Common English Bible: First Impressions

I did not react very favorably to the announcement of the Common English Bible, because I didn’t really see the benefit of this particular version and its placement.  From a ministry point of view my question is just who will be reached by this Bible version, not just in evangelism and outreach but in discipleship and Bible study in the church.  I have a hard time seeing who that will be.  From a business point of view the question would be what niche will the version fill that is not already filled by a current Bible.

In order to receive a favorable evaluation based on either of those questions, a Bible version needs to be substantially better than those readily available.  Repairing a few clumsy structures isn’t sufficient.  I would add that I question the total resources placed into new translations in the English language as opposed to translations in other languages, especially those with no scriptures at all.  At the same time many Bible publishers do contribute some of their revenue to such projects.

Having thought (and said) all that, I still requested a free CEB New Testament, and I received it a couple of days ago.  I’m just going to give you my first impressions.  I want to thank the Common English Bible Committee for making these free New Testaments available and sending one to me.

I started by reading 2 Corinthians.  I found silent reading easy, and the general outlines of Paul’s arguments quite easy to follow.  I was not confronted with excessively theological language that I would expect to have to explain if I was teaching a class using this Bible.  The sentences were a bit too short for my taste, and were even a bit reminiscent of the NCV which was intended as a children’s Bible originally.  I think the NCV sounds choppy when read aloud.

In one place I watch closely in Bible translations, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, The CEB does use one translation I didn’t think quite make it, “God is negotiating with you through us” in verse 20.  I prefer the NLT (and NRSV amongst others):  “God is making his appeal through us.”  Verse 21 is a fairly straightforward literal translation, which I also prefer.  The NLT’s translation “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin …” is clearer, but also tends to limit the options for interpretation in a controversial passage.

I also read 1 Corinthians 12-14, where I didn’t find much that was exceptional.  Again, the reading is easy, but still gives me the impression of being a bit choppy.  The questions in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 are properly translated to imply the answer “no.”  I found 1 Corinthians 13 rather bland.  Some of the soaring phraseology seems to be lost in very clear, yet not very impressive phrasing.  One can certainly argue the value of clearly understanding the thought versus the poetic feeling of the passage.

In the preface, the translators indicate that they use a number of contractions except in passages that should be regarded as more formal.  I’m thinking I’m not going to agree with all their choices on this, but again, this is a subjective matter, more based on my taste than any particular principle.

I found the preface very helpful.  I often recommend that Bible students read the introduction to their translations.  You can learn a lot that way.  In some cases, you get essentially sales hype, but in most cases you get some good basic theory as well as a good introduction to the choices made by the translators.  I commend the CEB preface.

Finally, my wife asked me to read from John 1 to her.  Reading out loud was an interesting experience from this Bible.  I would have to rate the sound of John 1 as abysmal.  I’d much prefer to do a scripture reading here from the NLT or the NRSV (given that most people won’t let me use my favored REB!).  The constant repetition of “the light” is jarring.

I’m going to continue reading this New Testament for some time and allow these early negative impressions to be changed.  Certainly a number of passages read quite well when read silently, and I found the translation easy to understand.  Not every translation has to be great for oral reading.  The main problem I see is that this Bible doesn’t seem to me to excel enough over currently available options to make me want to switch to using it for any of my own activities.

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  1. T.C. R says:


    Thanks for this. I haven’t gotten to the Gospels yet. Still reading through Paul’s letters.

  2. Jeff Clarke says:

    Hi Henry,

    There is an online textual-evidence booklet that might interest you, “New Testament Evidences: Transmission, Translation, and the Canon,” at http://documenttransmissionandtranslation.wordpress.com/ .


    It looks like we have similar expository approaches to Bible study. I am planning to include you in our blogroll at our next update, if you think the link from us would be helpful.

    My expository site is ThatProphet.com, which contains C.S. Lewis / Max Lucado style mini-articles based on passages of Scripture. I hope you’ll consider linking back, if you think my site would be of interest to your own visitors.

    Here’s a sample article:

    “The Apostle Jesus” – Neil Armstrong was an apostle; Paul was; the hobbit Frodo was a fictional apostle, which was what gave the books such dramatic power; Moses was an apostle. They were all sent out to come back with their shields, or on them …


    Hope our site is also of interest, and we would value having you as a friend.

    Thank you,

    Jeff Clarke

  3. David Soyza says:

    Thanks for this post. I find this very useful. There is also a video series by the History Channel on Who Wrote The Bible.

  4. steve says:

    you are invited to follow my blog

  5. Clay Knick says:

    I have mixed feelings about the CEB. One day (like the day I wrote my column in the church newsletter!) I felt pretty good about it. On another I am rather lukewarm. When I read it and compare it to NRSV, RSV, NIV, TNIV, REB, & NLT it just does not seem to wash. I think the jury is still out and will have to wait until the whole translation is done. But I don’t see myself recommending it much, especially as an alternative to NRSV/NIV/TNIV (which I think capture what a default translation should look like [I’m looking forward to the NIV ’11 in March]). I don’t think there is a better choice for reading long passages than the NLT even though I love the REB (can’t see many folks using it…too British or something, but I really like it).

  6. Clay – you and I agree on the REB. I wish I could recommend it more strongly to American audiences, but I do get complaints from people who try it about the “highbrow” English or just that it’s British in flavo(u)r! I still prefer it for reading over any other version I’ve tried.

    I haven’t done enough reading yet to make a final judgment, but the CEB so far doesn’t seem to fill any particular niche well. I don’t like to be that critical of a Bible version overall, but it just doesn’t seem to be finished and polished properly.

  7. David schlewitz says:

    I am thankful for the gift of the CEB New Testament. I am reading it through and find it a corrupted translation. I wouldn’t put it on a par with the New World Translation, but it has an agenda alright. So I will finish reading it through but won’t use it, rely on it nor recommend it.

  8. Steve says:

    Henry, I found the CEB to be an exciting read for the most part. I am sorry that the abysmal ‘Happy-tudes’ have returned—most other translations that used ‘Happy’ for ‘Blessed’ dropped that years ago. Also, the ‘Human One’ for ‘Son of Man’ I can do without.
    Personally, I like the REB; they are scarcer than hen’s teeth to find. Unfortunately, Oxford never did much with it. Now that I have reached a ‘mature’ age, font size is just about the most important thing gto me. If a translation does not come with either large or giant print, then FUHGEDDABOUDDIT!!! as we say in New York.

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