CEB Lord’s Prayer

Following is the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) from Matthew 6, along with my comments on it for the CEB translation team. I have boldfaced the words in question in the translation; my comments are in italics. Your comments on the translation or my comments are welcome.

9 Pray like this:

Our Father who is in heaven;
let

wrong meaning (permissive) for most current English speakers; “may” is better since it communicates a wish/desire

your name be holy.
10 Let your kingdom come;

May

let what you will

your will

be done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
11 Give us the bread we need for today.
12 And forgive us the things we should have done but didn’t,

I don’t think this will be accepted by your intended audience, especially those which follow a liturgy. I suggest simply “our sins”

just as we also forgive those who don’t treat us as they should.

who sin against us

13 And don’t bring us to the place

It’s more than just a location which “the place,” communicates to most current speakers. A synonym which isn’t limited to geography would be “the point.” But I suspect you may need to stay closer to some traditional wording here, for acceptability, such as simply “temptation” then delete from here to the end of the sentence.

where we will be tempted,
but rescue us from the evil one.

You will, of course, need a footnote here to indicate that some mss. include “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours” so that those who recite the KJV wording in liturgy will not feel that you have left out the ending.

34 thoughts on “CEB Lord’s Prayer

  1. Doug says:

    “the things we should have done but didn’t,” seems ambiguous to me. Why not use “sin”? Even if this was written for a certain reading level, I think it is important to use terms that are not usually used and perhaps not known to the reader. Helping, for instance, someone understand what sin is, pushes them to a greater knowledge of doctrine and theology. I still wonder the purpose of this translation is. If a version is needed for a younger reading level, there are a number of translations available such as the NCV.

  2. danny says:

    “And forgive us the things we should have done but didn’t”

    I think most English speakers would insert a “for” in between “us” and “the.” Or is that just me?

  3. Gary Zimmerli says:

    This is one of the things I’ve been mulling over. They probably should retain some traditional wording, but use footnotes and maybe even a dictionary of biblical terms in the back to help people understand. If they think they have to explain everything, like “repent” for example, the translation will become clumsy and unpleasant. “The Human One” is another that could be left alone, i.e., left as “Son of Man”, but should be explained in a note or short article somewhere.

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Doug asked:

    I still wonder the purpose of this translation is.

    I think the purpose is to replace the NRSV for those churches which currently use it as their pew Bible but wish to use more current and more natural English. At least that’s what I get from what is posted on the CEB website. As for why not use a translation already published, such as the NCV, I suspect the answer largely has to do with denominational credibility. The CEB is being produced especially for “mainline” denominational churches (e.g. Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian), a wider spectrum of churches than just evangelical churches. Evangelicals have produced the majority of English Bibles in recent years and apparently some mainline denominations wish to have a Bible version that doesn’t have what they perceive to be an evangelical bias. I’m sure that those promoting the CEB would consider the NCV to have too low a reading level. I think it is about grade level 3. The CEB is aimed at about grade 7. That’s a good reading level for liturgical use.

    Now, those are just my guesses. If Paul Franklyn, the project director, reads your questions, his answers would not be guesses.

  5. Wayne Leman says:

    Gary wrote:

    If they think they have to explain everything, like “repent” for example, the translation will become clumsy and unpleasant. “The Human One” is another that could be left alone, i.e., left as “Son of Man”, but should be explained in a note or short article somewhere.

    Gary, from a viewpoint of professional translation, the CEB wording for “repent” is not an explanation but a translation. It is an attempt to actually translate the meaning of the original Greek word to English words which have the same meaning. The English word “repent” is largely a church word. Its biblical meaning is sometimes more accurately expressed with other English words.

    As for “Human One” as translation of ho huios tou anthropou, it really is a matter for scholarly debate as to whether it is better to syntactically transliterate it from the biblical languages as “Son of Man” or to attempt to translate its core meaning into English which communicates that core meaning as accurately and clearly as possible. The title “Son of Man” communicates very little of its original biblical meaning to English because it is a syntactic transliteration, that is, it is a word-for-word translation, rather than a translation of its original meaning. If a translation wording communicates little or no meaning, or, obviously wrong meaning, then it is legitimate to debate other options for translation, even if tradition might suggest leaving the unclear traditional wording alone.

