|Bible Research > English Versions > 21st Century > NET|
The NET Bible was produced by a team of translators under the direction of W. Hall Harris (the General Editor), Daniel B. Wallace (Senior New Testament Editor) and Robert B. Chisholm (Senior Old Testament Editor). All three are professors at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). The preface of the first "Beta Edition" (printed in 2001) stated that the version was "completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts." They were identified only as scholars who "teach biblical exegesis in seminaries and graduate schools," each of whom were "chosen in every instance because of his or her work in that particular book—often extending over several decades." It also stated that these scholars were "assisted by doctoral students."
In the First Edition (printed in 2005) a list of people on the "Net Bible Team" appears at the end of the Introduction. Twenty-two men and one woman are listed as translators and editors. For the Old Testament: Richard E. Averbeck, William D. Barrick, M. Daniel Carroll R. [sic], Robert B. Chisholm, Dorian Coover-Cox, Donald R. Glenn, Michael A. Grisanti, W. Hall Harris III, Gordon H. Johnston, Eugene H. Merrill, Allen P. Ross, Steven H. Sanchez, Richard A. Taylor, and Brian L. Webster. For the New Testament: Darrell L. Bock, Michael H. Burer, Buist M. Fanning III, John D. Grassmick, W. Hall Harris III, Gregory J. Herrick, Harold W. Hoehner, David K. Lowery, Jay E. Smith, and Daniel B. Wallace.
Although the Introduction does not mention it, seventeen of these people were teachers at DTS; and of the remaining six, five were students at DTS. Only one (William Barrick) has no obvious connection to Dallas Theological Seminary. Some of them have no publications, and are little-known outside of DTS. Evidently the version was almost entirely a project of the members of the DTS faculty, assisted by their students. This provides some context for the Introduction's statement that the translators were "chosen in every instance because of his or her work in that particular book." The copyright page of the printed edition does not say where "Biblical Studies Press" is located, but from other sources we learn that its offices are in Garland, Texas—a suburb of Dallas. Evidently the people involved in the version have some interest in concealing its "Dallas" connection.
The preface states that the idea for the version was conceived in November 1995 during discussions with an anonymous "sponsor" at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Philadelphia. The concept of the version was that it would be freely available on the internet from the beginning. The name of the version (NET Bible) is meant to have a double meaning, standing both for New English Translation and the electronic "net" of the World Wide Web. The New Testament portion of the version first went online in October of 1998 at www.netbible.org. The Old Testament was added in 2000, and in 2002 some of the Apocrypha appeared online. In November 2003 a "second beta edition" of the whole Bible was put online. In 2005 the "First Edition" (i.e. the first to supercede the "beta" editions) was put online, and was also published in a printed edition.
The New Testament has been substantially revised since its first appearance, incorporating many suggestions made by reviewers associated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). In an article published in 2000, one of the editors stated that there had been thousands of such changes, (1) and many more were to be made in the future. Because the version was primarily designed to be an Internet resource, the editors have freedom to experiment with and revise the version as they may see fit.
The method of translation used in the NET Bible in its present form (2006) is inconsistent, but in general it is less literal than the New International Version. The translators have for the most part employed a dynamic equivalence method, in which they have tried to use expressions in "common language." This method gives the version a simple and contemporary English style, which may be appreciated by some readers; but it does tend to degrade the accuracy of the translation. For example, in Psalm 8:5-6 the NET Bible has "you grant mankind honor and majesty, you appoint them to rule over your creation; you have placed everything under their authority" where the Hebrew says,
|וכבוד והדר תעטרהו|
|with glory and honor you have crowned him|
|תמשילהו במעשי ידיך|
|You cause him to rule over the works of your hands|
|כל שתה תחת־רגליו|
|All things you have put under his feet|
The images and metaphors of the Hebrew verse—the man, his crown, his feet, and God's hands—disappear through the use of more general and abstract words in the NET Bible translation. And although the translators probably feel that their prosaic rendering here adequately conveys the overall sense of the verse, it should be noticed that their rendering involves not only the loss of poetic imagery, but also a preclusion of the New Testament's interpretation of the verse. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews depends upon a literal rendering of Psalm 8 when he uses it to teach something about a certain man, namely Christ (Heb. 2:7-8), to whom these statements are referred, because He is the only man for whom they are true in the fullest sense.
Romans 1:5 in the NET Bible reads, "Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles." Here the version has begun a new sentence because the salutation has been "divided into shorter English sentences in keeping with contemporary English style," as a footnote explains, and the word "our" has been added before "apostleship" so as to "to clarify the sense of the statement."
Evidently the translators felt that such interpretive adjustments are necessary for the average reader. But readers will pay a price for this condescending help. On another page we draw attention to many inaccuracies of the NET Bible in a sample passage, Hosea 4:1-14.
The example given from Psalm 8 above illustrates another tendency of the version. It departs from the usual evangelical treatment of the Old Testament, by interpreting it without any reference to the New Testament.
The New Testament treatment of the Old Testament is a complex subject, and we cannot treat it fully here. To put it very briefly, we will say that the New Testament authors often interpreted passages of the Old Testament in ways that go quite beyond the literary or historical contexts of the passages. To the apostles, the words of Scripture were directly inspired by God, and their meaning is not limited to meanings which can be supposed to have been in the minds of the human authors on the basis of historical considerations. God is the Author, and like a novelist, he knows the end of the story while he is writing it, and he foreshadows the end in various ways throughout the story, even from the beginning. Having this view of Scripture, the apostles assumed that its words carried some meanings that point beyond the immediate context, and by the Spirit of God they identified some of them, including a number of mysterious prefigurations of Christ. The human authors were perhaps not fully aware of what God intended by the words he caused them to write. As Patrick Fairbairn expressed it:
Now, we are expressly told, even in regard to direct prophecies of Gospel times, that not only the persons to whom they were originally delivered, but the very individuals through whom they were communicated, did not always or necessarily understand their precise meaning. Sometimes, at least, they had to assume the position of inquirers, in order to get the more exact and definite information which they desired [Daniel 12:8, 1 Peter 1:12]; and it would seem, from the case of Daniel, that even then they did not always obtain it. The prophets were not properly the authors of their own predictions, but spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Their knowledge, therefore, of the real meaning of the prophecies they uttered, was an entirely separate thing from the prophecies themselves; and if we knew what it was, it would still by no means conclusively fix their full import. (2)
The whole approach to Scripture here may be compared to John's interpretation of the words of Caiaphas in John 11:49-52. Caiaphas did not realize what God intended by his words, but these words happened to be prophetic, and John knew the meaning. This concept of divine authorship and intent, which presupposes the verbal inspiration of the Biblical books, is involved when theologians speak of a sensus plenior or "fuller sense" of Scripture which transcends the immediate context. Raymond E. Brown defines it thus:
The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelation or development in the understanding of revelation. (3)
In the example above, from Psalm 8, the New Testament writer does not interpret the Psalm's statements about the "son of man" in the way that the NET Bible does. The author of Hebrews 2:6-8 has perceived that these statements go beyond anything that can be attributed to mankind in general, and he understands them as referring to Christ, as the ideal "man," to whom all authority and honor truly belongs. (4) This is a sensus plenior interpretation, it is esoteric in nature, and it partly depends upon the singular nouns and pronouns of the Hebrew text. But the NET Bible interprets these statements as referring only to mankind in general, and by its paraphrastic use of plural pronouns it simply excludes the Christological interpretation. The result is, readers cannot interpret the passage according to the interpretation indicated in the New Testament. This problem frequently occurs in the NET Bible.
In the preface of the NET Bible we find a long but very inadequate discussion of this matter, (5) in which the New Testament interpretations are said to be "clarifications," but at the same time it is denied that these clarifications should have any influence over the translation. It is argued that such a treatment of the Old Testament is needed if we wish to have an accurate picture of the progress of revelation:
A very important concept for understanding the translation philosophy of the NET Bible and how these three contexts work together is progressive revelation. Simply put, progressive revelation recognizes that God reveals himself—his nature as well as his word, plans, and purposes—over time. He did not reveal everything about himself and what he was doing in the world all at once; instead he graciously revealed more and more as time went on. Later revelation serves to complement and supplement what has come before. The relation of this reality to translation work creates a great deal of tension, especially as it relates to the theological context, because certain earlier passages are clarified by later ones. Does the translator translate the older passage with a view to the clarification that the later passage brings, or does the translator concentrate solely on the native context of the older passage?
But this way of putting the question is misleading, because the "clarifications" of the New Testament are no ordinary clarifications. They do not unfold meanings which can be readily attributed to the conscious intentions of the human authors. And when we examine the explanations that the NET Bible editors give for specific renderings, their explanations reveal that they do not really believe that the New Testament writers provide clarifications; they believe that the New Testament writers have imposed meanings upon Old Testament passages which were not originally intended. The NET Bible editors handle Scripture in a modern historical-critical way, and they do not share the apostles' assumptions about its authorship and potential meanings, as described above. They do not acknowledge a sensus plenior in the text, they treat it in such a way that the meaning is limited to the presumed intentions of human authors. Their conception of "the theological context" takes no account of any divine intention beyond what is clearly intended by the human author; as the preface defines it, the "theological context" is limited to "the understanding of God and his work that a particular author would have at the time he wrote a particular passage of scripture."
