments to the KJVO is D. A. Carson in his The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism, though some years have come and gone since its publication. If you come across a copy, you may still find it useful nonetheless.

    And of course, we all value the KJV as a wonderful translation which, among others, has blessed many sectors of the English speaking Protestant church in Britain, the US, and Canada in comparatively recent church history.

  5. Morning P

    This has become unfruitful (on my part) and i know it.So i will leave you to the last word on the matter of the KJV.

  6. Second Thessalonians 2:12 “Both nouns ‘of God’ and ‘Lord’ may refer to the same person because the article [‘the’ — ‘of the God’] is not repeated, but the fact that ‘Lord’ is often anarthrous [meaning without an article, as here] like a proper noun slightly weakens this argument” A. T. Robertson, Grammar of Gk NT, p. 786.

  7. Hi Polycarp!

    Regrettably I have not found sufficient evidence yet to convince me on balance whether “God” refers to Jesus or the Father in 2 Thes 1:12. So far as I know, it could go either way. In comparing the KJV and other translations on the subject of the Deity of Christ, you may, however, find other examples in John 1:18 and especially 2 Peter 1:1.

    Referencing this topic and textual criticism (as raised earlier), one of the rules of thumb used in determining the most probable original reading is that the shorter is generally the more likely.

    For example, where one set of manuscripts has “Lord Jesus Christ” or “Jesus Christ” and another collection of manuscripts has “Jesus,” textual critics will generally infer that it is more probable that scribes added words to the original than that they subtracted them. Just plain “Jesus” is more likely to be original.

    Of course, other factors may alter the textual critic’s decision, such as exegetical considerations (or those internal to the text), auditory considerations (if a manuscript was copied by one while listening to a reader), general reliability of the manuscripts, dating of the manuscripts, quotations in lectionaries, translations (Armenian, Coptic, Latin), and known theological debate in church history. “Shorter reading” is one rule of thumb weighed among others.

    I use this example not only because it is common, but also because it is relevant to the KJV debate. The shorter reading “Jesus” does not imply that the original detracted from the doctrine of the deity of Christ. And a longer reading is possibly original, all other things being equal.

    However, the Byzantine manuscripts, a few of which are behind the KJV, are generally of more recent date than those more heavily weighted by modern textual critics. And the Byzantine manuscripts often contain longer readings of the “Lord Jesus Christ” sort.

    Forgive me if this is old hat. Or for more reading, Neil Lightfoot has written How We Got the Bible in layman’s terms.

  8. Hi Polycarp!

    A.T. Robertson in the quote I gave, above, seems to agree with you on balance, albeit weakly, that is, that “God” refers to Jesus in 2 Thes. 1:12. It appears to be possible. In one case, the second member of the Trinity is called God (as in Titus 2:13 & 2 Peter 1:1, as you note). In the other, Father and Son are present, arguably as deity (as in 1 Thes. 1:1, 2 Thes. 1:1, 1 Tim. 1:1, and so on.

    For further study, Kurt Aland wrote Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, available on Amazon. I have the slightly older one by they late Bruce Metzger, namely The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Both can be technical and require some familiarity with Greek, but they both concern NT textual criticism.

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