Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is the CEB the New NRSV? (2)

Technically, the answer to that question is, “No.” The CEB is not being done by the Division of Christian Education of the NCC, which holds the copyright on the NRSV. Instead, according to the CEB website, “The Common English Bible is a distinct new imprint and brand for Bibles and reference products about the Bible. Publishing and marketing offices are located in Nashville, Tennessee. The CEB translation was funded by the Church Resources Development Corp, which allows for cooperation among denominational publishers in the development and distribution of Bibles, curriculum, and worship materials.  The Common English Bible Committee meets periodically and consists of denominational publishers from the following denominations: Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press); Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Westminster John Knox Press); Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc); United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press); and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).”

In other words, it is being funded by five denominations, all of which are currently member denominations of the NCC. It simply seems odd to me that they would not be using the NRSV. Perhaps the motivation is simply to have a simple-language translation that meets all the current sensitivity requirements, such as gender-neutrality. There are already several simple-language translations available that are gender-neutral. The Today’s English Version is probably the oldest (1976). There is also the New Living Translation (1996, the latest edition is 2007),  The Contemporary English Version (1995), and the NIV2011. All three, however, still use “Son of Man” in reference to Christ. The CEB uses “the Human One.” I suppose these three versions are insufficiently sensitive to gender issues.

Are we moving into a new era of English Bible translation? Are we headed toward a “niche” mentality, where each denomination or cluster of denominations has its distinctive translation? The HCSB and the CEB seem to point in that direction. Roman Catholicism has always had its own versions, currently the New American Bible, which appeared in a new edition earlier this year. That would be expected, however, because the Catholic Bibles will include the apocryphal books, and not in a separate section the way the KJV had it. But outside the mainline churches and the SBC, churches are small enough that supporting a translation distinctive to the denomination (or even to a group of related denominations) would be difficult. For now, the NLT, the NIV (and perhaps its 2011 version), and the ESV will probably continue to dominate the evangelical market. The NASB and NKJV will continue to have their niches for a time, but who knows for how ling.

Whether the CEB can take over the NRSV market may depend on marketing as much as on the fact that the five supporting denominations give it something of a captive audience. The NRSV is aging (already basically a generation old). Though it is gender-neutral, it is more in line with the TEV, CEV, and NLT than the CEB. If the CEB can produce a study edition aimed at the college-level Bible class, the simple-language approach may make it appealing to university professors who find their students less and less able to read at the college level.  

We live in interesting times in English Bible translation. The old days of the KJV hegemony are gone, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. 

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