Bible Review: Common English Bible with Apocrypha

Common English Bible with Apocrypha

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I would like to thank the kind folks at B&B Media Group for this review copy!

This review is one of many that have been/will be posted as part of the CEB Blog Tour. Find a list of participants here.

This review will be unlike others I have done simply because there are a number of elements to consider when reviewing a bible. I will address two particular elements of this bible: aesthetics and the “feel” (dimensions, durability, etc) and various samplings of verses. I must also state that I’ve not read through the entirety of this translation and certainly have not pored over even the verses included in this review with a fine-toothed comb. I have chosen selections that caught my attention and have offered a few comments as to why I found them satisfactory or otherwise.

Aesthetics

The volume here reviewed is described as “portable” and measures 5.375” x 8.375”, so it’s certainly small enough to carry with you, but not a pocket bible so you won’t have to strain to see the type (which is 9 pt.). The cover is black decotone, a synthetic material commonly used by some publishers and has a nice feel to it. While it certainly doesn’t have the feel of genuine leather, it is softer than bonded leather, and that’s a plus. The pages are a bit transparent so a minimal amount of “ghosting” occurs, but no to the extent that it’s distracting for me to read. Overall, I rather like the size and feel of this bible and find it at least comparable to others like it that are available.

Translation

The CEB is a “fresh translation” that is the product of “one hundred fifty biblical scholars from twenty-two faith traditions” that aimed to “create sentences and choose vocabulary that would be readily understood when the biblical text is read aloud.” Ultimately, this is hoped to accomplish a translation “that is suitable for personal devotion, for communal worship, and for classroom study.” How successful were they? That depends on who you ask.

Every translation of the bible that is published receives its share of scrutiny and criticism, which it should, and the CEB is no different. My overall assessment of the CEB (while not based on an entire reading) is that it is a solid translation that many will love, but one that is not without its quirky renderings.

Genesis 1:1

The CEB renders this verse “When God began to create the heavens and the earth…” This verse, one of the most discussed in all the scripture, will catch some off guard. Many, if not most, English translations render the phrase בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים as an absolute temporal clause, i.e. “In the beginning, God created…”, which would seem to indicate that point of Gen 1:1 is God created the universe. This is the most popular interpretation of the verse, particularly in evangelical circles. However, many Hebrew and ANE specialists have (convincingly, in my opinion) argued that the clause is a relative temporal clause that speaks of only when God began the work of bringing order to creation. This will undoubtedly not sit well with many who hold Gen 1:1 as the definitive biblical statement as to the origins of the universe.

Genesis 2:7

The translation of  הָאָדָם as “the human” prepares CEB readers for one of the distinctions of this translation, namely the use of “human” in various constructions where “man” or “mankind” (and also “humanity” in other more recent translations) had been used elsewhere. There is no inherent problem with such a translation, other than it will sound unusual for many (more on this to follow).

Genesis 3:21

The decision to translate עוֹר as “leather clothes” is a bit odd, though it fits with the goal using common English to communicate. Other translations tend to use phrases such as “garments from skin” (NET), “clothing out of skins” (HCSB), “garments of skins” (ESV), “garments of skin” (NASB95), or something similar. Though leather is a material made from animal skin, it seems strange to hear of God fashioning leather—it sounds so modern! I can’t help but picture modern leather attire rather than something more crude.

Genesis 15:4

I rather like the translation “your very own biological child” for יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ because the text certainly communicates that Abram’s heir will be the result of conception and birth with Sarai. Like the leather-clothes example mentioned, this sounds almost odd because it’s a very modern way to communicate the Hebrew, but makes the intent very clear.

Genesis 15:6

I don’t know that I agree with the translation choice for צְדָקָה here as “high moral character.” The term can certainly mean that, and it’s not necessarily wrong here, but it seems a better translation could be been chosen. The context isn’t focused on Abram’s morality, per se, but rather on his obedience to Yahweh. I suppose one could quibble that obedience is entangled with morality to some degree, and yes character is in view here, but I would rather have seen a bit different wording for this phrase.

Genesis 15:8

For a bible whose translators “balance rigorous accuracy in the rendition of ancient texts with an equally passionate  commitment to clarity of expression in the target language” and who “create sentences and choose vocabulary that would be readily understood when the biblical text is read aloud,” I think they miss the mark a bit here. The CEB renders the phrase הַהוּא כָּרַת יְהוָה אֶת־אַבְרָם as “the LORD cut a covenant with Abram” (emphasis mine). The verb כָּרַת does literally mean in many contexts to cut or to cut down, but in others, such as the present one, it conveys the idea of making a covenant. It seems strange that in the pursuit of a translation of clarity the choice would be decided upon to render this phrase as “cut a covenant.” Sure hearers and readers with some knowledge of and experience with Hebrew would understand the idea, but it seems that for most some explanation would be necessary. As such, I think this is a bit of a misstep.

