An UnCommon Endorsement for the Common English Translation

The picture here is the view from atop Mt. Nimrud in Turkey.  It is an uncommon view, and something uncommon has happened in the world of modern Evangelical Seminaries— one of them has picked an official translation to use in all its classes—- the Common English Translation.   This translation is deliberately simply much like the old TEV or NIV and concentrates on readability for almost any audience. My only real beef with it is that it messes up the phrase ‘Son of Man’  as applied to Jesus, and it too falls into the trap of simply going along with earlier translations in places where the translation is not warranted (e.g. in Hebrews 12 the Greek does not say Jesus is the author and finisher of  ‘our’ faith).   But on the whole this is a fine translation.    Here is the press release about Fuller’s decision.

Fuller Theological Seminary Approves the Common English Bible
for Official School Use

NASHVILLE, TN (May 9, 2011) – Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, has approved the new Common English Bible (http://CommonEnglishBible.com) (@CommonEngBible) as a translation for use in biblical studies courses for its more than 4,000 students, and particularly for all master’s-level instruction in the seminary’s School of Theology, School of Psychology, and School of Intercultural Studies on all eight of its campuses.

“Fuller’s mission is to prepare men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church. We work out this calling with an eye toward both academic excellence and service to the church. The Biblical Division’s decision to approve the Common English Bible for classroom use reflects these commitments,” says J. R. Daniel Kirk, assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller. “We’ve approved the Common English Bible because it’s an academically excellent translation, because it communicates the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts in a clear and accessible fashion, and because it reflects the reality that the communities for which the Bible was written consist of both women and men.”

Fuller has more than 35,000 alumni in 130 countries, serving as pulpit ministers, mission leaders, academic leaders, mental health professionals, chaplains, translators, and community and marketplace leaders. The Common English Bible joins two other translations officially approved by Fuller: the New Revised Standard Version and Today’s New International Version.

Combining scholarly accuracy with vivid language, the Common English Bible is the work of more than 200 biblical scholars and church leaders, including members of more than 20 denominations, who translated the Bible into English directly from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. More than 500 readers in 77 groups field-tested the translation. Every verse was read aloud in the reading groups, where potentially confusing passages were identified. The translators considered the groups’ responses and, where necessary, reworked those passages to clarify in English their meaning from the original languages.

The digital revolution is accelerating changes in language and its everyday usage. The new Common English Bible is written in contemporary idiom at the same reading level as the newspaper USA TODAY—using language that’s comfortable and accessible for today’s English readers. With the complete Bible arriving in stores in August, this new translation strives to make Bible reading more clear and compelling for individuals, groups, and corporate worship services.

“The Common English Bible is a brand-new, bold translation designed to meet the needs of people in all stages of their spiritual journey,” says Paul Franklyn, associate publisher for the Common English Bible. “For students—whether at colleges and seminaries or outside a formal institution—it combines and balances highly respected ecumenical biblical scholarship necessary for serious study with responsiveness to 21st century clear communication requirements for comprehensive clarity. The Common English Bible can help students experience the insight and knowledge that comes from a fresh reading of the Bible.”

The Common English Bible is an inclusive translation, using male and female pronouns where appropriate to indicate the meaning of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text when referring to general human beings. Pronouns for God, Lord, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit are translated as he, his, or him.

Another unique feature of the Common English Bible is the inclusion of exclusive, detailed color maps from National Geographic, well known for its vibrant and accurate map making.

Visit CommonEnglishBible.com to see comparison translations, learn about the translators, get free downloads, and more.

The Common English Bible is a denomination-neutral Bible sponsored by the Common English Bible Committee, an alliance of five publishers that serve the general market, as well as the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press), Presbyterian Church (Westminster John Knox Press), Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc.), United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press), and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).

  • Dan

    How does the translation handle the “Son of Man” title?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    The Human One…… ugggh.

  • Marc Axelrod

    Which modern English translation comes close to the AV in its beautiful rendering of the text? The SM and the Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah are written so splendidly in the AV that I kind of miss the poetics of the English language in other versions

  • http://www.apprentice2jesus.com Dan Thompson

    What is the reasoning for using “Human One”? For Fuller, Daniel Kirk loved that rendition.

    I asked him if Fuller choose the CEB over the NIV 2011 because the CEB would offer the Apocrypha. No. It was because the NIV uses “mankind” and the CEB used “humankind.” Ugh. That was weak.

  • aclare

    The Common English Bible associate publisher Paul Franklyn explains the translation choice of “Son of Man” to “Human One” in a blog post on the CEB website. He writes, “we have no agenda in the New Testament translation to deny the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus, then and now. There is a preference in the CEB for clear English.” The post is worth a read: http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Connect/Blog/ViewBlog/tabid/209/ArticleId/13/From-Son-of-Man-to-Human-One.aspx

  • Lilda

    It seems that one exclusive translation, or even a few ,just doesn’t work. I think we are just pressed to learn Hebrew, Greek, and …? others. So, I am searching for the best software to do that, even though I know it’s just not easy.