In addition to the statements on this subject in the preface, there is a fuller explanation for at least one of the editors' understanding of "progressive revelation" in a paper written by Daniel Wallace (the Senior New Testament Editor), and posted on the bible.org website. In his paper "Is Intra-Canonical Theological Development Compatible with a High Bibliology?" Wallace develops the idea that "implicit in the recognition of progressive revelation is that something more than mere perspectival differences are to be found in the various books of the Bible," and he suggests that "later biblical writers did not always correctly grasp the meaning of earlier revelation."
Is the progress of revelation along linear lines, or is it more multifaceted than that? Essentially, if there is room for formal (as opposed to substantive) contradiction within the Bible in one direction, why not the other? That is, since in the former case we must argue from a chronological and historical perspective to erase the contradiction, is that not also valid in the case of one biblical writer misunderstanding the full import of an earlier one?
Is there evidence within the text of scripture that addresses some of the above questions? I think there is. To take but two examples: (1) the use of the OT in the NT, and (2) 2 Peter 3.15-16. In the former case, many evangelicals would argue that the resultant message was right but the method for extracting it was hermeneutically or exegetically invalid. That is, that the revelation given to the OT author is not entirely understood by the NT writer who uses and interprets his text. The passages used to support this contention are too numerous to list here. But if this supposition is valid, then it implies that later biblical writers did not always correctly grasp the meaning of earlier revelation.
Wallace does not explain how such ideas can be reconciled with a belief that the Scriptures are verbally and plenarily inspired. He writes, "I am not going to elaborate on how these two can be harmonized; I only wish to note that respected evangelical theologians—whose bibliological commitments are not in doubt—embrace this thesis." But we do not grant that the bibliological commitments of those who embrace this thesis are beyond doubt. Wallace's suggestion that the interpretations of the apostles are "hermeneutically or exegetically invalid," and that they involve a failure to understand the Old Testament, is especially troubling. The problems raised by these statements should be dealt with forthrightly; they cannot be set aside by some facile appeal to the authority of nameless "theologians" (6)
The theological position taken here is really none other than that expressed by neo-orthodox theologians like Alan Richardson:
We can indeed no longer imagine that the OT writers were given a miraculous 'preview' of the events of the life and death of Jesus, or that detailed predictions of his ministry and passion were divinely dictated to them; nor shall we look for precise fulfilments of particular OT texts, as writers in the pre-critical period have done ever since the days of the author of St. Matthew's Gospel (e.g. Matt. 1.22f., 2.5f., 15, 17f., 23, etc.). (7)
The preface dwells upon the case of Isaiah 7:14, and so we will take up that issue here. This verse is quoted in the Gospel according to Matthew (1:26), in which it is explained that Isaiah's prophecy concerning the child named Immanuel is fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ. In his quotation, Matthew uses the Greek word παρθενος (parthenos), which in the Hellenistic era usually had the meaning "virgin." This rendering was already given in the Septuagint, and so Matthew is not introducing it as something new; but there can be no doubt that he uses this word deliberately, because the virginity of Mary is an important aspect of his account of Christ's birth. However, the NET Bible has "young woman" instead of "virgin" as a translation for עלמה (almah) in this verse. Its preface claims that the עלמה in Isaiah 7:14 cannot refer to Mary, and that the word does not even mean "virgin." We are given a rather opaque argument that tries to explain Matthew's use of Isaiah 7:14 while condemning "virgin" as a translation of the Hebrew word.
It is the opinion of the translators and editors that the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14 means “young woman” and actually carries no connotations of sexual experience, so the grammatical context of the verse in the Old Testament is in our opinion fairly straightforward. Neither does the historical context of Isaiah 7:14 point to any connection with the birth of the Messiah: in its original historical context, this verse was pointing to a sign for King Ahaz that the alliance between Syria and Israel which was threatening the land of Judah would come to nothing. The theological context of Isaiah 7:14 is also limited: it is a presentation of God’s divine power to show himself strong on behalf of his people. The role or birth of the Messiah does not come into view here. So the historical and theological contexts of the verse support the grammatical: the word עלמה (almah) means “young woman” and should be translated as such. Within the book of Isaiah itself, however, the author begins to develop the theological context of this verse, and this provides a connection to the use of the passage in Matthew. In Isaiah 8:9-10 the prophet delivers an announcement of future victory over Israel’s enemies; the special child Immanuel, alluded to in the last line of v. 10, is a guarantee that the covenant promises of God will result in future greatness. The child mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 is a pledge of God’s presence during the time of Ahaz, but he also is a promise of God’s presence in the future when he gives his people victory over all their enemies. This theological development progresses even further when another child is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7 who will be a perfect ruler over Israel, manifesting God’s presence perfectly and ultimately among his people. The New Testament author draws from this development and uses the original passage in Isaiah to make the connection between the child originally promised and the child who would be the ultimate fulfillment of that initial promise. The use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 draws upon the theological development present in the book of Isaiah, but it does not change the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 in its original context.
The notes in the NET Bible further explain that, in the opinion of the editors, the Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Isaiah's son Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1-4).
Several interpretations of the Immanuel prophecy have been proposed by modern scholars who do not believe that Isaiah is referring to Christ. Most liberal scholars flatly deny that the prophecy was intended to be understood as a vision of Christ. Some believe that here Isaiah is predicting the advent of a messianic king in the following generation, but that the prophecy failed. Some conservative commentators believe that Isaiah did not envision a fulfillment of the prophecy in his own time, but only the fulfillment in Christ. Others suppose that there was a preliminary fulfillment in the birth and naming of some child of Isaiah's time, but that this child was a symbolic foreshadowing of Christ. This last view is the one most often found in commentaries written by conservatives in the past century, but these commentators differ in their opinions about the identity of that child. Some think it was a son of the Prophet. For example, Milton S. Terry (a conservative Methodist of the nineteenth century) wrote, "we understand the prophecy to have been truly fulfilled in the time of Ahaz and Isaiah by the birth of a child who was a type of the Messiah... Its application to Christ in Matt. i,23 is to be explained typically, just as we explain the passage cited from Hosea in Matt. ii,15. The most simple explanation is that which identifies the virgin with the prophet's young wife ... and the child Immanuel is no other than Maher-shalal-hash-baz." (Biblical Hermeneutics, 2nd ed. , p. 333.)
The explanation given in the NET Bible resembles Terry's, but it is not the same, because the NET Bible explains the matter in terms of a "development," not in terms of a typological foreshadowing and fulfillment. It seems that the author of this explanation wants to have it both ways: the Immanuel prophecy is merely "a sign for King Ahaz" in which "the role or birth of the Messiah does not come into view," but through a bit of fuzzy logic he manages to give some room to the idea that "the child who would be the ultimate fulfillment" of the Immanuel prophecy is Christ. We get from one thing to the other by a "theological development." The development is said to be underway in the Book of Isaiah itself, where some real messianic prophecies do occur, yet we are given to understand that the Immanuel prophecy is not messianic, and so Matthew's interpretation of it is not really correct. The intervening "development" that Matthew "draws upon" cannot "change the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 in its original context."
Obviously this explanation presents some problems for our view of the truthfulness and inspiration of Scripture. If we believe that these are the words of God, and if we believe that Christ is "the child who would be the ultimate fulfillment" of the prophecy, we cannot set aside Matthew's interpretation, and interpret the Immanuel prophecy as if it were only "a sign for King Ahaz that the alliance between Syria and Israel which was threatening the land of Judah would come to nothing." Matthew's interpretation must be accepted as a true interpretation in accordance with the Author's original intention. At the very least, we must recognize a messianic sensus plenior in the Immanuel prophecy.
The preface concludes the discussion of the Immanuel prophecy with these words:
The editors expect to receive criticism, particularly on this passage, from those who are against all modern translations. Our central motivation, however, is faithfulness to the original Hebrew text and context in this instance. While a rendering of “virgin” in Isa 7:14 might lead to wider acceptance, we believe that this kind of acceptance of traditional renderings would not be pleasing to God. The Bible’s clear statements affirming the virgin birth of Christ are not in question here by either the NET Bible or its translators—it is merely a question of which is the most faithful English rendering of the meaning of the original text of Isa 7:14 in Hebrew. The editors of the NET Bible believe that a translation which is ultimately the most faithful to the original text will ultimately prove more useful in both evangelism and ministry by an unswerving focus on accuracy to the original Biblical texts. Ultimately, it is our faith in our sovereign God that causes us to believe that faith is strengthened, not threatened, by faithfulness to the original. (8)
We think this writer "protests too much." One who declares that Christ "does not come into view" in the Immanuel prophecy can hardly share the spirit of Matthew 1:23. And his dismissal of the rendering "virgin" is quite arbitrary, because the conservative literature on this matter is extensive, and many competent scholars have maintained that "virgin" is the best rendering. (9) The preface uses the phrase "traditional renderings" in reference to this, as if it were merely a matter of tradition, but it should not be forgotten that the real issue here is the legitimacy of the interpretation in Matthew 1:23. This interpretation does not rest upon ignorance of Hebrew, or upon false principles of exegesis, as the preface insinuates (we can only suppose that the editors have come by these opinions and attitudes through spending too much time at meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature); on the contrary, it is inspired by God and infallible.
