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Question and Answer

Common English Bible


What is your opinion of the new Common English Bible?


Various observers claim there are between 25 and 50 Bible versions/translations on the market today. In my opinion this proliferation has led to a great deal of confusion as well as much discontent. People have developed a mindset that no Bible version is completely satisfactory. One rarely opens the Scriptures in a worship service and finds he is reading from the same version as the minister or pew-mate. So, forgive me if I roll my eyes at the introduction of another Bible version.

I am by no means thoroughly acquainted with the Common English Bible (CEB), but I have read portions of it and find it generally accurate. I would put it on the level of the older Revised Standard Version (and note that it has the same biases as well, e.g., young woman vs. virgin in Isa. 7:14). Somewhat in contrast to the RSV, the translators routinely employ the “dynamic equivalence” standard in much of their work rather than make an effort to provide word-for-word equivalence where possible. Yet, (surprisingly) there are occasional significant passages where near word equivalence can be found. John 3:1–18 is an example.

The publishers give as their purpose a desire to use words that are more in line with the “common” English spoken every day, primarily in North America. To this end the translators have employed contractions and colloquialisms that make some of the dialogue and testimony sound more “folksy.” In Psalm 23, in the presence of my enemies becomes right in front of my enemies. In Matthew 4, Brood of vipers becomes children of snakes. Don’t expect to find theological words like justification, sanctification and propitiation. One of the most egregious products of their work is the ubiquitous use of Human One in place of Son of Man.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1.5) speaks of the “incomparable excellencies” of the Scriptures, including “the majesty of the style.” May I suggest that the majesty is greatly diminished in the CEB. Those who rue the “dumbing down” of modern society ought to include in their analyses both the de-stylization of the Bible from its majestic presentation and its concurrent abandonment as necessary reading for the truly educated person.

Here is a blurb from the CEB website, “The Common English Bible Committee meets periodically and consists of denominational publishers from the following denominations: Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press); Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Westminster John Knox Press); Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc); United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press); and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).” These are all “liberal” denominations, and it is to be expected that where feasible they will opt for liberal language and perspectives. The list of translators (also on the website) has a sprinkling of evangelical scholars, but for the most part includes liberal Protestants, some Roman Catholics and even a Jewish contributor. I should note that CEB includes the Apocrypha as well as canonical Scripture.

Other than for reference purposes, I would not recommend the CEB.

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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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