    Thank you for the most helpful posts! Keep up the good work, Ben. Blessings.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Lilda There are lots of CD driven ways to learn the languages. Check out the recommendations from Logos and Bible Works.

    I agree entirely with Fuller on the non-use of mankind or for that matter man as a translation of the Greek anthropos which simply means human being, not a male.

    Marc the poetic character is preserved in the NIV and NRSV to some extent. The thing about the CEB is like the old TEV it is very mundane English. The problem of course with the AV is archaic and obsolete English— I sure hope you don’t read from the pulpit what Jesus said to Saul on Damascus Road according to Acts 26— “It hurt’s you to kick against the pricks!”

    BW3

  • Marc Axelrod

    I agree about the Human One translation being bad, that would be a dealbreaker for me.

    Because of your wise counsel, I have cancelled my upcoming sermon series on the foibles and follies of prick kicking.

    I used to think that people who read the AV were “more spiritual.”I knew this girl in my college Navigators group who had this big honking King James Bible, and she memorized Psalm 119 from it. She was amazing.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Alas, she was a glorious anachronism. Ye verily.

    BW3

  • http://irregularchristian.com Casey Taylor

    Did you do a previous post exclusively on CEB?

    Overall, I’m not a huge fan of CEB, despite my own participation in promoting it. While it may be a good entryway to the Bible for people who have never read the Bible, I think the NLT does a better job of that.

    For personal reading and study, I use the updated NIV (which replaces my TNIV…sigh).

    I ABHOR with a passion the translation “human one” for “Son of Man.” I totally agree that Jesus IS, indeed, the fully human being…but that’s not what “Son of Man” is trying to communicate!

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    No Casey I have not done such a post.

    BW3

  • Marc Axelrod

    I’m bummed about the NIV 2011, not because of the gender stuff, but because I’ve been memorizing the 1984 Niv for 26 years. It’s too late to turn back now. i believe I believe I’ve fallen in love

  • Michael Stephens

    The CEB translation of the beginning of Hebrews 12:2 was changed at the editorial board meeting at the SBL. It now says “and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.”

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Yeah! Hooray for editorial boards of the CEB.

  • Clay Knick

    I’m with Casey on this.

    I don’t like “mankind” either, but I deplore “humankind” which has no elegance. It sounds awful.

    I deplore “Human One,” too.

    Generally speaking I find the CEB boring and mundane.

  • Greg Van Dussen

    Propaganda aside, does anyone really thing that “mankind” = all the men in the world?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Yes indeed Greg. Many people for whom English is a second language think that.

    BW3

  • http://irregularchristian.com Casey Taylor

    Off the gender-language tangent, I totally understand the rationale for gender inclusive language of human beings…but I kinda miss saying things like “God and Man” or Jesus “the God-Man.” And I like mankind because I’m lazy enough not to what to say “humankind” or “human beings” all the time.

  • Jim

    Thanks for the info on the CEB. I’m not a fan of inclusive language; it strikes me as ideological and not really faithful to the originals. On the other hand, I’ve noticed when actually reading inclusive translations it doesn’t seem to bother me.

    What concerns me more is the idea of translating into ‘contemporary idiom’. In today’s world (and it was perhaps always true) contemporary idiom changes very rapidly. Idiom’s I used in High School and College are no longer used, and sometimes not even understood, by the younger generation. A translation that tries to be current in an idiomatic sense will, I suspect, need to be updated fairly soon; within ten years. This has happened with a number of contemporary translations that have already had updates that are substantial in a very short time. Isn’t this kind of like the latest car design that is rolled out every year? What I’m getting at is that there is a lack of stability in modern translations such that they require major overhauls in a very short time.

    Is this a problem? Well, someone above remarked how they had memorized one version, and now it is being revamped. And that is the difficulty; such constant updating cuts off communication and isolates Bible reading communities from each other.

    Is there a solution? Probably not. But after years of reading versions such as the NRSV, NASB, and the NIV, I finally gave up trying to keep up with the updates and turned to the KJV. Not because I think it is inherently superior (I still consult other versions) but because at least I know it will be recognized by others and will be stable as I pursue my Bible studies and contemplations.

    Best wishes,

    Jim

  • Clay Knick

    Casey,

    I still say some of those things! No one has objected so far. :)

  • Clay Knick

    I want to add this: I’m willing to be open to evaluating the CEB again and taking a second, third, or fourth look. I want to like it more than I have over the last six months or so. I’ll keep checking it and look forward to the OT this August. It may grow on me after all.

  • http://johnmeunier.wordpress.com John Meunier

    I’m not a huge fan of the CEB for a few reasons.

    I find “change your heart and lives” for repent clunky and awkward and “the human one” just bizarre.

    Its choices in Romans appear to favor the New Perspective on Paul with regard to the whole “faith in” vs. “faithfulness of” Christ, which I’m not persuaded by.

    It has other curious translation choices. In Peter’s speech to Cornelius’ household in Acts, CEB refers to those who “worship” God where nearly every other translation says those who “fear” God. Yet, CEB uses fear in other places.

    Lots of little things. Plus, I do find the language often rather lifeless, like reading an inter-office memo.

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