Common English Bible: A Brief Assessment

31 10 2010

I received in the mail a few days ago a complimentary copy of the Common English Bible (CEB) of the New Testament. You can access the website of this translation here:  CEB.  I am always appreciative of complimentary copies of books (since so many are being published and my budget is limited).  I have only had a brief chance to look at this translation, but I decided to examine the usage of the Greek term anthropos as found in the Gospel Mark.  The translators used a variety of words to translate both the singular and plural.  The breakdown is as follows: you (1x), earthly (1x), human beings (3x), someone (3x), humans (4x), people (6x), person (7x), man (10x), and human (18x).

The most frequent usage is when human (18x) is used to render the typical translation “the Son of God” (ho huios tou theou) as “the Human One.”  The translators are consistent in this usage.  It is not clear when and why the plural of anthropos is translated as people, humans or human beings.  One criterion translators used was clarity.  Yet humans and human beings sound awkward versus people. Which is better English and clearer?

“I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything . . . (3:28a).” [CEB]

“I assure you that people will be forgiven for everything . . . (3:28a).”

“You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans . . . (8:8).” [CEB]

“You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by people . . . (8:8).”

I am not certain what is gained by using humans and human beings instead of people.

If the CEB is attempting to be sensitive to masculine language, it actually includes “man” in some places where it is not found in the Greek text.  For example, in Mark 14:69, the woman servant sees Peter and says, “This man is one of them (CEB).”  Anthropos is not used in the verse, and the verse could easily be translated as “This person is one of them” or “This one is one of them.”  Perhaps the CEB translators are attempting to provide parallelism with 14:71 when Peter claims, “I don’t know this man (anthropon) you’re talking about” (CEB).

One of the clever translations of anthropos is found in 11:32.  Jesus has put a riddle to the chief priest, scribes and elders about the origin of John the Baptist’s authority.  The CEB translates the internal debate among the groups about John’s authority as “But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’”  Many translations use “from men/man.” Some use “of human origin” or “merely human.” The “earthly” is a nice parallel with verse 31 that speaks of John’s authority as being from heaven or heavenly.  In the parallels to this narrative in Matthew 21:25 and Luke 20:6, however, the translators use “humans” and “human origins” respectively.  Especially since Matthew and Mark have almost verbatim Greek here, why not keep the parallelism with the use of earthly?

These are just a few observations on the use of anthropos.  I have quickly scanned a few other areas.  For example, I am not certain I like all the contractions used throughout the translation.  For today’s folks, however, it is what they hear in everyday conversation.  I do not like the translation of the Beatitudes as “Happy are . . . .” This translation misses the cultural and social meaning behind and within the text-segment.  Plus, it sounds trite.

It is always good to see and hear a new translation, and I am sure the CEB will find some receptive readers.  We may, however, be reaching a saturation point of “new” translations.  What does one more English translation add?  Of course we could do away with all translations of the New Testament if everyone would learn Greek.  But I’m not holding my breath.

It’s Greek to Me

16 10 2010

I have been without Internet connections for the last few days (both a blessing and a curse).  So I have not posted recently.  In the time away from this blog, I have been to Ephesus, Patmos, Santorini, and Crete, Athens, and Delphi.  I though in this blog I would reflect upon one particular artifact I have seen frequently over the last few days:  inscriptions.  These inscriptions remind me once again of the importance of the Greek language for the ancient world (and the New Testament).  At almost every archaeological excavation, Greek inscriptions come to light.  These inscriptions are on columns, altars, pottery shards, and a variety of other mediums.  As the examples below illustrate, some inscriptions are written with beautiful lettering; they are pieces of artwork unto themselves.  The inscriptions frequently reveal to contemporary interpreters the perspectives and outlooks of the elites.  Often these inscriptions mention memorials established for the emperor or some high city or provincial official.  Honor in the ancient world needed to be public and permanent.  Of course what is missing in a fuller knowledge of the ancient world is access to the thoughts of the common folk.  They did not leave behind inscriptions (perhaps an exception being the graffiti that can sometimes be found).   The common folk represent the little tradition, the oral society which left little behind when it comes to written material.  However, the inscriptions that are unearthed are fascinating time capsules into the ancient world.

On the Road with Paul and John

10 10 2010

On the Road with Paul and John

Just some quick updates about our ongoing travel in Turkey.  Several places associated with Paul in Asia Minor have been on our itinerary for the last couple of days.  For example, we stopped at the archaeological excavations in the ancient city of Alexandria Troas.  According to the Acts account, this city is the one in which Paul had his vision of the man from Macedonia asking for help.  Because of the vision, Paul moved his mission activities to a new continent as he across the Aegean Sea (Acts 16:6) to Europe.  Below is an unearthed section of the road on which Paul would have travel into and out of Troas. 

