Common English Bible

In the last couple years there has been an explosion in new translations of the Bible. The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NAB) is the first new Catholic Bible in 40 years. The New NIV (NIV) is the first major update to the New International Version (NIV84) in nearly 26 years. There have been new versions for the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) in the last two years as well. Add to these the not yet fully completed (there are New Testaments, but not yet Old Testaments for these versions,) The Voice and The [Expanded] Bible. If there were too many versions to keep up with previously, then these last few years have not been kind. And now there is another completely new version, the Common English Bible (CEB).

Common English Bible
A Fresh Translation to Touch the Heart and Mind
2011

I originally received this new version in November 2011, and was going to review it for Bible Week at the end of November, but when I got it and started reading it I realized this was going to be much harder to do so I took the last several months to really get to know this translation. And after a time I grew to enjoy it!

The CEB is unlike the most recent versions of the Bible, like The [Expanded] Bible, which could be described as a newer, more authentically translated Amplified Bible, and the Voice, which could be described as similar to The Message, although with more emphasis on translation rather than a single interpreter. The CEB is a completely new translation by more than a hundred scholars from 22 denominations and field tested for realistic English common language (something the Message could have used!) The results are passages that are completely different sounding that what I was used to.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13:

Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Awkward at first I found that I started to get the point of the new translation: accuracy over tradition. Most of us who have been in church for any amount of time have that prayer memorized, but the version we have memorized draws heavily from the King James Version, a Translation that is now over 500 years old. This tradition has been preserved in some of the most well known passages even in so-called current versions like the NIV84, where that first verse reads: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

The question is: does anyone know what “hallowed” means? Follow-up question: if we have to translate the translation for it to make sense are we really speaking in a common, normal language?

Much of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek – the street language version of Greek. (As opposed to high Greek, which philosophers used.) Clearly, the writers were focused on making the New Testament accessible to as many readers as possible. And while many translations and interpretations have attempted to do this for modern Christians, the CEB is one of the few that I’ve found to be successful, although not the best.

Take the Message, which I enjoy for what it is – a single person’s attempt to make the Bible accessible – and consider that same passage in Matthew 6, which reads, “Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are.” While that makes sense and doesn’t need a secondary translation to understand, it isn’t what the original says.

A version that is most similar to the CEB is the NLT, which I also use regularly and believe does a slightly better job of making the Bible accessible, which translates Matthew 6:9 as, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.” Comparing the NLT and the CEB I find two things to be true: both are exceptionally clear and both use English in a way that is easy to understand without secondary translation.

But the NLT does a slightly better job of trying not to sound foreign to the reader. It can be quite a shock to read some of the CEB passages when used to the NIV84 or HCSB, as I am. But the NLT doesn’t suffer from such a huge distance between traditional translations and more correct common language interpreting.

That said, the Common English Bible is clearly one of the better new versions around and I applaud the scholarship and cross-denominational support that came together to lead this project. The more excellent translations that there are available the better.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on Christianity, Zombies, and anything else he wants to.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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