Nor is it true that this is "merely a question of which is the most faithful English rendering of the meaning of the original text of Isa 7:14 in Hebrew." The issue here is not just the meaning of one Hebrew word; it concerns our whole view of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Are the New Testament interpretations true, or aren't they? And in connection with them, can we not speak of a "fuller sense" intended by God from the beginning? And if we can, is it really proper for a translator to render the text in such a way that this sense is excluded? These are important questions. But the preface does not address them squarely. Instead, we are given an evasive argument in which "clarifications" do not really clarify, and in which Matthew's citation somehow ends up in the class of "traditional" renderings, the acceptance of which "would not be pleasing to God."
We could discuss many other examples of this tendency to translate the Old Testament without regard for the New Testament. In Genesis 22:18 we see "all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants" instead of a literal rendering, "in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed," but the New Testament interpretations of this promise (cf. Acts 3:25-26 and Galatians 3:16) depend upon the ambiguity of the literal rendering. In Matthew 9:13 our Lord refers to Hosea 6:6 when he says to the Pharisees, "go and learn what this means, I desire mercy ...," but we will not learn his meaning from the NET Bible's translation of Hosea 6:6, because in it the word chesed is rendered "faithfulness," not "mercy," and there is no explanation for it in the notes (see also Matthew 12:7).
The "tc" note at Hosea 11:1 reveals an astonishing disregard for the New Testament. Although the verse itself is translated in such a way that Matthew's typological interpretation of "my son" is possible (cf. Matthew 2:15), the editors tell us that they have retained the "my son" of the Masoretic text here "because of internal evidence; it is much more appropriate to the context" than the reading "his sons," which is indicated by the Septuagint. Here the Septuagint is taken seriously as a source of information about various readings in the ancient Hebrew manuscripts, but the New Testament citation of this verse is not even mentioned. Apparently it meant so little to them that it was not even a factor in their decision to retain "my son" in Hosea 11:1.
Another example of this approach may be seen in the "tn" note on Psalm 8:5, where the editors explain that "the referent of אלהים (elohim, 'God' or 'the heavenly beings') is unclear," despite the fact that in the Epistle to the Hebrews (2:5-9) the author clearly bases his interpretation on the rendering "angels." The NET Bible editors favored a similar rendering—"heavenly beings"—not because of anything in the New Testament, but because they see here "an allusion to Gen 1:26-27." Again, the interpretation in Hebrews 2:7 was not a factor in their decision. (10)
In Psalm 16:10 the NET Bible's rendering "you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit" undermines the argument of Peter in Acts 2:25-31, where this clause is rendered οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαφθοράν, "neither will you allow your Holy One to see corruption." The Hebrew word שחת (shachat) is translated not "Pit" but διαφθοράν "corruption" here, (11) and Peter points out that this statement is not true of David, because in fact his body has decayed. But it is true of Christ, who, although he descended to Hades (the "Pit") for a time, did not experience corruption or decay. Therefore, we must understand that David "foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption." This argument cannot be made on the basis of the NET Bible's rendering. We also note that in the NET Bible a "faithful follower" has supplanted the "Holy One" in the translation of חסיד.
In Psalm 45:6 the translator understands the word אלהים as a vocative meaning "God," and so the verse is translated "Your throne, O God, is permanent." This agrees with the quotation of the verse in Hebrews 1:8, where the words are applied to Christ. But the "tn" note here, following the lead of recent liberal commentators, ignores the New Testament interpretation, and explains that the verse should be translated this way because it is an instance of "royal hyperbole." To put it more plainly, we are asked to think that here a king is lightly addressed as "God" by a court poet who is laying it on thick, as we say, with a bit of exuberant flattery. In the New Testament it is quoted to establish the divinity of Christ, but in the NET Bible it is interpreted as a piece of hyperbolic rhetoric. The same explanation is given for אל in Isaiah 9:6. (12)
These are only a few of the places where the New Testament has been ignored and contradicted by the translators and annotators of the NET Bible's Old Testament, in accordance with their ideas about what is "pleasing to God" in a Bible version.
Christians of past generations never did this. They never imagined that the Old Testament could be understood rightly apart from the interpretations of it given in the New Tesament. In ancient times only the heretics who rejected the Old Testament interpreted it in this manner. Marcion—the arch-heretic of the second century—refused to accept the apostolic interpretations of the Old Testament, and (consistently enough) he erased quotations of the Old Testament from his copies of the New Testament. But faithful Christians did not follow Marcion; they received and treasured the Old Testament scriptures as interpreted by the apostles. Bernard Ramm writes:
The conviction of the early Church was that the Old Testament was a Christian book. It recognized its inspiration no doubt. But a sheer appeal to the inspiration of the Old Testament without the profound conviction that it was a Christian book would not have made its case. The heresy of Marcion—that the Old Testament was not a Christian book—has been vigorously contested in the Christian Church wherever and whenever it has appeared and in whatever form it has appeared. The entire Patristic period is uniform in its testimony that the Old Testament belongs to the Church because it is a Christian book. There is absolutely no doubt that this conviction stemmed from the manner in which our Lord and his apostles used the Old Testament. (13)
Even fifty years ago, no scholar who wished to be taken seriously in conservative churches would have contradicted Ramm's statement that "If an Old Testament scholar says that a given passage meant so-and-so to the Jews (on the grounds that the passage must have meaning to its contemporaries) and limits its meaning to that meaning, he is misapplying the cultural principle and denying the sensus plenior of Old Testament prophecy." (14) Ramm associated this negative "use of the grammatico-historical method of exegesis in the hands of the religious liberals" with "radical criticism" and characterized it as "a return of Marcionism." (15) In 1953 the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary issued a scathing Critique of the Revised Standard Version for this manner of treating the Old Testament. But evidently this seminary has changed quite a bit since then.
We are not inclined to mince words on this subject. The ancient Church would never have tolerated such a treatment of the Old Testament. The first Christians rejoiced to see Christ everywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (Luke 24:27-32), and we cannot accept any translation of the Bible which deliberately prevents us from doing the same. The apostle John wrote, "Isaiah said these things because he saw [Christ's] glory and spoke of him" (John 12:41). We cannot contradict these words. We are not ashamed to stand with the apostles, and we read the Old Testament as they read it. We affirm that Christ was seen by the Prophets, and was prefigured in mysterious ways in the Old Testament.
The preface makes some unusual claims about the independence of the translators. It states,
In addition to format and content, the broad framework of the project is unique among translations. From its beginning the project has been independent of ecclesiastical control. The NET Bible is not funded by any denomination or church. This has directly impacted the content: Translators and editors are free to follow where the text leads and translate as they see best. There is no pressure to make sure the text reads a certain way. This does not mean that the project is not responsible to anyone. In a very real sense, the NET Bible is responsible to the universal body of Christ. Through publication on the Internet and free distribution of the text, the editors and translators have sought to submit the NET Bible to their brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. The questions, comments, and feedback received from them are examined very carefully, and the translation and notes are reevaluated in response. This dynamic process yields a Bible that is honest to the original text of the Bible, yet valuable and acceptable to Bible readers everywhere.
This is an interesting paragraph, because it expresses some grand ideas about the version and its relationship to the Church.
The claim that the NET Bible is "unique among translations" in its freedom from "ecclesiastical control" seems to imply that other versions in common use have been produced under the direct control of ecclesiastical officials. But this is not true. Most of the versions currently in use among Protestants were produced by committees which were not subject to any regular church authority. Even among Roman Catholics, the bishop's imprimatur has become a rubber-stamp for anything the scholars want to publish. Nearly all modern versions have been produced by committees which answer only to publishers, to non-denominational Bible societies, or to liberal churchmen who show little interest in perpetuating traditional dogma. Why do the NET Bible editors say that their version is unique in its independence? It would have been helpful if the editors were to have given some examples of what they have in mind here, but we must suppose that it is not so much "ecclesiastical control," as the influence of Christian theology in general. It reminds us of a similar statement made in the introduction of the Jesus Seminar's version of the Gospels:
The Scholars Version is free of ecclesiastical and religious control, unlike other major translations into English, including the King James Version and its descendants (Protestant), the Douay-Rheims Version and its progeny (Catholic), and the New International Version (Evangelical).... The Scholars Version is authorized by scholars. (16)
The NET Bible editors seem to take it for granted that there is something wrong with the kind of "ecclesiastical" influence that would tend to make Bible translations reflect the traditions of historic Christian orthodoxy. Evidently it pleases them to think that in the absence of such influence, scholars will still tend to interpret the Bible rightly. This is an idea often expressed by naive people in the independent churches, who do not seem to be aware of how much their teachings depend upon theological traditions.
There is an assumption here, that when there is no "ecclesiastical" pressure, there is no pressure to make the text read "a certain way." But this is very far from being true, because not all pressures come from the Church. Arguably, the strongest pressures and temptations for Bible translators—most of whom are employed as professors—come from within their academic environment. Professional scholars are not immune from peer pressure; they are exposed to the influence of hermeneutical fads, intellectual bandwagons, and conventional thinking; they are no more independent of such influences than are the pastors of the churches, or the laymen in the pews. Those who are ambitious for academic respectability will not flout the reigning orthodoxies of their environment. For instance, at liberal "mainline" seminaries, such as the one at Princeton University, it is a regarded as a settled fact that there are two irreconcilable narratives of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis. The traditional manner of explaining the relationship between 1:1–2:3 and the narrative that follows it is thought to be not only wrong but intolerably gauche. It is associated with the belief in biblical inerrancy, which was rejected by scholars in the liberal seminaries more than a century ago. Will anyone who aspires to be taken seriously at Princeton contradict this opinion? Not if he understands the situation there. No one who wishes to be taken seriously at Princeton can afford to contradict the conventional wisdom on this subject, and on many other subjects. The requirements of academic respectability are really quite elaborate, and many of these stem from the demands of political correctness. One must avoid, for instance, the politically incorrect "A.D." (Anno Domini) in dates, because it means "the year of our Lord," and this is thought to be offensive to Jews. One should write, "C.E." instead, for the "Common Era." Where such rules prevail, those who believe that the Bible is non-contradictory and inerrant have no place, and those who would dare to interpret the Bible in accordance with this belief are far outside the pale of respectability. The unbelieving scholars who created the academic culture where such requirements are in force consider themselves to be "independent" and "objective" thinkers, of course.