We also visited Assos, a city in which Paul met coworkers (Acts 20:13-16) as they traveled by ship onto Mitylene.  The picture below is taken from the theater of Assos which shows the Aegean Sea in the background.

Our group has also traveled to Pergamum which is mentioned in Revelation 1:11 and 2:12-17.  In the letter John writes to this church, he commends the Christians for their ability to live “where Satan’s throne is” (2:13).  While many of the allusion in Revelation are difficult to understand with our separation from that period, John may have been referencing the great altar of Zeus in Pergamum.  The photograph below illustrates only the base of where the altar would have been. 

The original is now in the Berlin Museum.  Perhaps what is most impressive about Pergamum is the theater carved into the mountain side.  It is one of the most spectacular views in all the ancient world.  It is also steep and not for the faint of heart.

Istanbul, Day 2

8 10 2010

While the weather was wet and cool, the sights for this day were both spectacular and historic.  We began by journeying to one of the most ancient churches in the world, Hagai Sophia, Holy Wisdom.  The picture below is an interior photograph. 

This church, built in the 6th century under the patronage of Emperor Justinian, was later converted to a mosque, and today is a museum.  The photograph below is the spot in the church where the various emperors were crowned as rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire. 

The large circle in the picture is surrounded by twelve smaller circles representing the The Twelve Apostles.  The emperors wed their rule to the church, and the church at this point was more than happy with the marriage.  As a Baptist who values separation of church and state, this marriage has alway been a bad one both for the state and the church.

The next picture is a shot of the larg crowd gathering in the Sultan Ahmet Camii (also known as the Blue Mosque).  It was contructed in the early 1600s over the site of the ancient Roman hippodrome.  It has beautiful hand-made blue tiles (hence the name) that adorn the interior.

The last picture is taken in the Grand Bazaar which is a covered market of over 4000 shops.  The picture below is for my NT501 New Testament students who are reading this week about the evil eye in the ancient world and the world of the New Testament.  This shop was selling nothing but evil eye amulets.  The seller guaranteed they would ward off anything  bad. 


7 10 2010


We have arrived.  Our first day would normally have been spent recovering from lengthy sleep deprived travel.  However, with the city of Istanbul calling, we set off for a late afternoon exploring “The Church of St. Savior in Chora.”  This church, not one of the largest, is one of the finest examples of Byzantine mosaic and frescoe work.  While the church has been located at this spot since the 4the century in was the major renovation and rebuilding in the 1300s that provided it with such a stunning interior.   The first photograph below is the exterior.  

 The second is a depiction of Jesus multiplying the loaves. 

This next photograph is one of my favorites.

The person who commissioned and paid for the mosaics (Theodore Metochites) had himself included in the depictions.  He is seen presenting this church to an enthroned Christ.  By the way, I love his beehive hat.

This church, like many others in Istanbul, has undergone transitions over the years.  It original was a church, was converted to a mosque, and finally today is a museum.


4 10 2010

No I am not talking about over eating pumpkin pies, cranberries or turkey at Thanksgiving.  I want to inform the readers of this blog that over the next two weeks I will be periodically presenting travel highlights from the countries of Turkey and Greece.  I am leading a Central Baptist Theological Seminary study tour of eleven hardy individuals from October 6 to 18 in these two countries.  Depending on the reliability of internet connections, I hope to have brief posts at least every other day.

Both Turkey and Greece are countries which present unique opportunities to understand the background and geography related to the New Testament and early Christianity.  Most of the areas for our study will include sites related to Pauline Christianity and also Revelation.  Our itinerary will include places such as Istanbul, Pergamum, Smyrna (modern Izmir), Ephesus, Patmos,  Athens, Delphi, Corinth, and the islands of Rhodes, Santorini and Crete.

A quote attributed to St. Augustine states, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”  Our group will no doubt read many interesting chapters during these two weeks of travel.  These chapters will hopefully open up for us new ways to read the biblical stories and new ways to see other people and cultures.  As Mark Twain once wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” (The Innocents Abroad, vol. 2).  So our group of pilgrims will not be armchair interpreter’s of the world or the Bible, we will engage in the hands-on study of culture and context in the birth places of the New Testament and early Christianity.  I hope you can join us via this blog and share in the impressions we garner from our travels.