“Net” or “Nets”? Why Greek Texts and English Translations Differ

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1545. Jacopo Bassano

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. (KJV, Luke 5:4–6. Emphasis added.)

Hello Mr. Kutilek,

Years ago, I heard a preacher make an entire sermon out of the difference between “nets” plural and “net” singular in Luke 5:4-5 [KJV]. The message was that Peter trifled at the word by not obeying and letting down the nets and instead just threw out one net because of his lack of faith. This past Sunday, I heard another person mention this very thing so I’m prompted to check into it.

It seems that the Greek word diktuon is exactly the same in both places. NIV and NASB use plural in both places. I can see where people would pick up on it and make a point out of Peter not fully following the Lord’s instruction, but I’m not sure that it really is written that way. I don’t know Greek well enough to know how to see the difference between the singular and plural forms. Would you be willing to comment?

Thanks for your help.

C.

Dear C.

The reason for the difference between “net” in vv. 5, 6 in the KJV, NKJV, etc., and “nets” in the NIV, NASB, etc. is a small difference in the Greek texts they follow. I will give you the details, so you can wade through them if you wish. I suspect that the Greek text you consulted was some edition of the “Received Text,” which does read diktuon (singular) in both verses. Greek texts such as the Nestle 26th edition read diktua (plural) in both places. Why the difference in these printed editions?

Some Greek manuscripts, including p-75 (about 200 AD); Aleph and B (about 340 AD); W (5th century); D (5th/6th); L (8th); and later manuscripts 1, 209 (old numbering system); 892 and a few others, along with several ancient Bible translations (some of the Old Latin manuscripts—see below—the Coptic [Memphitic], Gothic, Armenian and Ethiopic) read the plural “nets” in both 5:5 and 5:6. There is also some support in quotations from church fathers as well.

Most editors of printed Greek NTs in the past two hundred years have accepted the plural in both verses as the original reading because the supporting witnesses are very early and rather diverse (Alford, strangely, has the singular in his Greek text in v. 5 but the plural in v. 6, even though the evidence is largely identical in both places. His note suggests that he thinks the plural “nets” in v. 5 was a change from an original singular “net,” under the influence of the plural “nets” in v. 4).

On the other hand, the singular “net” is found in Greek manuscripts A (5th century), C (5th), Psi (8th/9th), f-13 and the great majority of later ones (numbering in the many hundreds), plus support from part of the Old Latin (see below), the Latin Vulgate (around 385), the Peshitta and Harclean Syriac, and some manuscripts of both the Coptic Sahidic and Boharic. This was the reading in the Greek manuscript(s) available to Erasmus when he published his text in 1516, which explains its presence in “textus receptus”-based English versions. The support of Byzantine manuscripts in general explains its adoption as the reading in Majority and Byzantine text editions, such as Hodges-Farstad and Robinson-Pierpont.

So it pretty much boils down to a choice between the few but earliest witnesses (“nets … nets”) versus the later but many witnesses (“net … net”), as is often the case in NT manuscript variations.

As noted above, the Old Latin (OL) manuscripts are inconsistent. OL manuscripts aur, c, e and q read “nets” in v. 5, while a, b, ff, g-1, and g-2 support the singular “net.” But in v. 6, a, c, f, ff, and l are said to read “nets” while b, e, g-1, g-2 read “net.” (This information on the Old Latin manuscripts was taken from S. P. Tregelles, The Greek New Testament; Henry Alford, The Greek Testament; Kurt Aland, et al. Novum Testamentum Graece 26th edition).

The Sinaitic Syriac (4th century?) reads “net” v. 5, and “nets” v. 6. (the Sin-Syr adds another reference to “nets” after the participle in v. 6. Burkitt’s English version of vv. 5b-6 is “But now at thy word, we will put in the net. And when they had cast their nets, they enclosed many fish and their nets were being rent.” The Peshitta Syriac version (around 420 AD) has Jesus say “cast your net” (singular) in 5:4, with the singular repeated in 5:5-6, so in that text there is no numerical difference between Jesus’ command and Peter’s obedience.

