NET Bible Review

The NET Bible was first published in 2005 by bible.org and later by Thomas Nelson Publishers. The name actually means New English Translation, but the publisher prefers NET Bible. Although no reason is mentioned that I could find, it could be to avoid confusion with the New English Bible published by Oxford University Press.

I have a lot of different Bible translation, and this one is available for free in e-Sword, YouVersion and many other programs and apps. You probably won’t need this for the translation itself, however what sets the Net Bible apart from others is the extensive collection of notes.

New English Translation

The NET Bible claims to fall somewhere “between the two extremes” of Formal Equivalence (word-for-word) and Dynamic Equivalence (thought-for-thought). Exactly where on the spectrum it falls depends on who is doing the evaluation, and being a lesser-known translation there is not yet consensus. For comparison, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is almost always considered the most literal. Most charts will put the New International Version (NIV) about in the middle with paraphrases like The Message or The Living Bible on the other end. Between the NASB and NIV, going from literal toward the middle, you will generally see the English Standard Version, King James Version, New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version and New American Bible. These are ranked by literalness of translation of the particular source text.

The NET Bible is most often considered to be slightly more literal than the NIV. I sense that the publisher would probably be happy with this and say it was their intention. However, one chart I looked at listed it as slightly less literal than the NIV while another one said it was more literal than the KJV.

The NET Bible doesn’t use archaic language when addressing God, as there is no such distinction in the Hebrew or Greek. Likewise, it doesn’t capitalize pronouns that refer to Deity. Following the tradition of most contemporary English translations, the proper name of God is shown as LORD. Where many translations would render the Hebrew adonai Yahweh as “Lord GOD” (for example, in Ezekiel 35:3), the NET Bible has “sovereign LORD,” which is probably more consistent.

Since the proper name of God (Yahweh) does not appear in any of the Greek manuscripts, LORD does not appear in the New Testament. When the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, these quotes originate in Greek and usually match the Septuagint. Again following the tradition of most contemporary English translations, the name of the Messiah is Jesus.

The NET Bible Old Testament is translated primarily from the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), a Masoretic Text. As for the New Testament, some third-party sources indicate it is translated from the 27th edition Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. However, I cannot find this stated anywhere from the publisher. In fact, my NET Bible says, “the Greek text to be used by individual translators was decided by the textual consultant” (NET Bible Principles of Translation).

Here is an interesting consideration in the NET Bible Principles of Translation:

In vocabulary and grammatical forms every attempt has been made to reflect the different styles of the different authors of the Bible. Paul’s letters should not sound like John’s or Peter’s or that of Hebrews in the English translation where possible.

I was not able to find any specific or distinguishable example of this myself, but I think this would be an interesting concept to pursue further.

Since I am writing this review during Torah Portion Vayera on the calendar, here is how this portion begins at Genesis 18:1-2 so that you can see how the translations compare:

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest time of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing across from him. When he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. (NET)

Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth. (NASB)

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. (NIV)

The name “Abraham” does not appear in the Hebrew text in these two verses. You can see how the less-literal translations (NET, NIV) supply the name for clarity so that it reads better in English, especially if the reader is just beginning with this chapter. The literal translation (NASB) does not include the name Abraham.

A related New Testament passage to Torah Portion Vayera, paralleling the promise of the birth of Isaac to Sarah with the annunciation of the birth of Yeshua to Mary, comes from Luke 1:34-35:

Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” (NET)

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (NASB)

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (NIV)

As you can see, the NET Bible has two phrases in these verses that are quite different than either the NASB or NIV. This is where the notes in the NET Bible come into play and are very enlightening. I will provide the notes on this passage in Luke and on the passage in Genesis a little later so that you can get an idea of how the NET Bible explains differences in the text.

Study Notes

The real reason you should consider the NET Bible is for the extensive system of notes. There are four different types of notes in this Bible. The NET Bible describes them this way:

tn Translator’s Note
Explains the rational for the translation and gives alternative translations, interpretive options, and other technical information.

tc Text-critical Note
Discusses alternate (variant) readings found in the various manuscripts and groups of manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament.

sn Study Note
Includes comments about historical or cultural background explanation of obscure phrases or brief discussions of context, discussions of the theological point made by the biblical author, cross references and references to Old Testament quotations or allusions in the New Testament, or other miscellaneous information helpful to the modern reader.

map Map Note
Gives map coordinates for the site within the three map sections, “Old Testament Maps,” “The Journeys of Paul,” and “The Holy Land from the Heavens.”

According to the NET Bible publisher, there are more than 60,000 notes. That is an average of two notes on every verse in the Bible. To give you a sampling of the different kinds of notes, I have included a few of them from the passages quoted above. As you can see, these are not all of the notes on these verses – there are a lot of them!

From Genesis 18:

The Lord appeared to Abraham1 by the oaks2 of Mamre while3 he was sitting at the entrance4 to his tent during the hottest time of the day. Abraham5 looked up6 and saw7 three men standing across8 from him. When he saw them9 he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low10 to the ground.11

He said, “My lord,12 if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant.13

10tn The form וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ (vayyishtakhu, “and bowed low”) is from the verb הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה (hishtakhavah), “to worship, bow low to the ground.” It is probably from a root חָוָה (khavah), though some derive it from שָׁחָה (shakhah).

