April 4, 2020

NLT Mosaic Bible Blog Tour/Interview: Mosaic Editor Keith Williams

_MG_1111I’m very happy to have Keith Williams, one of the editors of the “Mosaic” Bible (NLT) that I’ve recently promoted here at IM, answering some of your questions about the NLT and the special Mosaic edition.

You can find the entire Mosaic Blog tour schedule here. Check out the various sites and all the questions and answers that have been published. The NLT Mosaic web site is a great resource. (Want a Christian year calendar for your Google Calendar?) You can buy the Mosaic Bible at Amazon. You’ll find all these links and resources behind the clickable ad on the sidebar.

So let’s get down to some of the questions contributed by IM readers for Keith and his answers.

How will the Mosaic Bible help someone coming from a Free-Church background (ie, Baptist) who is completely unfamiliar with the Christian Year as well as other elements of liturgical worship connect with broader Christian tradition and incorporate them in his or her devotional life?
I grew up in an independent Bible church that had virtually no connection to the church year or liturgical worship, and in fact I had very little exposure to the church calendar until 2003, when my wife and I were attending a church that incorporated some aspects of the church calendar in their worship. But in 2005, my wife joined the staff at a Lutheran church, complete with robes, lectionary preaching, liturgical reading and singing, Scripture lessons, standing and sitting, acolytes, and everything. I jumped into the church year with both feet, and had an amazing experience in the seasons of Lent and Easter, particularly throughout the Holy Week services. Since then the church calendar has had a prominent role in my spiritual life, even as we have moved on to an independent Baptist church.

This being my experience, one of my greatest hopes for Holy Bible: Mosaic is that it will help people from free-church backgrounds who have little or no exposure to the church calendar to get a taste of what it is like to orient your life to the rhythms of God’s activity in the world rather than letting the world of nature, education, or fiscal calendars dictate what time of year it is. Mosaic is a “soft” entry to the church year and lectionary; it doesn’t contain any of the complexities of the Book of Common Prayer cycles or the three-year Revised Common Lectionary system. Rather, we created a system that can be used in any year while still following the seasons of the church year and providing lectionary readings that were drawn from these traditional sources. Hopefully, this will help avoid some of the confusion that someone from a free-church background might experience if they were told that this week is RCL B-Proper 24 (29).

Considering that this version of the Bible is a paraphrase of the original text, why is it being used so heavily for study? Does this interfere with interpretation of scripture to the extent of impacting doctrine or major differences between traditions?
Bible translation is not simple, and there is quite a bit of misunderstanding and disinformation out there. We should be clear about one thing right up front: The NLT is a translation, not a paraphrase. A team of qualified, Christian scholars has worked diligently for 20 years to create a clear, understandable translation directly from the original languages into English. As such, the NLT is perfectly suitable for Bible study.

Different principles of translation are used for the NLT than those that were used for the ESV (for example), but those differences don’t make one “good” and the other “bad.” They don’t even make one good for in-depth Bible study and the other only good for devotional reading. The differences in English Bible translations simply offer English-speaking Christians with a God-given opportunity to have multiple entry points to his Word in their native language. That is something to celebrate, and it shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to criticize one translation over another.

What’s the difference between the NLT and NLTse? I had assumed the NLTse overrode the NLT.

The NLT was originally published in 1996, but the Bible Translation Committee, the body of scholars responsible for the translation, did not stop their work then. Over the next couple of years, it became clear that the committee wanted to make a number of significant changes to the translation—more than just a few changes here and there. For example, they wanted poetic sections to be set as poetry rather than in paragraphed form. So, a thorough revision process ensued, and in 2004 the revised text was released. This is often referred to as the NLTse (second edition), but in fact it is simply the NLT. The 1996 version of the text is no longer being published, so any new NLT since 2004 is the second edition. Another minor batch of updates were integrated into the text in 2007, but at this point we anticipate the text being stable for quite some time.

The first edition of the NLT had a version which included the Apocrypha. The second edition does not. Are there any plans to make avaliable a version of NLT 2 with the Apocrypha?
This is something that we have talked about more than once at Tyndale. While there are no actual plans to create a new edition with the apocrypha, there aren’t any philosophical objections to making one.

The arrangement of the Mosaic Bible is obviously influenced by the more liturgical church traditions such as Anglicanism and Lutheranism, however the NLT’s primary readership seems to be highest among more low-church evangelicals. What do you hope the Mosaic’s inclusion of church calendar-based devotions, art, and perspectives from ancient and modern thinkers will bring to the typical evangelical reader not accustomed to such?

