I’ve been doing a little comparison reading today, comparing the NET Bible with the NLTse and the TNIV. All three versions are quite easy to read. Of course, the NLTse is more paraphrastic than the other two; the TNIV and the NET Bible both hold more closely to the traditional wording, yet both are very new translations and are marked by their use of inclusive language to some extent, as well as a freer style of translating than the older translations.

Well, I was going through the Gospel of John, and I came to the third chapter which begins with the familiar story of Jesus and Nicodemus. In the first four verses I noticed some interesting differences. Let’s take a quick look at them. First the NET, followed by the NLTse and then the TNIV.

John 3:1-4

NET Bible:
3:1 Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, 3:2 came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. “4 “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Now a little analysis.

First verse, all three versions identify Nicodemus as a Pharisee. The NET and the TNIV tell us he was a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. The NLTse says simply that he was a Jewish religious leader. The NASB says only that he was a “ruler of the Jews” so maybe the NLTse is actually more accurate. (I haven’t checked the original Greek, I’m only assuming that the NASB is the most accurate.)

Verse 2 is pretty much the same in all three.

Verse 3 has a couple interesting differences. The NET says, “I tell you the solemn truth…”, the NLT simply “I tell you the truth…”, and the TNIV “Very truly I tell you…”. I think the NET is good; and the TNIV, while a little bit awkward, also captures the solemnity of Jesus actual emphasis, which the NASB translates as “Truly, truly I say to you…”

The NET, in verse 3, says “born from above”, while both the NLTse and the TNIV make the choice to use “born again”. The NASB also says “born again” with a footnote mentioning the “born from above” reading.

But notice something very interesting in the fourth verse. I think that Nicodemus was referring to himself when he said, in the NET, NLTse, NASB and most other versions, something to the effect that “How can a man go back into his mother and be born again?” In my opinion, when a man is talking about himself, he can certainly refer to himself with the singular masculine pronouns. Yet in the TNIV the translators chose to translate it “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Translated with plurals, apparently in an effort to make it more inclusive. And the second sentence sounds like they all have the same mother, because it refers to “their mother’s womb” which would have to be singular.

So which is more accurate? Well, the Greek words used can be either sex. Anthropos, according to Blue Letter Bible, can refer to either male or female, or both! So it appears that the TNIV is perfectly correct in their translation. However, it would have been interesting to sit in on their discussions of how to translate this, because it seems to me that in this context Nicodemus is referring to himself. At least in my humble opinion that’s the way it sounds. But that’s the wonders of Bible translation for ya!

Just as a short aside, part of the reason I was doing this comparative reading was to see how the NET Bible compares to the others from my new point of view, and I can honestly say I think it compares very well. Even without the 61,000 study and translators notes it seems to stand on its own. I think it’s of pretty much equal quality with these other versions, and that’s a good sign!