    There can be debate about how accurate “Human One” is as a translation, but I am confident that it communicates meaning to English speakers, whereas Son of Man does not. “Son of Man” is simply a label, a name. (I can also say that I considered using a translation that meant basically the same thing as Human One in the tribal translation we helped with before I became a translation consultant.) The CEB translators have chosen to translate the original biblical words (from both Hebrew and Greek) focusing on one of the meaning components of those original words. Perhaps there is a more accurate, clearer wording than Human One. It makes a nice exercise for us to try to find one. I happen to know that Bible scholars and translators have been wrestling with this one for many years. There is no easy solution. Sometimes the decision is simply made to leave the traditional wording and try to teach its intended meaning to people. That is a reasonable solution. But it bypasses the purpose of Bible translation, which is to allow people to understand the meaning of the text of the Bible in their own language. If we have to teach people the meanings of words used in a translation, we haven’t fully translated yet. Obviously, with any translation we will still have to teach concepts conveyed by translation words, but it is not certain that we should have to teach the meanings of the words themselves. That is supposed to be the purpose of the translation itself, yes?

    I applaud the CEB team on this one, for *trying* to translate the meaning of this important biblical name. Perhaps a better translation can be found. I would applaud that, as well.

  6. Paul Franklyn says:

    We continue to appreciate these reflections; two brief replies:
    1) Human One will be explained in the full preface of the CEB NT. With reading groups we noticed that readers seem to think instinctively “Son of God” when they read “Son of Man.” They actually notice that Jesus is both human and divine when we render Human One (we render “human being” in the OT) as the English equivalent for the semitic idiom, bene ‘adam.

    2) No matter how many translations have appeared, Protestant churches that recite the Lord’s Prayer in the liturgy seem permanently committed to the KJV that was memorized as a child. Last week as we prepared for Communion, the phrase “as Jesus taught us to pray” was jarring (to me) when it was followed by the thees and thous. I wondered how an entire community or denomination would dare change the Lord’s Prayer in worship. One pastor at a time. I supposed that revision of creedal liturgy is not the leading problem for us to tackle when offering a new translation.

    Keep ’em coming,
    Paul

  7. Brian McLemore says:

    Wayne,

    World Bible Translation Center produced the base text for the NCV. The reading level was checked on our Easy-to-Read New Testament for its initial publication (1978) at 3.87. My impression is that the NCV is on a 4th grade level because they combined some sentences, which would make it a higher reading level.

    Great stuff! Very helpful to the global Bible translation community.

  8. Mark Wutka says:

    I was wondering if there is any way to convey “name” better. Didn’t it have a richer context than just a label, and do modern English readers understand that context when they read “name”? I can’t think of anything that would be brief enough to not break the rhythm of the prayer.

    I really like Wayne’s suggestions, I think it would flow better.

    With respect to “Son of Man”, will “bene ‘adam” be rendered as “human being” in Dan 7:13? I imagine that’s a tough call.

  9. Doug says:

    Ok, thanks for your response. Just wondered that’s all. I do think a dictionary in the back of any Bible with some of the more difficult terms would benefit many people, even those who think they might know the definition of that word. I would suggest this translation include this.

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    Mark asked:

    I was wondering if there is any way to convey “name” better. Didn’t it have a richer context than just a label, and do modern English readers understand that context when they read “name”? I can’t think of anything that would be brief enough to not break the rhythm of the prayer.

    Mark, the answer to your question is “yes”. In the Semitic mind, a person’s name represented the entire person. This figure of speech of part-for-the-whole is called synecdoche. When English speakers hear “hallowed by thy name” or, in more current English, “may your name be holy,” they do not understand that the biblical meaning is actually “may you be treated as holy.” In other words, it is a prayer that people would treat God our Father as holy. Very few English Bible versions translate the meaning of the biblical figure of speech however, preferring to stay with the traditional wording referring to God’s name. Again, this is one of those places where a traditional wording gets only part of the meaning and the rest of the meaning has to be taught. If we believe that we should teach the meaning of words in a Bible version, that is fine. If we believe that a Bible version should translate the meanings of the original words so that we can understand them in our own language, then we need to translate the meanings of figures of speech as well as non-figurative language.

    It’s perfectly fine to footnote the literal meanings of figures of speech for those people who want to know how the speakers in Bible times worded the meanings that they communicated. But we have to understand that every language uses different words to communicate the same meaning. That’s what complete translation is about.

  11. Bob MacDonald says:

    wot we should have done but din’t – this is a sin of omission
    wot we should have not done but did – this is of commission

    surely language level does not apply to misdemeanors. (All grade 6 readers understand misdemeanors.

    And as for the place – ouch – the place (Hebrew Maqom) is a critical theme in the Scriptures – from Bethel to ‘behold the place where they laid him’. Good grief – this is appalling translation.

