It has been a while since we last featured a book review in BTW, so readers may welcome this one. It certainly is not your usual book review, for the following reasons: I am reviewing not a regular book, but of a translation of the Bible. Furthermore, it’s a translation that finds its home not in paper and ink, but primarily on the internet. I am offering some thoughts on the NET Bible.
NET stands for “New English Translation.” It is also a play on ‘net, short for internet. The first “final” edition was issued in 2005, after a couple of “beta” editions (so designated by the translators).
Background. According to the preface and introduction of the NET Bible (available at http://bible.org/article/preface-net-bible-first-edition), the project began “on a rainy night in November 1995 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature,” when a group of evangelical biblical scholars gathered to discuss a translation of the Bible which could be used in electronic form on the web. If you remember, these were the days before many translations of the Bible were easily accessible on (sponsored) websites like Bible Gateway. As the translators put it: “we posted the NET Bible on the Internet when no other major modern English Bible translations had done so … but after 10 years, the NET Bible is still the only major modern translation that can be downloaded for free in its entirety and used seamlessly in presentations and other documents.” That last point is due to what the translators call a “Ministry First” permissions policy, whereby the translators’ default answer (in most cases) is “Yes” when it comes to permission to use the NET Bible in publications, whether printed or on the internet. This policy is somewhat of a historical first.
Textual Basis and Type of Translation. The textual basis of the NET Bible is the same as most modern translations: NA27 for the NT (though the translators prefer alternative readings at times), and BHS for the OT, with some versional and Dead Sea Scrolls influence. It is a mediating translation, opting for formal equivalence when possible, and functional equivalence when necessary. Some have thought it slightly more dynamic than the NIV.
Samplings of the Text. Many of the editors and translators are associated with Dallas Theological Seminary (see http://bible.org/editors), but I’ve personally not found any particularly Dispensational flavour in the translation or notes. Indeed, there are several instances where the NET Bible is less traditional than one would expect (given one’s preconceptions!). Thus, in the much debated Pistis Iesou/Christou passages of Paul, the translators have gone for “faithfulness of Jesus/Christ” rather than the more traditional “faith in Jesus Christ,” or the non-committal (but perhaps vague) “faith of Jesus Christ” (see Rom 3.22,26; Gal 2.16, 20; 3.22; Eph 3.12; Phi 3.9). It must be noted that the full footnotes do a good job of introducing the issue, and admitting that the decision is difficult. Another example of a non-traditional view (this time on a text-critical issue) is found at John 1.34. The NET Bible disagrees with the NA27 and most English translations by opting for the minority reading, so that the Baptist acclaims Jesus as the “Chosen One of God” rather than “Son of God.” These examples, the first on the “kind” of genitive, and the second on a text-critical question, reveal the traditional strengths of Dallas, but also indicate a commitment to the exegesis of texts over traditionalism or ideological bias.
Gender Accuracy. One more point before I move on to the real glory of the NET Bible, its footnotes. The translators say they aim for gender accuracy, “striving for faithfulness to the original biblical texts while at the same time seeking to attain accuracy in terms of current English style.” Thus it renders adelphoi in Rom 12.1 (and other similar texts) “brothers and sisters.” In comparison, the ESV has “brothers” but explains in footnotes why the meaning is actually “brothers and sisters.” Also, 1 Tim 2.15 is rendered: “For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human” because the point is not on how Jesus is male, but on how he is a member of the human race (cf. NIV: “... the man Christ Jesus”). Female readers used to the language of the KJV, ESV or NIV may find themselves pleasantly surprised at how the NET Bible at times addresses them directly – as the biblical text was meant to.
Those Notes! But now we come to the NET Bible’s true contribution for serious Bible readers, and it is a major one. Nobody who has ever come across the NET Bible fails to talk about its astonishingly full 60,932 notes. The best way to introduce you to this defining feature is to show you. This is how the NET Bible renders the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3.16, with the accompanying footnotes:
|For this is the way 1 God loved the world: He gave his one and only 2 Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish 3 but have eternal life. 4
1 tn Or “this is how much”; or “in this way.” The Greek adverb οὕτως (houtōs) can refer (1) to the degree to which God loved the world, that is, to such an extent or so much that he gave his own Son (see R. E. Brown, John [AB], 1:133-34; D. A. Carson, John, 204) or (2) simply to the manner in which God loved the world, i.e., by sending his own son (see R. H. Gundry and R. W. Howell, “The Sense and Syntax of John 3:14-17 with Special Reference to the Use of Οὕτως…ὥστε in John 3:16,” NovT 41 : 24-39). Though the term more frequently refers to the manner in which something is done (see BDAG 741-42 s.v. οὕτω/οὕτως), the following clause involving ὥστε (hōste) plus the indicative (which stresses actual, but [usually] unexpected result) emphasizes the greatness of the gift God has given. With this in mind, then, it is likely (3) that John is emphasizing both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which He chose to express that love. This is in keeping with John’s style of using double entendre or double meaning. Thus, the focus of the Greek construction here is on the nature of God's love, addressing its mode, intensity, and extent.
2 tn Although this word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna theou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 1:18, 3:16, and 3:18).
3 tn In John the word ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi) can mean either (1) to be lost (2) to perish or be destroyed, depending on the context.
4 sn The alternatives presented are only two (again, it is typical of Johannine thought for this to be presented in terms of polar opposites): perish or have eternal life.
I happen to think that this beginning of John 3.16 – “For this is the way God loved the world, ...” – has the meaning spot on, though it probably is less memorable! But you can see from the footnotes what I’ve been raving on about. There are actually four categories of notes in the NET Bible (our example shows only two): translators’ notes (tn), study notes (sn), text-critical notes (tc), and map notes (map).
I find this kind of notes very helpful. Issues of translation are explained. Alternative interpretations are given. References to external sources for further study are provided (from just footnote 1, note the references to two commentaries, a standard lexicon, and even an article from the technical journal Novum Testamentum). Readers will find this kind of detail throughout the NET Bible. The idea is to provide the readers with the metaphorical vantage point of looking over the shoulder of the bible translators doing their work.
Conclusion. If you haven’t guessed by now, I recommend the NET Bible heartily. Yes, the main text is not what one would necessarily call “elegant.” It is generally close to the language of the NIV, if only more updated with regards to (American) English usage. But, as you can see from our examples, there are some gems (the beginning of John 3.16) and bold moves (“faithfulness of Jesus Christ”). But the main reason the NET Bible deserves wider usage, is its 60,932 notes. More and more, when I have a question of the biblical text (and especially about what the text is) I find myself heading to the NET Bible as a first stop, if not the final answer. There is one further point which should prove the clincher for those of us who are Singaporeans. The whole of the NET Bible (including the footnotes) can be accessed for free, and at least the main text can be downloaded for free. How can I criticize that kind of deal?
Editions. As seen at the Bible.org store webpage (http://store.bible.org/), the NET Bible comes in a variety of print editions. I recommend the First edition with the full 60,932 notes (available in the BGST library). For students of biblical Greek, the Greek-English diglot (large print!) is by far the best of its kind. Perhaps I’ll do another review on that in a later issue. For most other readers though, just go the website (see the links below). You will not be disappointed.
http://bible.org/netbible/index.htm Classic NET Bible
http://net.bible.org/home.php New NET Bible Learning Environment™ (beta release).