The most conspicuous feature of academic political correctness in the past thirty years has been the demand for the use of "non-sexist" gender-neutral language. Secular scholars cannot safely ignore it, even when preparing translations of ancient literature, and some renderings in the NET Bible can only be understood as a consequence of this pressure.
The gender-neutral language in the NET Bible is moderate when compared to some other recent Bible versions, such as the TNIV. We notice that in the NET Bible, the willful "brother" does not disappear from Matthew 18:15-17, the cowering "women" are still to be seen in Isaiah 19:16, and the masculine singular pronouns are not removed from Psalm 1. But there is an avoidance of the words "son," "man," and "men" when the translators felt that the sense would not be affected by putting in their place "child," "person," "people," etc. For example, in Mark 1:17 the generic masculine ανθρωπων in "I will make you fishers of men" is neutralized with the rendering "I will turn you into fishers of people." This is accurate enough, and it requires no explanation or apology. But we note with disappointment that when the editors do offer an explanation of it in their preface, they do not acknowledge the true reason for their avoidance of the word "men," and instead they repeat the evasive claim often made by proponents of gender-neutral language, that a phrase like "fishers of men" would be misunderstood by modern readers. We should like to see evidence that any reader who is capable of understanding the metaphorical usage of "fishers" here would be so dense as to think that "fishers of men" means that Jesus is calling Simon and Andrew to become evangelists of male adults only. But again, regardless of the motives for it, it makes little difference whether the plural of ανθρωπος is translated "men" or "people" in most places.
There are however some places where the NET Bible has actually falsified the sense by avoiding masculine nouns. An example is in Proverbs 6:20, where the word for "son" appears in the Hebrew, but the NET Bible has "child." Obviously we have problems with the genderless "child" when we arrive at the warning given to him or her beginning in verse 24, concerning the dangers of loose women! There it becomes apparent that this is a father-son talk about matters which are very far from being gender-neutral, and which have no relevance to a "child" of either sex. The same thing occurs in Proverbs 7:1 and following. In Psalm 1:1 האיש "the man" is inaccurately translated "the one." A note here rightly points out that the word איש does mean "man," and it explains that Scripture "often assumes and reflects the male-oriented perspective of ancient Israelite society." Nevertheless, they translate it as if it were gender-neutral, so as to "facilitate modern application." Yet it seems very doubtful that any Christian woman needs the "man" neutered here before she can apply the teaching of this Psalm to herself. In Ezra 2:2 the phrase מספר אנשי עם ישראל, lit. "the number of the men of the people of Israel," is arbitrarily paraphrased "the number of Israelites." The reason for this suppression of a masculine word is not hard to guess, but did the translator not notice that this is likely to be misleading? Unless readers know that only the men were counted in an ancient Jewish census (cf. Numbers 1:2), they will naturally suppose that the numbers given in this chapter include the women. We observe that another NET Bible translator gives a more accurate rendering of this same Hebrew phrase in Nehemiah 7:7, "the number of Israelite men," and notes that "Some English versions translate as 'the people from Israel' (NCV) or 'the Israelite people' (NRSV), but 'men' should be retained because the following numbers presumably include only adult males." Actually, a more helpful note would have explained that אנשי should be understood 'laymen of' here, because the priests, levites, and other temple workers are enumerated separately; but this annotator is preoccupied with the need to apologize for not suppressing the word entirely—as his colleague did in Ezra 2:2.
We cannot help but notice that, in their treatment of messianic passages of the Old Testament, the editors claimed that they were sticklers for the exact meaning of Hebrew words, and that their "unswerving focus on accuracy" prevented them from translating these passages with the New Testament's application of them to Jesus Christ in view; but when we come to the translation of masculine terms they are quite ready to swerve, with the plea that these must be avoided or neutralized so that modern female readers can apply the teachings and promises of the text to themselves. We perceive that the expectations of a proper Christian application of the text—even when they carry the credentials of the New Testament—are bluntly rejected and ignored, while the demands associated with modern feminism get respectful attention, and a degree of paraphrastic accommodation. The most charitable construction we can put on this is that it indicates a skewed sense of priorities, under the influence of secular academic trends.
The editors do not seem to realize how insulting it is when they imply that Christian women need or want such patronizing adjustments of the text. The truth is, women have no problem with "blessed is the man ..." and other such passages, for they easily take things to heart. Men, on the other hand, are much less inclined to take things personally, and almost need to be addressed by name before they will apply something to themselves. Those who are wise to this well-known fact of pastoral ministry will think twice before removing the word "man" from the Bible. And we have some serious reservations about the principle of translation which would make it the duty of a translator to modify the text so as to facilitate application. In recent years this principle has been invoked to justify all sorts of distortions of the text. Translators should leave application to the reader, and to pastors.
But enough has been said on this subject in another place. And in general we have reason to thank the NET Bible editors for the restraint they show in this area, despite the fact that in some places they have failed to resist the pressure to neutralize the text.
Daniel Wallace reports that the NET Bible's New Testament is based on "a critically constructed Greek text, following the principles of reasoned eclecticism." By the phrase "reasoned eclecticism" he means the method of textual criticism practiced by most scholars today, including the editors of the Nestle-Aland (UBS) text. The method is "eclectic" in that readings are chosen from a variety of witnesses and text-types, and "reasoned" in that it generally prefers older manuscripts which are judged to be superior. Wallace says that the NET text differs from the Nestle-Aland text "in about 500 places." (17) Interestingly enough, Appendix A of the printed edition states, "the Greek text to be used by individual translators was decided by the textual consultant." The identity of this "consultant" is not revealed, but there is good reason to suppose that it was Wallace, who has published a number of articles on the subject of textual criticism. This is a notable departure from the usual method of translation committees, in which the text is established by a consensus of the committee.
In the Old Testament, the translators seem to have preferred the Masoretic text, although they often abandon it in places where small difficulties arise. In a pinch, they adopt an easier reading from the Dead Sea Scrolls, or a reading indicated by the ancient versions, or a conjectural emendation. Some of their conjectural emendations are of the highly speculative kind that one rarely sees in Bible versions, though they are seen often enough in modern critical commentaries. Readers of the NET Bible will encounter some surprising renderings based upon these emendations.
A typical example is in Isaiah 3:12, where we find the rendering "Oppressors treat my people cruelly; creditors rule over them." This requires a revision of the Hebrew consonants in two words (נגשיו מעולל is changed to נגשים עללו) and a change of the vowel points in another word (ונשים "and women" is repointed to read "and creditors"). But the Dead Sea Scrolls support the traditional text here, and the text is not problematic enough to justify these emendations. (18) We also notice that in the following verse (3:13), the NET Bible needlessly emends the Hebrew עמים "peoples" to עמו "his people," simply because "his people" seems to fit better in the context. These emendations to the text of Isaiah 3:12-13 were not invented by the NET Bible editors; they are in the margin of the critical edition of the Hebrew text used by the translators, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, and they enjoy some scholarly support. They are found also in the New English Bible (notorious for its emendations) and its successor, the Revised English Bible. But all other English versions have adhered to the Masoretic text in Isaiah 3:12-13, and for good reasons. We think a tendency to emend an already intelligible text that is supported by the oldest manuscripts indicates a lack of critical tact and modesty—and perhaps also an overly pessimistic view of the preservation of the text in existing manuscripts. The reliability of the Hebrew text is moreover a point of traditional Protestant teaching, and although it seems to be out of favor now at Dallas, we should like to see it maintained. (19)
The version contains a very full margin of footnotes, which, like the translation, are of uneven character and value.
Most are labeled "tn" for "translator note," and these are sometimes highly technical, using grammatical terms which few readers will understand. They may be compared to the notes in Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament or in Rienecker's Linguistic Key to the New Testament. They will be helpful to advanced students, but many of these "tn" notes are tiresome and tendentious (e.g. informing the reader over and over again that ανθρωποι needs to be translated "people" because it is inclusive of women) or merely trivial, and clutter the page to no purpose.