  12. Wayne Leman says:

    Brian, thanks for the precise reading level for the NCV. I wasn’t sure if it was 3 or 4, so I just went with “about grade level 3.” I think that the NCV and CEV are probably nearly identical in reading level. The NLT would be a couple of grade levels higher.

    Unfortunately, as Paul Franklyn and we bloggers ourselves have pointed out, the typical reading level tests are not very accurate. They do not, for instance, account for archaic words, church words, obsolete syntax, imported syntax, etc.

    But they do give us a rough idea of the relative degrees of reading difficulty among different documents.

    Clearly, the ESV and KJV should be much higher in reading level than the NCV, CEV, and NLT. The NIV is somewhere in between, probably at about the 8th grade level, if I remember Paul Franklyn’s recent note correctly.

  13. Kevin Sam says:

    12 And forgive us the things we should have done but didn’t, just as we also forgive those who don’t treat us as they should.

    This will not acceptable to traditionalists and evangelicals, period. It has already turned me off. I prefer the NRSV.

  14. Jason A. Staples says:

    Good stuff, Wayne. The only thing I’m not sure about in your critique is the use of “may” instead of “let.” As far as I can tell, “may” tends to be used in two contexts:

    1) In formal requests like, “may I go to the restroom?” (I think this is its most common use.)
    2) Expressing uncertainty about the future (i.e. a “subjunctive”): “That may happen. Or it may not.”

    I understand that it lexically denotes desire, but I’m not sure it’s used all that often in that context, and using it instead of “let” makes the prayer into more of a somewhat uncertain formal request (connoting something like, “If possible, please make your name holy”) than the jussive force of “let.”

    I don’t like “let” all that much either, since English speakers don’t use the jussive all that often outside liturgical language.

    Would it perhaps be better to change the jussive to an imperative, which is more common? How about something like: “Make your name holy. Establish your kingdom; cause your will to be done on earth in the way it is done in heaven”?

  15. Charles says:

    “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…” is far different than “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours”.

    To me the former means you, God are the kingdom, and the later means you own/posses the kingdom which is different than you.

  16. Jason A. Staples says:

    Charles’ post does an excellent job of showing just why “thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory” should not be used in modern translations: “thine” actually means “yours,” but many English speakers may not realize this because “thine” has effectively dropped out of English at this point.

  17. Charles says:

    So just that I may stand corrected, you are saying thine does not/cannot mean you in this case, and must/only mean yours.

  18. Charles says:

    I sure wish I could edit my post, I used to be able to do it?

    Anyway, to be honest, I don’t know Biblical Greek…..BUT

    I was of the impression su (you) as opposed to sou yours, thine, is the second person singular of thou, as in that shalt not kill, and thou preparest a table before me

  19. Peter Kirk says:

    “let what you will be done …”

    I’m not sure if this is why Wayne didn’t like this, but this reads to me as some kind of prediction or wish that God will be done, that someone will do God. Now this may be true of David Cameron if he becomes our Prime Minister, as David Keen predicts 😉 But seriously, you can’t put the words “you will be done” together and expect them to be read and understood as separate clauses.

  20. apprentice2jesus says:

    On their website when stating who this translation is for, they recognize all the translation work that has gone on, and is going on, but then clearly labels it “conservative,” then goes on to talk about this translation being for “mainstream” Christians.

    Is this going to be another Liberal vs. Conservative deal?

  21. Jason A. Staples says:

    Charles, you’re right about “su” vs. “sou,” but the extended variant of Matt 6:13 (the version with the “kingdom and power”) has “sou,” hence “thine” rather than “thou.”

  22. Gary Simmons says:

    I’m surprised nobody has commented on verse 11. What’s the meaning of epousios? Is it 1) today’s bread, 2) tomorrow’s bread, or 3) bread necessary for existence?

    Concerning may vs. let:
    Although “may” can be used to express a future possibility, the subjunctive idea, this is not the case when it is first in the sentence. Since it comes first, there is no ambiguity for an English reader (on a high enough reading level to know that “may” can be used for prayers at all). In short:
    “Your kingdom may come” = it might happen
    “May your kingdom come” = I want it to happen

    “Let” is likewise ambiguous; it can either be used for permissiveness (jussive/imperative idea) or for prayer (optative idea).

    The issue, really, is not which word is ambiguous. Both can be misunderstood as something other than optative. The reason for this is that prayers are not a part of English literature that most people are familiar with.

