The Common English Bible

By: Jason Wermuth
Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Recently I received a sample copy of a new bible translation, the Common English Bible – New Testament. At first glance I was very skeptical about the need for another translation, one that tends a tad toward the dynamic side at that, but I decided to give it a try. It didn’t hurt that the translation team is made up of some of the best biblical scholars in the world including Joel Green, Beverly Gaventa, Luke Timothy Johnson, Richard Hays, Loren Stuckenbruck, David deSilva, John Goldingay and a whole host more.

In this post I will simply highlight some of the translation choices that I found most interesting, but I hope to do a more thorough review in the future.

Here is a sample of some of their more interesting translation choices:

“Happy are people who make peace, because they’ll be called God’s children” (Matthew 5:9)

“Happy” instead of “blessed” here in the beatitudes is an interesting choice. I am not sure I like it, but that may have more to do with me being used to the word “blessed” rather than it being a poor translation. What I hope does not happen, however, is that passages like these be used by folks to justify their thirst for pleasure, which is how happy is often used in our culture. What I think the authors have in mind here is happiness that is holistic, but I fear that common English speakers often use the term happy in a less sophisticated way.

“Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne” (Matt 25:31).

The translation team has chosen to translate “Son of Man” as “the Human One” in the New Testament. This translation has a good deal of validity. In the Old Testament, the term son of man is a phrase that means someone who is human, however, there are scholars who contend that in the New Testament, Jesus is using this phrase as a technical title for himself. It’s certainly a bold translation, but I have a hard time saying anything bad about it. It accurately describes, in common English, what Jesus was probably trying to say.

“God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace, because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:22-24).

I have to say, I love this translation of Romans 3. I think it accurately reflects what modern scholarship has been saying for quite some time. While there are plenty of disputes as to whether the subjective genitive or objective genitive rendering of pistis Christou (faith in Jesus Christ or faithfulness of Jesus Christ) is correct, I think they got it right on this one. I cannot understand, however, why they did not carry this translation over to Galatians 2:16 and related passages, especially with Richard Hays on the committee. I would be interested to see which scholars translated which books.

“This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Eph 1:10)

I just love this one. I have nothing really more to say about it.

“But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ” (Phil 3:8)

“Sewer trash” is a far better rendering of the Greek skubalon than the modest “rubbish” of most modern translations, but I am still waiting for a translator to have the guts to introduce the sense of what it really means. I think “sewer trash” is still a tad mild and the world would be a better place if we could admit that (or at least more fun).

“Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them” (1 Jn 3:9).

“God’s DNA” is certainly a dynamic translation of the Greek term sperma, but I like it. While we are certain that 1st century folks knew nothing of deoxyribneucleic acid, it certainly makes the text come alive and I think it hits what the author was trying to convey, namely that when one is in Christ, God’s sperma (often translated “seed”) is so infused within the person that those who are united to him cannot go on living the way they used to live.

All in all, this translation has made reading scripture a joy for me. I love finding new and fresh translation choices. Time and time again I come away feeling like the translators really gave new life to a passage that had once simply become dry to me. More than that, though, is that each time I find a passage that shocks me, and I look it up in the Greek, I find that the translators got it right. I can’t wait to read more and see what they offer us in the Old Testament.

If you want to read more about this translation and check it out for yourself, visit their website here: http://www.commonenglishbible.com/

You can also check out various passages at the verse finder site: http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Explore/PassageLookup/tabid/210/Default.aspx

If you have read some of the CEB yourself, write me a comment and let me know what you liked or didn’t like.

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Jason Wermuth
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2 Responses to “The Common English Bible”

  1. Jimmy Leach says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for such a great post. I so long for the opportunity to study the Word again! I know that I am where God wants me right now, but I so miss the learning and growing that I experienced at Regent. My appreciation for translation, understanding, knowledge, and mostly wisdom that comes from immersing one’s self in an academic study of the One and Only God has so increased my love for Him. Thanks for taking the time to bring us more information on this new translation, God is surely at work in this.

    Jimmy

  2. Hello Jason,

    I received a copy of the CEB New Testament at the SBL. I had a very hard time with “the Son of Man” being translated the Human One. I only had the NT so perhaps they have translated in accordance with their translation of Daniel. Also, the symbolic nature of the numbers in Revelation is lost due to the decision to translate them into modern, western distance. While I liked some of the language choices, technical and symbolic terms are marginalized – disappointing.

    blessings
    gary