Sunday, October 3, 2010

CEB: The Beatitudes

Continuing with our periodic look at the new Common English Bible, we now turn to the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5.

Below is how the CEB translates this famous passage into English:

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them, saying: “Happy are people who are downcast, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. For, in the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you." - Matthew 5:1-11 (CEB)

Some thoughts:

1) The decision to go with "happy" over "blessed" is not as jarring as it once was since there are a number of modern translations that do this. For the CEB's rationale in doing this, you can go here.

2) Verse three and five each have unique ways of translating the more traditional renderings of "poor in spirit" and "meek". Instead they go with "downcast" and "humble" in hopes of making them understandable to the modern ear. Hmm..... Changing "meek" for "humble" maybe, but I am not sure that "downcast" accurately captures "poor in spirit." I might have to do some more thinking on this one.


C J Quinn said...

While "happy" over "blessed" is not as jarring to many modern readers, it may be because we do not take time to explain that "blessed" is not what many modern readers think it means.

In the original Greek the term, makarioi, is simply, at first blush, “happy” in the sense of being “fortunate” to be found in a certain situation or to be in possession of something. In our daily idiomatic vernacular it is closer to what we mean when we say that a person is “lucky,” not meaning that a person has received a favor from some “god of luck,” but to be in state that others wish they were in.

But Jesus does not use makarioi this way. In fact if Jesus was being tested by a language teacher, he would have been told by the instructor that he obviously needs to learn the meaning of the word. Why? Because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls “fortunate” those who are poor, thirsting, grieving, even being persecuted. We don’t go around saying, “Lucky you! You are being persecuted. I sure wish I was as lucky and fortunate as you are!”

So Jesus is not talking about what most people would expect to hear about how one can find “happiness” in life. In fact, the state of “happiness” or “beatitude” in these instances is only experienced spiritually through faith and in union with the Holy Spirit, who helps us endure things like persecution, and cannot be achieved even by trying to cheer ourselves into a happy state on our own.

Some argue that this is an exalted rendering of the simple word that Jesus used. The answer, of course would be: “Yes. It is.” Translation of Scripture is not merely a dry word-for-word rendering of the text, even when formal equivalence is taking place, but a rendering by means of the way the Holy Spirit has caused the Church to use certain Biblical expressions over the centuries. In most languages the state of being “fortunate” or “lucky” sound out of place here because sometimes we think we can make ourselves reach them. And indeed, we can make ourselves “happy.” But this isn’t what Jesus is saying.

This doesn’t mean that “happy” should not be the translation here in Matthew. But if it is used then the Bible reader, which is more uneducated today than ever before, needs to be instructed as to what this means. Thankfully Catholic and many Protestant editions don’t leave their readers guessing, making sure there is a study note to such a rendition. But in a Bible edition where there is not, watch out! Too many “prosperity gospel” preachers have abused translations like this to make our Lord’s words sound like something they are not.

rolf said...

The CCB uses 'fortunate' instead of 'happy' which to me sounds more appropiate in the context used by Jesus. I'm am not and expert, just an opinion.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I didn't realize that this translation was commissioned or supported by the same denominations which have supported the NRSV (Methodist, Disciples, TEC, etc). Is this the replacement to the NRSV?