    Concerning “things we should have done but didn’t”: I don’t think this really gets the full meaning across. I don’t have professional credentials — I took 3 years of Greek at Oklahoma Christian and have been studying on my own for 2 years — but I question restricting ofelema strictly to moral debts from inaction. If someone commits a sin that damages another, then the sinner owes restitution. Therefore, I see this Greek word as referring to both categories of sins; I don’t think it’s accurate to narrow it.

    Wayne: thank you especially for the comment on synecdoche with “name.” Due to my limited education, I’ve never considered the use of synecdoche beyond a physical parts-to-whole reference, such as “shall I not surely drink this cup?” However, the Lord’s Prayer makes more sense now. Reverence for God and the spread of His reign/kingdom would be parallels, then.

  23. Jason A. Staples says:

    Good points RE: may/let, Gary. My concern with “may” is precisely that it requires someone “on a high enough reading level to know that ‘may’ can be used for prayers at all,” and that it is specifically “language of prayer” rather than more colloquial English.

  24. Joel H. says:

    Regarding the Lord’s Prayer:

    12 And forgive us the things we should have done but didn’t,
    just as we also forgive those who don’t treat us as they should.

    I think moving away from “debt” is a mistake, because the “debt” of sin is central to the point. (I’m also not sure that the notion is precisely “do to us what we do to others,” but rather “do to us something which is metaphorically like what we do to others.”)

    The topic is fresh is my mind because I just reviewed Gary A. Anderson’s Sin: A History, and he makes the point (very convincingly) that sin as debt was an innovation.

    Furthermore, everyone knows what debt is, unlike some other ancient concepts. So the metaphor is readily available for anyone who would care to read it, regardless of reading level.

  25. Peter Kirk says:

    Joel, I suspect a problem with “forgive us our debts” is that people will take it too literally, as referring to financial debts, especially in an age in which so many of us have lots of them we would like to have forgiven!

  26. Joel H. says:

    Peter: I wonder if a middle ground isn’t possible (though nothing particularly good comes to mind). Maybe, “forgive our debts to you…” or “forgive our debt to God…” if an explanation is needed. (Also, I think the second part may have been literal — as if to say, “forgive our sin the way we forgive debt(or)s.”)

    I wouldn’t go with “forgive us our debts,” the syntax of which will probably be unfamiliar to most.

  27. Gary Simmons says:

    Agreed: prayer language is itself an awkward thing in English. On a higher reading level, “may” would be better since it is not ambiguous as the first word of the sentence, but for this grade level “let” will have to suffice.

    There’s also the issue of taking “as we forgive our debtors” as descriptive of the way Americans forgive debtors. Which is to say, “with interest.” Perhaps adding “as we certainly forgive our debtors” would better explain that Jesus expects us to actually forgive our debtors. I know that He says that just a few verses later explicitly, but the perfect tense ἀφήκαμεν kinda presupposes the certainty of the action (in this context), doesn’t it?

    Again: I’m still a student, but I’m eager to learn.

  28. LeRoy says:

    Let us try again…
    Mt 6:9 Then, in this way you pray: Our Father, who in the heavens, your name is consecrated ,––
    Mt 6:10 Let your Kingdom come; as in heaven, let your will come into being, also on earth:
    Mt 6:11 Give us, to-day; sufficient bread,
    Mt 6:12 And give up our false steps, as, even we, give up our debtors [false steps];
    Mt 6:13 And not to *carry forward into putting us to trial, but to draw us [rescue] from the wicked.
    Note: see selections from Wilfed E. Major’s Ancient Greek frequency list 2
    Also note with the συνεισφερω it would then be “contribute” into putting us to trial; which would be a misnomer considering that God does not tempt anyone.
    The bottom line is, does God lead us into temptation? No.

  29. Dave says:

    12 And forgive us the things we should have done but didn’t, just as we also forgive those who don’t treat us as they should.

    I agree with other posters that the choice of words has watered down Christ’s intent…this will not be accepted by the large majority of the church.

  30. Cory Howell says:

    As I read through the CEB translation of Matthew, I think my biggest problem thus far is their predilection for using language that is not forceful enough to carry the full meaning. The weaker reading of “the things we should have done,etc.” is a good example. I also am disappointed by the reading at the end of the Beatitudes, where “those who are persecuted” is rendered as “people whose lives are made miserable.” While it is no doubt true that persecuted people are made miserable by their suffering, the phrase “made miserable” in modern context often means something along the lines of “made upset.” How often have you heard someone say, “My boss is making my life miserable with all this paperwork,” or something like that?
    Oh, and my two cents on “Human One”: it reminds me of a cheesy 50s sci-fi movie, wherein aliens with antennae say, “The human one’s behavior is not logical. He must be destroyed.”

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