Conclusion

So, if the Greek originally read as the TR/KJV have it—Jesus commanded “nets” but Peter obeyed with “net” (singular)—there could well be a lesson in the partial obedience of Peter. If, on the other hand, the reading followed by Nestle/NIV/NASB, namely, Jesus commanded “nets” and Peter obeyed, albeit hesitantly, with “nets,” there is still a lesson in the reluctant obedience of Peter.

This, I trust explains the reason for the difference between “net” and “nets” in the English versions in Luke 5:5-6. And while the singular “net” seems to make for a more pointed moral lesson, if the other reading, namely the plural throughout, is the original (which I am inclined to accept), there is still a strong moral lesson in the consequence of Peter’s challenging the knowledge, wisdom and reasonableness of Jesus’ command to him.

Note

Technical information in the above paragraphs was derived from the following Greek texts: Nestle 26th edition; Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Graece, editio critica minor, 8th (Lipsiae, 1877); S. P. Tregelles, The Greek New Testament, vol. I (London: Bagster, 1857-1879); Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, vol. I (Chicago: Moody, 1958). The Sinaitic Syriac text and translation was consulted in F. C. Burkitt, Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe, vol. I (Cambridge University Press, 1904). The Peshitta text and a Latin version of it were consulted in Tetraeuangelium Sanctum by Philip E. Pusey and George H. Gwilliam (Oxford, 1901). An English version of the Peshitta was consulted in The Syriac New Testament Translated into English, by James Murdock (Gorgias Press, 2001).

As with not a few variant readings in the Greek NT manuscripts, finding information on this variant was not easy. Nestle 26 does provide a brief but incomplete digest of the evidence (the 27th gives a bit more), but the UBS Greek New Testament in its four editions does not address the variant at all, nor does Metzger in his companion volume to the UBS texts, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. I did find useful, though very out-of-date, the information in the mid-19th century Greek texts of Tregelles, Alford, and Tischendorf, which often cite evidence ignored by Nestle or UBS (especially the Gothic and Ethiopic) when they do present variants. I didn’t think to consult until after completing my final draft Reuben Swanson, editor, New Testament Greek Manuscripts: Luke (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995) which does give the complete text of numerous manuscripts and is thereby easier to comprehend than Nestle’s notes, though in some ways less comprehensive.

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.

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There are 4 Comments

Michelle's picture

The message was that Peter trifled at the word by not obeying and letting down the nets and instead just threw out one net because of his lack of faith.

If the Scripture doesn't say Peter trifled or disobeyed, preachers and teachers shouldn't say that he did. There is enough in Scripture -- even that different versions agree on -- to preach and teach about and that will clearly direct our lives without adding what someone thinks the Scripture might have implied because translators used or omitted an s.

Darren Mc's picture

Thanks for the info Doug. I have heard multiple sermons saying exactly this, often making the point that if Peter had let down the "nets" like Jesus said, his "net" wouldn't have broken. Michelle, you are definitely right: it is poor exegesis, but I doubt many of the preachers I heard that from would have even known the meaning of the word.

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30

Ron Bean's picture

If someone wants to preach about Peter and speculate, then let them strain at the net(s). If they want to preach about Jesus and His power, the net(s) don't matter.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

jimfrank's picture

This is most definitely an "argument from silence," and Michelle (above) is correct: "If the Scripture doesn't say Peter trifled or disobeyed, preachers and teachers shouldn't say that he did."  This all being said, perhaps the simplest explanation is though Peter may have had multiple nets working at the same time, he could only let down one net at a time.  I did check both the Scrivener's and the NA 28, and Dr. Kutliek is exactly correct.  Still, it is a "strain" to criticize Peter's faith over such a small detail.

 

 

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