Some of the "tn" notes show an annoying tendency to defend the translation by associating other interpretations with mere ignorance of the languages, or with theological agendas. An example of this is at Proverbs 8:22, rendered "the LORD created me as the beginning of his works," and with the following note:
There are two roots קנה (qanah) in Hebrew, one meaning 'to possess,' and the other meaning 'to create.' The earlier English versions did not know of the second root, but suspected in certain places that a meaning like that was necessary (e.g., Gen 4:1; 14:19; Deut 32:6). Ugaritic confirmed that it was indeed another root. The older versions have the translation 'possess' because otherwise it sounds like God lacked wisdom and therefore created it at the beginning. They wanted to avoid saying that wisdom was not eternal. Arius liked the idea of Christ as the wisdom of God and so chose the translation 'create.' Athanasius translated it, 'constituted me as the head of creation.' The verb occurs twelve times in Proverbs with the meaning of 'to acquire'; but the Greek and the Syriac versions have the meaning 'create.' Although the idea is that wisdom existed before creation, the parallel ideas in these verses ('appointed,' 'given birth') argue for the translation of 'create' or 'establish' (R. N. Whybray, 'Proverbs 8:22-31 and Its Supposed Prototypes,' VT 15 : 504-14; and W. A. Irwin, 'Where Will Wisdom Be Found?' JBL 80 : 133-42).
There are several problems here. For one thing, the traditional rendering "possessed" does not indicate any lack of knowledge about recent developments in Hebrew philology. It is found not only in the versions done before the discovery of the Ugaritic literature, but also in such modern versions as the NASB, NKJV, and ESV. This understanding of the word is also reflected in the CEV rendering "from the beginning I was with the Lord." The translators of these modern versions were not ignorant, they simply disagreed with the idea that the word means "create" here. We also notice that the NIV has "brought me forth," and the NAB has "begot me," which represents another understanding of the Hebrew word. Were all these translators just ignorant? If we look at the most recent edition of the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon (2001), we find that it does not give two different roots. There is only one, with a range of proposed meanings, including "buy," "acquire," "create," and "produce." As for the opinions of Arius and Athanasius, these pertain not to the Hebrew word קנה, but to the Septuagint's Κυριος εκτισεν με αρχην οδων αυτου εις εργα αυτου ("the Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works"). These ancient theologians did not know Hebrew, and they did not refer to the Hebrew text. (At that time, the Septuagint was used as an authoritative source in every theological dispute.) The statement that Athanasius "translated it, 'constituted me as the head of creation'" is doubly false. Athanasius was interpreting a Greek sentence, he wrote in Greek, and his interpretion of this phrase cannot be summarized 'constituted me as the head of creation.' (20) The writer of this note says that the "Greek and the Syriac versions have the meaning create," but εκτισεν in the Septuagint may also mean "established." (21) He also fails to indicate that the other Greek versions done in ancient times (by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion) all have εκτησατο "he possessed," and the Vulgate has possedit. Regarding the "parallel ideas" or contextual indications, he says that they "argue for the translation of 'create' or 'establish'" for the Hebrew word קנה, but we see a very different opinion expressed by Bruce Metzger:
The passage in the Old Testament to which Jehovah's Witnesses (and Arians of every age) appeal most frequently is Proverbs 8:22 ff. The translation usually given is the following, or something similar to it: "Jehovah made me [that is, Wisdom, interpreted as the Son] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." This rendering understands the verb קנה to be used here with the meaning "to create." The true translation of this passage, however, according to a learned study by the eminent Semitic scholar, F.C. Burney, must be, "The Lord begat me as the beginning of his way ..." [F.C. Burney, "Christ as the ΑΡΧΗ of creation," Journal of Theological Studies, XXVII (1926), 160-177.] The context favors this rendering, for the growth of the embryo is described in the following verse (verse 23, where the verb appears, as a footnote in Kittel's Hebrew Bible suggests, to be from the root סכך "knit together," as in Job 10:11 and Psalm 139:13), and the birth of Wisdom is described in the two following verses (24 and 25). Thus, in the context, the verb קנה in verse 22 appears with certainty to mean "got" or "begot." (22)
Regarding נסכתי in verse 23, which is translated "I was appointed" in the NET Bible, a note says only "it is not a common word; it occurs here and in Ps 2:6 for the coronation of the king. It means 'installed, set.'" There is no mention of the interpretation suggested by Metzger in the passage quoted above, or of others commonly found in scholarly literature and English versions. We have "poured forth" in the NAB, "poured out" in the Berkeley version, "fashioned" in the NEB, JPS, and NIV margin, "formed" in the REB, etc. The Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon (2001) lists this occurrence as a niphal form of נסך under "woven, shaped," and, with different vowel points, as a form of סכך (as suggested by Kittel), which it interprets as "made into shape." The note should have acknowledged the existence of these other interpretations.
The NET Bible's renderings here are based upon the translator's opinion about what fits best in the immediate context. But its notes do not interact with other likely interpretations in a decent way, and they fail even to mention some of them. The note on קנה contains false and misleading statements, and it tries to dismiss the other renderings of the Hebrew word as ignorant or theologically biased. This is especially to be regretted when we consider that the rendering "created" lends support to heretical opinions.
In 2 Peter 1:1 we find the rendering "our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Here a translator's note calls attention to the fact that "this is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ," explains that the rendering is supported by the "Granville Sharp rule" of Greek syntax, and refers the reader to Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics for more information. The same note is found at Titus 2:13, in explanation of the rendering "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." This is a very helpful note, as far as it goes, (23) and we have no objection to these renderings. However, we are left wondering why του θεου ημων και σωτηρος in 2 Peter 1:1 and του μεγαλου θεου και σωτηρος ημων in Titus 2:13 do not receive the same exegetical treatment as was given to אלהים in Psalm 45:6 and אל in Isaiah 9:6. A number of scholars have pointed out that του θεου ημων και σωτηρος and του μεγαλου θεου και σωτηρος ημων were practically stock phrases in the Hellenistic culture, used in reference to mortal kings who were honored with divine titles. (24) As we noted above, the NET Bible has explained אלהים in Psalm 45:6 and אל in Isaiah 9:6 as instances of such rhetorical deification, in imitation of the pagans, despite the fact that Psalm 45:6 is quoted as scriptural proof of Christ's divinity in the New Testament. So how will the NET Bible editors answer someone who interprets the "clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ" in 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 in the same rationalistic way that they have treated Psalm 45:6 and Isaiah 9:6?
One bright spot in the version is the rendering of John 1:1, in which the phrase καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος is translated "and the Word was fully God," and a translator's note explains that here the anarthrous pedicate noun θεὸς (God) bears a qualitative meaning; i.e., it attributes to the λόγος (Word) all the essential or defining qualities of God himself. This handling of the matter is clearly better than the usual procedure in English versions, in which the phrase is rendered "the Word was God" without explanation, and readers are left wondering how the Word "was with God" and also "was God." Some who lack a formal education in Christian theology might prefer the paradoxical traditional rendering, and might think that the explanation given in the note weakens the theological force of the statement, but in fact the NET Bible here not only expresses the meaning more accurately, but also happens to be more in line with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. As Wallace points out, the traditional English rendering "the Word was God" might suggest a kind of Sabellian (modalistic) Unitarianism. (25)
In some places where a note is obviously called for in such a margin, there is none. For example, at Acts 14:1 the expression κατα το αυτο is translated "the same thing happened" without comment, but the note in Rieneker's manual explains that the expression means 'together' or perhaps 'in the same way' or 'at one time.' In Romans 8:3 a fairly useless note advises readers that "because it was weakened through the flesh" is literally "in that it was weakened by the flesh," but the very obscure rendering "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin" is left without comment. In Romans 8:20-21 the rendering is, "For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God's children," and here a note explains that the text reads literally "because of the one who subjected it," and "the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity." But there is a notable lack of clarity in the rendering of the following clause, "in hope that the creation ...," which seems to imply that God merely entertains a "hope" for the renovation of the creation. This rendering is very problematic, and indeed it does not convey Paul's meaning at all. The idea that God merely "hopes" that the world will end up being renewed is quite out-of-place in biblical theology; and the commentators generally agree that the "hope" mentioned here is poetically attributed to the creation, not to God, although the syntax of the Greek sentence is awkward and perhaps "slightly tangled," as Dunn puts it (Romans 1-8 [Dallas: Word Books, 1988], p. 470). The NET Bible translator should at least have given a note indicating the generally-accepted meaning, represented by the RSV's rendering "subjected it in hope; because the creation." He shows a rather peculiar sense for what is noteworthy or clear in the text, neglecting entirely this point of exegesis and translation, after having bothered to inform the reader that the word "God" has been supplied in the preceding clause.
In Hebrews 11:1 the words Εστιν δε πιστις ελπιζομενων υποστασις are rendered "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for" without a note, as if there were no reason to doubt that υποστασις bears the meaning "confidence, assurance." But the BAGD lexicon (1979) states that this proposed sense of the word υποστασις "must be eliminated, since examples of it cannot be found," and assigns to it the meaning "realization," in agreement with the TDNT. The revised BDAG of 2000 continues to warn translators that the sense presumed in the NET Bible "must be eliminated" from consideration, but suggests that "guarantee of ownership/entitlement, title deed" rather than "realization" may be the sense of υποστασις in Hebrews 11:1. This is no minor point of exegesis: it is crucial to the understanding of an often-quoted verse which appears to set forth a definition of "faith," and discussions of it may be found in any exegetical commentary. The NET Bible translator shows no awareness of the matter. But then, after ignoring this important translation issue concerning υποστασις in verse 1, he cites the BDAG lexicon for his uncontroversial rendering "with reverent regard" for ευλαβηθεις in verse 7, as if this rendering required an explanation or were in some way exegetically interesting.
