NET Bible

Yesterday I received a most beautiful Christmas gift. You see, I post a regular weekly blog at bible.org under the impact section. One of the folks there, Michael Garrett, graciously offered me this wonderful opportunity to provide a weekly post there. I’m currently running my Creative Science series there.

Bible.org has many interesting features, but the core of the site is the online NET (New English Translation) online study bible resource. They do offer a print version of the bible, but most folks just use the online version. I will confess first that for at least five years now I’ve had a strong affection for the ESV translation. In the last couple of years two good study bibles have been published for the ESV translation including the official ESVSB and the Reformation Study Bible (ESVRSB). I have both and I’ve been generally pleased with them. In my research, whenever I get deep enough to do serious word studies, I’ve found the ESV easily rivals KJV and NASB and is easier to read for pleasure or in public than either of the others.

I only learned of the existence of the NET translation a year or two ago. A couple of months ago I started a study of Zechariah using NET as my core translation. I did this for two reasons. First, as a courtesy to my bible.org benefactor I wanted to give the NET a fair chance. Second, their approach to the copyright issue makes them attractive for potential future publication of my studies – if I manage to do that again.

This all brings me to the matter of the gift. This afternoon when I got up (I’m presently working 3rd shift) I went out to get the mail. When I opened the door I discovered a box wedged between the doors. I opened the box to discover an absolutely beautiful first edition NET bible. It has gorgeous soft leather cover and binding. It is fully annotated. The notes are very easy to read. Working with the print version can be much easier to absorb than the online version, at least for me. I think that’s in part because I’m old enough to still like “real” books. The notes are arranged differently than any of my other study bibles and I find I really like the arrangement. My only criticism out of the gate is that for a bible with more than 62,000 notes, it doesn’t have any sort of introduction to the individual books. My ESVSB has the best book intros I’ve found with the ESVRSB a close second. I’ve got an old Scoffield KJV study bible that’s good for that too, as well as a NJPS Tanakh that’s great. One of the most impressive additions to this NET bible, however, is the collection of photos at the back. There are several very high quality enhanced satellite and aerial photos that are astounding. The satellite photos have been enhanced to provide a better 3D effect. The preface explains how they did it and it is truly impressive. Yet another enhancement to the text is its treatment of OT quotations in the NT. Anywhere the OT is quoted in the NT the text is printed in italics (bold italic if a direct quote and plain italic if a paraphrased quote). I hoped the words of Jesus would be in red, but they are not. As to the translation itself, the jury is still out. So far I haven’t been at it long enough to give a fair assessment, however from what I’ve seen so far I would have to say it is competitive with the ESV and NASB.

I would like to publicly thank Michael Garrett and Bible.org for this wonderful bound leather NET Bible. I will cherish it for many years to come. Merry Christmas and God bless you all.

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About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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11 Responses to NET Bible

  1. Todd Beal says:

    Lance, I am interested to hear your criteria for weighing translation accuracy. I never gave the subject much thought before purchasing my ESV in 2007. While deciding which version to purchase, I discovered that not all translations are created equal. I am not versed in Greek and Hebrew, so the only thing I currently have to go on is a version’s translation philosophy (Dynamic equivalent/Essential Literal) along with the translation team’s notes.

    • Lance Ponder says:

      That is an awesome question. I’m not schooled in original languages either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some serious research on your own. The translation philosophy and team notes are a great place to start. I definitely lean toward the “essentially literal” camp. I came there over time, not all at once. I got there through tedious research over the span of several months. Since you asked I’ll tell you a little about it.

      A few years ago I wrote a bible study called Ask James One. It started out as a small group study, turned into a blog, then morphed into a book. Anyway, the point was to look very closely at a passage and ask lots of questions about it. This led me to looking at specific words. This in turn drove me to look at various translations, but more importantly to go back to the original language text and examine the meaning of those words. I mostly did this with James 1 (the source of questions), but for some of the trickier answer verses (from all over the bible) I had to use the same procedure. I have an old Greek interlinear NT, but there’s some excellent free online resources you can use, too (several of the links are on my sidebar). I guess maybe I’m just obsessed with details, but I wanted to know God’s answer to my questions. So much is lost in any translation, but some translations do loose more than others.

      To my great frustration I found that KJV is still equal if not superior to any English translation. The problem with KJV is archaic terms and while it has a poetic sense, it doesn’t taste good to the 21st century palette. NKJV is okay, but there are several flavors and consistency with other reads is an issue. In my book writing I didn’t consult the NASB except for just a few times mostly because I don’t own a copy of my own. That said, I’m satisfied that NASB is very close to KJV in terms of faithfulness. I’d give KJV a faithfulness rating of 95% and NASB a rating perhaps a point or two lower, but still quite good.

