Spread the love

Perhaps many of you have already heard about or made use of the NET Bible made available by the folks at Bible.org. If you have had opportunity to use this free resource, you will no doubt have also discovered its many useful footnotes (60,932 translators’ notes). But you will no doubt also have observed its tendency toward dynamic equivalence translation and to embrace the occasional odd reading. However, Michael Marlowe, in his August 2006 review of the NET Bible, shows that the problems with the version run considerably deeper. Here is the conclusion to Marlowe’s review:

The NET Bible has some good features. The primary strength of the version is its value as a free internet resource for fledgling scholars who would otherwise have no convenient access to the kind of grammatical and text-critical information presented in the notes. But the “tn” and “sn” notes cannot be relied upon to inform the reader where scholars differ on important points of interpretation. When they do notice other interpretations, they tend to be dismissive, defensive, and sometimes misleading. These notes are in need of some careful revision. Students who are studying the notes of the NET Bible should realize that many of them barely scratch the surface of the interpretive issues, and they are no substitute for a comprehensive exegetical commentary.It would be to their advantage if the editors were to get a clearer sense of the purpose of the version. Apparently it was originally conceived as a Bible for students who required a fairly literal translation for close study, with detailed exegetical notes; but revisions moved the text in a paraphrastic direction, as if it had to be understandable to uneducated and casual readers, to those who are offended at “sexist” language, and even to such dull readers as those who cannot understand obvious metaphors (e.g. “under his feet”). The result is, the translation itself is not very useful for close study. And there are already several versions which present a more idiomatic translation for readers who need one. What is needed is a version that will be useful to the same readers who will benefit from the scholarly marginal apparatus. It does not make sense to attach such an apparatus to a version intended for uneducated readers. The translation should be much more literal than it is now.

We also would like to see the un-Christian treatment of the Old Testament repaired, but it seems that the editors have committed themselves to this approach. The explanation for it in the preface is facile and theologically inadequate. We cannot overlook the rationalistic presuppositions of their approach, which practically excludes the apostolic interpretations of the Old Testament. Although the editors seem to hope that their version will be “acceptable to Bible readers everywhere,” they must know that it will not be acceptable to conservatives as long as they persist in this treatment of the Old Testament. The editors should not imagine that they have been “responsible to the universal body of Christ” when they merely invite people to send email to their website. The body of Christ has been around for nearly two thousand years, and it is no small thing to be responsible to it. When modern scholars cherish novelties, show contempt for the universal Church’s heritage of interpretation, and boast of their independence from all “ecclesiastical” bodies, they minimize their responsibility to the Church.

I think Marlowe does a good job of demonstrating the validity of the issues he raises and would recommend reading the entire review. I will continue to personally make good use of the resources available at Bible.org, including the NET Bible with its generally helpful and informative notes, and I would recommend these resources as well. But I would recommend using them with a critical eye and great care, and I am thankful for Michael Marlowe’s help in being more properly discerning.

4 thoughts on “Michael Marlowe’s Review of the NET Bible

  1. Why are ” foot notes ” a message form God ?
    What have they done with/at
    2 Timothy 3:16 CJB
    All Scripture AND THE FOOT NOTES is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living;


  2. Well, Ross, no one is asserting here that footnoes are in any sense a “message from God” or a aprt of the actual text of Scripture. The footnotes in the Net Bible are simply information from the translators about their methodology and linguistic evidence concerning the translation choices they made.

  3. Because some people, not to name names, have a feeling that the “Spirit” of God, will tell them the meaning without any need to have any comprehension of the subtleties and nuances of the language it was translated from.

    These people often think the Greek word Sarx, literally translated as flesh, referes to the human body, translated as Soma in Greek. And in verses like 7:5 of Romans where Paul is not in the flesh, assume he is a dungeons and dragons skeleton walking around.

    The notes, let people begin to understand there is more to it, and give a basic introduction to some of the things to battle with to really get your arms around the topics.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Brad, you raise an excellent point. Although sarx can sometimes refer to the physical human body (e.g. Acts 2:31), it usually does not do so, and the average reader may need help with the nuances of meaning associated with such words. This is precisely where notes such as those contained in the NET Bible can be very helpful.

Leave a Reply