Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: NET Bible First Edition

The NET translation stands out as something of a fringe translation developed in a unique way on the internet. Many cite it as one of the most under appreciated translations and even more reccomend the NET first edition with Translator's notes as the study Bible to have (see Dan Wallace). This makes it a welcome object of review. You can watch videos from the publishers as they themselves explain the volume.

The top Bible is a 1975 Moody Press NASB Followed by the NET followed by the ESV Study Bible.


The NET Bible is a backbreaker. Its dimensions (6.5 x 9.5 x 2) and weight rival the ESV study Bible. The smyth sewn binding should calm any fears of the Bible's early demise, but a Bible this big probably should be carried and handled carefully as its weight will make it easy to tear a page etc. The version up for review is premium bonded leather and seems to rival many genuine leather editions. The cover is fairly supple and the sewn binding is very flexible allowing the Bible to lay flat in most positions. The size of the book block is the greatest obstacle to flexibility which would be an issue with any edition although a good imitation leather, or premium leather such as calfskin would greatly improve flexibility. All in all the Binding is sufficient for the function of the Bible and the size will not be an issue for those who enjoy a Bible that fills the palm or being able to give the pulpit a weighty thump, but you may want to be cautious of overstraining your wrist.


The extensive and comprehensive study notes make the layout something of an issue: a comfortable reading layout would mean a greater size and tradeoffs must be made. Keep in mind this is a study Bible of study Bibles, its a beast of translation information not an easy reading experience. All in all, the NET is not nearly as readable as the ESV study Bible. It's double column format makes the notes a little easier to track, but this is something of a cluttered layout even without cross references. The font is about an 8/9, which is comfortably readable, but not a treat for the eyes. The lack of margins make note taking inadviseable (this Bible already has more notes than text!). The brain requires white space in order to digest information and these margins are probably just enough to satisfy, though for some they will be inadequate because in most positions the text curves into the gutter. Again function must be kept in mind, the layout is designed to put the text and the notes on the same page without creating a Bible so thick its unmanageable. While much is to be desired, much has been accomplished, and their are very specific limits to how readable you can make this much text in one volume.


The dilemma of ‘yet another translation’ is explained well in the NET Bible’s Introduction to the First Edition. The intent of the translation was to “capture the best of several worlds: readable and accurate and elegant all at the same time.” Other translations share this goal, and the NET Bible does a great job of capturing these goals, but what makes the NET Bible unique is that it can be printed (up to 1,000 copies), distributed for free or downloaded from the internet for free, quoted, or used as a translator’s reference without tangling with copyright issues.


60,932 is indeed a large number of translators’ notes.  Even without the inclusion of cross references, a topical study section, chapter introductions, the First Edition of the NET bible rivals even the most gigantic study bibles. On an average page, the notes occupy about half the space.

So how useful are all these notes? A reader will use the notes as often as they find themselves asking the following questions:
·         What is the reason for the differences I find in various translations? (The notes help explain translation issues and difficulties.)
·         How else could I read this text without changing its intended meaning? (e.g. for the purpose of adapting the text for poetic reasons, or translating into another language)
·         Does this verse have dual or alternative meanings that aren’t communicated in the translation as it is read?
·         How was the phrasing of this verse determined?
 People whom I expect would be asking these questions:
·         Scholars and teachers who are interested in the original languages nuances
·         Bible translators
·         Individuals who come from a background that would question the reader’s ability to interpret scripture
·         Poets and musicians

 “You get what you pay for” is the cynical answer to the free translation’s question of quality. But the NET Bible does indeed achieve its goals of readability, accuracy and even elegance. The translators’ word choice makes the NET Bible go down smooth, while the translators’ explanation of how the phrasing was arrived at, the inclusion of alternative readings, and the inclusion of key words in the original language establish the NET as a high quality, unbiased, and accurate translation that even integrates subtle word play that is often missed in English translations.
Readers who may not be interested in questions of translation will find the First Edition of the NET Bible painfully verbose. These readers can carry a significantly smaller reader’s version of this Bible and still have confidence in the translation and appreciate the translators’ notes by accessing them on the internet. The transparency of how the reading of the text was determined instills a great deal of confidence in the integrity of the translation and in the content of the notes themselves.


 Word Play

John 21:18 is a good example of the NET Bible’s integration of word play that occurs in the original text but is often lost when translated to English.Eph 5:18-32
5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, which1 is debauchery,2 but be filled by the Spirit,3 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music1 in2 your hearts to the Lord, 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for each other1 in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5:21 and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.1 5:22 1 Wives, submit2 to your husbands as to the Lord, 5:23 because the husband is the head

I tell you the solemn truth, 1  when you were young, you tied your clothes around you 2  and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up 3  and bring you where you do not want to go.”
I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go."
The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go."
I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go."
Truly I say to you, When you were young, you made yourself ready and went wherever you had a desire to go: but when you are old, you will put out your hands and another will make you ready, and you will be taken where you have no desire to go.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
"Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish."

