Bible Downloads: NET, ESV, etc.

May 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Posted in English Bible Translations, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 4 Comments

Pastor Glenn,

Hi!  What are your thoughts on the NET version of the Bible?  I’m a little trepid about randomly choosing new translations of the Bible to read, simply because some translations come from unhealthy origins, and sometimes these origins are purposefully obscured.

I remember reading a very positive markup of the New World Translation on Wikipedia, only to discover later that the page had been modified to remove a lot of the critical sections. They have since been restored, and I discovered that the NWT takes a lot of liberties with the deity of Christ.  Because things like this can so easily slip under the radar, I figured I’d better ask, rather than just take Wikipedia’s word for it.

I haven’t read a whole lot of it, but I did find the inclusion of such vast translation notes to be an interesting facet.  One interesting point they raise is that “Elohim” is plural because it can also mean “God of gods”, which means it is an honorary term for God, saying that he is above all of the “little ‘g’ gods.”  At least, according to their translation notes – I am none the wiser.

Dear ____________

The NET was translated by a team of evangelicals to be specifically a digital Bible, the first translated with that in mind.  Their translation philosophy was similar to that of the NIV (which is another huge discussion in itself).  They use gender neutral pronouns in places, which is a negative in the minds of some.  I don’t care for it in many contexts, but it gets the point across in many others, and is probably more true to the original thought.  Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of people.”  It gets the original thought across, but loses so much of its punch.  1 Timothy 2:1-8 is a passage I always check to see how it is translated in this regard.  It is a passage pretty-near impossible to translate into English clearly and consistently.

I have a print copy of the NET text on my shelf and refer to their website often – not to check the translation so much as to refer to their notes – probably the best collection of footnotes ever put together.  There are three kinds of notes:  tn translator’s notes for those who are missionary translators or who want to know more about the translators reasoning;  sn study notes for more depth or background;  tc for those interested in textual criticism, though it seems they kept these to a minimum compared to the other kinds of notes.  Those interested in textual criticism studies will usually have a Greek NT with those notes in it.

The list of endorsements for the NET is long and impressive, including pastoral names like Charles Swindoll and theologians like Wayne Grudem.  But a quick scan of their endorsements mentions the notes more than the translation itself.

I read the NET NT a few years ago and have a few notes on translation dislikes.  Here are a few examples, remembering that I usually don’t write anything down unless it is a negative in my mind; that doesn’t mean all my thoughts are negative:  First, there seems to be some inconsistency in translation.  Sometimes this is done for literary purposes to avoid the feel of redundancy in English, which is common in Greek, but when two identical phrases or passages are translated differently for no apparent reason, that seems to me to be inconsistent.  Matthew 4:23 says Jesus was “preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” and 9:35 says he was “preaching the good news of the kingdom.”  Why the change?  You can see a similar thing in Mathew 24:23-24 and Mark 13:21-22, where Messiah and Christ are unnecessarily interchanged within each passage (in my mind this is confusing at best).  Second, there are a few times when the NET says saved “by the faithfulness of Christ,” rather than “by faith in Christ,” which is true and can be a valid translation, but seems to miss the point of the passage (Galatians 2:15-21 for example.  However, I admit I would have to do more study to understand their reasoning on this.)

For a reading translation, I still like the NIV better.  For a more literal English study version, I prefer the NASB(1995) or the ESV.  However, like I said, the study notes of the NET are unmatched anywhere.  There should be no theological worries about the NET Bible, as there are with the New World Translation.

The New World Translation was translated by the founder of the Jehovah Witness, who had no formal Greek background and is definitely biased against the deity of Jesus.  I would say it was translated specifically with that idea in mind, though JWs certainly deny that.

I hope this helps, Pastor Glenn

 Dear Pastor Glenn,

Yeah, this helps a lot.  In other news, I’ve found some free Bible downloads for smartphones.  Unfortunately, I can’t get the NIV, since it’s not offered.  They do offer a number of other translations, so I went and grabbed the NET, and the Amplified, along with the NASB, and ESV, like you suggested.  Do you have a favorite Bible for “just reading” other than the NIV?

Dear ____________

Copyright rules make some newer Bible versions difficult to find for free download.  I’m surprised the ESV was available for you.  Though it is considered a mostly literal translation, you might find it is easily readable (more so than the NASB).  It has been growing in popularity with conservative churches, and I am reading the NT through for devotions this year.  BTW which NASB did you get 1971 or 1995?  The newer version thankfully dropped all the ancient pronouns in reference to God.  That change alone makes the newer much more readable.  The TNIV is being replaced, so it might be available.  It has it’s problems in a few places, but reads identical to the NIV almost everywhere.

If you can find some older, out of print versions, here are two you might like for reading purposes:  The New Testament in the Language of the People, by Charles B. Williams, Moody Press, 1937.  Williams is known for bringing out the nuances of the Greek verb tenses.  The Holy Bible in the Language of Today, William F. Beck, Holman, 1976, (though I believe it is at least a decade older than that date).  It is also known as The Holy Bible, an American Translation.  Beck was a Greek and Hebrew scholar whose passion was to make the Bible clear to everyone.  I guess these two depend on how “modern” you consider the American English of the 30s or the 60s.

Happy reading!


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  1. Pastor Glen and questioner, Since JW’s ‘founder’ (I assume you mean ‘Pastor Russell’) died before the end of WWI and we didn’t produce the NWT until the 1960’s, I don’t see how he could have produced it.

  2. The above comment is correct. In my old age senility, I confused some things. However, my contention that it was translated with an anti deity bias is not only true but well documented in other places. Here’s just one example:

  3. I have found this confusion to be common among ‘pastors’. When going door to door, I have had many householders tell me what you published here was told them at church by their ‘pastor’. I find it difficult to comprehend how so many clergymen who claim JW’s are false teachers are unable to get their facts straight. This is not the only thing people relate that is incorrect, in fact it is one of the least.

    Do you really know anything about us?

  4. Most of my readers are sharp enough to see through Matt’s tactics in these comments.
    1. This is a post about Bible translations, and he tries to turn it into a post about JWs.
    2. He concludes that my mistake about a publication date means the reason I gave for the publication is wrong, that I know nothing about what the organization teaches, and, by extension, that my claim that they are false teachers is therefore wrong too. Not only are these bad logical leaps, but they are totally false.
    3. He represents an organization that searches the internet daily to correct “misrepresentations” of them. Those corrections often use the above tactics, while ignoring the real issues. Such has been my experience.

    The false teaching of JWs have been cataloged in many places, and this post is not the place for it. May Matt discover the real grace of God in his divine Son Jesus.

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