Thursday, April 15, 2010

Common English Bible: Genesis

The Common English Bible is a new translation in the works that seeks to provide a new rendition of the Bible in English at a 7th grade reading level. It is meant to provide an option for those churches currently using the NRSV (11th grade reading level), but would rather have something more "plain spoken". While being sponsored by mostly mainline Protestant churches, it does have a few Catholic Biblical scholars involved in the project. When completed, this new translation will also include the Deuterocanonical books. So far, they have released their edition of the Gospel According to Matthew, but you can now download their translation of Genesis. (Look under free downloads.)
Update: Theophrastus reminds me that you can pre-order a free copy of the CEB New Testament here. I believe it will be released sometime in the Fall.


Diakonos said...

I wonder if this is going to be another version such as the CEV by the Amercian Bible Society? From ministry in CCD in prior years I have had experience with the CEV and also possess "The Learning Bible" (CEV). IMHO...should be called a paraphrase or at best a really loose translation I guess.

Matt said...

Hey Timothy - I wanted to send you an email about the NRSV with Apochryphya that you have. But I couldn't find your address on the site.

Mind shooting me an email?
ossian1898 [at]

Francesco said...

They have a page where they compare the CEB with the NRSV and the NIV. I don't know enough about Biblical translation to know if they've gotten it right or not. What do you all think?

Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I was interested in rebinding a Catholic bible such as you have done with the RSV-2CE. I was wondering if either the CTS bible, or the RSV-2CE has a glued binding or is it sewn.(the guy Im talking to wont rebind it unless it is sewn) I was also wondering if you had any experience with the readers edition of the Oxford RSV-CE.
Thank you,

Terri L. Coons said...

CTS bible is glued.

Timothy said...


I recently had the Ignatius RSV 2CE redone in calfskin leather and, I am sad to say that the pages are not holding up well. Already pages from Genesis are starting to tear, and I am positive it has nothing to do with the person who re-did the leather cover, but the publisher. A bit unfortunate, particularly since I payed over a hundred to have the cover re-done, which is beautiful.

Francesco said...

Hi Timothy,

It's already falling apart? That doesn't bode well! You couldn't have been using it for that long, especially since it was out there for a month.

I myself have been thinking of buying an RSV-2CE, but maybe I'll wait for a sturdier edition to come out.


Timothy said...


Yeah, I am definitely not to happy. Like I have said before, we definitely need some premium Catholic Bibles. Perhaps it is time for another post on that subject! ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Terri and Timothy.

That is horrible about the bible falling apart. I have a Allan Longprimer (KJV) and a PSR ESV, and they are Incredible products. I want one that is of a Catholic rendering.
I thought about the NOAB, but I hear the commentary is heretical, so I am now thinking a Ignatius or Oxford readers edition RSV-CE. I think I would have preferred the 2CE translation, but if its going to fall apart, whats the point?
Thanks again!

Theophrastus said...

I am a little surprised that you haven't mentioned their offer to receive a free CEB New Testament. I suspect this would be of wide interest to your readers. Perhaps you will forgive me for being so bold as to suggest that you may wish to make a post about this (and not have this buried in a comment thread).

You can sign up here.

Alternatively you can just click on the box on the left (on any CEB page) that says "CLICK HERE to sign up for your FREE copy of the CEB New Testament."

Anonymous said...


I purchased the Oxford reader's edition of the RSV-CE for myself. When it arrived I just wasn't happy with it, so I ordered the St. Benedict Press RSV-CE black Ultrasoft standard size to compare. The family unanimously voted to return the Oxford Bible and I have since purchased a leather large print RSV-CE from St. Benedict.

The biggest difference is that the Oxford Reader's Edition is an older edition mechanically enlarged to fit the new format and therefore is proportionately not quite right. The St. Benedict is a digitally set print where the text was designed for the page.

However, as a convert to the Catholic Church I did really appreciate the Catholic prayer section in the Oxford Bible. Yet, I find I probably use the St. Benedict Bible lectionary more than I would the Oxford prayer section. Both would have been ideal.


Anonymous said...


When a book has been translated as many times as the Bible, it is useful to compare differences between many reputably translations. When a new translation comes up with a novel or extraordinary rendering, it is up to the innovation to justify itself.

With that said, look at Gen 1:1 for an example. Most reputable translations render the opening sentence the same, "In the beginning God created..." When any translation starts off by significantly changing this translation it has a very difficult task of justifying not only that change but every other innovation it offers.

Offering the accepted translation as an option in the notes is, imho, unsatisfactory. Why should I use a translation which innovates in the text and forces me to read every single note to find out what the original actually said?

In addition to this objection, I don't much care for the way this CEB translation overuses common contractions. I know contractions are a stylistic flourish but I find it a significant annoyance.


Paul said...


