A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE

COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE
Written by Ron Hutchison

 


There is a new Bible that has been produced recently that I would like to review briefly. It is called the Common English Bible. It is produced by the publishing companies owned by the following denominations: Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian (USA), United Methodist, Episcopalian, and the United Church of Christ. It is evidently becoming popular with many people and has received good reviews from many denominational leaders as well as many who are members of their denominations.

According to the preface of the Common English Bible, it is "a new translation that is suitable for personal devotion, for communal worship, and for classroom study." The preface also states, "One hundred twenty biblical scholars from twenty-two faith traditions worked as translators for the CEB. In addition, members of seventy-seven reading groups from congregations throughout North America reviewed and responded to early drafts of the translation. As a result, more than five hundred individuals were integrally involved in the preparation of the CEB. These individuals represent the sorts of diversity that permit this new translation to speak to people of various religious convictions and different social locations."  Evidently the producers of the CEB expect their new translation to take the place of previous versions in that they believe it is suitable for every way one would use their Bible. They also evidently believe that the diversity of those individuals who were involved in the production of their translation contributed to its accuracy.

Let me say that I am not against producing new translations of the Bible. The English language is always changing and what was accurately translated 400 or even 100 years ago may not be accurate today. This is true because words have changed meaning over time. All of us who are familiar with the King James Version are familiar with such words. It is also true that many discoveries have been made by archeologists and others since the production of the older translations that have contributed to a better understanding of the text and/or the conditions and language at the time the texts were written. 

We should expect any new translation to be accurate in its rendering in today's language. We should expect a certain amount of reverence in a translation of God's word. By that I mean that although the New Testament was revealed in the common Greek language of the first century, it was revealed by using dignified rather than gutter language. It ought to be translated like that.  We also expect a new translation that claims to be "suitable for personal devotion, for communal worship, and for classroom study" to truly translate and not place the translators' opinions, personal beliefs or doctrines in the text and give the false impression that that is what is actually in the Bible.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit inspired the men who penned the Bible to use imprecise language for a purpose. To change that imprecise language to language that is precise by substituting what the translator thinks should have been there does an injustice to the translation of God's word. The Holy Spirit did not always make His word as plain as we might like (2 Peter 3:16). He had his reasons for doing so and we need to respect those reasons.

Another thing that I think is worth mentioning from the preface of the CEB is this: "CEB translators also use gender-inclusive or neutral syntax for translating pronouns that refer to humans, unless context requires otherwise." I know this is the politically correct thing to do in our society today, but God used the masculine pronouns for a reason, and we need to be careful when we translate the Bible that we do so respecting that reason.

When I judge a translation on its accuracy, I usually begin by comparing certain verses in which I know some Bible producers in the past have injected their opinions or denominational doctrines. However, I have been studying 2 Peter in order to prepare for teaching an adult Bible class and I thought I would mention two verses from that book first.

The first verse is 2 Peter 1:21. In the NKJV this verse says, "...for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."   The CEB renders the verse like this: "because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."  The word translated "men" in the NKJV and "men and women" in the CEB is the Greek word anthropos. Although this word is often used to indicate both men and women (Matthew 4:19; 12:12; 7:21 etc...), and although at least six women are called prophetess in the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 32:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36), the rendering of the CEB does not agree with the context of this verse. Peter is speaking of the writing of Scripture or the Old Testament prophetic books (2 Peter 1:20). Since none of the women prophets were inspired to write prophecy, what Peter said in verse 21 could not include them. So the correct translation would be "holy men" rather than "holy men and women."  This change was probably made in order to be "gender inclusive" as the preface says. But the word anthropos must be translated in harmony with the context. If Peter had been writing about prophecy in general and not the writing of Scripture maybe the phrase "men and women" would appy. But the context does not agree with the rendition in my opinion.

