The opening title page of the Common English Bible reads, “a fresh translation to touch heart and mind.” Though seemingly a bit cliche, I have found this phrase to be one-hundred percent spot on. When I first heard about the Common English Bible, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the field of English bible translations is heavily saturated and choosing a translation can seem rather daunting from a lay person’s perspective. However, I was impressed with the commitment that the CEB made to an ecumenical translation philosophy (similar to the NRSV) and the desire that the translators had to bring a very readable bible to the table. I also learned that the Professor for my Catholic Epistles class (Dr. Robert Wall) was one of the translators for the bible, which gave me a bit of personal interest. Dr. Wall encouraged me to use the CEB on assignments in his class so that I could get a sense of how it functioned in church, personal study, and academic use. This review will hopefully convey a sense for each of these categories; though I will be the first to admit that a holistic review of the CEB would take me many more months of reading. Enough background though, let’s talk about the CEB!
The Physical Bible itself is well put together, though it is certainly no Cambridge bible. I received the black, DeucoTone, thinline Bible with Apocrypha. The imitation leather feels good in my hands and I think it will hold up well (especially if I stop spilling coffee on it!) for at least a few years. The text is small, though not too small, and it doesn’t really bleed through the pages (a problem with many thinline bibles). It’s double columned, which may or may not be your preference (it’s mine) and the text seems to lie comfortably on the page. There are no cross references, though OT quotations in the NT are cited with a footnote AND italicized. Overall, I give the bible very good marks for physical quality and appearance. I would like to eventually see a genuine leather reference version with cross references and more footnotes, but I am sure this will come as the translation establishes itself. (7/10, with my NRSV reference bible (much more expensive) being a 10/10)
As a General Reading Bible, the Common English Bible excels. The translation is dynamic, so formal equivalence purists may not appreciate it as much, but I find that the CEB does thought-for-thought translation along with the best of them. Fresh translations that your average bible reader might notice include:
When God began to create the heavens and the earth–the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deeps sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters… -Genesis 1:1-2
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I feel no danger because you are with me. -Psalm 23:4
Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. -Revelation 21:3
The bible is written to a 7th grade level (NRSV is written to 11th grade), but I didn’t get the sense that it was “dumbed down.” It was easier to read in the sense that I felt like I was reading a story after spending hours with a textbook. I was able to better emotionally grasp the text and let it dwell in my soul. It reads very well overall, and may become my primary reading bible. (9/10)
As the Church’s book the CEB shines, mainly because it was written by members from many diverse areas of the church. Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox members of the body laid aside their differences and came together to wrestle with the text; and that shows! With that being said, this bible may not be suitable for some neo-reformed churches or more conservative evangelical churches, as it uses gender inclusive language. I see this as a positive, but others may not. The GI language isn’t done in an intrusive way, mostly you see a lot of brothers and sisters (originally brothers) and humankind (instead of mankind). I don’t think this changes the meaning of the text, but milage will vary by church. Also, the CEB doesn’t seem to be afraid to throw out obscure “sacred” phrases and replace them with new (more accurate?) renditions of the text. Most notably, “Son of Man” has been replaced with “The Human One.” In one of the Catholic Epistles, the phrase “God’s DNA” was used to replace “God’s seed.” One change that I am a bit more ambivalent about is the change of “Book of the Law” and “Torah” to “Instruction Scroll.” I feel like Torah may convey a richer meaning, though that may be lost on many members of the church anyways. For passage reading, some of the translations feel a bit repeated, or slightly awkward (probably due to many compromises made in the spirit of ecumenism), but overall it will ring fresh and true in many people’s minds. (8/10)
As a scholars bible the CEB works very well, when paired with a more literal translation of the text. For school assignments, I would read my CEB translation first and then supplement that reading with the NRSV. The two translations sung in harmony very well, and the CEB helped me glean some implications that I may not have gotten from the NRSV. A lot of the time the CEB conveyed the message that I read in the NRSV in a better wording, allowing me to make observations in class that aided our conversation and discussion. My professor read a daily psalm from the CEB, and I found them to be beautifully translated (something that many literal translations miss). I didn’t get a chance to read much of the apocrypha, but hopefully I will in the future. Overall, my experience with the CEB in class was overwhelmingly positive. (7/10).
Given the above, I give my wholehearted recommendation to the CEB. It’s fresh translation has touched me as a churchgoer, student, and a disciple of Christ. New insights abounded as I read this translation, and I feel that it really worked on my soul in more ways than I even now realize. To be frank, the CEB has made reading the bible interesting for me again. It is (mostly) ascetically pleasing, though slightly awkward in a few places. Some parts can be groundbreaking and even shocking (as the word of God should be). One can feel a deep sense of reverence for the word of God, Christ, and the church throughout this bible; a reverence that transcends the arguments that so often seem to permeate our church today. The CEB turns away from things that divide the church and seeks to point the reader towards that which truly matters:
You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
(Overall, the CEB gets a 9/10 in my book)
In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided with a free review copy of the Thinline Common English Bible with Apocrypha, which you can find here. I was not obligated to write a positive review.