Common English Bible, Thinline Edition: Review

Cometh the hour hence, when grammar is out the door and sacred scripture is behind it.

with apocryphaAs you can see I’m the worst photographer in the Church. But that’s not my job: my task is to review this fine piece of Scripture. This Common English Bible includes what most Protestants refer to as the apocrypha, but we truly know that it’s the collection of the 7 missing books they’re missing from their canon, which we Catholics, Orthodox, and even Anglicans use. Also included are the other few books that the Orthodox use, but we Catholics don’t. On the cover in silver metallic print is “Holy Bible” and as you can see, on the binding, the same.

I was sent the thinline version, and I really love the size and the way it fits in your hand or lays flat out on your desk.

ribbonA black ribbon is included to hold your spot, not unlike one finds in the Sunday Missals of old and new. It was a regular old ribbon, nothing good nor bad about it. It was a nice, sturdy ribbon.

The typeface was the first thing I noticed upon opening the book. Do you see how bony it looks? It’s not a bad font, but I don’t think it’s a good font to print a book that might be read daily or devotionally. It felt like every word was a logo in it’s own right, and there was too much white space on the page to focus in on. However, they did look nice in the footnotes.

text sampleThe negative Nellie in me didn’t like the italic version of the sans-serif font used as titles in each passage.

I took the book and bent it over, I curled the leather cover pages and they all returned to normal without any problems. I’m not sure what kind of leather it is, but the lower back right corner says “DecoTone.” That might be synthetic. The paper is standard bible-paper, thin and easy to tear apart. The maps in the back are well done by National Geographic.

obligatory flex testThe Thinline Common English Bible also passed the obligatory flex-test that I’ve seen at Bible Design Blog and the Catholic Bibles Blog. You can see a bit of the silvery gilt edges, but here’s a better picture.

Shine edgeCan you see it? Nah? Yah? I loved it. It wasn’t that cheap silver that sometimes sticks together and tears the page when you turn it. It was a nice, polished, metallic silver that hasn’t worn out yet after all this time. This is truly the evangelists bible, style-wise. I can see it being carried around for ten years without any visible defects, but that only speaks of it’s durability. Now onto the translation itself.

As it says on the tin, the CEB has been “field tested by 77 reading groups in 13 denominations.” I don’t know how to react to that honestly, I just wish they’d said which “denominations” were included. It also says “118 leading biblical scholars from 22 denominations” referring to those who translated and compiled it. I’m not a theologian, and I’m not a biblical scholar, but I still can’t understand how “leading biblical scholars” can translate “goodness and mercy” as “goodness and faithful love” in the twenty-second (or twenty-third) Psalm. There is a great difference between mercy and faithful love. If you should give me the opportunity, as I sit here now looking through the book of psalms I’ve noticed something I didn’t before that’s actually quite interesting. Some psalms include Hebrew lettering next to each verse. I don’t know what this means or what’s the purpose? Would anyone know?

The Apocrypha section is divided thrice:

  1. Books included in Roman Catholic, Greek, and Slavonic Bibles
  2. Books included in Greek and Slavonic Bibles
  3. Books included in Appendix to Greek Bible

I like that. It’s cool.

“Bel and the Dragon” is translated as “Bel and the Snake” and is included as a separate chapter, rather than part of the Book of Daniel.

Psalm 151 is listed in three different versions: Hebrew, Hebrew and Syrian, and in Greek.

There seems to be a complete avoidance of any traditional, ecclesiastical or traditional “church language” words. In Matthew 3, instead of “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at Hand”, the CEB reads “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of Heaven!”

That was strange to me, but it does relate. In 1 Corinthians, upon “Partaking of the Supper Unworthily” as the NRSV says, the CEB uses the term “inappriately.”

Also compared to the NRSV, is the wording used in 1 Corinthians 6:9. The CEB reads:

Don’t you know that people who are unjust won’t inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, thieves, the greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Unjust. For comparison, let’s look at another translation, not a Catholic one, the English Standard Bible

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Unjust is unforgiving, and being unforgiving is indeed unrighteous, but I’m getting picky. I don’t think, as an amateur bible reader, that “unjust” conveys the proper message because I would interpret it as if I could commit all those offences, but as long as I was just (fair, forgiving, loving) then I would inherit the kingdom of God. It’s just awkward wording.