In 1 Corinthians 7:21 the translator has adopted a very questionable interpretation, in which Paul seems to be advising slaves to seek freedom ("if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity"), without providing a note that gives the more likely interpretation (cf. the rendering in the NRSV and NAB, which fits much better in the context). Regarding this example, we observe that the RSV translators made the same mistake. In the first edition of their New Testament (1946) they gave the rendering "if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity," without a footnote. But as one reviewer pointed out, this rendering "illustrates how divergent interpretations of the same Greek may be introduced into the English translation when attempts are made to remove rather than to reproduce its ambiguity. It is in just such instances that marginal comment would be useful." (26) This criticism was not ignored by the RSV committee. When the New Testament of the RSV was slightly revised for the publication of the complete RSV Bible in 1953, they added a footnote here, "Or, make use of your present condition instead." In our generation many translators are too eager to interpret the Bible for readers, and people are too often misled by versions that present questionable interpretations.
Other notes, labeled "sn" for "study notes," give the kind of cultural background information that is often helpful for an accurate understanding of the text. Most of these resemble the notes found in study Bibles intended for laymen (e.g. the NIV Study Bible), but some go deeper, and resemble the comments one finds in scholarly introductions. A good example of the latter type is the long note (of about 180 words) at Isaiah 1:23 which explains that the rich people who are so often denounced in the writings of the prophets were not private capitalists, but people who controlled the government bureaucracies. It makes a big difference when people understand that this is how great wealth was ordinarily gotten in the ancient Near East (and still is today in "third world" countries)— members of the ruling families were enriched by highway tolls and tariffs demanded from merchants, heavy taxes laid on farmers and artisans, tribute money and slaves taken from subjugated peoples, bribes collected from everyone who must deal with them, exemptions and advantages obtained arbitrarily through their legal and administrative privileges, and other parasitic uses of their public authority. The NET Bible note here rightly suggests that those whose have grown rich in this way should not be confused with those who have gained wealth by productive enterprises in a free market system.
Some of the "sn" notes are, however, rather one-sided, and some of them appear to have an apologetic purpose.
The "sn" note at Isaiah 8:8 presents "several reasons for considering Immanuel and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz one and the same," without even mentioning other interpretations which are more widely accepted. The opinion presented in the NET Bible is certainly not the opinion of most scholars (see Wildberger's commentary for a brief review of opinions held by modern scholars), and the other views should not have gone unmentioned.
There is a long "sn" note (of about 1,000 words) at John 2:14, in favor of the conservative view that there were two cleansings of the Temple by Christ, one at the beginning of his ministry (reported by John) and one at the end (described by Matthew, Mark and Luke). The basic reason for this opinion among conservatives is that we want to credit John with historical accuracy, rather than supposing that he freely altered the facts or invented fictitious accounts of Christ's ministry to suit his own theological purposes, as the liberals do. But the argument of the note is rather tepid: "It thus appears possible to argue for two seperate cleansings of the Temple as well as a single one relocated by John to suit his purposes," but it "appears somewhat more probable that John has placed the event he records in the approximate period of Jesus' public ministry in which it do occur." We do not get the impression that the writer of this note thinks that John must be credited with historical accuracy.
The "sn" note at 1 Corinthians 14:34 also reflects an apologetic agenda. It is designed to remove the offensive prohibition against women speaking in the worship service, by suggesting that in vv. 34-35 Paul is only saying that women should refrain from speaking while the men of the congregation were "evaluating the prophets," during some period of critical discussion about the prophecies given in the Corinthian worship services. But the wording of the prohibition is much too absolute and emphatic for such a limitation of its meaning, and nothing in the context suggests that it was intended to be understood in this way. There is not even any indication in the context (or anywhere else in early Christian literature) that a critical "evaluation of the prophets" session took place during Christian worship services. (27) If these verses are indeed authentic, as the "tc" note concludes, then the prohibition must be taken seriously; its scope cannot be restricted to an imaginary setting of bygone days. The prophesying of women mentioned in 11:5 does not force us to such an unnatural interpretation of 14:34-35, because there is no need to suppose that the "prophesying" mentioned there could only have taken place in the weekly worship service that Paul is making rules for here. (28)
Conspicuously absent from the "study notes" is any discussion of the authorship of the books of the New Testament. The only place where we have found the subject addressed is in a "tc" note on Ephesians 1:1, where the question of this epistle's authorship is raised because of its bearing on a text-critical issue. The words "in Ephesus" are omitted by some early manuscripts, and the note offers one explanation which involves the assumption that Paul wrote the epistle; but it informs readers that the Pauline authorship is "strongly contested today." Thereafter, the annotator adopts an agnostic attitude in his notes. He does not attribute the epistle to Paul, but prefers to speak of "the author" of the epistle. For example, the note on verse 3 discusses "the author's intention," and draws certain conclusions about what "the author seems to be" saying. Notes on verses 4 and 15 discuss "the author's use" of a word and "the author's prayer." The annotator cannot bring himself to say, "Paul's." On the other hand, we do not find such a reluctance to say "Paul" in the notes to the Pastoral Epistles. But then again in the epistles of John (all three) we have "the author," and likewise in the epistles of Peter. The annotators of John's Gospel often use the cumbersome phrase "the author of the Fourth Gospel" instead of simply writing "John." (This is like saying, "the author of The Babylonian Captivity of the Church"—as if we didn't know it was Martin Luther.) Perhaps some of the NET Bible annotators write this way only because in the sort of books they read this is how writers normally refer to the authors of the New Testament. But it does seem odd for those who are convinced that the New Testament books are the authentic writings of the apostles.
The "tc" notes delve into text-critical matters which many readers will not be able to follow, but these are probably the most valuable part of the NET Bible. They are the most complete and detailed set of text-critical notes on the internet, and they are comparable to the notes in Metzger's Textual Commentary. In the Old Testament, the "tc" notes bring together a lot of information which has never before been made available in one volume, and not in some skimpy form, but in such a way that the student can fully understand the thinking involved in many textual decisions. The note at Deuteronomy 32:8 that explains the emendation "according to the number of the heavenly assembly" (supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint) is an especially good example of this. Ordinarily the student must have access to a whole library of Old Testament commentaries in order to understand the thinking behind the various departures from the Masoretic text one sees in modern versions of the Bible. There is some room for improvement in this area. For example, the editors fail to note the Dead Sea Scroll/Septuagint reading in Deuteronomy 32:43, which is favored by many scholars, and adopted in the NEB, REB, NRSV, and ESV. After the emendation and note at 32:8, we expected to see a similar note here. The editors also fail to note the Dead Sea Scroll reading in Isaiah 53:11. The note at Isaiah 21:8 fails to mention that the reading adopted in the text is supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls, and presents the reading as if it were a conjecture without manuscript support. But even so, the NET Bible editors have done a great favor for students here.
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.
14 August 2006, revised 1 January 2007.
1. Daniel B. Wallace, "An Open Letter Regarding the NET Bible, New Testament." Notes on Translation 14.4 (2000): 1-8. Accessed online July 16 2002 at www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/NOT_NET.htm.
2. Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th ed., vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1870), p. 182. Likewise, Roger Nicole states that "the Spirit of God may very well have inspired expressions which potentially transcended the thoughts of the sacred writers and of those to whom they addressed themselves. This certainly occurred in the case of Caiaphas (John 11:49-52), and there is no ground to deny the possibility of such a process in the inspiration of the Old Testament Scripture." ("New Testament Use of the Old Testament," in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958], pp. 137-151.)
3. Raymond E. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture (Baltimore: St. Mary's University, 1955), p. 92. Secular scholars do not recognize such a sensus plenior, because they do not acknowledge that the text is verbally inspired by God. Some scholars who do affirm the doctrine of verbal inspiration have argued against the sensus plenior concept, such as Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (see his article "Legitimate Hermeneutics," in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980] pp. 125, 127; and his book Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], p. 47); but in such cases, the arguments depend upon the acceptability of some very problematic attempts to show that the original authors of the Old Testament Books consciously intended all the meanings drawn from their words by the New Testament authors. A convincing reply to Kaiser's view of "authorial intent" is given by Raju D. Kunjummen in his article "The Single Intent of Scripture—Critical Examination of a Theological Construct," Grace Theological Journal 7/1 (Spring, 1986) pp. 81-111. The weakness of Kaiser's arguments leads us to suppose that other motives and influences are at work here. Probably he and other Dispensationalists reject the sensus plenior concept because it tends to undercut the "literal interpretation" principle of Dispensationalist hermeneutics.
4. Cf. Hans-Joachim Kraus: "In the whole use of the quotation the decisive factor is that Psalm 8 is taken out of an anthropological setting into a Christological one. Behind this lies the conviction that only the Son of God can be that ['son of man'], under whose feet all things are placed in subjection (cf. also 1 Cor. 15:27)." (Theology of the Psalms, translated by Keith Crim [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986], p. 202.) We reject D.A. Carson's apology for the 'inclusivist' rendering of Psalm 8 in his "Review of the New Revised Standard Version" (Reformed Theological Review 50/1 [January-April 1991], pp. 1-11), where he asserts that in Hebrews 2:6-8 the words of Psalm 8:5-6 are merely "applied to Jesus ... qua human being," and that here the phrase "son of man" is "not a Christological title with univocal reference to Jesus (the dominant if not exclusive usage in the Gospels)." (p. 9.) This is an unlikely interpretation of Hebrews 2:6-8, and it ignores the fact that 1 Cor. 15:27 also interprets "thou hast put all things under his feet" in Psalm 8 christologically. Moreover, it certainly does not represent the thinking of the NRSV's Old Testament translators. For them it was a matter of hermeneutical policy to ignore the New Testament, just as it was for the original RSV translators. In a footnote Carson notices the resulting pattern: "For one reason or another, NRSV obscures many canonical connections. This owes something to the fact that it is tilted a little more to the 'dynamic equivalence' side of the spectrum than its predecessor, something to its policy of inclusivist language, and doubtless to half-a-dozen other factors. In a period when 'inner-textual' connections are being explored on every hand, this is perhaps particularly regrettable." (note 5, pp. 9-10.) Regrettable it is, but Carson fails to observe that in the RSV and NRSV this pattern has one sufficient cause: it is the result of a principled refusal to show respect for the canonical NT interpretations. The same hermeneutical principle is at work in the NET Bible.