11sn The reader knows this is a theophany. The three visitors are probably the Lord and two angels (see Gen 19:1). It is not certain how soon Abraham recognized the true identity of the visitors. His actions suggest he suspected this was something out of the ordinary, though it is possible that his lavish treatment of the visitors was done quite unwittingly. Bowing down to the ground would be reserved for obeisance of kings or worship of the Lord. Whether he was aware of it or not, Abraham’s action was most appropriate.

12tc The MT has the form אֲדֹנָי (ʾadonay, “Master”) which is reserved for God. This may reflect later scribal activity. The scribes, knowing it was the Lord, may have put the proper pointing with the word instead of the more common אֲדֹנִי (ʾadoni, “my master”).

From Luke 1:

Mary110 said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with111 a man?” The angel replied,112 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow113 you. Therefore the child114 to be born115 will be holy;116 he will be called the Son of God.

111tn Grk “have not known.” The expression in the Greek text is a euphemism for sexual relations. Mary seems to have sensed that the declaration had an element of immediacy to it that excluded Joseph. Many modern translations render this phrase “since I am a virgin,” but the Greek word for virgin is not used in the text, and the euphemistic expression is really more explicit, referring specifically to sexual relations.

113sn The phrase will overshadow is a reference to God’s glorious presence at work (Exod 40:34-35; Ps 91:4).

114tn Or “the one born holy will be called the Son of God.” The wording of this phrase depends on whether the adjective is a predicate adjective, as in the text, or is an adjective modifying the participle serving as the subject. The absence of an article with the adjective speaks for a predicate position. Other less appealing options supply a verb for “holy”; thus “the one who is born will be holy”; or argue that both “holy” and “Son of God” are predicates, so “The one who is born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

115tc A few mss (C* Θ ƒ 33 pc) add “by you” here. This looks like a scribal addition to bring symmetry to the first three clauses of the angel’s message (note the second person pronoun in the previous two clauses), and is too poorly supported to be seriously considered as authentic.

116tn Or “Therefore the holy child to be born will be called the Son of God.” There are two ways to understand the Greek phrase τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον (to gennōmenon hagion) here. First, τὸ γεννώμενον could be considered a substantival participle with ἅγιον as an adjective in the second predicate position, thus making a complete sentence; this interpretation is reflected in the translation above. Second, τὸ ἅγιον could be considered a substantival adjective with γεννώμενον acting as an adjectival participle, thus making the phrase the subject of the verb κληθήσεται (klēthēsetai); this interpretation is reflected in the alternative reading. Treating the participle γεννώμενον as adjectival is a bit unnatural for the very reason that it forces one to understand ἅγιον as substantival; this introduces a new idea in the text with ἅγιον when an already new topic is being introduced with γεννώμενον. Semantically this would overload the new subject introduced at this point. For this reason the first interpretation is preferred.

With 60,000 notes, this is a pretty large Bible. Mine measures 6.5″ X 9.5″ and is 2″ thick. It weighs 3.5 pounds, which is pretty hefty to carry around. There is a smaller one they call Thinline that has an “abbreviated” set of notes. I haven’t seen the Thinline, but I have it’s predecessor, the Reader’s Edition, which has about 7,700 notes and is much easier to carry.

The NET Bible is available at Amazon and at Christianbook. Those links will show you a selection of bindings from both sources.  But you don’t have to buy it to use it. The free YouVersion app for Android and iOS includes all of the notes, and you can also read the NET Bible and all of the notes online at NetBible.org. Along with the NET Bible, the web site also has the ESV, HCSB, ISV, KJV, MSG and NASB and both Hebrew and Greek texts. This is a resource I would recommend to any Bible student.

3 thoughts on “NET Bible Review”

  1. After much deliberation I went to my local Bible bookstore intending to buy a compact edition of the Christian Standard Bible. Then I say a Thinline NET Bible and stood there in the store comparing verses side-by-side. I’m now the happy owner of a Thomas Nelson Thinline NET Bible. It reads so smoothly, and the ability to access the full notes online inspires confidence in the accuracy of the translation. This is translation that deserves a place on your bookshelf.

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  2. I use the NET Bible to prepare my small group studies because the notes are AWESOME. Second to none in my opinion in the depth of notes (some notes have further notes). You can see all this on the netbible.org web site (the PC site, not the mobile site). My personal preference is for a more formal equivalence version but I bought one of the hardcopy study versions for a friend — the text is about 1/3 of a page and the notes 2/3. You can spend hours studying the notes on a small section of scripture! I think that is a very good thing.

    Best wishes.

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  3. My first brush with the NET Bible left me amazed due to the copious notes for further in depth study. The notes present the issues and alternate translations, and sometimes provide rationale for the one used in the translation. It is superb for leading a Bible study group, wrestling with the issues of the translation and meaning of the text, for teaching and personal enrichment. It is also good for scholarly work. I would highly recommend the NET Bible for serious study of the Bible.

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