Luke 1:28 uses “highly favoured” instead of “full of grace”, which isn’t uncommon, and “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me as you have said” replaces “And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” which isn’t uncommon or wrong, I just thought you’d like to see. Personally, and I’m biased, I don’t like the wording.

Other chapters read like storybooks, which I think is the intent of the CEB: to provide a clear, fresh, smooth, beautifully flowing piece of scripture that has “uncommon relevance” (as the back of the box it came in says).

This version of the Bible is titled as a translation, and although I’ve been using that word throughout the review, I would beg to differ if it’s actually a translation at all. It reads like, looks like, and sounds like a paraphrase. A paraphrased bible into modern language; making it sound like it happened last week on Eastenders. I noticed something that a similar review noted:

The Common English Bible often broadens the meaning of the text to fit a contemporary context, even when the contemporary context is quite different from the biblical context. Here’s a somewhat lengthy example.

In the ancient world, there was no way to know that a man could be sterile. If a woman was barren, they always assumed that it was the woman who had the problem. The ancient world was filled with fertility cults. (The cult of Artemis in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19 is one of them.) Their temples were filled with priests and priestesses who had sex with the worshippers as a religious rite. A barren woman might go to the fertility cult’s temple, have sex with a male prostitute-priest, and give birth to a child because her husband was sterile, but the priest was not. That appeared to be a miracle and it appeared to validate the cult. People were also in the habit of using the fertility cults for recreation, and since pagan religions did not teach any kind of morality, no one saw a problem with that.

Christianity and Judaism were the only religions in the ancient world that combined spirituality and morality, but because Jews and Christians were a small minority, they didn’t have much impact on society other than to intrigue intellectuals with this idea.

Because Corinth was on an isthmus and had two ports, one on either side of the city, people of all ethnicities passed through, so Corinth was up to the ears in pagan temples to various gods. A major problem of the ancient church was getting catechumens to understand the novel idea of combining morality and religion and to stop using the “services” of the pagan temples. This problem was particularly acute in Corinth. This is the topic of 1 Corinthians 6. The Greek text of 1 Corinthians 6:16 uses the word “πορνη,” which the Septuagint uses for a pagan prostitute-priest. Since the ancient church used the Septuagint as its Old Testament and had problems stemming from cult prostitutes, πορνη most likely had the same meaning in the New Testament and the first-century church. (See the review of the Orthodox Study Bible for a discussion about the Septuagint.) Why would there be prostitutes of the modern type, when it was easy enough to get a job at a pagan temple? The New Revised Standard Version and other responsible translations broaden the meaning of “πορνη” a little and render it in English as “prostitute” because it is a one-word translation and because it is possible that “πορνη” had acquired a broader meaning by that time. Using the word “prostitute” does not undermine Bible instructors who want to teach their class about the religious environment that surrounded the Corinthian church and the religious temptations that beset its members.

I’d recommend you read that review in full, because although it lacks the eye candy, it’s a fine review.

Final Verdict

  • Is this a good version to use for the lectionary at Mass? Certainly not, especially because it’s not approved.
  • Would I use this in private devotion? No
  • Am I being overly picky? Not when it comes to distorted doctrine
  • I’d like to see the Douay-Rheims or Knox or NAB in the same physical format that this is in. It’s a lovely book to hold in your hands, and I love the silver gilt edges.
  • I wouldn’t recommend the CEB to someone looking for a new Bible, because I’m afraid they’d come away with the wrong idea.
  • Who is the target audience for the CEB? I think it’s low-Church Anglicans and evangelical Christians in my opinion.
  • 4/10 stars. 2 stars for the physical book, it’s soft cover and leather, and the ribbon. 1 star for it’s good passages, 1 other star for the maps in the back provided by National Geographic. I was disappointed because I was expecting something more regal, more liturgical.



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