Home > General > Which Bible translation? What’s this upcoming “Common English Bible” (CEB) all about?

Which Bible translation? What’s this upcoming “Common English Bible” (CEB) all about?

Choosing a Bible can be a somewhat daunting task, especially to the uninitiated. There are tons of different translations out there, some with commentary, others with devotional purposes. The “right” Bible for people can depend on their own personal situations and needs.

There is a new translation coming out in 2011 that has been enjoying some publicity lately: The Common English Bible (CEB). What it purports to do is to translate the Bible in simpler, more readable terms, even including contractions. The aim is a seventh grade reading level, which sounds dumbed down, but it’s actually on par with mainstream publications like USA Today. Those who want a more natural experience reading scripture might want to take a look at this new version.

What’s my take? Well, I’ve gone through the entire book of Matthew and am curious enough to delve into other books as well. You can download some PDFs for free here: http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Bibles/FreeDownloads/tabid/203/Default.aspx.

For starters, I will say that it was much easier to get through. It was pretty fluid, and as advertised, it felt “fresh” in some ways. Before I knew it, I actually got through the book of Matthew in one sitting, and some parts felt like they were speaking to me in different ways. At times, I’d get suspicious and check out other trusty translations to make sure, and from all appearances, the CEB was pretty faithful. There were some cases where I had read a certain passage or parable many times and felt fairly sure what it meant, but the CEB rendering of that same passage would leave no doubt. It almost felt like the commentary was done ahead of time for the reader—which can be an iffy thing, but generally an inviting feature.

Now, the CEB is not without its faults…but then again, maybe they’re not really faults, but just perceived shortcomings based on my biases. Perhaps there are portions that are trying too hard to be applicable to modern times, when really it should have been kept literal (and left up to the reader to study the historical context). An example of this would be translating the traditional “teachers of religious law” to “legal experts.” The latter (CEB) has a different connotation and might evoke thoughts of lawyers or judges, rather than forcing the reader to understand the role religious leaders played in ancient times.

And of course, there are jarring terminology changes that can take some getting used to. Some will outright find these alterations repulsive, while I think it’s an open, fuzzy issue.

Consider these wording changes (the CEB term will be listed second):

– blessed –> happy

– Son of Man –> The Human One

– persecuted –> harassed

For people who have been reading the Bible for years, seeing these kinds of changes is almost like stripping the Bible of its beauty and … religiousness? There is a kind banality with the CEB’s terms that seems out-of-place in a holy book. But to be fair, on some level, the classic terms have become a kind of religious mumbo-jumbo that can lose meaning over time without caution and proper reverence. We’ve grown so familiar with Christian-isms that sometimes citing scripture or even praying can become less meaningful and more rehearsed…almost auto-pilot. Do we really consider what “Son of Man” means when we read that? I don’t. It becomes almost like an honorific title given to Jesus or a nickname, rather than describing his unique nature of godhood and humanity. I do think “happy” is simplifying “blessed” too much, but it might serve some readers well. I can’t really say for sure from my viewpoint.

Sometimes, as long-time Christians, it can be hard to view the Bible with an outsider’s perspective. It’s almost like we’ve developed a long list of inside jokes or nuances that aren’t accessible to others, and the CEB might help combat this problem. Perhaps some will think it caters too much to modernity, but after reading some of it, I can see its uses. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when I sometimes felt that the Bible was “old and dusty.”

Maybe it’s a good starting point for the new seeker. Even as an “old” seeker, I found some valuable nuggets of wisdom that might have been missed if I had stuck to the old familiar wording. Perhaps more of the meaning has been brought to the surface, rather than forcing the reader to investigate more deeply as often. For those who can’t be expected to do their due diligence (yet, or all the time), the CEB is a nice way to get acquainted with the scriptures. If a reputable place like Fuller Theological Seminary is adopting it as one of their two endorsed translations, it’s probably OK.

My favorites are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and New International Version (NIV). But I would still recommend the CEB to people, with only some reservation. To be honest, I like almost every translation I’ve come across, though I don’t hold the King James version in the same lofty light as some people do. It’s a very holy-sounding, beautiful literary work, but it’s very outdated. Not only was it written in 1611 with an old style of language and style, but older fragments of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek hadn’t been discovered yet. Truer meaning hadn’t been unraveled by archaeologists and scholars, so it’s possible some of the wording isn’t the best.

Anyhow, I encourage people to check out the free PDFs of the CEB. You may like the freshness it brings to the table.

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