The CEB translation follows many reputable translations such as the New Revised Standard Version, Good News Bible, New American Bible, Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, New English Bible, Robert Alter, Everett Fox and others in translating Genesis 1:1 the way it does.

The ambiguity of the Hebrew grammar in this verse basically presents two options: the more traditional "in the beginning" and the alternative favored by the CEB. A long tradition of Jewish Hebrew scholarship supports this alternative. I am no expert on Hebrew, but the arguments for the CEB translation of Genesis 1:1 are much better than the average Catholic or Protestant Christian believes.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your input. I disagree. Though I too am no expert, I did study biblical Hebrew on the way to my masters in theology. (As I said, that does not make me a expert.)

I find it interesting that of the translations you listed, only one is considered a major player in the league of serious translations. However, in such a field the NRSV can be considered an anomoally; it is certainly not beyond question. The GNB is a paraphrase and is not intended to be taken as a serious study translation. The NAB is problematic from the getgo, especially the Old Testament, requiring a major overhaul which has not yet inspired a great deal of confidence. The Jewish interpretation is interesting but hardly determiniive (If it is then say bye bye to a significant portion of Catholic Scripture.) Fox, Alter, NEB are too obscure or too much the work of one person and too much in the line of the afformentioned translations to be of great weight in your argument. (Translation A quoting Translation B quoting Translation A is not a strong argument.)

I would argue that if we wish to engage in a true comparison then we will need to broaden our samples to a more representative and more weighty collection.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brad for the advice, but unfortunately, the guy who will do the rebinding wont work with glued bindings, which the St Benedict press bindings are. I have their Douay-Rheims GL bible and it is okay. So I guess I dont have a choice really if I want it rebound, unless I go for the NOAB RSV. Which I am not wanting to because of the footnotes(and although it has the Deuterocanonical books it is not a Catholic Translation) but the quality is impeccable.


Theophrastus said...

Brad: with your Hebrew background, you'll readily accept that either translation

(1) In the beginning God created


(2) When God began to create

is possible. In fact, the RSV (which you seem to hold in high esteem) uses (1) and lists (2) as an alternative in the footnote; while the CEB does the opposite.

Four possible interpretations

The problem is that either interpretation is possible. In fact, four interpretations are possible:

(a) The first word, בראשית, is in the absolute state (it functions independently), verse 1 is a complete sentence (an independent clause). ("In the beginning, God created ....")

(b) The first word is an indeterminate noun and functions temporally ("First to start with, God created ....")

(c) The first word is in the construct state (that it, it functions with another word, typically a noun), and verse 1 is a temporal clause modifying verse 2 ("When God began to create ... the earth was without form and void.")

(d) The first word is in the construct state and verse 1 modifies verse 3 (with verse 2 being a parenthetical remark) ("When God began to create the heaven and the earth -- the earth being without form and void -- God said ....")

Paul is not correct in summarizing Jewish views -- to name two major medieval exegetes, Nachmanides favors the "absolute state" (1) while Rashi favors the "construct state" (2).

In fact, the Hebrew is simply ambiguous. So we need to distinguish based on context. Here are some arguments for both sides:

Arguments for (2) "construct state"

Here are some arguments for interpreting the verse in the traditional, "construct state".

(a) Given the Masoretic vowelization, the construct state is expected -- if it were the absolute state, we would expect a different vowelization.

(b) If this verse parallels the second account of creation (at Genesis 2:4), we would expect "when".

(c) ראשית appears about 50 times in the Hebrew scriptures and each time (except possibly Isaiah 46:10) the word is in the construct state.

(d) This creates a parallel to the Babylonian account of creation, Emunah elish, which also follows a protasis - parenthetical clause - apodosis structure. (Thus, "When God began to create" parallels "When above, the heaven had not been named [and] below, the earth had not been called by name.")

Counter-arguments for (1) "absolute state"

Here are the counter-arguments to the arguments above.

(a) While the vowelization is not usual, the absolute state is a grammatical possibility with Masoretic vowelization. In fact, the Masoretes understood the word to be in the absolute state, because they used the tipha accent. (The Septuagint and other ancient versions agree that the word is in the absolute state.)

(b) In fact, Genesis 1:1 is not parallel to Genesis 2:4, because the latter uses "in the day" and not "when".

(c) As noted, Isaiah 46:10 does give an example where the word is used both absolutely and indeterminately -- an exact parallel to Genesis 1:1.

(d) The verse should be interpreted as a deliberate repudiation of Emunah elish, and in any case, the Old Babylonian text use "in the day" and not "when", so it is not an exact parallel.


The arguments continue back and forth. Given the controversy, I would suggest that it is most responsible to allow for both possibilities, as the CEB, RSV, NRSV, and NJPS all do.

Paul said...


Thank you for stepping up and making the points I was trying to make much better than I ever could - and correcting me in the process.