Genesis 18:6

One of the challenges in translating and reading the bible is deciding what to do with weights and measures and the CEB translators state in the front matter that they prefer “to transliterate (rather than translate) measurements of capacity, both we and dry, as well as measurements of weight” (xv). What’s curious about this is they choose to convert linear and spatial dimensions into feet and inches—why not weights and capacity? Gen 18:6 is an early example. The word סְאִים is transliterated seahs, used when Abraham tells Sarah to knead three “seahs” of dough to make some baked goods for the three visitors that have come to them. Thankfully there are footnotes to give the approximate equivalents, but again, why not just render the calculation in the translation?

A quick note on the Apocrypha. I did not include passages or verses from the apocryphal books as part of this review because I have not worked in those books enough to offer insight that would be of help. I will say, however, that the selections I have read thus far from those books are fairly consistent with the old and new testaments as far as style is concerned. Like the OT and NT, the CEB’s translation of the apocrypha is quite readable and suffers from the occasional oddity.

Matthew 23:33

The phrase γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν is here rendered “children of snakes.” This choice of wording quite awkward, especially when considering that most people are probably more familiar with “brood of vipers” or the NLT’s “sons of vipers.” “Children of snakes” just doesn’t have the same emotive force that “brood of vipers”—it sounds rather timid, which doesn’t quite fit the tone of the passage.

John 1:1

Don’t worry—the CEB handles this verse like practically every other translation I’ve read (except for the NWT obviously!).

John 1:14

The verb ἐσκήνωσεν here is often fodder for all kinds of misinterpretation, but the CEB handles it decently. While “made his home with us” may be a little hokey, it’s rather on target and communicates well one of the great truths of John’s gospel.

2 Corinthians 5:17

This is another example that will catch more particular readers as a bit unusual. Most modern translations render this verse along these lines—If anyone is in Christ, he/they is/are a new creation. But the CEB takes a slightly different perspective, one that I think nicely captures the larger Pauline theme: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation.” This particular passage concerns God’s work of reconciling creation through Christ and, obviously, humanity is the focus here. However, there is throughout Paul’s writings the idea that salvation transcends the redemption of humanity only, but will (ultimately) encompass all of creation. Certainly it seems that mankind is the primary recipient of God’s redemptive work, but not the only recipient, and I think that connotation is shown in this translation.

Obviously this is a very minimal sampling of potential texts that could be weighed in evaluating the “accuracy” of a translation. While many more could have been examined, I chose to limit them to just a few–where would I draw the line? How many texts need to be examined? Ideally I would have liked to looked at texts from most/all genres represented in the bible, but time is the issue. Hopefully this review will give you a peek into CEB, at least enough to provoke enough curiosity to read it or pick up a copy.

As noted earlier, one of the most notable differences with the CEB compared to other modern English translations is that the CEB translates certain phrases differently that have remained practically constant (or at least minimally varied) in other versions for many years. For example, the CEB translates the Hebrew phrase בֶן־אָדָם and its Aramaic counterpart בַר אֱנָש along with the Greek ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (and its varied forms) with a clear anthropological nuance. בֶן־אָדָם is rendered either as “human being” (Num 23:19 et al; likewise the Aramaic phrase in Daniel 7:13 is translated “human being”) or as “human one” (Ezekiel et al). Also, the phrase as it used in the NT is rendered “human one.” Some are likely to object to this because of the longstanding tradition to translate ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου as “S/son of M/man” and they may feel this diminishes the phrase as it is used of Jesus. However, such objections really aren’t sustainable because the phrase is meant to highlight the humanity of Christ and in those contexts where a bit more is intended the CEB capitalizes the title to indicate as much. I will say that I did not check every occurrence of these phrases so there is a possibility that it may somewhere be rendered inaccurately, but no need to get into a twist about “the human one” or the other more anthropologically-focused renderings. I suspect that some, perhaps many, who are leery of this translation will be so due to some measure of aural dissonance rather than theological concern.

This is perhaps the most notable aspect of the translation, that it renders many phrases that have become part of the Christian vernacular in different ways, ways that would take some acclimation. Of course, this is not a new concept–new translations should provoke readers to investigate further why things are translated the way they are. Is this is a good thing? It can be, when it drives the reader to the original languages to investigate for themselves merits of any of the CEB’s renderings. Perhaps one downside to this is many will feel uncomfortable reading a bible they feel “departs” too greatly from the translations they already know or are more familiar with. This, however, says more of the reader than the translation itself. Will the CEB find its place alongside popular modern translations like the NIV, HCSB, NLT or ESV? While it has achieved “best seller” status faster than any bible before it, time will tell of its impact beyond its sales. But I will say that the CEB is an solid translation and will serve well those who read it, so long as they are not beholden to particular translations that have come before it.

You can connect with CEB in several ways:

§  Website                                 http://CommonEnglishBible.com

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§  Video                                     http://vimeo.com/CommonEnglishBible

Αυτω η δοξα

4 thoughts on “Bible Review: Common English Bible with Apocrypha

  1. Nick: I agree there is that connection, but it seems so seldom to see it like that these days. It may be that way in some other modern translations, but I haven’t looked it up.

    Ivan: This is a review of the Common English Bible. The CEV is the Contemporary English Version, which does used LORD for the divine name, to answer your question. I just looked at a few instances I knew had YHWH, but I assume it’s that way all throughout.

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