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.

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2 responses

1 11 2010
paddy sammon

TYPO !

ho huiou tou theou

should read

ho huios tou theou

1 11 2010
David May

Paddy,

It is easy to understand the many variants in the New Testament manuscripts. My eye jumped ahead to the genitive tou theou. I have great sympathy for those early scribes and their task. Thankfully, It is much easier to correct mistakes in an electronic age. Thanks.

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