CEB Matthew is at the press

CommonEnglishBibleLogoA sampler for the forthcoming Common English Bible, the Gospel of Matthew, is now in press. I hope to receive a copy of this sampler before too long. I have been very interested in the CEB project since I first learned of it, a year or so ago, and read the goals its production and translation team have for it. I was intrigued by the first goal for the CEB:

Clarity of language, as in “plain speaking”

Very few English Bibles have had “plain speaking” as any goal, let alone their first goal. I hope that this goal will be achieved in this translation. Far too many English Bibles are made by exegetes who know the biblical languages well, but set aside their natural ability to speak and write English well when they translate the biblical language texts to English.

I also hope that there will be sufficient time for linguists and English scholars to interact with the sampler, and perhaps other books (37 are now complete) of the CEB before this new translation is published, when revisions are much more difficult to make. I have been trying, ever since I heard of the CEB project, to receive permission to study drafts of the CEB in case I, as an English Bible reviewer, might be able to help the CEB better live up to its goals. But I have been unsuccessful. Perhaps there are confidentiality requirements preventing someone who is not on the translation team from having any review input. I would hope not. I have appreciated the warm welcome my revision suggestions have received from several other English Bible translation teams. Many of the suggestions have been adopted as revisions.

Click here to read a recent blog post with more on the CEB. Click here for the Wikipedia article on the CEB.

22 thoughts on “CEB Matthew is at the press

  1. Clay Knick says:

    I’m looking forward to the CEB too. I hope to get multiple copies of the sampler for the church and to distribute to friends.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Will, I have only seen a verse or two of the CEB. I very much want to see much more of it. But from what I have seen and from my interactions with its project director, it would appear that the CEB is quite different from the HCSB. The CEB is written in English closer to how native English speakers actually speak and write. The HCSB is written more in the Bible English dialect. Review teams and paid English stylists have been central to the CEB translation process. I don’t think the HCSB team had either. The HCSB is a good translation. It is closer to being a Formal Equivalent translation. We’ll have to see where the CEB fits on the continuum of Formal Equivalent to Natural English. I hope to get the Matthew sampler in a day or two and then I will be able to tell how it is categorized in terms of Natural English or Formal Equivalence.

  3. Jonathan Downie says:

    What an excellent idea! Although, as a born-again, professional translator, I might ask: clear for whom? What an accountant sees as being clear may not be clear at all to a teenager. What a Bible scholar might think is clear might be incredibly complex to a scholar in medicine.

    It will be interesting to see how this project comes along and I will try to get my sampler.

  4. John Radcliffe says:

    So now there’ll be a “Common English BIBLE” in addition to the “Common English VERSION”. That seems like a recipe for confusion to me.

  5. John Radcliffe says:

    Correction, it was the initials I was really thinking about: we’ll have a CEB and a CEV.

    (I’ve just remembered that in the latter C = “Contemporary” not “Common”)

  6. Gary Zimmerli says:

    It would be nice if they’d “publish” an online sampler, say, a chapter or two, so we could get an idea of what it will look like in the final product.

  7. Nick says:

    [[I have been trying, ever since I heard of the CEB project, to receive permission to study drafts of the CEB … But I have been unsuccessful. Perhaps there are confidentiality requirements preventing someone who is not on the translation team from having any review input. I would hope not.]]

    I certainly hope not as well. I would also agree that it is very important that they give interested linguists enough time to interact with the pre-pub, and hopefully they will be open to those outside their team. Anything less will be … old school. (This is the age of wikipedia, right? where the set-editorial team of Ency Britannica sees their encylopedia outread by, what?, a thousand to one?) We’ll see.

  8. Paul Franklyn says:

    Hello better bible bloggers. I hear you about feedback (as project director) on the Common English Bible. Old school translation would be to place 20 men (emphasis on gender) in a secluded room at a seminary for 15 years. But Bible translation has indeed moved from a place to many places, including cyberplaces.

    We also did not replicate the NET workflow, which is more of a wiki. That experiment had its novelty and identity (soial location), and it seems to serve conservative Protestants with academic needs because of the notes.

    The CEB involves over 500 readers (convened by paid leaders in focus groups) located in 13 denominations, who send in feedback embedded on documents to our project web site. The difficult part of the development process is keeping the workflow linear enough to avoid “loops” that delay a project for years. In fact, the old school approach took 10 to 17 years for a major translation to complete, due to systemic looping. The RSV was in development from 1934-1951, and the NRSV from 1974 to 1989. The NIV from the mid 1960s (indeed started by one denomination, CRC) until 1978/1984. The Catholic NAB revision might be aiming for a record 20-something years of development.

    One sort of loop is where two translators or editors go back and forth correcting each other, without closure. Each year of delay can cost a translation project half a million dollars in expenses, in part because staff are be hired to work on products and promotion, and then wait for closure.

    Matthew will likely be available for PDF download tomorrow at, which is the official web site for the emerging translation. Just a splash page for now, more to come.

    We do want your feedback, with a link for comments. For example, this translation uses contractions. With some exceptions based on social location, nearly all readers appreciate contractions once they remember that they don’t need to use a special ecclesisial voice register when reading the Bible aloud. Last night after a presentation, a denominational official (not my own) mentioned to me that contractions were not used in the Greek or Hebrew. By analogy, one could say yes, perhaps they were. In Hebrew pronouns are usually contracted on the ends of nouns or verbs. In Greek pronouns are often embedded in the conjugation of verbs. Of course this kind of compressed syntax is not identical to how we contract pronouns or negations in English, but the analogy seems to be a parallel. What do you think?