The second verse is 2 Peter 2:10. The NKJV translates like this, "...and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority..." The CEB says, "This is especially true for those who follow after the corrupt cravings of the sinful nature and defy the Lord's authority." The word translated "flesh" in the NKJV and "sinful nature" in the CEB is the Greek word sarx. It basically means "Flesh of a living creature in distinction from that of a dead one...fleshly parts...the body...the material nature as distinguished from the spiritual and intangible. (Word Study Dictionary).  Without going into a long discussion of the doctrine of inherited sin, suffice it to say that the word sarx simply speaks of the human body. Verse 10 says these people, "are presumptuous, self-willed..." There can be no doubt that the people that Peter spoke of in this passage were fulfilling the natural physical desires of the body in a way that was contrary to God's will. Their nature was not sinful. How they used their physical bodies was what was sinful. Since the word sarx is translated as sinful nature here, one has to wonder why the translators were not consistent and  why they did not translate it that way when it is used in reference to Jesus (John 6:53; Romans 1:3; Hebrews 5:7; 1 John 4:2-3)? The CEB makes the same mistake that the NIV made in this regard. Instead of a translation they insert their Calvinist belief that man is born with a sinful nature. The rendering of this word in both the CEB and the NIV is a commentary not a translation.

In fairness I decided to read the CEB from Genesis to Revelation. I didn't have to read long until I saw another major interpretation rendered in the place of a translation. In Genesis 6:1,2 the NKJV says this, "Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose." The CEB renders the passage like this: "When the number of people started to increase throughout the fertile land, daughters were born to them. The divine beings saw how beautiful these human women were, so they married the ones they chose." I know that some people interpret the phrase "the sons of God" as being angels or as the CEB says, "divine beings." But that is not what the text says. It says, "sons of God." Instead of letting the reader determine by further study of the Scriptures and the context who the sons of God refer to, the CEB translators took it upon themselves to tell us who they were. They do the same thing in Job 1:6 where this phrase is also used. According to the Word Study Dictionary the word translated son in the NKJV and most other translations is, "A noun meaning son that occurs almost five thousand times in the Old Testament. Although the most basic meaning and general translation is son, the direct male offspring of human parents (Gen. 4:25; 27:32; Isa. 49:15), it is more generally a relational term because of its variety of applications."  To render this phrase by the words "divine beings" is to interpret rather than to translate. By the way, the other interpretation of this passage has to do with the sons of God being the descendants of Seth and the daughters of men being the descendents of Cain. The descendants of Cain who were wicked and did not follow God's way intermarried with the descendants of Seth who were God-fearing people. This resulted in Cain's descendants influencing Seth's descendants to do evil which led to God destroying the earth with the flood in Noah's day. This seems to me to be more in harmony with the context of Genesis 6, as well as with the fact that according to God's law in order to produce children human males and human females would have to be involved. Could a spirit being really mate with a human being and produce children when God's law of procreation says that like produces like? The children that were born to these unions are called "men" in verse 4, not "divine beings." If like begets like, then it was human men who mated with these human females and produced human children. Why not just translate what the Hebrew says, instead of placing human opinion in the text?  Would it not be just as proper for one to render the phrase "sons of God" as "descendants of Seth" and "daughters of men" as "descendants of Cain" as it was for the CEB translators to render "sons of God" as "divine beings"? Of course, if we did that then it would be our opinion that this is what  those phrases mean. That is exactly the problem with the CEB rendition. Their rendering of "divine beings" is not a translation, it is an interpretation. The translators, in trying to make the passage easier to understand, placed their opinion in the text. In doing so, they prevent the reader from pursuing other avenues as to what the text may teach.

Now to be fair, I don't know how much the translators of the CEB did this. I haven't read the complete text yet. But one time is too many. We have already looked at two occasions where they injected their opinion into the text, this passage and 2 Peter 2:10. That may indicate the need to be careful when you use the CEB and compare its readings to dependable versions of the Bible.

 In Acts 22:16, the NKJV says, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."  The CEB renders this passage like this: "What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash away your sins as you call on his name."  The way this passage is worded in the CEB supports the denominational belief that one is saved by faith only before and without baptism. In the CEB the washing away of sins seems to be attributed to calling on His name rather than to baptism. This is not true (See The Place of Baptism in God's Plan of Salvation).  However, Ananias clearly said that Saul was to be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord. The fact is, that at the point of baptism sins are washed away (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38 etc...) and this is what constitutes calling on the name of the Lord. The action of all three verbs (baptized, washing, and calling) are aorist middle imperatives in the Greek language. They all take place at the same time. The point is when one is baptized his sins are washed away and he in that act of baptism is calling on the name of the Lord. The word calling is defined as:  "to call upon for aid in ones own behalf...In a judicial sense, to call upon, invoke a higher tribunal or judge, i.e. to appeal to..." (Word Study Dictionary). This agrees with 1 Peter 3:21, "There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Vine says this about the word answer in 1 Peter 3:21, "It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a demand or appeal." The ESV translates 1 Peter 3:21 like this: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This agrees with what Acts 22:16 teaches. It is in baptism that we call upon or make our appeal to God for a good conscience. This is why the Bible teaches that baptism saves us. It is not an outward washing  but an appeal to God for an inward washing by the blood of Christ. 

