Blind comparison of the Common English Bible

Eddie Gonzalez posted a comparison of the Common English Bible with some other translations looking at whether it lives up to its claim of being “relevant, readable, and reliable.”

Eddie shows two different passages. About each he asks, “(1) Which is the CEB translation?; and (2) Which is the most comfortable, readable English version?”

When I looked at the versions, I was most sensitized to unnatural English syntax and Biblish. So something like, “Most assuredly, I say to you” got pushed into the pile of translations that definitely aren’t “common English.”

Let me editorialize here and ask, “What do you get for the girl who has everything?” For the English-reading public, a generic Bible version is probably going to have a tough time getting noticed. It’s like someone deciding to bring out a new hand soap or brand of chewing gum. The market is too big and too saturated. So, I predict that the only hope for a new English translation to find any readership is to be different. Find a niche. Be the first Open Source translation. Be the slangiest version. Be anything but common. Because with versions like the NIV and NET and CEV out there, a common language translation has to compete with some very firmly entrenched competitors. ESV and The Message are two good examples of translations that have gained a foothold by being different rather than common.

I appreciate Eddie’s attempt to be fair even while he has his doubts about the version. Note mshedden’s comment regarding possibly polemical translation choices which may cause the CEB more trouble in gaining acceptance.

Check out Eddie’s post and see if you can identify the Common English.

I should have done better research. A number of other friendly bloggers have been looking at the CEB as well:

Posted in: CEB

20 thoughts on “Blind comparison of the Common English Bible

  1. Theophrastus says:

    T. C. Robinson points out that at Galatians 2:19-2:20, the translator forgot to translate Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι. Oops.

    It really is quite awkward, quite frequently. Too bad it wasn’t proofread.

  2. Dannii says:

    While I thought the CEB wasn’t the worst out of them, I preferred the NLT over it. I can’t explain well why for the first one, but I can for the second.

    If I say “it wasn’t X who Y-ed but …” you would expect me to follow by saying who did. The CEB (in John 6:32) instead follows with a new clause. It’s not as bad as it could be, only very awkward, because at least the second clause’s subject is the answer to the first clause.

  3. Theophrastus says:

    I also have to wonder why the CEB — given the ecumenical rhetoric in its preface — hasn’t worked with the USCCB to get the imprimatur. There are 68 million Catholics in the US alone.

    I also wonder why Eastern Orthodox scholars were excluded from the translation. (The NRSV, of course, had an Eastern Orthodox translator.)

    Just for comparison — the RSV took fifteen years to prepare. The NRSV took seventeen years to prepare. In contrast, the CEB is reportedly a new translation (not a revision) and it is taking three years. The publishers claim that technology is helping them accelerate the publication process, but it seems also they cut corners on the proof-reading: In addition to omissions and awkward sentences, the individual books in the CEB are written in a very different style, even among books with common style in the Greek — e.g., the Pauline epistles.

    (Of course, the CEB could apply for the imprimatur at a later date, but normally it is helpful to work with the USCCB during the process. When the NRSV was published, it received the imprimatur simultaneously from the US and Canadian Bishops’ Conferences. There is a lot to be said for this: the NRSV is now the official lectionary in Canada, and it is becoming the lectionary in Britain and several other English-language jurisdictions outside the US.)

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    I received my free copy of a new paperback CEB New Testament this week. It has an attractive single-column layout and a strong binding. I have been marking CEB wordings which strike my ears as unnatural English. Overall, the CEB is far better in terms of natural English, as spoken and written by native speakers, than most English Bible translations (not counting the most natural ones, TEV/GNT, CEV, NCV). But like any translation produced by seminarians who often lose touch with their own native English intuitiions, it has a few “oops” passages. But these can be fixed, I assume, before the Old Testament is added.

    Here are some unnatural English CEB wordings which I have spotted in my skimming so far:

    “recognized their deception” (Luke 20:23) — I’m not sure how natural it is to “recognize” someone’s deception. Also, I’m not sure how natural it is to have the noun “deception” possessed. I suggest: “recognized that they were trying to deceive him.”

    “Why are doubts arising in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) — In English doubts can increase or decrease and they probably can do a few other things, but I don’t think that doubts “arise” in natural English.

    “I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth” (John 18:37) — In English we can testify to someone or a group of people, but I’m not sure we can testify to anything else, such as abstract entities such as freedom, integrity, or the truth.

    “the prophecies that were once made about you” (1 Tim. 1:18) — In English I don’t think prophecies are “made” about someone. Instead, we more naturally say something like “what was once prophesied about you.”

    “a preacher and apostle of this testimony” (1 Tim. 2:7) –In English we are not preachers or apostles of a/this “testimony.”

    “considerable confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3:13) — I have difficulty understanding what meaning is intended here. I don’t think we would ever naturally say that we have “confidence in the faith”. If faith here refers to the system of beliefs that Christians have, and if the intended meaning is that they are confident that set of beliefs is true, then in English we can naturally say something like “confident that our faith in Christ Jesus is well placed/or, “is based on truth.”

