yabt (yet another bible translation): the common english bible

The Common English Bible has been completed, the result of an impressive array of scholars, with admirable goals. A page comparing it with the NRSV and NIV is available here. Some brief and very initial observations based primarily on a few passages I like to check follows.

The Tetragrammaton
Following a very long standing trandition, God’s name (יהוה) is consistently translated with Lᴏʀᴅ using small caps. The fact that “Lord” is not generally understood as a proper noun in English does present some problems when reading any such translation. Of course this is hardly a mark against the CEB in relation to most other modern English translations since the practice is widespread.

“Son of man”
In Ezekiel (e.g. 2:1) CEB has “human one,” Dan 7:13 (Aram. בר אנש) is “human being,” and Matt 8:20 has “human one.” I’m not bound by “Son of Man” as a translation (in English it doesn’t include the meaning the phrase had in Hebrew), so I have no in principle problem with alternate renderings. I’m also glad the CEB has demonstrated some degree of consistency, although I’d have preferred even greater consistency in order to highlight the intertextual references bound up in the use of this phrase.

Gen 1:1–2

When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—

A surprising choice for a modern translation, but not an unwelcome one — while it does not exclude the idea of creatio ex nihilo, it does not explicitly endorse it and probably better reflects the meaning of the Hebrew.

Gen 1:6

God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate the waters from each other.”

“Dome” for רקיע is a better choice than “expanse” which overly domesticates the ancient cosmology, although I still prefer “barrier” (see my foreignising translation).

Gen 1:26

Then God said, “ Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea…

The purpose/result (i.e. “that they…”) is welcome here.

1Kings 19:12

After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.

I can see where this comes from, but I think it might be a little too wooden. I think a better translation (taking into account the context) would be “after the fire, there was utter silence.”

Isa 40:2 adopts the likely misunderstanding of the idiom “to speak to the heart” rendering it “speak compassionately” rather than “persuade, convince” following the majority of English translations. (See this post for more detail.)

Mal 2:16

… because he hates divorce,
says the Lᴏʀᴅ God of Israel,
and he also hates the one covering his garment with violence,
says the Lᴏʀᴅ of heavenly forces.

The translation “he hates divorce” is not the best option and has been abandoned by other modern translations (see ESV, HCSB). Nor does it fit given that the words are phrased as direct speech by Yahweh, so it implies that someone else hates divorce!

Psalm 137
Unlike Matt 5 (see below), the CEB is happy to use ‘blessing’ in place of ‘happy’ in this psalm. What sits rather uncomfortably to me is the rendering of verses 8–9 with “a blessing on the one…” At least in my context I hear little speak of a blessing being “on” someone, nor does that turn of phrase reflect the Hebrew (or LXX), rather it sounds like something I’d expect to hear in a pentecostal church in the US or from the lips of a televangelist.

Ecclesiastes
The translators have chosen “pointless” for the term הבל, I think a poor choice because it implies more certainty on Qohelet’s part than is warranted by Qohelet’s own words. It implies that Qohelet knows that things are pointless, rather than that he admits ignorance as to the purpose (or whether there even is a purpose). So I prefer “senseless” here.

OTOH, the choice of “teacher” for קהלת is preferable to “preacher,” so that’s a point in its favour.

I think there are a few issues in the epilogue (Eccl 12:8–14). Verse 9 is better understood as indicating that Qohelet corrected proverbs (lit. “straightened” which elsewhere implies correction) rather than simply “investigated” them. The choice of “a shepherd” rather than “[the] One Shepherd” (i.e. as a reference to God) is welcome. However, they’ve misunderstood the syntax of verse 12 by making the warning refer back to the previous material instead of forward to the note about making many books. Finally, the Hebrew את האלהים ירא ‘fear God’ in verse 13 is translated as “worship God.” The difficulty I have here is that the term ‘worship’ is already used to translate too many distinct terms and using it here further confuses the issue (although see below on Rom 12:1).

Matt 5:3–11
The CEB translates μᾰκάριος as ‘happy’. Ultimately I think it trivialises the term somewhat which, in this context, seems to imply divine favour and so happiness is derivative from that. Perhaps ‘favoured’ would be a better rendering in this context?

Furthermore, in verse 3 the Greek οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι ‘the poor in spirit’ is rendered ‘hopeless’. I’m not convinced that this captures the meaning of the expression.

Matt 6:9–13
I do like the CEB’s rendering of the Lord’s prayer:

Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Rom 12:1
A number of modern translations choose to render λατρεία by ‘worship’ which is a problem since that term in modern English does not correspond to the semantic range of the underlying Greek term here. The CEB, however, translates the term as ‘priestly service’ which, although a little obscure, usefully differentiates the term from ‘worship’ (and, I might add, the obscurity is not a bad thing here if it causes the reader to question the meaning of the text).

1Tim 2:11–15

A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. 13 Adam was formed first, and then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. 15 But a wife will be brought safely through giving birth to their children, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.

The passage is a well-known watershed and this translation has made some very specific choices which will make some happy and others unhappy.

A smattering of passages does not a comprehensive review make, but it does give some indication of the sort of decisions the translators have made and some idea of the feel of the translation. On the whole the CEB appears to be a refreshing modern translation which is perhaps more readable than some of the other new translations, and so worthy of a closer look!

3 thoughts on “yabt (yet another bible translation): the common english bible

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