Open my eyes Psalm 119 18

See the Bible in a New Way: A Review of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible

If you’re a visual learner, studying the Bible can be a challenge.

It’s hard to picture a world that’s so different from ours, and some of the stories and metaphors simply don’t make sense to 21st-century Westerners.

Sometimes, I’m a little jealous of little kid Bibles filled with cute illustrations. Okay, so maybe cartoon drawings aren’t exactly helpful in explaining the doctrine of sanctification, but a little splash of color never hurt. (Maybe that’s why Bible journaling has become such a huge trend in recent months. What do you think?)

So imagine my delight when Tyndale Publishers sent me over to review an NLT illustrated study Bible that’s full color, filled with pictures, ladden with charts, and stuffed with maps, tables, timelines, and everything else a visual learner could want.

Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds, and I shared all about it on a Persicope show recently:

This has become my go-to Bible when I want to study a period of history or a specific theme in the Bible. And the website that explains the Bible is pretty fun to browse, too. It’s a visual learner’s dream site.

But back to the Bible, here are some of the features I appreciate about the NLT Illustrated Study Bible:

Full-Color Spreads

This Bible is filled with gorgeous full-color spreads that transport you to the very place you’re studying about.

The boring details of Exodus and Leviticus come alive when you can picture the tabernacle those words describe:


…and then compare that with the temple Solomon built, in all its grandeur.

It’s so helpful to “see” the different walls and gates mentioned in Nehemiah, especially when you’re trying to understand their stilted progress while rebuilding the wall.


Featured Maps

Most study Bibles have maps in the back of the Bible, and some of them even have a few other ones sprinkled in here and there, but the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is chock-full of maps strategically placed throughout the Bible to contextualize stories, like this one depicting the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness.


Talk about a detour!

Cross-Bible Genre Line

At the bottom of every page that isn’t a colorful spread, there’s a line that shows the seven genres of the Bible and shows you exactly which genre you’re in at the moment.

This is SO helpful, especially when considering which interpretative techniques to use with each passage.

Colorful Charts

One of my favorite features is the colorful charts that present information in a way that’s easy to absorb and understand. For example, I was always confused by the difference between the pharisees, saducess, and other religious groups. This diagram helped organize information I had previously heard in a way that helped me quickly understand and internalize.


The layers of Jewish society make so much more sense this way, and because the chart is tucked in my Bible, it’s easy to reference at a later time. No loose handouts to keep track of here!

Study Notes

Like any study Bible worth its weight, this one has study notes on individual verses at the bottom of every page as well as introductory notes at the beginning of every book.


Recently I was studying Eve’s temptation, and the notes made it easy for me to pinpoint exactly where Eve changed the wording of God’s original command to not eat of the fruit. As I was preparing a lesson on how to resist temptation, this helped me explain the importance of clinging to God’s Word and not changing it.


I was also recently doing a study of Romans, and I was surprised, when reading the historical background of the book, to  learn that the Jews were exiled from Rome and the church became predominantly Gentile until the Jewish Christians returned to the city. This would explain some of the conflict that Paul address in the book of Romans, but I wouldn’t have known that had it not been for the detailed study notes in the introduction of the book.

Hebrew and Greek word studies

Another surprising feature of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is the index of Hebrew and Greek word studies at the very back.

greek hebrew word studies

A superscript letter appearing in front of the English word in a passage indicates that it’s one of the 200 word or phrase studies offered in this Bible. These word studies include the Strong’s number, a transliteration or the word, and the location for the next reference in that word chain. While it’s not an in-depth study of the word, this certainly gives you enough to satisfy your cursory curiosity and identify whether this is a word you’ll want to look into more in-depth.

The NLT Translation

Honestly, I was a bit put off by the NLT translation at first. The New Living Translation is a free translation, which means it paraphrases the ideas of the author into concepts easily understood in English. The sentence is a whole is used as the unit for translation. This results in a very understandable translation, but it only reproduces the general sense of a sentence, which isn’t my first choice for a study Bible.Have you heard about the NLT Illustrated Bible? I'm sharing my honest thoughts in this video and pictorial review.

However, as I got over my initial hesitancy, I actually grew to like the NLT version. Reading a familiar passage in a different translation forces me to think about the concepts in a new way. It jerks me to attention when my mind would otherwise go into autopilot mode. True, I still wouldn’t use the NLT for a close reading of a passage, but the very purpose of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible is to help readers see the Bible in a whole new way, and the translation they chose helps accomplish this very goal.


Yeah, you can find a lot of this information online, but it’s so easy to get distracted when doing online Bible research by Facebook notifications, emails, and other things vying for my attention. I appreciate having all the information I need in one place that’s offline.

Because of all the features, it’s big and bulky, so it’s not the kind of Bible you’d probably want to lug around to church. But the wealth of resources makes it a great study Bible to dig into at home. (Or you could take it to church and get an arm workout at the same time. Double win.)

Overall, I highly recommend it for any serious student of Scripture who wants to better understand Bible culture and history. The NLT Illustrated Study Bible helps readers picture Bible stories and make them come alive in a way that’s simply not possible when only studying words on a page. The editors’ theme verse summarizes both their goal and their accomplishment with this new Bible:

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
Psalm 119:18

If you’ve previously been intimidated or turned off by the idea of studying the Bible, check out the NLT Illustrated Study Bible. It will help you see all the wonderful things in God’s Word in a fresh, new way.

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