I have great hopes that Mosaic will help orient low-church evangelicals to the church calendar, as my story above indicates. But I think that Mosaic has something to offer to Christians from every stripe. The art and quotes throughout are drawn from all over the map, literally and figuratively. So Christians from any tradition will find that the readings and art are drawn from a broader set of sources than they are used to. Hopefully this will lead to all of us learning to celebrate our unity as Christians while appreciating the diversity that can stretch our view of God and our shared faith. I wrote a bit about this on an earlier guest post in the blog tour here (http://www.katagraphais.com/index.php/2009/10/05/guest-post-keith-williams-on-christian-unity-and-the-holy-biblemosaic/).

As a pastor, WHY is the NLT a better choice for use at my church (pulpit, studies, etc.) than other translations (i.e. the ESV)?
I am convinced that the NLT would be an excellent choice for use as a primary church Bible for preaching, public Scripture readings, and private study as well as devotional reading. The NLT is clear and accurate, and is well supported by a growing line of reference tools like the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series. Anyone who doubts the level of scholarship behind the NLT should take a closer look at the Hebrew and Greek word study tool in Mosaic (also in the NLT Study Bible and our new center column reference Bibles) as a taste of more to come on tying the English of the NLT to the original languages. As for advising pastors that the NLT is a “better choice” than another particular translation, I can’t in good conscience give that blanket advice. I believe all of the major English Bible translations are valuable, and every church is unique. But I would definitely encourage any pastor to consider the NLT—or reconsider it if they haven’t looked at it closely since before the 2004 revisions.

I have a NLT. I don’t really want to buy *another* Bible, but I’m always into other study guides. Are there any thoughts of just releasing the accompanying study guide?
There aren’t any specific plans at this point to publish the entirety of the Mosaic material as a study guide, but we have already produced two smaller pieces as standalone devotionals. Devotions for Advent (ISBN 978-1414335780) is already available and Devotions for Lent (ISBN 978-1414335810) will be available around the turn of the year. These devotionals are smaller in size and contain the complete content of their respective season from Mosaic plus Scripture portions covering the lectionary readings for each week. They are also very reasonably priced at $1.99 and $2.99 respectively, so they are a great gift or small group discussion guide.
Keith will be monitoring comments here today. Feel free to offer a question or comment below and he will respond if he’s able. Thanks Keith and readers.


  1. Keith told me about Mosaic at BibleTech09 this year and I was impressed with the concept. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one once my book budget renews in the coming year (I blew mine this year on accordance modules).

    Actually, Keith, a Mosaic module for Accordance would be insanely awesome…

    • I’ll make a point to talk to the Accordance people about it when I see them in New Orleans next month. There is already a mobile version in the works, so I think an Accordance module would be a distinct possibility.

  2. I have purchased and am using the Mosaic Bible. The church I serve is nondenominational evangelical that has been exploring classical Christianity. Our thinking has led us to observance of the church year, weekly Eucharist, Fixed Hour Prayer, Compline services and a service that is more participatory rather than platform driven. Interestingly enough, we feel really free. The Mosaic Bible will be seen more and more around the church. It does a great job of relating to us low-church types.

  3. Michael-

    It seems you consider it a paraphrase, but Keith does not.

    So it is a paraphrase or not?

    It seems as it would depend on one’s definition of “paraphrase.”

    • sorry, should read:

      “So is it a paraphrase or not?”

      And should read:

      “It seems as if it would…”

      I need more coffee ;^)

    • I don’t consider it a paraphrase,. Where did you get that? Those aren’t my questions. They came from IM readers. It is a common misunderstanding of the NLT to assume it is a paraphrase.

  4. My one appeal to Keith would be to encourage Tyndale to strongly consider publishing the various notes/info separately and totally. I’m not opposed to buying another Bible, since I can pass them out at Bible studies, but for a house with only my wife and myself, it’s almost silly how many Bibles of various translations we have.

    • This is something also something that has been talked about, but no solid plans have been made.

      I do think there is a benefit to having the Scriptures bound together with this material; if they were published separately it would be all too easy to spend time with the devotional book and neglect to read the Scriptures, which would seriously impoverish the experience.

      • Thanks for replying, Keith. I appreciate the concern. Too much “devotion” with too little Bible misses the point of the material being part of a devotional Bible. I do hope they give it some serious thought, though. Alternately, a compromise might be a future paperback edition at a lower price point. I’m always on the lookout for the ability to buy cases to give away that don’t break the bank. (That said, the hardcover edition is quite reasonable, and the book nerd in me will most likely give in.)

