The Common English Bible: Yet another failed attempt at “The Bible for Dummies”

A group calling itself the Church Resources Development Corp is preparing to release yet another new English translation of Sacred Scripture, this one being marketed as the  the  Common English Bible (CEB) (not to be confused with the 1999 Common Edition New Testament, or with the American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version from 1995, which goes by CEV). This “fresh” translation was an interdenominational effort (predominantly by members of old-line, liberal Protestant denominations, it would seem). It was translated from NA27, using various sources for the OT, by 120 translators from 22 different “faith traditions”. The translation philosophy leans (tilts? dives? collapses?) toward the dynamic on the dynamic/formal scale. Perhaps the best news is that it will include a translation of the Apocrypha. The editors call it a “bold new translation”, and I would say, after spending some time with it online this weekend, that they are half right.

The translation aims for a 7th-grade reading level in a “common language”, which it generally accomplishes by producing vague, mechanical, and imprecise substitutions for characteristically Biblical-sounding terms (what associate editor Paul Franklyn calls “Biblish”), such as substituting “human” for “son of man”, “harass” for “persecute”, “contaminates” for “defiles”, “temple equipment” for “temple vessels”, and “rules handed down” for “tradition”. Temple equipment? How industrially banal!

Such a vulgarizing tendency can produce some rather bizarre and stylistically embarrassing results, however, especially when they are motivated by something other than a desire to be as faithful as possible to the revelation. Take for example, Genesis 2:22-23 in the CEB:

With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. The human said, “This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate either the challenge of trying to represent in translation the distinction between adam and ish, or the complexity of mapping linguistic concepts across broadly diverse cultures in a comprehensible manner, but what we’re given here is a comically clumsy and silly example of the ironically designated “inclusive language” produced by a well-worn, widespread academic condescension to paranoid and anthropologically divisive feminist narcissism, which here ends up asserting that the very Word of God in Sacred Scripture informs us that men are human beings, while women are… well, something else, apparently. Groan.

The editors express the conviction that this approach makes their translation more “relevant” than the more “challenging” translations – there being nothing more irrelevant, after all, than Biblish. Fortunately, it is a fairly safe bet that nobody will ever read the CEB once the academics who produced it are finished passing copies around to their friends. However, there are several stylishly relevant gift editions being planned…


In my book, the Common English Bible gets an “A” for “Awkward”, a “B” for “Biblishlessness”, a “C” for “Common”, a “D” for “Dynamic equivalence”, but an “F” for fidelity to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture.

Was that grading scheme inclusive enough?