Discussing Bible translations often elicits strongly-held and surprisingly diverse opinions. These range from the "KJV only" camp to "any version will do". Until recently I sat somewhat cautiously in the middle of these two extremes, but that changed when I found the NET Bible (New English Translation).
The Bible reading infographic I posted a few weeks ago received a number of comments regarding its representation of Bible versions. Here's the section that generated the comments:
Classifying versions on this scale is fairly common practise and is based on the reasonably scientific readability metrics (see bottom table) calculated for each version. This range of translation approaches becomes useful context for Bible students who have to balance both the literal (word-for-word) and conceptual (thought-for-thought) senses that translators have sought to render in their native tongue.
With that in mind I would usually recommend arming oneself with a small arsenal of Bible translations, thus developing a more rounded view of how an ancient audience would understand any given passage. A quick reconnaissance of my Bible shelf includes:
- An Allan KJV Longprimer (my usual Bible)
- An Oxford KJV Wide Margin (my old Bible)
- An ESV Journalling Bible (now my wife's, apparently)
- A loose-leaf NASB, which is now our "family Bible"
- A massive Hebrew-Greek Interlinear used when I have another push at learning Hebrew
- The Message
- A nondescript NIV that we seem to have had forever
- Several that I can't quite see at this distance without standing up. I'm pretty sure they're Bibles though.
I'd always assumed that these translation approaches presented a binary selection: literal or paraphrase. With that in mind I would advocate first, or primarily, reading a more literal translation, and following this up with a paraphrase where additional clarity was needed. It never occurred to me that I could actually have both.
Enter, the NET Bible.
The NET's English translation sits somewhere in the center of the literal/paraphrase scale. But it's in the footnotes where the magic really lies: they are incredible.
You can expect the following types of footnote:
- A literal translation when the main text translates the thought, rather than the words
- A description of the "thought" where a literal rendition would obscure the concept implied by the original language
- Alternative renderings where the language is ambiguous
- Clarifications where the language is ambiguous in English, although it's not ambiguous in the original
- Full disclosure of source texts supporting (or not) the inclusion of a given verse or verses
- More. By which I mean a full 60,963 notes.
By restricting itself to textual comment the NET Bible comes across as far more doctrinally neutral than other study Bibles, while still offering valuable insights into the text. For the last few months I've found myself consistently putting my usual Bibles to one side in order to check the NET Bible's footnotes. It is that good.
So good, in fact, that I've started to notice quite how often during Bible studies the speaker's main comments revolve around points like:
"in the original text, the sense is actually [some entirely different thing]" - Stereotypical Study Leader
I used to find these points quite interesting, but 99% of the time they're what my version says anyway. We could collectively skip a lot of sitting time if we all simply adopted the NET version (with footnotes) for all our studies. I may suggest this.
The only issue I've found so far is that the existing physical formats aren't anywhere near as high quality as those available for other Bible versions, though they are reasonably inexpensive. I hope this changes with time, as I'd gladly pay far more for a single-column, wide outer margin version without the ridiculous chapter prefixes on every verse.
Be warned that without the footnotes the NET just another translation with its own merits and drawbacks. Make sure to purchase a "Full Notes" edition.
My experience to date has been with the slightly clunky Kindle Edition, but I've now got a full notes edition on order which I'm sure will be the subject of a further post after I've lived with it for a bit longer.