    “the joy that was laid out in front of him” (Heb. 12:2) — In English joy is not “laid out”, let alone, “laid out in front of” someone. Instead, we need to think of more natural English, that can be tweaked here, along the lines of “joy that he would experience (in the future?)”

    “Prayer that comes from faith” (James 5:15) — I don’t think prayer “comes” from faith. I think there is some other English wording that better expresses the relationship between prayer and faith.

    “On account of his vast mercy” (1 Pet. 1:3) — “vast mercy” especially seems “churchy” to me.

    Since the CEB has far more natural than unnatural English, I want to post soon a list of particularly good, natural wordings in this new translation.

  5. Clay Knick says:

    While I have not read the entire CEB (my free copy arrived this week, too) I continue to see absolutely no reason to move away from using and recommending the NRSV/NIV/TNIV as a primary translation and the RSV as a good translation to include for close study of a text. I would be more inclined to recommend the NLT for extended reading than the CEB at this time. I see the CEB as more of a second tier translation. I might change my mind in the future and I will not hesitate to use it and quote it. But for now something like the NRSV/NIV/TNIV seems best. Just my opinion.

  6. Russell says:

    It is a shame it is yet another copyrighted translation. They could have been the first open source translation with institutional backing which would have made it a historically important work…

    (not the first Open Source translation per se – that goes to the public domain WEB. And also the in progress creative commons licensed Open English Bible)

  7. Theophrastus says:

    Since NA27/UBS4 is under copyright, any translation of NA27/UBS4 must also be copyright protected. To avoid this problem, one must either edit one’s own Greek New Testament (as Zondervan has done) or use a version of the Greek New Testament in public domain (e.g., Westcott-Hort).

  8. Dru Brooke-Taylor says:

    “Since NA27/UBS4 is under copyright, any translation of NA27/UBS4 must also be copyright protected.”

    Are you sure that follows? It might if it were simply a translation of that text alone AND NO OTHER. Once one applies critical choice to more than one text, it would be my understanding that this ceases to be the case. This is particularly so since copyright cannot exist in the NT Greek text itself. So any copyright one editor of the Greek text may assert can only be in his or her typeface or editorial choices.

    Having said that, and to return to the subject matter of the post, I’ve queried before whether multiplying yet more slightly different translations into English is the best use of translation endeavour. I commented a few months ago about another current effort that I wondered if it should be known as the NAV for Not Another Version.

  9. Theophrastus says:

    Dru, two affirmative defenses against copyright infringement are:

    (1) the translators created their own critical translation (this is the claim made by Zondervan, for example, when the German Bible Society challenged its Greek New Testament); and (2) fair use (which allows limited use of a copyright protected work).

    However, these defenses are probably not available if the translation states (as does the CEB on pp. viii and ix of the current edition):

    “Translators of the New Testament used as their base text the eclectic Greek text known as Nestle-Aland, the twenty-seventh edition, which was published in 1993.”

    Further, these defenses are complicated because English Bible translations are usually published both inside and outside the US; British and Commonwealth copyright is in many ways stronger than US copyright.

    In the end, it comes down to money. Perhaps one factor in the German Bible Society’s decision not to sue Zondervan was that Zondervan is a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and had more than sufficient resources to launch an aggressive defense against a lawsuit. The costs to the German Bible Society would be high and the chances of success were limited. Smaller translation efforts, in contrast, are much more at risk of being sued.

  10. Russell says:

    Stan’s comment says by way of analogy: “It takes sweat equity to create a phone book, but you cannot copyright a phone book.”

    The advice Stan passes on in that comment is specific to the USA – up until this year it did not hold true in Australia for example. As Theophrastus says, other countries often have stronger copyright laws (or laws that are strong in different ways) so I would be wary of relying on it outside the specific context it was given in.

    Apologies for derailing this post!

  11. David Ker says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Copyright is a big issue. I assume the translation cost money to produce and that it will need to sell copies to recoup those costs. That’s fine and good. But in such a crowded market it is worth questioning why a translation like this was produced at all. With so many alternatives the bottom line is almost certainly ideological.

  12. Clay Knick says:


    The CEB seems to be marketing itself towards the mainline as an alternative translation to translations like the NLT. I’ve gotten this impression from reading the CEB blog and some of the ads. I have no links or “proof” for this, but it is simply an impression.

  13. Theophrastus says:

    I predict the CEB will have difficulty displacing the NRSV, because (a) the NRSV is more ecumenical; (b) the NRSV has academic respectability and resources; and (c) Mainline members tend to have relatively high education levels and thus are less in need of a fifth-grade level translation. I therefore agree with David Ker — this translation was not sufficiently innovative to justify yet another translation on the market.