  5. Christiane says

    I don’t have a copy of the Mosaic, but is it at all possible that an example of it could be given HERE on Michael’s blog so that we can see into it. It sounds fascinating. So much of the ancient Church would be acceptable to evangelicals, except that they don’t know about it. That is sad.
    Hopefully, something like the Mosaic will return some of their heritage to them. I hope so.
    As a Catholic, I am very, very moved by the sadness of how much was lost that might have meaning for many today, if they only knew about it.

  6. Jason Tuttle says

    As a working professional and elder in a PCA church, I bought the Mosaic to keep in my office as a devotional supplement during my day. I’ve found that the verses referenced and thematic organization bleeds into my week more than I thought. Thinking about Scripture, prayer, writings and art as a theme throughout my week has altered my prayer life and my personal life. For example, this week’s focus on service has actually helped me serve my family more. As a selfish, “I’ve been working all day” kind of guy, realizing the weight of Isaiah 58-6-12 is changing the way I live at home.

    Thanks for a great edition. I’ve never read the NLT (as my evangelical pride lended me to only believe in the ESV and NASB), but my mind has been changed as I compared across different versions. So thanks. It’s a great book I leave propped open on my desk to the art so I can reflect on it throughout the week.

  7. Thanks, iMonk and Keith, for doing this. My question is probably over-simplistic. How do you recommend I use the devotional portion? Do you recommend reading from the devotional daily and tracking the scripture readings at the same time? Do you recommend preaching from the assigned weekly readings? I ask simply because each week provides 4-5 scripture readings but they are not tied to the lectionary.


    • I think people will tend to use it in a variety of ways, but here is what I have been doing. On Sunday after church, I read all of the Scripture passages prescribed for the week along with reading the introductory paragraph and skimming through the shorter quotes throughout the week’s material. Then throughout the week I take some time every day to read and meditate on one of the passages of Scripture while also choosing one or two of the quotes or readings to read carefully and prayerfully.

      If you choose to preach from one of the passages in Mosaic, I think you will find that the quotes and readings will supply you with something you can use in your sermon to help drive a point home, etc. As for the readings, during the Pentecost season I was a lot freer with my connections to the lectionaries, but if you jump ahead to Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter you will notice a much closer adherence to the RCL and BCP.

      Hope this is helpful.

  8. Wasn’t the original Living Bible (LB) a paraphrase by Kenneth Taylor, who founded Tyndale House? That may be where the confusion over paraphrase vs. translation originates. Can you or Keith give us a thumbnail history of how (or whether) the LB became the NLB, and how (or whether) the NLB became the NLT?

    [Mod edit: I’m not going to print Gail Riplinger’s material.]

    • Wikipedia has a summary of the history of the NLT and its relationship to the Living Bible.


      • Normally, I use the ESV for two reasons: 1) My $10 pocket bible with the really neat Celtic cross engraving happens to be ESV. 2) I really dig the notes and articles in my ESVSB.

        However, I’ve come to realize some clunkiness in the ESV when it comes to public reading. So, when we did a “dramatic reading” (i.e. each “character” was read by a different person) of the binding of Isaac at my church few weeks ago, I used the NLT text. It was one of the more memorable uses of public scripture reading in our church. I’ll probably get the Mosaic edition for further illustration tools when it’s my week to preach or do liturgy.

        • Oh, I forgot to say that the reason I did that was iMonk’s assuring me several months ago that the NLT was not a paraphrase a la TLB.

    • I liken the relationship between the Living Bible and the NLT as distant cousins. It is akin to the relationship between the KJV and the NRSV.

  9. I am not a jump on the bandwagon and run out to purchase the latest Bible kind of person, but I will buy this one for two reasons:

    First, I have been using the NLT since it first came out in 96 and have yet to find a reason to switch. In other words – I like it!

    Second, like many, I have spent the last 28 years of my life in the evangelical wilderness with respect to being disconnected from our great traditions (ex. observance of the church year). I am returning to it, as are many in my circles. This Bible will be a practical tool in this endeavor.

  10. I used to use the NLT a lot, especially in my pre-teen to mid-teens. Then I got swept up with some church and ended up with ESV.

    I’m definitely going to look into this Bible. Thanks!

  11. Keith,

    What is Tyndale doing to develop the spiritual lives of children early in life? Is there anything on the horizon? I have 2 boys (5 and 3) and I’d like to read a devotion and Bible that makes developmental sense, one they can interact with, and that captures their hearts. Any thoughts?