Word Choice &External References

The NET Bible provides some excellent reading for further study on difficult topics.  Genesis 3:16 is a good example of how phrasing of the text was arrived at and offers further discussion.
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase  your labor pains;  with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband,  but he will dominate  you.” - Genesis 3:16
tn Heb “and toward your husband [will be] your desire.” The nominal sentence does not have a verb; a future verb must be supplied, because the focus of the oracle is on the future struggle. The precise meaning of the noun תְּשׁוּקָה (tÿshuqah, “desire”) is debated. Many interpreters conclude that it refers to sexual desire here, because the subject of the passage is the relationship between a wife and her husband, and because the word is used in a romantic sense in Song 7:11 HT (7:10 ET). However, this interpretation makes little sense in Gen 3:16. First, it does not fit well with the assertion “he will dominate you.” Second, it implies that sexual desire was not part of the original creation, even though the man and the woman were told to multiply. And third, it ignores the usage of the word in Gen 4:7 where it refers to sin’s desire to control and dominate Cain. (Even in Song of Songs it carries the basic idea of “control,” for it describes the young man’s desire to “have his way sexually” with the young woman.) In Gen 3:16 the Lord announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle. See further Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?” WTJ 37 (1975): 376-83.
tn The Hebrew verb מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to rule over,” but in a way that emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery. This also is part of the baser human nature. The translation assumes the imperfect verb form has an objective/indicative sense here. Another option is to understand it as having a modal, desiderative nuance, “but he will want to dominate you.” In this case, the Lord simply announces the struggle without indicating who will emerge victorious.
sn This passage is a judgment oracle. It announces that conflict between man and woman will become the norm in human society. It does not depict the NT ideal, where the husband sacrificially loves his wife, as Christ loved the church, and where the wife recognizes the husband’s loving leadership in the family and voluntarily submits to it. Sin produces a conflict or power struggle between the man and the woman, but in Christ man and woman call a truce and live harmoniously (Eph 5:18-32).


Boldly delighting the nerd within each would-be Bible scholar, the NET provides maps made of Satellite imagery. This is just cool. Is it necessary? No. Will it bring depth to Biblical study? Not in most cases. Does it bring us into the world of the Bible? Probably not in a significant way. But it sure is fun to look at. The handsome Cambridge maps may give a classy look to an underused tool, but these maps will keep you flipping back to them just to remind yourself of what a nifty Bible you have.

Seriously speaking, they do spark the imagination and give you an accurate topographical and visual idea of the wilderness John the Baptist lived in or the place Jesus was tempted or even the obstacles included on Abraham's journey. The maps in the back of your Bible can be easy to forget and the beauty of these satellite images should inspire us to actually use the maps in the back and gain a geographical knowledge of the journey of the revelation of the Messiah.


The NET First Edition is a bold move and probably under-recognized in the world of Bible Study and translation. It will be a gold mine for Bible Scholars and those Bible students who have a passion for translation or interested in Greek and Hebrew. The average reader may find the notes a little too extensive and technical, but will still enjoy the translation itself which is very readable. This Bible is a massive success, but probably appeals to something of a niche audience, that said, it has many supporters as the "go to" study Bible, and for interpretation, translation and language discussions it almost certainly is.

-This post was co-authored by my brother in missions Andrew Layer

A review copy was provided by I was not obligated to give a positive review. I have given an honest, unbiased review.


  1. I have a copy of this which I have used off an on for the past year. In fact I was considering posting a review on my blog. Thanks for beating me to the punch. :)

    I have enjoyed it as a resource but I doubt that this will ever become my primary translation. Though I do use it as a reference translation which splits the difference between formal and dynamic equivalence. It is well researched and documented. You may not agree with the translation decision but you can't say that you don't know why they made the decision.

    A resource I do recommend is the NET/NA27 Diglot that they also offer. The textual notes alone are worth it even if you don't know Greek.

  2. I enjoy reading your reviews. I find that they are always balanced and insightful. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks for an enjoyable, insightful and unbiased review. I cannot wait for the chance to buy my own copy now.

  4. Thanks guys! This post took much longer than usual to formulate so it's nice to know it turned out well. I collaborated with a dear friend whose insights were invaluable. I can't thank Andrew Layer enough.

  5. I have been debating on whether or not to get the NET First Edition as another reference bible. I have several great bibles that I have purchased for the reference content, but none of them have extensive translator notes. Your review has convinced me that this would indeed be a useful addition to my study bibles. Thanks for the care and time it took to craft this review! Off to purchase...