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    Paul, I’m always happy to check for grammatical and natural English for no pay. I have seen how difficult it is for Bible translation teams to make those checks, even with checking groups, before publication. And after publication it becomes very expensive to change things that some might consider “insignificant” but which really do make a difference as to whether or not a translation is grammatical and natural. But grammatical I am thinking of examples which appear in many English versions such as:

    “The rich is destined for punishment.”

    No, that’s not grammatical in English, although the original Hebrew it is attempting to translate was grammatical. In English an adjective substantival like “the rich” only is plural and so must take plural subject-verb agreement. If the Hebrew adjective is singular, then we have to include some English “filler” word to make the English grammatical, such as:

    “The rich one is destined for punishment.”


    “The rich person is destined for punishment.”

    Few reading groups are able to catch such grammatical problems. Many stylists, especially if they are familiar with Bible English do not catch this kind of ungrammatical English. It requires English scholars or linguists who are committed to checking so meticulously to ensure that a translation has only grammatical English. It requires a great deal of self-discipline not to approve Bible English which is ungrammatical in standard dialects of English.

  10. Jonathan Downie says:

    I would say that the use of contractions should depend on the purpose and audience of the translation. If it is aimed at use in churches, then the specific type of church and the socioeconomic status of the churchgoer will need to be taken into account. However, for normal reading, contractions are probably more natural.

    I would really like to see Bible translators be more specific about their primary target audience (and “churches” is not specific enough) and the intended use of the translation. This gives people a better idea of how, when and where the translation can/should be used. Also, please tell me that you will avoid using worn out phrases like “formal equivalence,” “literal/free translation” or even “dynamic equivalence.” In most modern professional translation work, these phrases are seen as only being useful for very small chunks of text. It is impossible to have an entire Bible translation that is a “literal translation” or a “free rendering.”

  11. Peter Kirk says:

    Paul, actually quite a lot of contractions are used in the Greek of the New Testament, although there tends to be wide variation between manuscripts on these matters. I am thinking of crasis like kago for kai ego, and of abbreviated forms of prepositions like like kat’ for kata, often but not always used before a vowel. Indeed I just checked the UBS NT text and found 1237 occurrences of the apostrophe, generally if not always marking a contracted preposition. I have no easy way of finding all cases of crasis, but in the NT there are 126 cases of kappa-alpha with the crasis mark indicating contraction of kai with a following word.

  12. Michael Nicholls says:

    How does CEB translate Acts 1:9? I think I’m going to use it as my new litmus test for Englishability.

    NIV: a cloud hid him from their sight

    NASB: a cloud received Him out of their sight

    Message: disappeared in a cloud

    ESV: a cloud took him out of their sight

    HCSB: a cloud received Him out of their sight

    Good job Eugene Peterson for getting this one right.

    “The airplane flew low over the houses, then a cloud received it out of my sight.” Really?

    I’m echoing Wayne sentiments, in that it’s hard to pick up these strange sound Bible English terms/phrases unless you’ve had some practice untraining your ears from years of Biblish.

  13. Paul Franklyn says:

    Joel Green is editing Luke-Acts right now. The litmus test is clouded with ambiguity, though. The text could mean that a passing cloud obscured Jesus (which might be the naturalist explanation, in which miracles are explained with natural forces). Or it might mean that Jesus was floating upward above a cloud, as if the cloud is taking him upward. We’ve seen both visions imagined in popular film. Either way, the interpretation is influenced by 2 Kings 2:11, where Elijah ascends into heaven through a meterological event (whirlwind). Perhaps Jesus departs with help of a more peaceful cloud. So this is why we have exegetes and linguists looking at a translation.

  14. Joel H. says:

    Peter: Regarding contractions, it’s possible — even likely — that in Greek contractions were of a different register than they are in English. Even just looking at English, I think that “I’ll” (for “I will”) is less informal then “Tom’ll” (for “Tom will”), even though both are standard spoken (American) English.

    Paul: I’ll also look forward to a public sample of the translation.

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    Indeed, Joel. I was just trying to cut the grounds from under the formalistic argument that “contractions were not used in the Greek or Hebrew” and so shouldn’t be in a translation.

  16. Wayne Leman says:

    Jonathan wrote:

    Also, please tell me that you will avoid using worn out phrases like “formal equivalence,” “literal/free translation” or even “dynamic equivalence.” In most modern professional translation work, these phrases are seen as only being useful for very small chunks of text. It is impossible to have an entire Bible translation that is a “literal translation” or a “free rendering.”

    I agree, Jonathan. I would like to see all English Bible version advertising and documentation drop these labels for the reason you have said. No single Bible version is one or the other. There is always a combination of approaches.

    I personally prefer talking about degrees of naturalness and degrees of grammatical wordings. Of course, there’s also the matter of accuracy, which is a separate issue, unrelated to how closely a translation mimics the forms of the biblical language texts. A translation can import syntax from the biblical languages to English and so cause inaccuracy in communicating the meaning of the original texts. The versions which most accurately communicate the meaning of the forms of the original texts are those which express that meaning using only English syntax and lexical combinations and, obviously, are exegetically accurate, as well.

  17. Jonathan Downie says:

    I don’t even like sliding scales. I much prefer to simply talk about the purpose of a translation as everything revolves around that. But anyway, congrats to the CEB team and I look forward to reading their work.

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