      The next translation I hammered on was NIV. This did not go so well. After more than a year of research I was ready to burn my NIV. If it weren’t for the good notes in my study bible I’d have done exactly that. I never look at an NIV anymore unless I want to prove it wrong. Sorry about the attitude, but that’s where I got with it. You see, NIV is very easy to read. It is gentle in tone, but all too often I found that even subtle changes in phrasing compromised the meaning – sometimes altering the theology. Often it was subtle, but the sheer number of times it did this was amazing. Once in a while it rendered a more intelligible form of English that was equal or better than KJV in terms of conveying what the author seemed to be saying, but this was one time in 20. The NIV leans toward the dynamic and as such it does a lot more interpreting than translating. No translation can be free of interpretive effort, but the NIV tends to reflect a number of biases of its translators. Big advantage of the more literalistic translations like KJV, NASB, and ESV is that they tend to do a better job of giving you the words and letting you discern the theology for yourself. I’d give it a faithfulness rating of less than 80%. In fairness, I have looked at other dynamic / paraphrase type bibles (eg Living Bible, The Message, etc) and in general the NIV is by far the best of this whole bunch. If you have to go dynamic, go NIV.

      The next translation I scrutinized was the ESV. This translation stood up quite well. Although it is my personal favorite, I would have to score it just shy of KJV for faithfulness. 1 time in 5 it proves more accurate than KJV, 2 of five equal, and 2 of five the KJV edges it out – tho not by much. One area in particular where I think the ESV falls short is its treatment of parts of the Torah and in particular creation. There is a certain arrogance to the ESV (by way of its translators) that has taken me a while to see. Tho still a fan, I’m not a blind follower.

      How do I grade faithfulness? That’s the real question, isn’t it. Well, you have to look both at the individual words and at the context. Without knowledge of the original language this is a bit harder, but there are some shortcuts. For one, you can use the Strong’s numbers to look up definitions of specific words that are a challenge. This won’t help with all of the fine grammar, but it will get you in the ball park. Next, you don’t need to translate whole chapters for yourself. Just look at the context in English and see if the rendering of the specific word or phrase fits both with the local context and with what the whole of scripture has to say on the subject at hand. The latter is where it gets hairy if you ask me. The further you get from the phrase you’re looking at, the more interpretive bias there is. You have to be willing to be very objective and that’s easier said than done. For example, sometimes you’ll see something that tells you one thing but research elsewhere will tell you something that seems to be the opposite. Do you conclude there’s a contradiction so one (or both) passages are wrong and the bible is flawed? If you go down that road you may as well quit altogether. No, but you might have to get help – from the Spirit and perhaps from other experts. Conditions matter and context matters. For example, God hates the wicked (Ps 11:5), yet God loves us so much He sent Jesus to die for us while we were yet sinners (Ro 5:8). Which is it? Either God hates sinners or He loves sinners. Isn’t that a problem? No. The problem isn’t some imagined conflict between David and Paul. The problem is our understanding of what the words love and hate really mean. There’s also a difference application. God does hate sin and He does hate those who are wicked. God really does hate those who commit homosexual acts and who kill babies. God hates all sin and all who commit sin. We are under wrath and we deserve destruction, every single one of us. Since God also loves us and is patient with the sinner in hopes of conversion, then love must not be the true opposite of hate. And when you realize this it explains what appears to be a very troubling paradox. Love is about being other-centered. Hate is about rejection. Love makes mercy and grace possible, not as the opposite of hate (love does not mean to embrace), but because love is the active element which heals what is rejected and restores what is broken. Love covers a multitude of sin because it chooses to fix the source, not embrace the result.

      I’ve just started examining the NET. I hope it stands up. I’ve hit a few verses that have made me scratch my head, but on the few that I’ve bothered to research I’ve at least understood the logic in the NET where it varies from the pack even if I’m not fully convinced I agree. Time will tell.

      A few others I could comment on… RSV is really a revision of NASB. I’m not convinced it is an improvement. RSV has dropped in popularity. ESV comes out of the RSV tradition, though it claims to be a new translation. Still, it mostly uses the same source material. I have an NEB (New English Bible) which is a somewhat obscure translation done in the 50 (I think). It sometimes helps sort out obscure passages, though it isn’t a particularly good translation in general. I have a NJPS Tanakh study bible (Jewish bible, OT only). It is translated in more of an NIV style, but with the obvious orthodox Jewish biases, especially in the notes. I cherish it because it precisely because it does help me understand the Jewish traditions and traditional interpretations in relationship to the scriptures. I always consult it when doing serious OT study. I use electronic versions of the WEB and YLT when I’m curious about alternate renderings. I don’t know for sure about the WEB (World English Bible) translation philosophy, but it actually uses YHWH in the OT. I wish NET had elected to go that route, but they chose to go the traditional route. YLT (Young’s Literal Translation) is not one you sit down and read for fun. It goes to the extreme in translating words directly without regard to idiomatics, only moving them around to make some sort of grammatical sense. I’d like to see something like it done today – the YLT is actually quite old.

      So, that’s about 10 times more than you wanted or needed… but did I answer your question?