5. The paragraphs dealing with this subject in the preface are verbally identical to paragraphs in Michael H. Burer's article, "Consideration of Contexts in the Translation Philosophy of the NET Bible: Discussion and Examples" (accessed July 15 2002 at www.bible.org/docs/about/transphilosophy.htm), and so we conclude that Burer was the author of the preface. Burer was Assistant Editor of the version, and in 2001 he was a Ph.D. student at DTS.
6. Other statements made by Wallace in recent years have provoked objections. In "An Apologia for a Broad View of Ipsissima Vox" (presented at the 51st Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November, 1999), Wallace claimed that in a certain place Luke "altered the meaning of Jesus' words."
In a review of Bart Ehrman's recent book Misquoting Jesus (The Gospel according to Bart), Wallace stated that in his teaching he urges his students to distinguish "core beliefs from peripheral beliefs," and he suggests that inerrancy should be regarded as one of the "peripheral beliefs," which do not belong among the "cardinal doctrines," and which should not be "elevated to the status of a prime doctrine."
In another article (Wittenberg 2002) he suggested that because "justification by faith alone" is "not as easy to find in James, Peter, or Jude" as it is in Paul's epistles, this indicates that "they did not see things quite the same way as Paul did," and so perhaps it is not a "necessary doctrine for salvation" and does not belong to "the core of the gospel." If the other apostles "did not see things quite the same way as Paul did," he asks, "who are we to insist on beliefs and formulations that just might exclude even some of the apostles?" In a footnote to this paper, he wrote, "For my own take on the difference between Paul and the other New Testament writers, see my essay, 'Is Intra-Canonical Theological Development Consistent with a High Bibliology?'"—the article we have discussed above.
Moreover, in his "Intra-Canonical Theological Development" paper Wallace argues for a conceptual view of inspiration, as distinguished from verbal inspiration, and he tries to make his view seem orthodox by associating it with Charles Hodge. He writes:
Along these lines, consider the following statement:
The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men [spoke] as they were moved by the Holy [Spirit]. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs. Moreover, inspiration did not involve the suspension or suppression of human faculties, so neither did it interfere with the free exercise of the distinctive mental character of the individual.
This viewpoint gives full weight to the human face of scripture, while acknowledging that God was behind the scenes. It sounds very similar to the dynamic or conceptual view of inspiration—especially regarding its accent on the free will of the authors—yet it comes from the pen of the great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge. [Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 157]
But in the same chapter where the words quoted by Wallace appear, Hodge gives four paragraphs in support of the traditional view that "the inspiration of the scriptures extends to the words" (p. 164), and he argues that the writers of the Old Testament did not always understand the full meaning of their own words: "The Apostle Peter intimates that the prophets searched diligently into the meaning of their own predictions. When David said God had put "all things" under the feet of man, he probably little thought that "all things" meant the whole universe. (Heb. ii.8.) And Moses, when he recorded the promise that childless Abraham was to be the father "of many nations," little thought that it meant the whole world. (Rom. iv.13)." (p. 165.) Unlike Wallace, Hodge taught that the text is verbally inspired, not merely a result of a conceptual inspiration.
After receiving criticism for some of his statements, Wallace posted an article (My Take on Inerrancy) in which he claimed that the rhetorical questions he used to advance these unorthodox opinions were misunderstood ("When I ask a question, I mean it as a question"), and he offered explanations for his comments about Peter vs. Paul that did not agree with the explanations he offered in his "Intra-Canonical Theological Development" paper. As for his characterizing inerrancy as a "peripheral belief," which he clearly did do in his review of Ehrman's book, he explained that he meant it was "more peripheral" than certain (unspecified) "core beliefs," and "When I say more peripheral I don't mean peripheral." Those who said that he called inerrancy a peripheral doctrine were "putting words in [his] mouth" in a "heresy trial," he says; they are "taking a step backwards on their evangelical commitment" and acting like "fundamentalists," who "define inerrancy in twentieth-century philosophical terms." Wallace apparently hopes to quash all criticism of his statements by vaguely imposing on our "evangelical commitment" in this manner; but no scholar can demand our respect while calling the interpretations of the OT in the NT "hermeneutically invalid." No appeal to a shared evangelical commitment can suppress our objections to this. And, borrowing the words of a neo-orthodox scholar whose views of inspiration have been adopted by "respected evangelicals" of our generation, we may say: "No apology is made ... for the emphasis upon the sharp antithesis between various approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. There is a politeness in the world of scholarship, particularly in our English-speaking world, that conceals or de-emphasizes the differences in viewpoint, or even procedes upon the assumption that it is possible to synthesize the best elements from the work of all competent scholars. This can lead to serious confusion. The issues that confront us today in Biblical scholarship have to be seen with clarity and thought through with decisiveness. They are not to be lightly reconciled by even the most synthesis-prone mind." (James D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961], pp. 9-10.)
7. "Prophecy," in A Theological Word Book of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1951), p. 179.
8. The sentences quoted here, from the Introduction to the edition of 2001, were prudently omitted from the Introduction to the edition of 2005.
9. For example, F.F. Bruce, who defends the rendering "virgin" thus:
But since the new [RSV] revisers have enlisted the aid of the Ras Shamra documents elsewhere, they might have done so here. For Isaiah’s announcement of the birth of the child Immanuel is couched in language reminiscent of the Ugaritic formula for announcing the birth of a hero. And in that formula the Ugaritic equivalents of Hebrew 'almah and bethulah appear in synonymous parallelism! There are overtones in Isaiah 7:14 which are not satisfied by the RSV rendering. The prophet’s words probably rang a bell in the minds of his hearers, just as did the reference of his contemporary Micah to “the time when she who is in travail has brought forth” (Mic. 5:3, RSV). (“A British Scholar Looks at the RSV Old Testament,” Eternity, May 1954, p. 45.)
See further the careful analysis of the word in Edward J. Young's Studies in Isaiah (1955), pp. 143-98, and his commentary, The Book of Isaiah. Vol. 1. Chapters 1-18. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 283-94. Even such a liberal scholar as Hans Wildberger must admit that "the translation of the word with παρθενος (virgin), which has caused the passage to be interpreted as the account of the virgin birth, is not impossible from the outset. Procksch (ad. loc.) offers his candid opinion: 'According to the content [sic], the Gk translation παρθενος and Vulg virgo is right on target ..., whereas Aquila, Sym, Theod distort the meaning by using νεανις'; cf. also Schulz, op. cit." (Isaiah 1-12. A Commentary, translated by Thomas H. Trapp [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991], p. 308). On a popular level, see the article "Virgin" by J.A. Motyer in The New International Dictionary of the Bible edited by J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), pp. 1051-52.
The argument against the rendering "virgin" depends upon the idea that in Hebrew only the word בתולה (bethulah) carried the sense "virgin," and so if Isaiah had wished to convey that sense he would have used that word, and not the word עלמה. But evidently בתולה does not unambiguously refer to a virgin, because in Genesis 24:16, Leviticus 21:3, and Judges 21:12 the biblical authors add to the word such phrases as "who had not known a man," which are obviously designed to make sure that the word is understood in the specific sense of "virgin." Why should we expect Isaiah to use one ambiguous word instead of another? We have enough reason to think that both בתולה and עלמה are like our old English word "maiden"— meaning "young woman" in some places or times, and "virgin" in others. There is something perverse about any analysis of the words which will not admit that probability, and which insists that only בתולה can mean "virgin." It is like saying that Shakespeare could not have meant the same thing as "virgin" when he used the words "maid" and "maiden." We know very well that he did use the Anglo-Saxon word "maiden" in that sense, although he also used the Old French word "virgin" in his plays. Ultimately, our decision regarding the appropriate rendering in Isaiah 7:14 depends upon our judgment of what word best conveys the author's meaning, and we judge that "virgin" belongs in this place.
Regarding other aspects of the interpretation of the Immanuel prophecy, see the discussions in Ernst W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament (4 vols., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1854-1858); James Orr, The Virgin Birth of Christ (New York: Charles Scribner's sons, 1907); and J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1930).
