Common English Bible is ‘different,’ says reviewer

CEB Bibleby Ernest Clevenger

(BNc) — Nashville, Tenn., is famous for many things. To country music it is Music City, and the music publishing hub of America. To book publishing, it is the home of Thomas Nelson Bible Publishers, the home of Ingram Book (world’s largest book publisher and retailers).

To the church it has one of the largest concentrations of churches of Christ in America, and two brotherhood publishing companies, Gospel Advocate and Twenty-first Century Christian.

For more than 150 years Nashville has been home to large religious-based publishing houses: National Baptist Publishing Board (R. H. Boyd Publishing Company), Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist, Lifeway, and Gideons International are a few of the larger ones.

It is not surprising that the Common English Bible (CEB) chose Nashville as its headquarters for developing and publishing a new Bible, one they have been working on for more than two years. It is advertised as a bold translation readable by a broad range of people aimed at more than half of all English readers. It is different!

I received an advanced copy of the CEB for review. Its 1,189 pages are well printed in perfect-bound paperback. It has eight new National Geographic maps in the back as reference material. My first examination was to check Acts 2:38 and I Peter 3:21 to see how they were translated. Take a look, not bad.

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “ Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites. ” 40 With many other words he testified to them and encouraged them, saying, “ Be saved from this perverse generation. ” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.

1 Peter 3:18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.

What we regard as a poor translation choice is explained in the preface where the translators indicate their use of a number of contractions, except in passages that should be regarded as more formal. While this is a subjective choice, CEB contractions are not included in the context of trials, royal interviews, most divine discourse, and poetic or liturgical discourse. Sometimes the resulting short sentences are choppy as a result.

The Preface also explains, in a “concern for clarity”, why the translators changed one of the titles of Christ. The CEB renders the Greek huios tou anthropou as “human being” rather than “son of Man”. People who are used to hearing Jesus referred to as “the Son of Man” will be shocked to hear “human one” or “human being.”

Some other major translation changes which will take getting accustomed to, are :

  1. The Hebrew phrase “Lord of Hosts” (Heb. Yahweh sebaoth) is rendered as “Lord of heavenly forces.”
  2. In both ancient Hebrew and Greek a pronoun is often attached to the verb which could cause an English reader to lose the antecedent of the pronoun. The CEB addresses this problem by substituting a noun for a pronoun, but without footnoting the change.
  3. In matters of consistency there are problems, the CEB chooses to render the same Hebrew or Greek word differently, according to the context. Thus, torah, which has been usually translated as “Law”, is sometimes translated as “instruction”. The Hebrew “Sheol” and the Greek “Hades” are variously translated as “grave”, “death”, underworld” or “hell”.

To see how the new CEB translation renders a specific passage, go to biblegateway.com, then on the search line change the version of the Bible in the drop down box to ”Common English Bible”. Type the book and chapter you wish to read in the “Lookup” box. You may also search by keyword or topic from the same box.

As with all translations, the reader is cautioned to consider the source. Translations with variant renderings can be useful in research, study, and to provoke discussion. Even with some English translations problems, we can take comfort in knowing that, on taking all of the omissions and footnoting into consideration, they amount to only a small fraction of the actual Word of God. These problems, accentuated by new translations, do not change the final message of the Bible.

Unfortunately, not a single member of the church was chosen to give input, translate, or review the work of this new Bible in its formative stages. CEB claims to represents “the work of a diverse team with broad scholarship, including the work of over one hundred and seventeen scholars—men and women from twenty-two faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European and Latino communities.”

The CEB states that “the translation was funded by the Church Resources Development Corp, which allows for cooperation among denominational publishers in the development and distribution of Bibles, curriculum, and worship materials.”

The Common English Bible Committee meets periodically and consists of denominational publishers from the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press); Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Westminster John Knox Press); Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc); United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press); and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).

The completed CEB is now available in bookstores and online.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

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2 Comments

  1. The ‘human one’ was enough to put me off regarding this politically correct translation. There are already too many [read ‘wasteful’] good modern English translations. Why buy one with several poor translations and Psalms that fall flat on their face?

  2. At sixty-six years of age and having preached either full-time, part-time or fill-in for the last forty years, I have a changed a great deal in my thinking about Bible translations. While it would be poor reasoning to say ones preference in a translation makes no difference, we must also allow individuals to make their own choices. I never have liked the New International Version. Yet I can take it and teach a person how to become a Christian, how to worship in spirit and truth and how to live a faithful life. To my knowledge I have yet to see any of our brethren willing to engage in a public debate saying you must use only the King James Version of 1611 I still us it and the American Standard of 1901 in my personal studies and also like reading from the English Standard Version of 2002. However I don’t base fellowship with you on what translation of the Bible you choose to use. In my judgment the best book ever written on being practical in the choosing of a personal translation is a little booklet by Wayne Jackson titled ”
    The ‘Bible Translation’ Controversy.” Only twenty-two pages in length it is well written and easy to understand.

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