      • Todd Beal says:

        Thanks for the time and thought vested in your answer; I very much appreciate it. In answer to your ending question, yes you did answer my question, and so much more.

        Lance, in the forty short years of my life, I have met a few thousand people from all walks of life; homeless, professors, pastors and teachers, factory workers, and white collar workers of all pay scales, the list goes on. With you included, I can count on one hand the number of truth-loyal, independent thinkers I have met. It is one thing to say, “I will do things my way regardless of what others think or say.” It is quite another to put self aside and say, “Because I love truth so much, I strive first to understand truth, not the words of men, including mine, wherever that path may lead.” This is the essence of an independent thinker, not rebellion or simple contrarianism, but the willingness and dedication to go it alone through pure hardcore thought, as directed by the Holy Spirit.

        Regarding today’s Church (theological writings as well), my biggest ‘beef’ is the same old recycled lifeless rhetoric passed down from generation to generation. Christian buzzwords and clichés abound, biblical creeds become meaningless orthodox chants of memorized wrote, and inevitably, the Pharisee ‘ism of organized religion reigns supreme over the individual’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ! I have no problem with theology – in fact, my heart is in it. I have no problem with establishing official organizations of Christian believers (organized religion) – it provides us with doctrine and like-minded fellowship. I do, however, adamantly reject the aforesaid when it stifles the human mind from searching out God’s truth for his or her self. The briefest overview of church history shows that each time (every time) orthodox-suppressed independent thought reaches the boiling point, spiritual revival sweeps the world. Martin Luther is just one example of this phenomenon; John Wycliffe is another. You join the ranks of these independent thinkers, whether you ultimately directly start a worldwide, spiritual revival or not.

        I said all that to say this; Lance, I value thought. I value truth! Your independent “I will find truth even if I must stand alone” approach to life is worthy of respect and has certainly earned mine. Please don’t ever lose that passion.

        Regarding your explanation for the coexistence of Love and Hate, the seeming paradox, for the first time in my life I find myself willing to take a second look. Simultaneously loving and hating a fellow human is humanly paradoxical because we are fallen beings. However, as it pertains to God, your explanation makes enough sense and provides enough real information for me to begin my own study – my last being the timing of the rapture against the tribulation chronology. I can hardly wait to get started.

        Lance, on the Truth Behind Reality post “Alone and Together”, I asked of you a “for the sake of argument” question that verbatim begs your ‘Love and Hate paradox’ explanation, as stated here on your Divine Logos comment. I would sure appreciate it if you would fashion your reply according to what you have stated here.

        Finally, in case you didn’t see the comments on my Truth Behind Reality post “Merry Christmas”, I received my first study bible, the ESV Study Bible. Wow! I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

      • notmanynoble says:

        Good reply and post. I actually like the NIV in a few places but don’t consider it a serious translation.

        • Lance Ponder says:

          Thanks. I am pretty harsh in my criticism of the NIV. There are some cases where I like it, too. Unfortunately the good is dwarfed by the bad in my experience so I just throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

          • notmanynoble says:

            Nothing wrong with speaking honestly, Lance. I’m not ready to totally throw it out yet, but I like your approach to the different versions. The Greek in the original has to be the ultimate test, and we can argue about where the text differs or how to best translate the words where they agree.

          • Lance Ponder says:

            Well said, Noble. Unfortunately I have to break out all the tools when working with Greek since I really don’t know how to use anything else. I have no idea about conjugating (or whatever its called). And I know a lot of little prefix/suffix kind of things and air marks and such affect how you render the Greek. I know far less about the Hebrew, so I’m really lost when I get into some of that language material.

  2. Kyle Stachewicz says:

    Hey Lance,
    have you ever checked out the HCSB (holman christian standard bible)? I go back and forth between the HCSB and ESV but I tend to favor the HCSB. Let me know what you think of it

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Kyle, my friend. Welcome to my site. I hope you poke around a bit and toss in your thoughts where you like. I’d love to have your input.

      I’ve looked at it, but not in any great depths. I didn’t see any compelling reason to put a lot of energy into it. Should I? If so, why? What do you like about it? I have both versions of ESV study bibles – the official version and the Reformation Study Bible. I love them both. But I’m very quickly gaining appreciation for the NET, although I must admit I have hit a few very strangely translated phrases, particularly in the OT. I find the translators appear to have done well in general, but a few things just come across odd. Zech 4:1-10, for example, read completely different in places from every other translation and it has been driving me deep into study to figure out how they got where they did and to decide if I agree with their conclusions. Bottom line, they’re pretty good – but I don’t think they hit all the nails on the head. So far I’d give it a strong A-, but I’m far from finished grading it. ESV sits at an A with me alongside KJV and NASB, but then there’s nothing in English getting an A+.

  3. Lance,

    I have a black gen. leather Net Bible. I use it for biblical word and textual studies. I like it overall, a nice resource!

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