10. An approach to this issue more indicative of a high view of Scripture is expressed by Samuel P. Tregelles in his translation of Gesenius' Hebrew lexicon. In his article on אלוה Gesenius denies that the plural אלהים (elohim) can mean "angels," but Tregelles inserts a note: "Hebrews, chaps. 1:6 and 2:7, 9 shew plainly that this word sometimes means angels, and the authority of the N.T. decides the matter." Another scholar with a high view of Scripture has explained: "On a number of occasions the NT limits the interpretive options available to the modern exegete and scholar. A prominent example is the citation of Ps 8:5 in Heb 2:7, which, following the LXX, interprets אלהים of the MT as αγγελους. In spite of the understanding of many translators and commentators, it is incorrect to understand אלהים in Ps 8:5 as meaning God. However, even if current scholarship and exegetical insight found no precedent for rendering אלהים as 'angels,' an alternate interpretation could not be affirmed without impugning the authority of the book of Hebrews. Another example would be the restriction of the meaning of העלמה in Isa 7:14 to η παρθενος in the light of Matt 1:23. In both of these instances there is more than the mere citation of the OT passage in the New. The argument of the NT in these cases is dependent upon the particular lexical choice. The bearing of such NT usage upon the exegesis of the OT passage is not controverted by the fact the NT in these instances follows the text-form of the LXX. The lexical choice of the LXX translators amounts to extra-biblical testimony in harmony with the Scriptures." (Raju D. Kunjummen, "The Single Intent of Scripture—Critical Examination of a Theological Construct," Grace Theological Journal 7/1 [Spring 1986], pp. 103-104.)
11. For a discussion of the meaning of שחת in Psalm 16 see Bruce K. Waltke, "Psalms: theology of," in vol. 4 of The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), p. 1113.
12. The New Oxford Annotated Bible explains that "the king is addressed in flattering language" by a "court poet" in Psalm 45:2-9, and although it is "without parallel in the Hebrew Scriptures," addressing the king as "God" was "common in surrounding nations" (p. 712). Likewise Hans-Joachim Kraus (Theology of the Psalms, translated by Keith Crim [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986]) asserts that this must be understood as "part of the ancient Near Eastern court style." Although "in Israel the king was not regarded as equal to God, and thus was never consciously addressed in theological terms as אלהים ... the exaggerations of the court style make it seem otherwise." Yet he explains that this feature of the Psalmist's court style probably stems from the influence of Canaanite religion, in which divine titles were given to kings: "it is quite possible that such hyperbole developed in Israel out of the Canaanite traditions of the cultic center, as did the office of the 'priest-king' ('priest forever after the order of Melchizedek') in Ps. 110:4, part of the heritage of the pre-Israelite, Jebusite traditions" (p. 110). It is only to be expected that liberal scholars would explain the אלהים in Psalm 45:6 as a stylistic relic of the "divine king" ideology belonging to pagan religions of the ancient Near East, while ignoring the New Testament's interpretation of it as a prophetic intimation of the divinity of Christ; but we had expected better things from the faculty of DTS.
13. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, revised edition (Boston: Wilde, 1956), p. 240.
14. ibid, p 100.
15. ibid, p 242. Surely this non-Christian exegesis of the Old Testament is no way to preserve the authentic "pattern" and "deposit" of Christian teaching (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 3:14-15).
16. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New Translation and Commentary by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar (New York: Macmillan, 1993), p. xviii.
17. Daniel B. Wallace, "Innovations in the Text and Translation of the NET Bible, New Testament" Paper presented at the Society of Biblical Literature's Annual Meeting, Nashville, TN, on November 18, 2000 in the Bible Translation Section, accessed online July 15 2002 at www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/net/innovations.htm. For discussion of the term "reasoned eclecticism" see Michael W. Holmes, "Reasoned Eclecticism in New Testament Textual Criticism," in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research edited by Bart Ehrman and Michael Holmes (Eerdmans, 1995) pages 336-369.
18. The only real problem here is that the meaning of מעולל (a singular poel participle of עלל) is uncertain. Usually translated loosely as "children" in English versions, it probably means lit. "acting the child" (BDB, p. 760), but it may mean "acting arbitrarily" or "severely" (Koehler-Baumgartner v. I, p. 834). The lack of numerical concord between the two participles in the sentence is not much of a problem, because Hebrew grammar allows it. In Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (2nd English ed., 1910) two alternative explanations for the construction here are offered: either the plural "oppressors" is a pluralis excellentiae, singular in sense (§ 124 k), or the singular "one acting the child" is a distributive singular (§ 145 l). If either of these explanations is accepted, there is no warrant for a conjectural revision of the text, because it makes sense without any emendation. Facilitating "emendations" like this are more like corruptions, of the sort frequently introduced by popularizing copyists. The tendency of these copyists was to smooth out little difficulties, clarify obscurities, adjust things to the context, and in general make the text simpler. Ordinarily textual critics look upon little oddities and tensions such as we find in the text of Isaiah 3:12-13 as marks of genuineness. A text that is nonsensical should be emended, of course, but emendations are not called for when the text merely presents something unexpected. A completely smooth and unproblematic text is a corrupted one. Others will disagree, and say that a reading with more contextual appropriateness trumps a lectio difficilior of the Masoretic text, even when the "appropriate" reading is conjectural. This attitude is especially seductive to modern translators, who are very much interested in putting the text into a form which is easily understood. Why should they bother with hard places of the text when they can translate the emendations offered in the margin of BHS instead? But conservative scholars must not have this attitude, because as Emmanuel Tov admits, "the choice of the contextually most appropriate reading ... is as subjective as subjective can be" (Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. [Minneapolis, 2001], p. 310). We should translate the text as it has been preserved for us, and offer subjective emendations only in the margin.
19. Looking at the many conjectures in the OT of the NET Bible, we are reminded of the words of W. Emery Barnes: "The textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible may be broadly described as a starveling science which ekes out its existence on false pretences." ("Textual Criticism of the Old Testament," Journal of Theological Studies vol. xvii, no. 66 [Jan 1916], p. 152). Belief in the reliability of the traditional text should not be pressed to an extravagant degree (i.e. we should not maintain that the vowel points added by the Masoretes are divinely inspired); but it should be upheld in principle, because its abandonment invites some very bad consequences. Faith in God's providence in this matter is necessary to the practical authority of Scripture. The principle is stated thus in the Westminster confession: "The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them."
20. Athanasius lays out his interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 in a very long discussion of the verse in his Second Discourse against the Arians. Like other theologians of his time, he identifies Wisdom with Christ, and he explains that when Christ is said to be created or formed, "His forming signifies not his beginning of being but his taking manhood" (NPNF, 2nd series, 4.377; Greek PG 26:260). I do not see how anyone who has studied the arguments in the Discourse against the Arians can think that Athanasius understood the phrase to mean 'constituted me as the head of creation.'
21. Cf. κτιζω in Lust's Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Stuttgart, 2003), and the discussion by Foerster in the TDNT (vol. 3, pp. 1025ff. in the English edition).
22. Bruce M. Metzger, "The Jehovah's Witnesses and Jesus Christ," Theology Today 10/1 (April 1953), p. 80.
23. The note is rather one-sided, though, and it implies that the resolution of the question depends entirely on a fine point of grammar regarding the use of the definite article. It is evident, however, that the question cannot be resolved on this basis alone, because in the New Testament the use of the article is often so arbitrary and irregular that it seems to be more a matter of style than grammar. Wallace himself agrees that in 2 Peter it seems that the Greek "is employed with the uneasy touch of one who has acquired the language in later life," and, in particular, he states that "the author does not fully grasp the subtleties of the Greek article" (Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline, accessed 4 March 2008). Moreover, it does not seem reasonable to reject out of hand Alford's opinion that the article may be omitted before σωτηρ in 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 because—like κυριος in many other places—it is a personal title annexed to the name of Jesus, or to ignore the whole argument of Ezra Abbot's "On the Construction of Titus ii.13" (JBL 1881, reprinted in The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and Other Critical Essays [Boston, 1888]). A more satisfactory note would have acknowledged that the renderings of the KJV and ASV—"our God and the Savior Jesus Christ" and "the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ"—are viable alternatives to the ones adopted in the NET Bible. In any case, it is not good to leave students with the impression that the defense of orthodox Christology must involve clinging to renderings which depend upon such trifling and doubtful points of exegesis concerning the use of the article. The true and unshakable foundation of orthodox Christology is the divine logos Christology which pervades the Prison Epistles of Paul and the Gospel of John. Isolated proof-texts in which Jesus is incidentally "called God" may be convenient for apologists, but after Colossians chap. 1 and John's prologue they add nothing substantial to our knowledge of the person of Christ.
24. As James H. Moulton puts it, "Familiarity with the everlasting apotheosis that flaunts tself in the papyri and inscriptions of Ptolemaic and Imperial times, lends strong support to Wendland's contention that Christians, from the latter part of i/A.D. onward, deliberately annexed for their Divine Master the phraseology that was impiously arrogated to themselves by some of the worst of men" (A Grammar of New Testament Greek [2nd ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1906], p. 84).
25. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 268.
26. Allen Paul Wikren, "A Critique of the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament" in The Study of the Bible Today and Tomorrow, edited by Harold R. Willoughby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), p. 393. Cf. my full discussion of this passage in 'Make Good Use of Your Servitude': Some Observations on Biblical Interpretation and Slavery (October, 2003).
27. See detailed criticism of the “evaluation of prophecy” interpretation in James Greenbury, “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Evaluation of Prophecy Revisited,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51/4 (December 2008), pp. 721–31.
28. See my article on the subject, Did Paul Allow Women To Prophesy in Church? (published online, October 2008).
|Bible Research > English Versions > 21st Century > NET|