Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Common English Bible

I have always been a fan of newer and better translations of the Bible. I have never been on the side of those condemning the “new” translations, and I am not now. I can remember as a boy in my early teens, when the Good News For Modern Man came out, going door to door in my neighborhood handing out New Testaments. My little church’s pastor led us to promote this new translation of the Bible. At that time, there weren’t many to choose from. Of course, we had the Revised Standard Version which was good but still sounded King James-ish.

Good News for Modern Man is now Today’s English Version. I still turn to it often. Around that time the Living Bible was published. I got a free copy from Christianity Today Magazine. It was fun to read the freer verse Bible. But the Living Bible was a paraphrase; so, you knew that it was not as true to the Hebrew and English texts. But, I still loved it. I use it now sometimes. It has been updated and made more of a translation now in the New Living Bible. It’s pretty good.

While I was in seminary in the late seventies, another translation was published called The New International Version or NIV. It has proved to be a popular translation. I use it often. It was an attempt to translate the original texts but keep close to the King James Bible. It sounded like a Bible that most of us had been reading or hearing all our lives. This version too has been updated in 2011 and is very good. I just bought a new copy of it.

In the eighties, the Revised Standard Version was updated and became the New Revised Standard Version. This is the text that I usually read on Sundays.

2011 was the 400th birthday of the King James Version of the Bible. I still like some of the poetic sounding language. I still like to read at Christmas the Luke 2 KJV: “It came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…Mary was great with child.” It has the sound of Shakespearean English. At the time, it was a monumental translation of the Bible. But, we have much better access to original manuscripts.

There is value in all of these translations. Every translation is a study of the original language to be accurate and faithful to the texts as we have them. It is amazing how much agreement there is on the Bible’s text translation. All of the above major translations are faithful to the text, and helpful in understanding the meaning.

Just recently, there is another translation called the Common English Bible. It is a faithful and accurate translation mostly. I really love the way in which it is translated for the most part. I got really excited about it at first. Only one thing bothers me about it. In all of the other translations Jesus calls himself the Son of Man which is an accurate translation of the Greek. In this CEB translation Jesus is the Human One.

Ok. I know that Son of Man means human being. Yes, that’s true. Jesus was truly human. I’m ok with that. It’s historically and theologically correct to say that. But, in my study, the term Son of Man has all kinds of meanings other than that. It’s kind of a title that Jesus used to talk about himself in the third person. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
As I often do in such situations, I looked at the list of those who helped with the translation and found a friend, one whom I trust, a conservative friend, certainly not a radical. I emailed him about this “human one” thing. He said that “human one” was an accurate translation. When I asked him about the meaning of “son of man” he said that “human one” conveys the meaning. He said that most people don’t know what “son of man” means either.

Still, I think we are losing something here. If “human one” is such an accurate way to translate this, then why have no other translations done it this way? I wonder if this “human one” isn’t more politically correct than accurate.

That’s my only beef with the CEB. Otherwise it’s very good. For me, I will stick with the NRSV and NIV mainly and maybe refer to the CEB on occasion.

As Luke 19:10 says: “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus is human, yes. But, not just any human one came to seek and save the lost. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Dave Nichols


  1. I agree that "human one" is a bit jarring, and maybe even a little awkward. But I think it has value just for those reasons. As your friend probably explained, the phrase goes back to the meaning of the Hebrew/Aramaic phrase used in the Old Testament. I agree with him that most people today don't know what "son of man" meant to those who heard Jesus or those in OT times, and it forces us to think about just what is going on with the expression. It is more than a title and more than just a shorthand for "human being" as well (as Daniel 7 in context lets us know).

  2. ok. I suppose it will be welcomed by those who do not see anything unique about Jesus- great teacher, etc. But, it will be troubling to those who see Jesus as uniquely Son of man and Son of God.

  3. Thank you for responding.

    I too see him as uniquely Son of Man . . . but that still begs the question as to what "Son of Man" actually meant to Jesus. And that's where I find value in having people forced to stop and think about the expression. Most people probably reason like this: Yes, Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man = fully God and fully man. In other words, if they make any kind of connection at all they connect "Son of Man" with the two natures of Christ.

    Now, that's not bad . . but it isn't quite enough. A long time ago F. F. Bruce (one of my fave conservative scholars) pointed out the way in which our Lord's use of the term was based on Daniel 7, with its picture of someone like a human who would be vested with authority and who would vindicate God's righteousness.

    Rev. Donald Fisher

  4. Yeah. I know. People like us will understand it. But, I live in Baptist heaven and all they need is one more bullet to take us with. I think you're going to have to explain human one just as much or more than son of man. Thanks for the sparring. Thanks for reading my blog.



Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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