Monday, October 10, 2011
The CEB: Is it the New NRSV? (1)
About a year ago I received a complimentary copy of the CEB (Common English Bible) New Testament with a letter asking me to read it and comment. Even the letter itself made it clear that I was not going to like this Bible, and the Preface made it even more obvious. I never wrote to them expressing my displeasure. But what has this to do with the NRSV?
The whole Bible of the RSV appeared in 1952 (the New Testament had been published in 1946). Almost immediately it became the preferred translation of the academic community, as well as the increasingly liberal mainline churches. I remember that the church I grew up in (liberal Presbyterian) had RSV pew Bible in the late 1950s. In 1970, the RSV was republished with a revised New Testament. In 1989, the New RSV (NRSV) was published, this time with gender-neutral language and with a definite move toward a more functional (read dynamic) equivalence approach to translation. The old RSV had been pretty stodgy, even retaining “thee” and such in the Psalms. Each of these editions of the RSV was published in annotated editions for the academic market. The Oxford Annotated RSV seemed to have cornered the market as the go-to Bible for university Bible and religion courses. After the appearance of the NRSV, the Oxford Annotated was updated, and no doubt is still the preferred translation and edition on many college campuses. But in 1994, the Harper-Collins Study Bible appeared as a challenger to the Oxford Annotated. The H-
CSB had the advantage over
the OA in that the Society of Biblical Literature ( SBL)
had explicitly identified itself with the H- CSB,
and all the annotations were done by members of the Society. The HarperCollins
(whether it is Harper-Collins, Harper Collins, or HarperCollins is not exactly
clear to me, because I have seen all three in print) Study Bible: Student
Edition made this quite evident, with the statement at the bottom of the cover:
A New Annotated Edition by the Society of Biblical Literature.
Now the copyright to the RSV and the NRSV is held by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches. And there appears to be no direct connection between the publishers of the Common English Bible and the Division of Christian Education of the
However, the NRSV is now more than twenty years old. In the world of modern
Bible translations, that is ancient. Even with regard to the RSV, it is the
longest that it has gone without a significant update (1952, 1970, and 1989).
Furthermore, the CEB seems to have the implicit support of the SBL.
The list of editors and translators (see www.commonenglishbible.com) reads
like a veritable Who’s Who of the Society of Biblical Literature. In addition,
the CEB has its own panel discussion at the annual meeting of the SBL
in (slated for
Sunday, November 20 from ).
The panel is a stacked deck. The presenters of “Why We Need a New Bible
Translation” are all members of the CEB editorial committee. All those
presenting “Responses to the Need for a New Bible Translation” are also members
of the CEB editorial committee. Apparently, they don’t want any naysayers in
the bunch. San Francisco
Continued in the next post.