Review: NLT Illustrated Study Bible

Study Bibles: NLT Illustrated Study Bible

NLT Illustrated Study Bible. Carol Stream, Illinois. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015. ISBN: 9781496402004


The NLT Illustrated Study Bible, is an update of the NLT Study Bible line of products, which have ranked among the most comprehensive study Bibles on the market. Using the popular and easy-to-read New Living Translation for its text and a tabloid-like style of graphic design, this study Bible is extremely accessible and visually stimulating. Its commentary covers a wide range of theological, hermeneutical, and historical subjects in a thorough and generally responsible way. At the same time, however, it demonstrates a decidedly conservative point-of-view, meaning it avoids challenging fundamentalist Bible interpretation strategies, even where those strategies are most vulnerable and least helpful.

Complete Review

Fans of the New Living Translation do not really have that wide a range of study Bibles to choose from, at least not compared to what is available to readers of the NIV, the KJV, and even the NKJV. However, with the NLT Illustrated Study Bible and its predecessor the NLT Study Bible, fans of the NLT do have a study Bible that ranks right up there with the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Study Bible for comprehensiveness and quality of conservative scholarship. First debuting in 2008, the NLT Study Bible features contributions from such well known evangelical scholars as Daniel Block, Tremper Longman III, Eugene Merrill, and Douglas Moo. Unlike the classic/minimalist style of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible takes a tabloid-esque approach to graphic design which is visually interesting and stimulating if perhaps, at times, a little distracting.

Book Introductions, Notes, and Articles

The NLT Illustrated Study Bible boasts nearly 26,000 study notes, hundreds of feature articles and word studies, and comprehensively written book and section introductions. These are the bread and butter of any study Bible, and the NLT Illustrated Study Bible does not fail to impress in this regard. Filled with genuine historical and theological content, the commentary of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is rarely if ever pure devotional fluff.

Additionally, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible includes an impressive collection of end matter consisting of a series of indexes for these notes, as well as the more typical concordance and color maps. These indexes make it easy to find comments or feature articles based on subject. The end result is that this study Bible is actually usable like a Bible dictionary. This functionality is not a foregone conclusion with study Bibles. In fact, of the basic Bible study tool belt, Bible dictionaries are often the part that is not really represented (or is represented very poorly) in typical study Bibles. That the NLT Study Bible/Illustrated Study Bible functions in this way so well really sets it apart from the average study Bible.

An important attribute of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is its collection of one- and two-page feature articles on all sorts of different subjects. The subjects are so different, in fact, that it is difficult to characterize the content of this attribute as a whole. Most, perhaps, of these feature articles pertain to history (“Babylon”, “The Aramaeans”), but others pertain to literary interpretation and/or theology (“The Shepherd”), some are visual representations of data (such as charts or illustrations: “Themes in Proverbs”, “Prophecies of the Messiah”), and others are really just visual features/collections of images and Scriptures (“I am Coming Soon”).

Graphic Design

The NLT Illustrated Study Bible inherits its basic typesetting from the NLT Study Bible. While the text of the Bible is arranged in a traditional two-column format, the commentary is actually arrange in a three-column format, which is atypical. While it might be jarring at first glance, this type-setting decision does have the advantage of clearly setting off the commentary from the main text of the Bible, and there is little to no wasted space, making the book’s 2,600 pages all the more impressive.

Where the NLT Illustrated Study Bible really stands out as a unique product, however, is in its graphic design that it did not inherit from its predecessor. It is full color rather than gray-scale, and it includes countless photos and other images, not only to illustrate the annotations and feature articles, but sometimes just to decorate the pages (e.g., the featured images at the beginnings of the section and book introductions). The result is what I have called (not disparagingly) a tabloid-like style. What I mean is that the goal of the graphic design is stimulation rather than focus. This Bible makes a perfect foil for what I said about the style of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. These two Bibles make completely different design style choices, and both pull off those choices professionally and pleasingly.

Personally, I do not care for too much busy-ness on the pages of my Bible. I like simplicity, clean lines, and focused intent. Inset articles are, more often than not, annoying, because in order for me to read them I must break my concentration on the main text. For others, I imagine this aspect of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible provides interest and stimulation, working to increase their attention span. I simply find that for me graphic design of this sort reduces my attention span because it exhausts me to be constantly changing the focus of my attention.

Fundamentalist Hermeneutics

Now for a critique of the content of the NLT Study Bible/Illustrated Study Bible. The list of contributors to this project is impressive, featuring some of the most important evangelical scholars today. The list does seem to be North America-centric and it leans more than a little into Fundamentalism. These last two observations are probably connected. In general, North American Bible scholars tend either toward Fundamentalist commitments in biblical interpretation (more or less strict literal historicism, especially in Genesis; traditional authorship attributions; early chronologies; privileging biblical historical data over archaeology and historical data from non-biblical texts) or toward hyper-critical “liberalism” (unreasonable skepticism about the historicity of everything the Bible says; unreasonably late dating for everything – and it just keeps getting later and later; acting as if archaeology speaks for itself or as if ancient Assyrian documents are implicitly trustworthy while the Bible cannot be trusted in the slightest detail). Neither of these two extremes really represents biblical scholarship at its best, though. British scholarship, in general, often finds a good middle ground between the two extremes, though Fundamentalism tends to regard any sort of middle ground as unacceptable compromise and betrayal. This is a shame.

I am not suggesting that the people responsible for the NLT Study Bible/Illustrated Study Bible are narrow-minded or even necessarily Fundamentalists. But the commentary does reflect a more-or-less Fundamentalist approach to biblical interpretation. Some will find this comforting. I find it a slight disappointment because study Bibles are the most common Bible reference tool used today, so they are an opportunity for the scholars involved in producing them to teach the multitudes responsible and healthy biblical interpretation. I just feel that in some ways the NLT Study Bible is a missed opportunity.

But that is only in some ways. This one relatively minor disappointment should not overshadow my high esteem for the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, in general.


Despite a pronounced Fundamentalist perspective in the commentary, I think the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is a really valuable product, especially given the limited range of study Bibles available in the New Living Translation. The tabloid-like graphic design is not really my cup of tea, but it is well executed and fun to look at. I recommend this study Bible.



  • Tons of well-written articles, book introductions, and annotations
  • Thousands of full color pictures, maps, and illustrations
  • Word studies
  • Readable 9-point font
  • A decidedly conservative point-of-view – this could be either a pro or a con, depending on what you are wanting


  • Among the most comprehensive study Bibles
  • Graphic design is visually stimulating
  • Tremendous end matter indexes makes this study Bible function very much like a Bible dictionary
  • Provides an up-to-date fundamentalist position on issues of biblical interpretation


  • Not a substantially new product in content, just in graphic design
  • Substantially fundamentalist theological point-of-view means that this Bible will not help you if you are looking for a conservative alternative to a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 or to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch
  • No large-print option
402003: NLT Illustrated Study Bible, hardcover Buy the NLT Illustrated Study Bible at

NLT Illustrated Study Bible, hardcover
By Tyndale House

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