    My arguments in detail:

    First, the NRSV translation process was more ecumenical — it received the imprimatur from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (and also from the Canadian Conference); but so far, there is no evidence that the CEB is going to try for a similar process. (In fact the NRSV is becoming the official Catholic liturgy in most English speaking jurisdictions outside the US — and thus some Protestant churches with a high church tradition may be likely to follow.) Similarly, the NRSV translation included an Eastern Orthodox scholar, but the CEB’s translation committee appears to have shut out Eastern Orthodox.

    Second, the NRSV translation has been extremely popular in academic circles, and as a result there are many scholarly and semi-scholarly study Bibles and commentaries using the NRSV (e.g., the New Oxford Annotated Bible, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, the multi-volume New Interpreters Bible, the HarperCollins Study Bible, the Access Bible, the [Augsburg] Lutheran Study Bible, the Renovare Study Bible, NRSV Student Study Bible, the New English Translation of the Septuagint (which is translated to parallel the NRSV in particular), the Oxford Bible Commentary (which like the following commentaries, is keyed to the NRSV), Eerdman’s Bible Commentary, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, ….) This cannot be a comprehensive list, there are simply too many volumes (I estimate the number to be easily over a 1000) that use the NRSV; and if one adds to that volumes that use the RSV, one has most of the non-sectarian academic literature in Biblical studies today. Now, I think that Mainline churches, which particularly value academic scholarship, benefit tremendously from this. For example, many run Bible study programs using study Bibles such as the New Oxford Annotated or HarperCollins Study or New Interpreter’s Study. On the other hand, it is hard for me to imagine that a similar wealth of academic translations will appear for the CEB — the market is too crowded and one rarely prepares college level materials that are written at the fifth-grade reading level.

    Third, in the US, Mainline Protestants tend to have relatively high education levels. You can read the results here. 34% of Mainline members have college or postgraduate degrees and an additional 24% have some college. This suggests to me that there is greater tolerance for a translation that has a higher reading level.

    (In fact, note that the groups with the very highest educational levels tend to use original languages in liturgy and study: Jews (59% college and post-graduate degrees) and [Eastern] Orthodox (46% college and post-graduate degrees).)

    For all these reasons I rather doubt that the CEB will eat into the NRSV’s market or mind share. I can, however, imagine that it may partially displace the Good News Translation as a Mainline translations for children.

    In conclusion, I must agree with David Ker — the CEB is not sufficiently innovative to justify a new translation — it is rather “more of the same.” (And, in fact, given the number of serious errors in the current version of the translation, it is a step backwards. I am surprised the publishers released it so widely.)


    We do need more English translations, but they need to fill gaps that are missing in the current translation landscape. Some examples of recent translations that filled important gaps were:

    * The New English Translation of the Septuagint — by far the most scholarly English translation of the Septuagint.

    * The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible — a critically edited version of the KJV, together with an extensive textual apparatus in a second volume, that is by far the closest version we have of the original KJV.

    * The 1560 Geneva Bible — by far the most important translation of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras. While this is not a new translation, its facsimile republication (just in time for the 450th anniversary — what are you doing to celebrate?) by Hendrickson together original notes, illustrations, and maps is a cause for celebration.

    * The Drazin/Wagner Onkelos on the Torah a fantastic pentaglot translation (Hebrew/Aramaic/English/Rashi/English critical notes on the Aramaic) that gives an English reader closer connection with the Onkelos Aramaic than any existing translation.

    * The Commentator’s Bible: The JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot a serious attempt to completely reproduce a Rabbinic Bible in English, with fresh translations of medieval Bible commentaries.


    In contrast, it seems to me that even modest innovations in Evangelical and Mainline Bible publication by major publishers are swatted down. Thus the TNIV had some innovative ideas (the radically formatted IBS Books of the Bible, the first African-American dramatized audio version Bible Experience), but the TNIV is being withdrawn in favor of the more conservative NIV2011.

    The absolute rejection of any innovation sets up an environment where the only possible new translations will be “more of the same”, à la the CEB.

  14. Theophrastus says:

    By the way, I don’t mean for my list above of recent innovative Bible translations to be exhaustive, for example, the ongoing translation project by Robert Alter (the next installment: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes is due on October 11)and the translation by Barnstone are both highly original and serious attempts to capture the underlying rhythm and even phonology of the Biblical texts.

    But Alter and Barnstone are individual efforts; intended for small, discerning audiences; not efforts involving massive advertising campaigns and dozens and dozens of translators.

    If one wants a mainline translation aimed at the fifth grade level, what’s wrong with the GNT/TEV?

  15. Iver Larsen says:

    Today I read the comments on Robinson’s blog called New Leaven. My impression from the reviews is that Galatians and Romans were translated by different people. Robinson says that Romans was translated by Richard Hays. Does it say anywhere who translated the different books? I am strongly opposed to Hays’ theology and interpretation of Romans, and that is reason enough for me to reject CEB, whether it is good on naturalness or not.

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