Speaking of 1 Peter 3:21, we need to examine the rendition of it in the CEB: "Baptism is like that. It saves you now - not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is a mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." If this verse has not been changed in order to support the belief that baptism is just an outward symbol of inward salvation which took place at the point of faith, I don't know what it would mean. By using the word mark, they have effectively said that baptism is just a symbol of salvation. We have already seen what the definition of the word translated "answer" in the NKJV and "appeal" in the ESV and "mark" in the CEB really means. It certainly does not mean mark! Again, this seems to me to be an insertion of the translators personal beliefs rather than a true translation of the Greek.

Another passage that I often look at to judge the accuracy of a translation is Psalm 51:5. Many who are members of denominations think that this verse supports the doctrine of original sin. And, if you read the NIV and CEB's rendering of this verse, that is exactly what it teaches. Here is the CEB's rendering: "Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin, from the moment my mother conceived me."  However, the NKJV says this: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."  The CEB clearly teaches that David was born in guilt, in sin. The Hebrew for "in iniquity" is the word beavown. It is argued by those who believe the doctrine of original sin that this means that David was born in a state of iniquity, or in other words that he was born with the guilt of iniquity. But this phrase is also used in another passage. Genesis 19:15 records the warning given to Lot to leave Sodom - "Lest thou be consumed in the iniquity (Hebrew beavown) of the city" (ASV). This is not saying that Lot was guilty of iniquity himself, but that he was in the midst of iniquity. He was surrounded by iniquity. And this may be what David was saying. He was born into a sinful world, and he had followed its pattern of sinfulness when he sinned with Bathsheba. The word translated "in sin" is referring to David's mother rather than David himself.  I am not suggesting that David's mother was involved in an adulterous affair and David was the result of it, but the fact that even his own mother (a universal symbol of purity) was subject to sin. The fact that the prophet Ezekiel said in chapter 18 and verse 20, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" ought to put a stop to the doctrine of original sin because that doctrine contradicts Ezekiel 18:20. It might be interesting to know that the CEB's rendering of this verse is correct. It says: "Only the one who sins will die. A child won't bear a parent's guilt, and a parent won't bear a child's guilt. Those who do right will be declared innocent, and the wicked will be declared guilty." Since this is true, no one can bear the guilt of Adam!

Another verse where the translators placed their own belief in the text is John 3:16. The NKJV says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The CEB rendering is this: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won't perish but will have eternal life." Notice that the words "should not perish" are changed to "won't perish" in the CEB? This supports the Calvinist doctrine of once saved always saved. Can a person fall from God's grace? Read Galatians 5:4 and see for yourself. Yes, the person who believes in Jesus should not perish, but that does not mean he won't perish. The words translated "should not perish" in the NKJV and "won't perish" in the CEB are in the subjunctive mood.  The subjunctive mood indicates probability or possibility. The action of the verb will possibly happen, depending on objective factors or circumstances. In the case of one who believes in Christ, if he stops believing in Him and thus ceases to do His will, he will perish (Matthew 7:21). The translators of the CEB had to know that the word perish is in the subjunctive mood. They had to know that it means this is a possibility rather than a definite. Yet, they used the words "won't perish" which are definite words. Again, they inserted their personal belief into the text.

In regard to what I have already seen about the CEB translation, I cannot recommend it. It is not accurately translated, at least in the passages we have considered in this article. In these places the translators inserted their own denominational believes into the text.  As I said, I have not read the whole translation but I plan on doing that and I will amend this article as I have time if I find other things that need to be pointed out. When translators place their own denominational doctrines into the text how can we trust it? That is what the translators of the CEB have done. I would hope and pray that correction will be made by them in the future.

 

       


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